A Resource for Historic Arms and Armour Collectors
Windlass Steelcrafts English Tuck (Estoc)
A hands-on review by Sean A. Flynt
The estoc (often called a "tuck" in English), like the platypus, is an odd-looking but perfectly viable critter adapted to a very specific environment. In its early 16th century Germanic form, it combines the length, hilt and decorative detail of its longsword cousins with a relatively narrow and thick blade optimized for thrusting. Some estoc blades retain cutting edges while others are so thick in cross-section that they are simply hilted spikes. All are very stiff and acutely pointed in order to exploit the narrow gaps in plate armour of the day. Manslaughter is the mission, and estocs very much look the part.
Although the weapon is most commonly thought of as a cavalry weapon (sometimes even couched as a lance), it can certainly be used on foot as well. In fact, it is commonly believed that the civilian rapier descended directly from the estoc and replaced it in some kind of faux-evolutionary progression. One can easily imagine someone recognizing the lethality of the estoc and making a slightly less robust version for civilian use. However, we should emphasize that the estoc was a military weapon while the slender thrusting rapier was widely recognized as unsuitable for the battlefield. Moreover, these weapons served different needs, aren't really interchangeable and developed independently alongside each other well into the 17th century. If they shared similar forms in their early years, it may simply have been because they were shaped by the same cultural forces, technology and human physiological frailties.
A review of antique estocs at auction reveals mostly German examples. The weapon seems to have been especially prominent in the German military context, in which it was called a panzerstecher. As is so often the case in arms and armour study, names have flexible meanings. Look around and you'll find more than one sword called an estoc, tuck, stocco or panzerstecher that you might otherwise identify as a longsword. Without close examination and handling, the difference between a narrow-bladed longsword and a broad-bladed estoc may be in the eye of the beholder. In the case of the very narrow blades of thick diamond, triangular or square section with acute points and no sharp edges, the distinction is more apparent.
After getting a close look at a most impressive German estoc in the Harding Collection of The Art Institute of Chicago, I decided to purchase a reproduction estoc I've admired and wondered about for years.
Windlass Steelcrafts, the Indian arms and armour firm that distributes its products via Museum Replicas Limited (MRL), among other retailers, can be counted on to deliver relatively inexpensive wares of varying historical accuracy in their design, construction and finish. The company's greatest asset, in my opinion, is its willingness to reproduce uncommon weapon forms. Its English Tuck (Estoc) serves as a good example of this adventurous spirit.
The Windlass weapon is of classic German estoc form, with a long, thick acutely-pointed blade of diamond section and simply mounted. The hilt consists of a bottle-shaped hand-and-a-half grip, plain, mushroom-shaped pommel of Oakeshott Type T5 and long, recurved quillons. The quillons taper from the quillon block out to globular terminals with a small raised portion like a stem on the outside face of each terminal. The quillon block features a subtle design similar to that found on historical examples. In fact, everything about the weapon's look, overall, is appropriate for a German estoc of the first half of the 16th century. The only noticeable departure from the look of originals is the absence of a pommel nut or peen block (this pommel is of the screw-on variety).
I've admired this weapon since it first appeared in the MRL catalog several years ago. It seemed to represent MRL at its best: an orphan arms design based on a known original but with enough corners cut to make the piece widely affordable. Introduced in 2002, the estoc's original price of over $200 US has in recent months been reduced to only $150. Such a reduction typically signals that an item is headed for discontinuation, and that's my cue to buy, having waited years for the moment. When the Estoc vanished from MRL's clearance listings while I hesitated, I turned to another distributor, By The Sword. The transaction, at the same price offered by MRL, was trouble-free apart from a backorder delay and the estoc arrived well-packaged and in good condition.
Measurements and Specifications:
Replica created by Windlass Steelcrafts of India.
Most of the estoc's vital statistics, like its aesthetics, are historically plausible. The thickness of the blade is the notable exception, and that may be a deal-breaker for those seeking an estoc with an appropriately stiff blade. MRL founder Hank Reinhardt (no longer affiliated with the company) owned the antique estoc on which the replica is based. He has noted that the replica's blade (1/4 inch thick) is not quite as thick as that of the original, owing to the difficulty of finding appropriate blade stock. So, although the Windlass estoc is a lethal weapon, with a blade significantly stiffer than that of my Windlass Steelcrafts German Rapier, it is not as stiff as original estocs are reported to be. According to swordsmith Peter Johnsson, who has studied original estocs and recreated at least one variety, even those estoc blades broad enough to feature cutting edges are significantly stiffer than rapier blades.
Those not able to sleep at night knowing that their estoc blade is not of historically appropriate stiffness should pass on this weapon, but I must emphasize that this blade can in no way be described as "whippy". Wielding it and stabbing heavy cardboard boxes engenders appropriate respect for this particular weapon form. Even with less-than-ideal stiffness, it is an intimidating presence in the hand.
Fit and Finish
The estoc's scabbard is a perfect fit, but shiny and only vaguely historical, with no provision for suspension. Since it detracts from the attractive and historical design of the weapon, concealing the distinctive blade, the scabbard is best left in the closet.
The Windlass Steelcrafts English Tuck (Estoc) is an elegant and impressive weapon that needs only a minor cosmetic upgrade to be a standout in any collection. While its blade should, ideally, be a bit thicker and stiffer, the estoc is accurate enough to make a very convincing case for the weapon form. That's the primary mission of reproduction arms, in my opinion.
I think it's a shame so few collectors were attracted to this reproduction, as indicated by its long banishment to discount purgatory. But as a collector I'm very happy to see yet another thoughtful Windlass design reduced to a price affordable to almost any student of arms.
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