Phoenix Metal Creations Loop-hilt Smallsword
A hands-on review by Stephen Fisher, with comments from Bill Grandy
The smallsword has it roots in the mid 1600s. As fashion dictated in the civilian world, a shorter, more crowd-friendly weapon emerged. This lighter and shorter thrusting sword gave rise to a new form of fencing which would be refined by the fencing masters for the years thereafter, much of which is the basis for modern foil fencing of today.
Throughout the 18th century, the smallsword was seen as a symbol of status for the wealthy gentlemen and military officer. Although often highly decorated and ornamental, the smallsword became a deadly needle in skilled hands when a quarrel would arise or one needed satisfaction on the field of honor.
I had always admired the work of Erik Stevenson of Phoenix Metal Creations. His attention to detail and obvious talent led me to push the envelope and order my first custom sword. I had first talked with Erik in February of 2003 about making a smallsword. At the time, his backlog had grown to 18 months. I realized that it was "now or never" and I had to act fast and get my order placed.
I knew that I wanted my order to be after seeing pictures of a smallsword of the loop-hilt type that Erik made. It is Erik's reproduction that first sparked my interest in this hilt type.
This smallsword is based upon several existing faceted loop-hilt swords from the 18th century. As classified in A.V.B. Norman's The Rapier and Small-Sword: 1460-1820, this smallsword is of the loop-hilt variety known as hilt Type 109. The loop-hilt is an often overlooked hilt type that was seen as a transitional hilt between the rapier and smallsword. It came in many variations and blade types.
Originally, I decided that I wanted a smallsword similar to the reproduction Erik had already created. I had decided that mine would, instead, be mounted on a double-wide epee blade and the hilt would be simplified to reduce the cost. As time progressed, and other jaw dropping works by Erik surfaced on the Internet, I knew that I could not waste his talent on making a "plain Jane" hilt. I talked with him and we decided to change the design to something more challenging. I proposed several different loop-hilts and we decided on the final design.
Measurements and Specifications:
Replica created by Erik Stevenson, Phoenix Metal Creations of Colorado, using an antique blade of German origin, circa 18th century.
The pommel of this sword, described by Norman as pommel Type 89, is characterized by being tall, slender, and ovoid in appearance, dating from about 1770 onwards. It was not uncommon for the decoration that was popular during the day to be found on both the smallsword and loop-hilted swords, as in the case of this sword. During the 1770s a fashionable form of hilt decoration was a faceting of the pommel. Often, the knuckle-bow, ferrules, and other hilt components were faceted en suite with the pommel.
A unique characteristic of this smallsword is the ray skin grip wrap. It was rare to see a smallsword in the 18th century with a grip wrapped in fish, shark, or ray skin; however, there are surviving specimens. One particular smallsword caught my eye that appears to have been made for a military officer. It has a boat shell guard and colichemarde blade and it influenced my decision to have the grip wrapped as such.
As I mentioned, I had originally intended to have this replica fitted with a double-wide epee blade. During my time waiting, I purchased a bare antique blade in an on-line auction. This blade, despite the evenly scattered pitting, was in presentable shape with traces of etching. Upon cleaning off the surface rust, I uncovered a maker's mark. A photo of a dragoon blade, having the same maker's mark, was found in the book, Me Fecit Potzdam. It has a caption reading "Unidentified mark with crossed keys inside a pearl-bordered oval, on a lenticular section Dragoon blade, circa 1780."
Another note of interest is that most of the examples I have seen of faceted loop-hilted smallswords is that they all have the common thin, triangular blade that is similar to the modern epee blade that became fashionable towards the last quarter of the 1700s onto the 1800s. As described in Ewart Oakeshott's European Weapons an Armour, the triangular smallsword blade had become increasingly narrower towards the end of the 18th century. Even so, it is not uncommon to find exceptions, as there were many different types smallsword blades still in use that ranged from blades of triangular, hexagonal, and diamond cross-section all of varying widths and lengths.
This sword handles absolutely perfectly. The dynamic properties of this piece are one of its highlights. I have to admit that I was wondering how well it would balance due to the fact that the blade is only a tad over 25" long I knew that it would be a hard task to get everything balanced correctly. My fears were laid to rest when the sword finally arrived. The balance is perfect and, being only 11 ounces, it feels as light as a feather. The hilt and blade act in unison with one another as if they were made at the same time.
Fellow collector Bill Grandy said that the sword was amazingly fast. "I was floored when I first picked up the sword. Pinching the ricasso with the thumb and forefinger allowed complete control of the tip. It is very lively and responsive. It does not feel like a sword that could regularly handle hard parries against a larger weapon, but looking at the nicks on the blade, it is quite possible that it did indeed face a larger weapon at some point."
"I found that the guards prime and seconde, with the hand held high and tip low, felt the most natural with such a short and light weapon. Sir William Hope's New Method of Fencing advises this position would suit this sword well, as it can easily deflect another blade and quickly bring the tip back for a ripostesomething at which a longer bladed weapon may be slower. The triangular cross-sectioned blade is very stiff, and would make a wicked puncture wound."
Fit and Finish
The execution of the faceted pommel, loop, and knuckle-bow parallel and exceed the quality that can be found on some period originals. The comfortable grip has been expertly wrapped with ray skin and double strands of braided wire. Erik has done an excellent job at mounting the antique blade. All of the fittings are tightly peened.
This smallsword is a work of art that would proudly hang from the side of an 18th century gentlemen or military officer.
"Erik Stevenson's hilt is one of the nicest reproductions I have ever seen, and coupled with an antique blade, this makes it even more special."
Erik Stevenson of Phoenix Metal Creations is a master of his craft. This smallsword exemplifies his skills as a professional cutler. The work is so good that if the hilt where aged to match the blade, setting it on a table at an arms show or putting it on display at a museum, it would be difficult to determine that the final sword is a modern creation.
I've received more joy owning this sword than any other antique smallsword that I've owned due to the fact that this was a sword personally made for me. I had actually considered canceling my order with Erik during the waiting period. Doing so would have been one of my biggest regrets.
About the Author
Stephen Fisher is a member of the Army National Guard and is an assistant sport fencing instructor and student at Western Kentucky University. His interest in edged weapons stemmed from watching one too many swashbuckling movies years ago. It has since grown into a serious study of swords and their use. He is a collector of both reproduction and antique swords ranging from the 17th to late 19th century.
Rapier & Small-Sword: 1460-1820, The, by A. V. Norman
European Weapons and Armour: From the Renaissance to the Industrial Revolution, by R. Ewart Oakeshott
Swords and Blades of the American Revolution, by George C Neumann
Special thanks goes to Richard Dellar for his assistance in identifying the maker's mark and to Bill Grandy for his additional comments for this review.
Photographer: Patrick Kelly