A Resource for Historic Arms and Armour Collectors
Del Tin 5181 Smallsword
A hands-on review by Bill Grandy
Modern sport fencers often romanticize their foils and epees as being the descendants of the Renaissance rapier, associating the fast moving, darting in-and-out actions with classic films such as The Three Musketeers. However many do not realize that modern fencing is actually more closely related to the later period weapon known as the smallsword, a short and very light weapon that was commonly carried by gentlemen in the late 17th century and throughout the 18th century.
The smallsword was the weapon of choice for a gentleman. It was a short thrusting sword that was fast and deadly, and at the same time elegant. It showed that the wearer was a man of status, but also a man of action. A skilled smallsword user could defend and attack quickly, with grace and poise. Due to its light weight, the sword could easily be controlled in the case of a duel to first blood, in which case the user would not want to accidentally kill his opponent as a matter of honor. A skilled fencer, however, knew how to make his thrust deadly should the situation deem it necessary.
There were many schools that taught the use of such a weapon, and among the most famous were those from France. Masters such as Domenico Angelo wrote illustrated fencing manuscripts that, to this day, are still often displayed in modern fencing salles, and the smallsword is still practiced by many modern day practitioners.
Del Tin Armi Antiche of Italy has been a staple in the sword collecting world, producing reasonably priced quality swords for a variety of uses, from reenactment to stage combat to fencing. This smallsword is one of their more recent additions to their already impressively diverse line. The sword can come with either a steel or brass hilt; the one reviewed is the steel version.
Measurements and Specifications:
Replica created by Del Tin Armi Antiche of Italy.
The ricasso is too fat for this type of sword and the finger rings are too large: unlike the rapier, the forefinger should not pass through the finger ring, but instead, gripping the smallsword requires pinching the ricasso between the thumb and forefinger. The way this sword is made, it feels more comfortable to grip like a rapier, which is technically incorrect for the style. This is a relatively small issue, however.
Fit and Finish
The guard is a little large when compared to period originals. It is only slightly so, and does not look terribly out of place. While it is noticeable to a person who is very familiar with this style of sword, it does not look terribly out of proportion and the average collector might not even notice without a close examination. The guard has a decorative pattern of piercings that is not completely even, but otherwise does not look bad.
The casting of the hilt is slightly crude. The lines are ill-defined in some areas, and casting pits are visible around it. At the price point, however, this is quite acceptable, and is still attractive overall. The wire-wrap on the grip seems tight, using a fairly thick wire that has been filed flat so as not to irritate the hand whilst gripping it, and is topped off with brass faux-Turk's head braids: It appears the braids are actually cast ferrules meant to look like braiding.
Finding decent replicas of smallswords isn't easy in the current sword market. The smallsword is an underrepresented weapon, and few companies produce functional versions of them. The DT5181 by Del Tin Armi Antiche is therefore a pleasant find, as it not only fills the role of a functional smallsword, it is not overly expensive, handles well, and could be used either as a true sword if sharpened or a fencing tool if used in conjunction with a rubber blunt. This sword is really quite a nice buy.
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: Nathan Robinson