A Resource for Historic Arms and Armour Collectors
Vince Evans Pattern-Welded Scramseax
A hands-on review by Patrick Kelly
Throughout the course of history some weapons have come to characterize, and at times even define, the cultures that developed them. Such weapons include the Japanese katana and the Roman gladius. Another weapon that has come to embody a certain sense of cultural identity is the scramaseax. The origins of the scramaseax are hard to determine. However, it is clear that it developed in the northern Germanic countries and early examples have been found in 5th century grave finds. This bladed weapon took several forms, from the shorter scramaseax knife to the longer sword-like langseax. Regardless of its form, the seax has been seen by modern historians as something of a poor man's weapon. The popular view is that those who couldn't afford a proper sword instead chose a langseax. In spite of this theory several examples of been found that possess fairly lavish decoration in the form of metal inlay and do not seem to have been the weapons of peasants. Perhaps the common view of this weapon should be revised in its broader sense.
It is possible to roughly determine the geographic origin of a given example by the profile of its blade. The scramaseax was widely used by the Nordic and Germanic cultures of northern Europe, and each region seems to have developed its own characteristic blade design. One of these is the Anglo-Saxon "broken-back" design. This defining feature consists of a strongly "broken" or clipped point that slopes downward to meet the cutting edge. Most scramaseax do not seem to have possessed any metal components in their hilt construction. The organic grip components have long since perished on most extant examples and the hilt pattern is impossible to determine. Still, a few early knives have survived that possess metallic hilt components made of bronze, and sometimes from other copper alloys, although this feature seems to have fallen out of use in later examples. The most notable is an example from the 6th or 7th century that is housed in the British Museum. This knife possesses hilt components made from a copper alloy. One modern example made by blade smith Vince Evans features a similar hilt design, as well as the characteristic Anglo-Saxon "broken-back" blade design.
Vince Evans has become well-known to collectors of quality edged-weapons. During a career currently spanning more than twenty years Vince has amassed a very large body of work that represents swords and other edged weapons from Persian, Oriental, and Nordic cultures, just to name a few. Regardless of the culture or time period being represented, the typical Evans piece will feature an attention to detail that is not exceeded by any other maker, and equaled by only a few.
Having been made in the 1980s, the scramaseax knife featured in this review is an earlier example of Vince's work. I purchased the knife some time ago from an on-line retailer, and while discussing it with Vince I found that I paid more for the knife than he had charged the original customer. I had expected this and this fact is a good indication of how high a demand there is for Vince's work. In the world of modern edged-weapons there is a select group of makers whose work will appreciate over time. Vince Evans is one of these and his work is always a good investment.
Measurements and Specifications:
Replica created by Vince Evans of Hawaii
The Bowie knife is sometimes seen as a modern interpretation of the scramaseax. The "broken-back" point of this Anglo-Saxon design is quite similar to the clipped point of the Bowie, hence the modern comparison. The "broken-back" design results in a very strong point that looks as if it would give good service against the body defenses of the period. The knife's strong spine would serve well in defending against an incoming knife blade, or as an impromptu hammer in various everyday chores. Any fan of the Bowie would find much to like in Vince Evans rendition of this ancient design.
Fit and Finish
As previously stated, this knife is an example of Vince's earlier work. As such it lacks something of the refinement of his current efforts. There is a small lack of precision in the overall outline of the blade that speaks of a relatively new hand. Still, the scramaseax itself is not a subtle or particularly refined design. It has always had something of a simplistic and brutish look to it, regardless of its ethnic design peculiarities. Consequently, the rustic look of this knife fits the type very well.
The knife's grip is shape from a very attractive piece of bird's eye maple. The grain structure of the wood serves as a beautiful compliment to the pattern-welded blade. The grip is well shaped and fitted to the hilt's brass components. I would have personally preferred these components to be made from bronze rather than brass. Not only is bronze authentic, whereas brass is not, but it will also age to a nice subdued patina whereas brass simply develops a nasty dull yellow color over time. When Vince chooses to use brass for his hilt components he typically applies an artificial aging using modern cold gun bluing. If the piece is handled extensively this artificial aging will wear off, thereby leaving the aforementioned appearance. Again, bronze would age to a nice patina on its own and would make this process irrelevant. This aesthetic choice of this construction material is a bit of a curiosity in a maker who otherwise prides himself on the detail of his work.
Still, the brass components are well-fitted and finished and feature file-work that adds a very nice finished appearance to the knife. All components of the assembly are well fitted, with absolutely no looseness or evident gaps. The blade is cleanly soldered into the forward brass plate, and while I haven't disassembled the knife I strongly suspect that the brass pommel cap is threaded in place.
This Anglo-Saxon scramaseax is an interesting and attractive early effort by a maker who has become one of the benchmarks of the custom blade-making industry. Its rustic qualities do not detract from its appearance, but rather add to its period correct feel. Not only is it an attractive period piece it is also a very solid and functional knife that would give excellent service in any real-world application. When edged-weapons made by Vince Evans show up on the second-hand market they usually aren't available for long. This scramaseax is a good explanation for that trend.
About the Author
Patrick is a State Trooper serving with the Kansas Highway Patrol. He has been fascinated with edged weapons, particularly the medieval sword, since early childhood. Not only is Patrick thankful for any opportunity to indulge in his favorite hobby, he is also blessed with a wife who tolerates a house full of sharp pointy things.
Photographer: Patrick Kelly