Eric McHugh All-Steel Rondel Dagger
A hands-on review by Chad Arnow
The aptly-named rondel dagger seems, on the surface, to be a rather simple form. Marrying discs for guard and/or pommel with a grip and blade, though, led to a somewhat surprising amount of variation throughout their epoch. The simplest versions sported flat steel plates and cylindrical grips of an organic material, usually wood or horn. Variations on this included sandwiching metal plates with organic materials creating layered discs. Versions also exist that are made entirely of metal. Popular in the early 16h century, the iron or steel parts were often richly decorated with carving, fluting, and incised lines.
Rondel daggers often bore thrust-oriented blades, designed to fit into small places and to pierce both clothing and person. In these daggers we see many blades whose cutting ability would have been severely compromised by their stout-cross-sections and multi-sided blades. It is obvious from their design, though, that this sacrifice in cutting ability helped create the thick, stiff blades that were necessary for thrusting and were also durable enough to stand up to hard use.
Eric McHugh has been a part of the Internet arms and armour community for many years. Eric's interest in the hobby took him from collector to scabbard maker and cutler, eventually leading him to a position at Albion Armorers of New Glarus, Wisconsin. Eric now heads Albion's Research and Development department. In this position, Eric has worked closely with swordsmith and researcher Peter Johnsson, even traveling with him to document museum originals. In addition to this work, Eric has been taking commissions as a custom bladesmith, operating out of his own shop.
Eric has created this all-steel rondel dagger, drawing inspiration from several period rondel daggers. The most obvious inspirations include a dagger from the first half of the 16th century from the Historisches Museum, Dresden and one from The Wallace Collection, London from roughly the same era.
Measurements and Specifications:
Replica created by Eric McHugh.
Since this dagger belongs to one of Eric's customers, my handling observations are based on handling only and on what information Eric has passed along. The steel grip looks very narrow at first, but is comfortable when grasped in bare or gloved hands. The addition of a gauntlet might make it a tight fit for my hands, but this dagger was, alas, not made for my hand. The lower rondel is just large enough to keep the hand from sliding onto the blade. The larger upper rondel locks the hand easily into place whether the dagger is held point-up or point-down.
This dagger is definitely a thruster; in fact, a better descriptor might be a "hilted spike." The three-sided, half-inch thick blade is hollow-ground on all its faces. Based on Eric's and Peter's research, the edges are not really sharp since the blade's cross-section and intent don't allow for or necessitate sharpness. The point is both stout and lethal-looking. Eric tested it against pine planks, leaving what he called "substantial holes in the wood." I don't doubt that, as there is no delicacy to the dagger's point. I feel confident that this dagger would fare well in combat.
Fit and Finish
The grip doesn't feature a flat or undecorated area, being covered with criss-crossing and paired file marks and lines, as well as grooves and bevels. This decoration provides both visual interest and security in gripping. The lower rondel is scalloped most of the way around and one side is bent down, like the example from Dresden. The entire hilt area is evenly finished and attractively polished.
The blade is evenly polished and ground throughout. The hollow-grinding creates subtle curves that help keep visual interest in the blade. The level of polish is somewhere between satin and slightly mirrored, but manages to still look period-appropriate.
The scabbard is of black-dyed leather, and features panels of incised lines. The steel chape has a single incised line encircling its top, while a ball-shaped finial finishes it. The entire package looks both elegant and functional.
Everywhere you look on this dagger, painstaking craftsmanship is evident. The filework, incised lines, scalloped edges, subtle shapes of the fittings and the excellently ground blade are all well-done and exhibit an organic look that show they are handmade with exacting standards. Eric's growth as a bladesmith is evident, as is his study of period originals. All in all, this unique, well-made, and attractive rondel dagger is an artistic achievement that captures the spirit and deadliness of historical specimens, while making an artistic statement all its own.
About the Author
Chad Arnow is a classical musician from the greater Cincinnati area and has had an interest in military history for many years. Though his collecting tends to focus on European weapons and armour of the High Middle Ages, he enjoys swords, knives and armour from many eras.
Photographer: Chad Arnow