A Resource for Historic Arms and Armour Collectors
Mad Piper Snouted Ribbon Basket-Hilted Broadsword
A hands-on review by Henrik Bjoern Boegh
From their first appearance in the 1540s until their decline as a functional weapon in the early 1800s, British basket-hilts appeared in a great variety of designs. This basket-hilt is based on one of the rough beak-nosed or snouted ribbon hilts which first surfaced in the mid 17th century. These hilts were of West Highland origin and emerged in the time around the Restoration of Charles II when there was a boom in the Scottish arms industry. As with most basket-hilts from the 17th century it features a broadsword blade of the type imported from the German blade workshops. Nicknamed Grosse Schotten or "Broad Scots" because of their popularity in Scotland, these were generally broad, thin, flexible, sharp and very well tempered. According to eyewitness accounts from their heyday they created a great deal of havoc when wielded in battle.
Today there are quite a few basket-hilt replicas available on the production market, but most of these don't look "right" by historical standards and suffer from poor balance. Most of these basket-hilts are based on swords from the 1800s or from around the time of the 1745 Jacobite revolt. If one wants to acquire a basket-hilt from an earlier timeframe or with an unconventional design or one constructed in a more historical way, one has to go to a custom maker. I've been particularly interested in snouted ribbon hilts for the last few years, and when I decided to get a new basket-hilt in November 2005 I contacted The Mad Piper, Donnie Shearer.
Donnie Shearer has been making basket-hilts since the 1970s and is an admitted freeman of the Glasgow Incorporation of Hammermen. He makes hilts and scabbards himself and generally uses blades by Del Tin Armi Antiche. He has a great variety of hilt styles listed on his Web site but is also open for special commissions. It should be noted that Donnie also makes other Scottish weapons, belts and baldrics, kilt accoutrements, and even repairs and restores antiques.
Dealing with Donnie was a great experience. After a few e-mails good contact had been established, and he was both service-minded and friendly. I asked for a beak-nosed ribbon hilted broadsword, with a leather-wrapped handle with metal wire over-wrap, and a black leather scabbard. All steel on the sword was ordered to be blackened. We agreed on most details though some were left to his discretion. Donnie usually makes two to three basket-hilts of basically similar design at the same time in order to be more effective. Because he was making some earlier ribbon hilts I was given the opportunity to get my sword finished a little more quickly. The sword arrived late in March, and was well boxed and as fine as when it left Donnie's workshop.
This snouted ribbon basket-hilt isn't based on one particular antique, but follows the style of snouted ribbon hilts from the mid to late 17th century. It is a bit of a mix of earlier ribbon hilts and the later snouted ones, and similar swords can be seen in Culloden: The Swords and Sorrows (plate 1:43-1:46, page 44-45). The blade is made by Del Tin and designed by Donnie Shearer, based on a sword in his collection. It features a long fuller from the ricasso down almost two thirds of the blade, flanked by two additional fullers running down about halfway the blade. There are two short fullers at the ricasso as well.
The hilt is constructed of flat ribbons rather than the more common rounded bars. It features a bend on the cross guard that leans it against the wrist. It has the typical S-shaped side guard, a cross in place of the later rams' horns, and it features an additional rear guard which is a bit slimmer than the main rear guard. The shields of the hilt are oval in shape. In place of the forward guards are small triangular guards pointing towards the blade and pommel. The end of the cross terminates in a point looking like a nose or snout. The hilt is sized like an original, and is therefore quite tight on my medium sized hand.
Measurements and Specifications:
Replica created by The Mad Piper of Tennessee with blade by Del Tin Armi Antiche of Italy.
When swung in a cutting motion it follows through the cut and is easily recovered back to the guard. It is a fast weapon and feels ideal for a cutting. It feels right for thrusting as well, but the shape of the tip suggests this to be less effective than slashes. The basket and pommel are also well suited for hitting and bashing, and it takes little imagination to see how this might be used in a close quarter fighting situation.
I have not cut with the sword as it is not fully sharpened. For now it will not be sharpened because I intend on using it for living history.
Fit and Finish
The hilt was chemically blackened and has a color which flows between blue, brown, black and grey. The inside of the basket is japanned (painted black), to protect it from rust and to make maintenance easier. This feature also provides a slight padding which makes it more comfortable on the knuckles. On the pommel and part of the basket there are some simple lines and groove decorations which closely resemble what is found on antiques.
The handle is wood covered with black leather. It is bound with two steel wires and a twisted copper wire. I think this is a very nice touch to the sword, as it gives it a bit more color.
The scabbard is made from a heavy leather which is approximately 1.5 - 2.0 cm thick. It is dyed black and has a fine waxed finish. The steel throat and tip are made from thin steel sheet and have the same finish as the hilt. Both are engraved with lines following the edges. On the tip the letters M P are engraved, which serve as the makers' mark. The scabbard hugs the sword well and is also well made.
I am very happy with this sword. It is a very wieldable weapon and the details are excellent. It has a finish that is very pleasing, much because it captures the feel of museum pieces. If one wants to get an unusual basket-hilt of high quality and doesn't mind the wait, ordering from The Mad Piper is a great choice. His interest, research and love for these swords, Scottish culture and history are well displayed in his work. I do not doubt that I'll order from him again and recommend others to do so as well.
About the Author
Henrik Bjoern Boegh is currently working on becoming a truck and bus driver. He has always been interested in history and weapons. His main interest is the Jacobite period in British history and the weapons used during this time. He is also interested in the general history of 17th-18th century as well as the Viking period. He has studied Kendo and Kali and is eager to learn more about Historical European swordsmanship.
British Battles, by Ken Guest and Denise Guest
Culloden The swords and the sorrows: An exhibition to commemorate the Jacobite rising of 1745 and the Battle of Culloden 1746, by National Trust For Scotland
Scottish swords and dirks: An illustrated reference guide to Scottish edged weapons (Stackpole arms and armour), by John Wallace
Photographer: Henrik Bjoern Boegh