A Resource for Historic Arms and Armour Collectors
Tod's Stuff Boxwood-hilted Baselard
A hands-on review by Felix Reich
The dagger was an important part of the equipment of our ancestors in medieval times, first seen in the kits of armoured men but later in widespread use as part of civil dress for utility purposes but most importantly as a weapon for self defense.
Seven major dagger groups can be distinguished. The baselard is one of those: a type often said to have originated in the city of Basel in Switzerland. Such daggers can be seen in artwork from the 13th century onwards. Its most distinguishing feature is the hilt form in the shape of a capital "I". The earlier types often have grips clad in scales of wood or horn, where pieces of such material are attached to the thick tang. In later examples small plate sheets serving as cross and pommel sandwich a carved piece of wood in between that encloses a narrow tang; this latter form is often called a Swiss or Holbein dagger.
This type of dagger was spread all over Europe and not only a Swiss specialty. In Italy it was very often shown in the mid 14th century, and Ewart Oakeshott (1960) states that in 14th century Italy it was the most popular type of dagger with nearly every piece of historical artwork showing it. Many knights' effigies and paintings, like those wall paintings in Avio castle (Italy), show armed infantry with baselard daggers suspended from their belts on the right side tucked behind their pouches. Several surviving pieces can be found in museums today most often date from the second half of the 14th century to the end of the 15th.
Baselards, although having been quite common in medieval times, are much underrepresented on the reproduction market today. Rondel and ballock daggers seem to be far more preferred by today's collectors.
I was building a kit to represent a northern Italian man-at-arms and felt that a dagger was needed. It is an important part in the "complete arming of a man", as Oakeshott describes so nicely. I was thinking about the best-suited design for quite some time and during this research I was also looking for a manufacturer with good reputation and a lot of experience when it comes to medieval knifes and daggers.
I finally found Tod (Leo Todeschini, UK) from Tod's Stuff, who had some very nice looking pieces on his site. I contacted him and we discussed what I wanted and he mentioned the baselard design. We went through some pictures that he recommended from a book as well as some I had taken of surviving pieces from Verona, Italy. I commissioned a baselard from him that was inspired by many of the major features from the museum pieces.
Measurements and Specifications:
Replica created by Tod's Stuff of Oxford, United Kingdom.
The first impression I had when taking it out of the box was, "this is a big knife". The blade is nearly half the length of a single-handed sword and runs from my wrist to my elbow. The dagger has real blade presence although the Point of Balance is only half an inch from the cross.
I have not thrust this blade into something hard, though it feels stiff enough and has a sharp enough point that I have no doubt that it could penetrate many things very easily. It has to be considered that this blade is not of the so called Panzerstecher variety, so hard targets or armour penetration is not its task. On the other hand I tried cutting/slashing at pool noodles and it was easy to slice those. This weapon seems to be well suited for both slashing and thrusting.
Fit and Finish
The dagger came with a leather sheath in a rich, reddish chestnut brown with a silver chape ending in a facetted point. The leather of the sheath has some simple tooling matching the double fullers and profile of the blade and is well done. Due to the blade's profile and the second layer of leather inside the sheath the dagger sits tight without the risk of falling out when held upside down.
I am very happy with this dagger and the way it was finished. The communication with Tod's Stuff was excellent and Tod took the time to respond to me and came up with his own ideas that finally led to this unique piece.
The dagger and sheath have clean lines and are not overly fancy but still have some nice features that would fit with a man-at-arms that has utility in his mind and that was the intention I had when ordering this dagger. You can also see that it was handmade with some small imperfections that set it apart from flawless industrial products, giving it character.
About the Author
Felix Reich is a veterinarian working in the field of food science. He is interested in the evolution of European arms and armour from medieval times to the early Renaissance. His main interest is the late 14th, early 15th century, from the "transitional period" to the appearance of full plate armour. He also started historical fencing in a study group in Germany in 2006.
Archaeology of Weapons: Arms and Armour from Prehistory to the Age of Chivalry, The, by R. Ewart Oakeshott
Photographer: Felix Reich