Walking in the Footsteps of Walter Allan
A Baskethilted Backsword by Vince Evans

A hands-on review by Thomas McDonald

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The spirit of the great Walter Allan, the innovative 18th century Hammerman of Stirling, was alive and well in the shadows of Vince Evans, swordssmith. With ghostly whispers of encouragement echoing between the sound of hammer and anvil Vince slowly recreated an eighteenth century masterpiece.

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Antique Sword
At some point during the year of our Lord 2000, I contacted Vince Evans about having a custom basket-hilt made. At this point in time Vince's waiting list for a custom sword had grown and the wait for a piece by him was pushing the two year mark, probably only to get longer! I quickly chose to enter his queue—a smart move as Vince decided not to accept any new commissions until he could get caught up with his backlog.

During the months of waiting for my turn to arrive, I flip-flopped on which basket-hilt I would have made for me. There are just way too many awesome types from which to choose. Picking just one was difficult. As time passed, I found myself constantly returning to page 48 of John Wallace's book Scottish Swords and Dirks, gazing at the beautiful "Diamond" hilt that was the creation of the great Walter Allan of Stirling, circa 1735-60.

I relayed my project idea to Vince for approval, and as fate would have it, he had already scheduled a research trip to Scotland. He said he'd do his best to check out this particular piece first-hand to take measurements, notes, pictures, and whatnot.

The original sword is now part of The Museum of Scotland's collection, in Edinburgh. It's located in the Allan Family display.

As Vince started work on my sword, he contacted me to work out the details, large and small, and to get a good feel for what I was looking for in this piece overall making certain we were on the same page. Once he started on my project I was constantly kept up to date on its progress, being sent stats as they became available, progress pictures, and explanations of how things were going.

Please have a look at the in-progress photo gallery of this piece as it was being created by Vince.

During this time period the horrible Rodeo Fires raged in Arizona, which forced the Evans, and their neighbors, to abandon their homes! Thankfully, Vince and his wife, Grace, had their home spared. Despite all of these events, he managed to deliver my sword a good two months ahead of schedule! He's a pretty amazing guy!

I basically wanted to keep the piece as close as possible to the original, but told Vince he could wander wherever he felt it was necessary. I did ask for a little "orb and cross" mark to be put on the blade, as well as the famous name stamp of ANDRIA FERARA.

I requested the "dot and circle" ornamentation on the front screen of the hilt and a leather liner. The liner is made in the typical fashion for that era and is just oiled leather. The cutouts near the pommel that follow the basket lines are styled after a liner on a John Allan Sr. basket.
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Measurements and Specifications:
Weight:3 pounds, 8.5 ounces
Overall length:39 3/4 inches
Blade length:33 3/4 inches
Grip length:4 1/4 inches
Blade width:1 5/8 inches at hilt
Point of Balance:2.5 inches from guard
Center of Percussion:23 3/4 inches from guard

Replica created by Vince Evans of Hawaii

Handling Characteristics
The original piece that inspired this sword seems to be at the larger end of the scale for weight size when comparing basket-hilts of this time period. Since the original was being displayed, not able to be handled, Vince had to go by the known stats and his own good judgment when viewing it. He was able to handle a similarly sized piece and get a good sense of how it should feel, etc.

I find the sword to be quick and lively despite its larger backsword blade. Vince's skill in balancing blade and hilt makes this sword very light in the hand, so don't let the 3.5lbs. of steel fool you! This piece was certainly a cleaver and, given its mass, would wreak havoc on any battlefield.

I've only done light cutting with this sword so as to keep it pristine. Tt's definitely my favorite sword to swing. It just "feels right".

Fit and Finish
"Perfection" is the word that comes to mind when viewing this piece! The high level of fit and finish is truly incredible to behold. The basket's welds are clean with gorgeous detailing and decoration. The proportions of blade and hilt are historically accurate and precise.

The basket-hilt suffered a small bit of damage enroute to my house via the US Post Office, but it could not distract from the fact that Vince had indeed created a modern masterpiece, doing 'ol Walter Allan himself proud! I returned the sword for repair, which Vince took quick care of, and you'd never know anything had ever happened.

Considering my love for things Scottish, with all the pieces I buy and go on about, one may get the impression that Vince Evans does only Scottish pieces. This simply isn't true! Vince's work spans many cultures and time periods, Chinese, Islamic, Viking, Medieval, and whatnot. Each piece brings his incredible skill, talent, dedication, and research to bear. If you ever dreamed of owning one of those priceless pieces of history on a museum wall, there's a guy I know who can not only bring it to you, but will make it shiny and new...

His name is Evans, Vince Evans.

About the Author
Thomas McDonald has been collecting swords since the 1980s. His interests have taken on a serious Scottish slant, with the baskethilt claidheamh mor being his main focus. He loves all types and styles of the sword but the call of his Highland roots is strong.

Photographer: Thomas McDonald

Click photos to enlarge:

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