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Nathan Robinson
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PostPosted: Mon 25 Aug, 2008 2:34 am    Post subject: Left-handed Swords         Reply with quote

Finding historical swords created for left-handed people is very unusual. I've seen some examples where I'm not entirely certain that the photo was not reversed. It's my understanding that most of Europe trained swordsmen as righties despite the way they were created at birth. It's just as well that I was born as a right-handed person, but this is still an interesting subject for me.

Browsing The Wallace Collection Web site, I came across this unusual sword. It's listed as a left-handed sword. Very strange.

If you have examples of any swords created for left-handed use, I'd be happy if you'd share them here.

Description and photo copyright The Wallace Collection.

Left-handed sword
Germany
c. 1580
Iron or steel, leather and silver, counterfeit-damascened
Length: 93.4 cm
Width: 2.6 cm
Weight: 0.83 kg
Inscription: 'IN TOLEDO' In large capitals; spurious
Maker's mark Stamped on one side
A525
Housekeeper's Room



 Attachment: 68.7 KB
A525.jpg
Left-handed sword, Germany, c. 1580
Copyright The Wallace Collection


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Anders Backlund




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PostPosted: Mon 25 Aug, 2008 2:52 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

You know, I could never really get used to the idea of making swords specifically for the right or left hand. In my mind, a sword should work just as well for the left hand as the right.

This is a bit unfortunate since there are so many swords I would have really, really liked if they weren't assymetrically designed to fit only one hand. Worried

The sword is an ode to the strife of mankind.

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Eric Myers




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PostPosted: Mon 25 Aug, 2008 8:52 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I noticed a couple of interesting things about that sword. First, the inscription seems upside down. Don't most blades with inscriptions on the outside use the true edge as the bottom? Also, the pommel looks like it might be flat on the side away from the camera, although it could just be the shadow that makes it seem that way. If it is flat, that would point to this being one of a pair. Are there any other pictures of this sword?
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Vincent Le Chevalier




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PostPosted: Mon 25 Aug, 2008 9:03 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Eric Myers wrote:
First, the inscription seems upside down. Don't most blades with inscriptions on the outside use the true edge as the bottom?


Possibly the blade was done separately with right-handed in mind, then mounted left-handed?

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Jonathan Hopkins




PostPosted: Mon 25 Aug, 2008 9:44 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I agree with Vincent. The blade was likely made separately and then hilted for a left-handed person as a sword was often the product of several artisans.

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Gabriel Lebec
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PostPosted: Mon 25 Aug, 2008 10:41 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Very interesting (and beautiful!). Personally, Anders, I really like asymmetry in design, including complex sword hilts. But of course, I am right-handed. ;-)

The Japanese had a saying... "there are no left-handed samurai." Of course, they probably said it in Japanese. ;-)

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Kjell Magnusson




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PostPosted: Mon 25 Aug, 2008 1:37 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Eric Myers wrote:
Also, the pommel looks like it might be flat on the side away from the camera, although it could just be the shadow that makes it seem that way. If it is flat, that would point to this being one of a pair.


That was my first thought as well. I seem to recall rapiers being made in such a fashion, to be carried two in one scabbard, which would seem to imply that it's somewhat plausible for a few other swords to have been made in such a fashion as well.
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Dustin R. Reagan





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PostPosted: Mon 25 Aug, 2008 2:35 pm    Post subject: Re: Left-handed Swords         Reply with quote

Nathan Robinson wrote:
It's my understanding that most of Europe trained swordsmen as righties despite the way they were created at birth.


Nathan, You could be correct, but I am skeptical of this piece of common wisdom...

This is from a previous post I made on this subject:

I'm not so sure that our modern notion that left-handers (and thus left-handed warriors) were less prevalent "back then" really holds water.

For instance, from the translation of Sigmund Ringeck's fechtbuch at http://www.thearma.org/Manuals/Ringeck.htm:

"Note: This tenet is addressed to left-handers and right-handers. If you are a right-handed fencer and you are closing to an opponent and you think you can hit him, do not strike the first blow from the (your) left side. Because you are weak there and you cannot resist, if he binds strongly against your blade. Because of this, strike from the right side, you can work strongly "Am Schwert" ("on the sword") and you can use all techniques you like. So, if you are left-handed, do not strike from the right side, since left-handers are usually not used to strike effectively from the right side and vice versa. "

Obviously, there were enough left-handers seeking instruction in the use of the longsword at the time this was written (sometime between 1389 and 1440?), to justify an explicit mention of the difference in technique employed between left and right handers.

