E.B. Erickson 17th Century Hanger
A hands-on review by Sean A. Flynt
Popular attention, and thus manufacturers' attention, is focused primarily on reproductions of fine medieval arms and armour. There are fewer choices in quality reproduction arms and armour for the fascinating period of 1550-1650, when old-orders were toppled, whole empires were lost and won, and a new world was explored and settled. When manufacturers do reproduce edged weapons of that era, they often look to fine originals and high-profile forms (especially rapiers) for inspiration, with predictable results in pricing. There are a handful of very fine reproductions of plainer, more pedestrian weapons on the market but even those are, ironically, both rare and costly. Although some manufacturers have offered entry-level ($100-$300 US) interpretations of underrepresented arms of this late period, there remains a gap, at all price levels, in quality reproductions of workaday military swords exemplified by hangers, falchions, cutlasses and messer. Those relatively short swords, favored by ordinary soldiers and sailors since the medieval era, often were of simple, inexpensive construction and plain finish, making it all the more perverse that good-quality, mid-price-level reproductions are hard to find.
E.B. Erickson has convinced me that custom manufacturers may be the best option for acquiring a replica sword representative of the common 16th or 17th century soldier or sailor in style, finish, and price. He takes a special interest in that era and, because he is not a full-time cutler, is free to experiment with designs and techniques that intrigue him. Knowing that I share his interests, he invited me to examine a 17th century hanger he's wanted to make. He had recently made a toy version of the sword (with a blade of rubber and wood!) for one of his son's friends, but wanted to create what he calls a "test drive" piecea fully-finished but somewhat experimental reproduction to place in the hands of a collector whose interests it matches and who can offer informed feedback. So, the subject of this review is neither a production piece nor a custom commission. It isn't necessarily a prototype either, because that presumes a production version will follow.
The damaged original weapon that inspired Erickson's creation is a hanger of the second quarter of the 17th century in the collection of the National Maritime Museum in London (WPN1430). Its broad, slightly-curved, single-edged blade features three long fullers and a single short fuller the length of the ricasso. The hilt consists of a one-piece guard with asymmetrical inboard and outboard shells, a scrolled rear quillon and broken knuckle-bow, horn grip, cap-style pommel and square pommel nut. Four slots in the bottom of the guard seem to serve only a decorative purpose, and perhaps are intended to give the impression of a compound hilt of finer construction.
To describe Erickson's creation at this point would almost be redundant because his hanger so closely resembles the original on which it is based. Erickson has, of course, reconstructed the tip of the blade and upper-half of the knuckle-bow missing from the original. His primary departure from the construction of the original is in the pommel nut. Erickson believes, based partly on the form of the original's scrolled rear quillon, that this weapon dates slightly earlier than the 1650 date assigned by the museum. To emphasize his point, he has created a pommel nut of the type found on some hangers made at the famous Hounslow factory in the 1630s and 1640s. This consists of a pierced globular capstan atop a threaded tube that passes through the pommel cap and screws onto the end of the threaded tang of the blade, holding the weapon together. A threaded tang? Isn't that heresy as far as historical sword construction is concerned? Hardly. This particular method, which facilitates replacement of a damaged blade, secured many swords and hangers of the period. The small screw that secures the end of the knuckel-bow to the pommel cap also may raise the eyebrows of those more accustomed to medieval swords, but this feature, too, was common on swords of the period.
Measurements and Specifications:
Replica created by E.B. Erickson of Thailand
My observations are based on non-cutting handling because I have become increasingly skeptical of the value of test-cutting in evaluating reproduction swords. While I acknowledge the value of cutting exercises to those studying the techniques of the western martial arts (edge placement, footwork, judging distance, etc), it is an unassailable truth that nobody was attacked with a pool noodle, tatami mat, or country ham in the midst of a 17th century push of pike or naval boarding. Learning how this hanger performs against such targets might be entertaining but would tell us absolutely nothing about how it would perform against the targets encountered by the original in the context of 17th century warfare. As far as cutting performance is concerned, it must suffice to say that the blade of this weapon is heat-treated and sharp and features a short, robust tang.
Simply handling this hanger answers any questions one might have about why the type was so popular. The weapon is compact, easily maneuvered and of relatively simple construction, but seems to sacrifice little in the way of martial capability. The blade is broad and thick enough to deliver hacking blows, while its length, balance and curvature allow close-quarters slashing. The point is acute enough to allow thrusting, but the blade seems better suited to more spectacular violence. The large plate guard defends the hand and might make an effective weapon on its own.
Fit and Finish
The only flaw I noted in my feedback to Erickson about this experimental project concerned the brazing of the separate pieces of the unique pommel nut. I broke the nut while reassembling the piece after inspection of the blade, and Erickson figured the bronze he used for the brazing had not been hot enough. The easiest fix was to have the pieces re-brazed locally, followed by some grinding and cleanup work on my own workbench. This left the repaired nut fully functional but slightly askew and not as elegantly finished or as well-fit as Erickson's original. Still, I love the look and the technological ingenuity of the Hounslow-style pommel nut. It was an inspired and informed choice and I wouldn't hesitate to ask for it if I were commissioning a similar weapon from Erickson.
So convincing are Erickson's design, construction and finishing choices that if this weapon were severely antiqued and carefully restored it would be difficult to distinguish it from an antique hanger if it had no identifying marks. But Erickson has deeply marked the blade "EBE" (on the outside flat) and "2005" (on the inside flat), and marked the reverse of the knuckle-bow's shell with a Latin inscription of the type commonly found on swords of the 16th and 17th centuries:
This is welcome not only as the signature of the maker but also as insurance that the piece, antiqued and otherwise distressed, will not find its way onto the antique arms market as some of Erickson's early creations have (to his dismay).
Although I was under no obligation to purchase this hanger, I eagerly added it to my collection for $450 US. That very reasonable price reflects what Erickson considers to be a relatively simple hilt and the experimental nature of the piece. I'll repeat here the often-heard advice to contact custom manufacturers with the understanding that prices can vary dramatically from one job to the next due to a host of factors, including the maker's schedule, his interest in your idea and his experience in creating a given type of weapon.
So, what consumer benefit can the reader derive from this review if the piece under review will not soon, if ever, arrive on the market? Confidence, for one thing. Now having two of E.B. Erickson's experimental or prototype creations in my collection, I can unreservedly state that if I wanted to commission a reproduction of any sword of the period 1550-1750, Erickson would be my first choice of manufacturer. I doubt one could match, for what he charges, his first-hand knowledge of the arms of the period, his creativity in interpreting design and construction, and his exceptional technical skill. Given unlimited funds, I would happily purchase anything Erickson offered, unseen and undescribed, knowing that it would be unique, accurate, well-made and generally an outstanding representative of the era that most fascinates me. I consider his work that great a value.
About the Author
Sean Flynt is a public relations professional in Birmingham, Alabama. He is interested in the martial culture of all periods and people but focuses on 1450-1650, with special interest in German and Austrian arms and armour.
Photographer: Sean Flynt