E.B. Erickson and Angus Trim "Lowland" Basket-hilt Prototype
A hands-on review by Sean A. Flynt
The replica under review represents an Anglo-Scottish basket-hilt sword of circa 1550, and was created by E.B. Erickson and Angus "Gus" Trim. Erickson is well known not only for his knowledge of antique basket-hilt swords but also for the beautiful hilts he creates when not teaching Biology at an international school in Thailand. Trim specializes in creating blades optimized for cutting: universally made to slice, you might say. The pair collaborated to create a line of production basket-hilts. They generously donated their prototype to myArmoury.com as a prize for a promotional contest. I was lucky enough to win this giveaway, and thus the sword came to me. It is the first fine replica I've owned and a perfect match for my historical interests.
Some collaborations just can't miss. I mean, even if you're not a fan of the original Dukes of Hazzard TV program, wouldn't you pay seven dollars to see Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Britney Spears and Willie Nelson portray the updated Duke family? Likewise, even if you're not a fan of basket-hilt swords you can appreciate a basket-hilt created by the all-star team of E.B. Erickson and Angus Trim.
Those who suffer from the unique madness of basket-love must be especially impressed with the product of this collaboration. Replica Scottish basket-hilts representing the first half of the 18th century are common and available in all levels of quality, but replicas of the earliest British basket-hilts are very rare. I don't understand this, because 16th century baskets have romantic and historically significant cultural associations at least as rich as those of later times. The early basket-hilt sword was common among the first British colonists to the new world. It's the type favored by the likes of cranky English master of defense George Silver. And, of course, it is the sword most commonly associated with the dreaded Anglo-Scottish Border Reivers.
Early in his classic book, The Steel Bonnets, George MacDonald Fraser neatly sums up the cultural context of the Anglo-Scottish Borders region or "Marches" of the 16th century:
People who have suffered every hardship and atrocity, and who have every reason to fear that they will suffer them again, may submit tamely, or they may fight for survival. The English and Scots of the frontier were not tame folk.
Ironically, in light of our emphasis on the sword, the Borderers themselves chose the lance as their principal weapon. According to one eyewitness, their skill with lance and horse was so great that they could ride into a stream and spear fish from horseback. But nine feet of wood and a foot of steel just don't have the romantic allure of the distinctive Borders basket-hilt.
The debate over the origins of the British and Continental basket-hilt swords continues to rage. Suffice it to say that opinions differ, and the least-strained theory is that the various basket styles of the era evolved more of less independently out of the universal recognition of the value of protecting the sword hand even when not wearing mail or plate gauntlets.
Pointing to lines of trade between Britain and the Continent doesn't answer the question of stylistic origins because ideas likely flowed in both directions. However, it must be noted that British basket-hilts of the type reviewed here look more like the German basket-hilts of the same era than the classic Scottish Highland baskets of later centuries. In both cultures, the bars of these early baskets are narrow and organic in form, often explicitly so, with long, vinelike quillons, and terminals and pommels shaped like leaves, nuts or berries. Perhaps these forms were the cutler's reference to the rustic, utilitarian baskets encountered in everyday life.
Whatever the inspiration, the long, recurved quillons identify the earliest British baskets, dating from approximately 1540 forward. These quillons seem out of place in the kit of the imminently practical Reivers, and in fact many surviving basket-hilts of this era appear to have lost their quillons by accidental or deliberate amputation. The large, hollow, globular pommel also is a distinctive feature of the 16th century British basket-hilt.
Many examples of these weapons may be seen in the myArmoury.com albums, but the one pictured above, found near the English town of Bradford, Yorkshire, is said to be the principal model for the Erickson/Trim replica.
Measurements and Specifications:
Replica created by E.B. Erickson and Angus Trim Swords.
Unfortunately, I haven't found detailed statistics for original swords of this type. In any case, the Bolling Hall Museum sword on which this replica is based appears to be so deteriorated that its statistics might be of be of limited comparative use. As E.B. Erickson notes, that sword exhibits both fine details (ribbed pommel, silver wire inlay, twisted saltire spike, etc.) and inelegant construction and finish of the hilt, including a stout and stumpy forward quillon. Erickson seems to have combined the best elements of the original with the best of its contemporaries. The replica's quillons, for example, are of the longer, more elegant form, and the bars of its basket are uniform and carefully finished.
This sword's 2.8 pounds (typical for a basket-hilt sword) are so perfectly distributed that the weapon's weight hardly registers at all, and then registers simply as the urge to let this cutting blade get to work. Blade geometry is a complicated and sometimes controversial science, and one about which I'm unqualified to comment. I will observe only that this blade is frighteningly quick and sharp. It delivers strong, almost effortless cuts and is easily recovered from follow-through.
I found the long quillons to be no hindrance at all in handling this weapon. Perhaps they would be prone to become tangled in a horseman's reins or clothing. While this hilt appears to accommodate fingering the ricasso, this practice is both clumsy and impractical. Erickson has written elsewhere that this mixed-message design is true to original early basket-hilts which, by the provision of guards below the cross, appear to encourage fingering the ricasso, but which also, by joining basket and cross just over the first knuckle of the wielder's index finger, prohibit the practice. I'm impressed that the replica retains this distinctive and historically accurate quirk.
Fit and Finish
The basket is beautiful in proportion and construction, though its blackened finish to some degree conceals Erickson's exceptional skill. I suspect that browned, bright or antiqued steel would better highlight his twisted saltire spike, quillon terminals and vertically ribbed pommel.
The grip is a simple but masterful cord and leather wrap over wood. I've been studying this grip since I first touched the weapon, and I still can't find the seam in the leather wrap!
In his original notes for the contest, myArmoury.com owner Nathan Robinson described the double-edged blade of this weapon as a modified Angus Trim model AT1215 of 5160 spring steel. It is a sharply tapered cut-and-thrust blade and its contours are perfectly symmetrical.
I would describe the blade finish as attractive, but practical, with a medium-fine polish and very minor grinding irregularities along its central ridge below the broad, deep fuller.
This replica is exceptional. I think it's one of the most beautiful examples of its type. I would certainly recommend it if it were not a one-of-a-kind prototype. I suppose the production version is the next-best thing, although those do not appear to have some of the fine details of the prototype hilt, presumably to reduce production cost. For example, they lack the pommel design that is my single favorite element of the prototype. I would expect the blades of the production pieces to be just as formidable as the one in hand, though.
I'm deeply grateful to myArmoury.com for the chance to own this replica, and I can only hope that E.B. Erickson and Angus "Gus" Trim will continue to collaborate on such interesting projects.
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.
Border Reivers (Men-at-Arms Series), The, by Keith Durham
European Weapons and Armour: From the Renaissance to the Industrial Revolution, by R. Ewart Oakeshott
Steel Bonnets: The Story of the Anglo-Scottish Border Reivers, by George MacDonald Fraser, Harpercollins Publishers
Photographer: Nathan Robinson