Furthermore, there is evidence that indicates that left-handers may have been *more* prevalent in our past than in our current, relatively stable societies, where we do not experience and engage in violent exchanges on a day to day basis.

http://economist.com/science/displayStory.cfm?story_id=3471297

The study involved "traditional" societies, because these are the ones less likely to use firearms in their violent day-to-day conflicts (the use of firearms negates any advantages of left-handedness).

"the two researchers found that the proportion of left-handers in a traditional society is, indeed, correlated with its homicide rate." Thus, societies with more to-the-death one-on-one fighting going on have more left-handers, since being a left-hander is an advantage in this context.

Dustin.
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Nathan Robinson
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PostPosted: Mon 25 Aug, 2008 2:41 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

What is known of Renaissance-era (particularly English) treatment of left-handed swordsmen? This, I believe, is where most of the modern "common knowledge" (ie, passed around info as fact without knowing the source) originates.
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D. Austin
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PostPosted: Mon 25 Aug, 2008 5:59 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Slightly off topic but still relevant I think, the castle Ferniehirst in Scotland has an anti-clockwise turnpike stair, built to suit that left handed inhabitants. Stairs of this type were typically clockwise to give an advantage to the defender who may be backing up the stair, sword in hand. This enables the defender to hold on with the left hand and also places the column up the centre of the stair, in the way of the attacker's sword.
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Tim Boyer




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PostPosted: Mon 25 Aug, 2008 6:13 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Kjell Magnusson wrote:
Eric Myers wrote:
Also, the pommel looks like it might be flat on the side away from the camera, although it could just be the shadow that makes it seem that way. If it is flat, that would point to this being one of a pair.


That was my first thought as well. I seem to recall rapiers being made in such a fashion, to be carried two in one scabbard, which would seem to imply that it's somewhat plausible for a few other swords to have been made in such a fashion as well.


That's interesting, plus if you look at the quillon, knuckle guard, and even ricasso, they all seem to sit flush to the ground. This again could be a photographic illusion, but with how tapered the quillon and knuckleguard get at the tips, it does seem like it would match up well with sibling blade.

and if your going to have two swords in one scabbard, why not one for each hand Big Grin

i am just letting my imagination get ahead of myself now, more pictures of different angles would defiantly be useful.

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D. Austin
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PostPosted: Mon 25 Aug, 2008 6:47 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

This seems to me to be the most likely explanation. A "case" of rapiers, as shown below, would usually be flattened down the inside so they could fit together in a scabbard and appear as one, and yes, the intention was to use one in each hand.


 Attachment: 60.14 KB
case of rapiers.gif

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Nathan Robinson
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PostPosted: Mon 25 Aug, 2008 7:10 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Speculation on the idea of the first sword in this topic being a piece of a matched pair aside, I'm still interested in seeing swords specifically made for left-handed use. I'm especially interested in ones that are also documented as such.

So in an attempt to drive this back on topic, I'm attaching one photo as published in Illustriertes Lexikon der hieb- Stich-Waffen. It is s Reitschwert, circa 1580.

Please note, however, that this is one that I find suspicious and actually believe the photo is reversed in the book. There are multiple other hilts in this book (pp. 70, 74, 77, 84, 106, 109, for example) that are left-handed and I find it extremely unlikely that these weapons are all meant to be that way. I suspect sloppy prepress that allowed the slides to be reversed when they were scanned and bad QC in the publishing workflow.



 Attachment: 47.18 KB
Reitschwert_1580_2.jpg
Reitschwert, circa 1580

Shown as a left-handed weapon but I believe this photo is actually flipped.


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Bill Grandy
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PostPosted: Mon 25 Aug, 2008 8:13 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

There was an amazing schiavona at the Baltimore Antique Arms Show this past year that was left handed. This photo I have isn't great, as you can't really tell, but there is a thumb ring in the basket which makes it purely left handed. You can kind of tell in the picture how the basket is larger on one side to protect the outside of the hand, but mostly you'll just have to take my word for it. Happy

Regarding lefties in the Renaissance, various Italian masters of the 16th and 17th century gave advice on how to fence against left handed swordsmen. I couldn't say how common it was, but certainly it was common enough to take note of it.



