A Resource for Historic Arms and Armour Collectors

Del Tin 2173 German Left-Hand Dagger
A hands-on review by Bill Grandy

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Civilian swordsmanship proliferated in the Renaissance and many weapon styles were used for personal self-defense as well as for the formalized duel. The use of the sword combined with a second weapon in the off hand was common practice and the dagger is one of the most recognized of these off hand weapons. The dagger could be used to defend by parrying while the sword attacks. It also had the added advantage of being offensive when the combatants have closed in to a point where the longer reach of the sword is no longer effective.

Del Tin Armi Antiche has produced a style of parrying dagger that has a large plate to cover the back of the hand which is often times called by modern collectors as a "sailboat" guard. There are many that refer to this specific style of dagger as a main gauche, and quite often it is said that this is a uniquely Spanish design, but both of these statements are somewhat inaccurate. The term main gauche is French for "left hand" and was used for all left hand daggers, not simply those with sailboat guards. As for the Spaniards use of such a dagger, yes, it was popular, but it was not limited only to Spain. Examples of such daggers are seen from multiple nationalities, not to mention the fact that the term "main gauche" is not Spanish.

The dagger was bought from Valentine Armouries of Canada during an in-stock closeout where all Del Tins were 20% off. Because of the closeout deal, I received the dagger for $168 US, which is an exceptional deal. It normally retails from various sellers around the $225 area. The dagger arrived very well packaged, strapped to a 3/4" piece of wood and wrapped up very tightly. The blade is made unsharpened.
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Measurements and Specifications:
Weight:1 pounds, 7 ounces
Overall length:21 3/4 inches
Blade length:15 1/2 inches
Blade width:1 3/8 inches at base
Grip and pommel length:3 3/4 inches
Guard width:6 inches
Point of Balance:At the cross-guard

Replica created by Del Tin Armi Antiche of Italy.

Handling Characteristics
This is a large dagger that is meant to be able to parry a sword, so it certainly has some heft to it, which is certainly a good thing. Lighter daggers exist, and to some extent I happen to prefer a slightly lighter one, but this dagger is not at all too heavy. It balances well, and as soon as I received it I put it to use with some rapier and dagger fencing, for which it performed well. The up-curved quillons did well to bind oncoming thrusts. I have heard complaints of Del Tin swords being a bit on the soft side, but this dagger blade did not receive more than some minor scuffing against other steel blades.

Fit and Finish
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Decorative Embossing

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Damaged Ferrule

The fit and finish department is where this dagger is inconsistent. The overall look is pleasing. There is a lot of decorative embossing on this dagger, which mostly is very attractive, though much of the embossing is not well defined; "fading out" near the edges of the guard. This is quite acceptable on a piece in this price range, as the cost to hand finish the fine details would be put this in an entirely different price bracket. The blade itself is well defined, showing almost no waviness, and polished to a satin finish.

The grip I was not so pleased with. The wood was not sanded as well as it could be before it was stained. There are two steel bands (ferrules) at the ends of the grip. The top band is exceptionally loose, seeming as if it never could have been on tight to begin with. To make that worse, there are two punctures in the metal that do not go into the wood. The puncture holes also appear to have been punctured from the inside pushing out, and they are both on the side of the grip that is underneath the shell where it would have been unlikely for something to have damaged it there. All of these factors lead me to believe that this could not have been a shipping accident. The ferrule was definitely damaged before it was attached to the grip. The holes are mostly hidden by the shell, which is a good thing, but it does raise a flag in my mind that whoever put the band on was simply trying to hide it instead of using an undamaged piece. (Note that in the pictures this is difficult to see, but is very obvious when seen in person.)

The knuckle plate is riveted onto the quillons and curves over the back of the hand to the pommel. The portion that is next to the pommel is bent to the side by about a half an inch. Whether this is a shipping accident or a manufacturing accident, I can't say for certain, but due to the excellent packaging job, I find it unlikely to be a shipping accident.

The fittings seemed tight enough when I first removed the dagger from its packaging. However, after only an hour of light fencing, the knuckle plate became loose, which was the biggest disappointment with the dagger. The rivets are polished flush against the guard, so there is no chance of hammering them down. Shims may be the answer to this problem.

I have mixed feelings about this piece. Some might say that I should have expected flaws since Valentine Armouries was selling these for such a cheap price. I would disagree, though, as their Web site simply said that all in-stock items from Del Tin Armi Antiche were on sale. They said nothing about any reasons for this sale such as damage. I do not know if other products being sold are damaged, or if this one was a fluke. But because of the excellent sale price, I will not bother returning it. Besides, I've already used it.

Is this piece worth the price? Well, for my purposes, which are to use while fencing, the dagger is still serviceable despite the fact that I will have to do something about the loosened guard. For the sale price I paid, it was worth it. If I had paid full price, I would think differently.

If it weren't for the loosened guard and the damaged band on the grip, I would say the normal, full price makes this an attractive dagger with a reasonable price tag. Because of problems I had, anyone who is interested in the dagger should make sure that the seller inspects it beforehand.

About the Author
Bill Grandy is an instructor of Historical European Swordsmanship and sport fencing at the Virginia Academy of Fencing. He has held a strong passion (obsession?) for swords and swordsmanship for as long as he can remember. He admits that this passion comes from a youth spent playing Dungeons and Dragons, but he'll only admit that if there are no girls around.

Photographer: Bill Grandy

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