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IMGP1363.jpg


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D. Austin
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PostPosted: Mon 08 Sep, 2008 12:44 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I can't seem to save the picture to post here but lot number 599, auction 56 in the Hermann Historica online catalogue shows a left handed sword from the 17th century.
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Nathan Robinson
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PostPosted: Mon 08 Sep, 2008 1:21 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

D. Austin wrote:
I can't seem to save the picture to post here but lot number 599, auction 56 in the Hermann Historica online catalogue shows a left handed sword from the 17th century.


Thank you for the head's up! Here are the images.

Hermann Historica wrote:
A heavy German campaign sword with a left-handed hilt

2nd half of the 17th century
Heavy single-edged blade with a double-edged, slightly rounded point. Shallow double fullers on both sides, and stamped notch decoration beneath the back of the blade. The blade is marked "SS" between stars on one side. Engraved iron swept hilt (one guard bar broken) with a thumb ring and richly embossed double shell-guard. Leather-covered grip (damaged, restored) with an iron grip ferrule and pommel cap. Top nut replaced. Length 95 cm.
Rare weapon made for a left hander.



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Hermann Historica

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Hermann Historica

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73245_d.jpg
Hermann Historica

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Anders Backlund




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PostPosted: Mon 08 Sep, 2008 4:04 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Gabriel Lebec wrote:
Very interesting (and beautiful!). Personally, Anders, I really like asymmetry in design, including complex sword hilts. But of course, I am right-handed. ;-)


I'm also right-handed, though I can use my left had decently.

I feel that's kinda besides the point, anyway. A sword shouldn't be so presumtious as to dictate to it's owner which hand it should be wielded in. Its a matter of principles.

Quote:
The Japanese had a saying... "there are no left-handed samurai." Of course, they probably said it in Japanese. ;-)


Well, there's no such thing as an asymmetric japanese sword, either. At least to my knowledge.

The sword is an ode to the strife of mankind.

"This doesn't look easy... but I bet it is!"
-Homer Simpson.
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Vincent Le Chevalier




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PostPosted: Mon 08 Sep, 2008 5:42 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Anders Backlund wrote:
Quote:
The Japanese had a saying... "there are no left-handed samurai." Of course, they probably said it in Japanese. ;-)
Well, there's no such thing as an asymmetric japanese sword, either. At least to my knowledge.


Actually the katana is asymmetric in a way because the scabbard is; it can only be worn in the traditional fashion, in the belt with the edge up, on the left side. This is obviously done with a right-handed user in mind. Also, some ornaments (menuki) on the handle are not symetrical. None of this really forbids the use of the katana left-handed though. However, all the traditional schools only teach the use of the sword right-handed, no matter the personal preference of the user. I believe they are even less tolerant than the European schools were on this matter...

Are there so many swords that really force right-hand use? Medieval swords certainly do not, but even some complex hilts (swept-hilts, half-hilts, etc.) can still be used in the left hand if need be. They may be intended to be used right-handed, but they do not make the weapon useless if you are wounded or otherwise forced to go left-handed.

Regards,

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Gabriel Lebec
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PostPosted: Wed 10 Sep, 2008 1:36 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Functionally speaking Japanese swords are symmetric (i.e., they could easily be wielded left-handed), although their cross-sections and decorative elements (including grooves, carvings, mountings, etc.) can of course be asymmetric. Katakiriba swords take this to an extreme, for example. However, Vincent's point about the teachings of extant ryuha is what I was referencing, not the swords themselves. In any case my original comment was of a much more light-hearted intent than it sounded.

Symmetry can of course be very beautiful as well... one attraction of many specific western swords for me is their great symmetry, and I strongly considered the Regent before ordering the Munich. Happy

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Anders Backlund




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PostPosted: Wed 10 Sep, 2008 2:59 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Vincent Le Chevalier wrote:
[
Actually the katana is asymmetric in a way because the scabbard is; it can only be worn in the traditional fashion, in the belt with the edge up, on the left side. This is obviously done with a right-handed user in mind.


Really? I was under the impression katana were simply stuck into the obi, for easy carrying, Meaning you could carry it at any side of the hip you feel like.

The sword is an ode to the strife of mankind.

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