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JG Elmslie
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PostPosted: Wed 19 Aug, 2009 4:02 pm    Post subject: Typology for a early 14th Century Greatsword - advice needed         Reply with quote

Firstly, I would like to apologise, as much of what I'm going to mention to is going to be a little vague - the source and subject matter is from a private individual and therefore I am taking care to maintain absolute privacy. Although I have photographic material, I am hoping to arrange a viewing of the item to obtain detailed study, and to descuss if the study can be distributed among academic circles. Until that is answered, no photos or details... I hope people will understand.

Anyhow.
I have had the fortune to encounter a particularly interesting sword of what can only be described as remarkable and exceptional heritage, if it's provenenace were verifiable.

that provenance would reach back to the final few years of the 13th century, or start of the 14th century, with a northern european origin, possibly british origin, and certainly of british use.

I am, hoewever, from seeing it, sceptical of the heritage attributed to it...

the sword type is a large true two hander, approximately 1 metre 50cm to 1m 65 in length, straight-bladed spatulate with an unfullered diamond section blade, lacking a noticable ricasso. Corrosion is very minor, a deep patination appropriate to storage in a church or hall.

the grip itself was covered. I aim to get further detail and see to it that the modern covering is removed for study if it proves possible. All I can say is it has a hilt in the region of 12-15 inches in length.

the pommel and cross...
now we get to the tricky issue. without photographs, they're hard to describe. so I'll cheat, and use 3d software to make a model.

one of the the cross arms on the original is missing: I am unable to confirm it was broken off, however, under some light corrosion and patination. the surviving arm shape spirals downwards, toward the pommel, not upwards. Both sides of the blade have what at first appear to be ring hilt segments. however, both are filled, creating a large plate-like structure, rather than open rings.
the pommel is a cylinder of rhomboid section if cut through its centreline.

now with that cross and pommel, my gut insinct is that this is early 16th century, at best.
but the apparently reputable provenance of this sword dates it to being in use in the year 1300, +/- a maximum of 5 years either way.

So, I'm looking for the input of others. diamond section straight bladed, the size and proportions of a classic germanic Landsknechte beihander. Ring-quillons, which are filled. ornate cross with downward pointing spiralling decorative forms.

but reputedly from around 1300, not the 16th C.

any thoughts and opinions based on the meagre data I can offer in this mockup, would be greatly appreciated.
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Jean Thibodeau




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PostPosted: Wed 19 Aug, 2009 7:33 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Well, if one of the cross arms is missing it might make more sense for the missing one to be curved towards the blade while the remaining one is curved towards the pommel if only because if both are curved towards the pommel the upper cross arm would get in the way of good use of the sword while the bottom one would not be a problem.

Doesn't seem very probable that it's a 13th century sword, or at least the hilt furniture could be 16th century mounted on a much older blade !

Without a pic it is even more just guesswork.

Provenance could be in error and in error since the 16th century when it might have been attributed to a much earlier time for whatever reason ???

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Craig Johnson
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PostPosted: Wed 19 Aug, 2009 7:54 pm    Post subject: Care in provenance         Reply with quote

There are several swords that have a provenance far earlier than their form indicates across Europe and the Middle East. Many are attributed to legendary or at least famous individuals. Some of the blades maybe of the time period but most of them are later examples attributed to the past in the 16th or 17th C. Some can even be shown to be given their illustrious history in the late 18th C.

The illustration you have depicted is probably of 16th or 17th C. The guard has been put on upside down at some point. One would think this is nearly impossible to let happen but I have seen it on at least four swords in person and seen three others come up to auction as "unusual forms" that where obviously upside down. This is not just because the arms turn back to the pommel. That detail can be seen in art as well as example but the guard here is almost certainly upside down.

The pommel is again a later form. One would not expect to see this style at any point in the 13th C on a sword like this. But it does match many many from the later period.

This also highlights a problem that has plagued swords throughout the modern study of these pieces. Many owners and collections want there piece to be special or it was attributed a socially significant history at a point in history where the obvious problems where not noticed by the average person and so they where accepted. This could be done for economics or pride or even as a spoof but it has happened to many pieces. Examples are many but one can think of William Wallace's sword at the monument or the many swords of Mohammed as good examples.

Best
Craig
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Justin King
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PostPosted: Wed 19 Aug, 2009 8:05 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Reminds me a bit of the "Wallace Sword". A Scottish fellow once told me that it really was the sword of Wallace, it was just that the hilt, grip, pommel, and blade had all needed to be replaced at one time or another...
My guess, if it looks 16th century then it probably is. I have brought the subject up before and have found no evidence that swords of this size were in use anywhere in the 13th and 14th centuries. I have heard of at least one hand and a half-size sword which is dated to the early 14th, but nothing anywhere near true two-hand proportions.
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Hadrian Coffin
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PostPosted: Wed 19 Aug, 2009 10:03 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

My favorite is one in Turkey, a mid to late 18th century saber, said to be the sword of Moses (the biblical hero).
Laughing Out Loud
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Hadrian

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JG Elmslie
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PostPosted: Thu 20 Aug, 2009 5:09 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The "Wallace" sword in stirling was exactly the same sort of misappropriation of a later peice that I'm suspecting. who would've thought that Wallace was in fact Dr Who?

Jean Thibodeau, thankyou for the comment on the opposite arm being a plausible upward curve - you are of course, absolutely correct to point out that - I made an error of assumption to presume it would be symmetrical in my description.

My personal suspicion, reinforced by Craig Johnson's comment, is of a far more recent weapon of 16th C provenance, with a cross that has been put on back to front , and I'm glad to see that other's gut instinct is the same.

The filled ring-hilts with the solid plates is the most unusual part that I've not seen before, and I'm trying to find reference to in any other surviving peice - but my gut instinct tells me that a filled plate should be on top, with hollows of the rings pointing down towards the pommel, not up towards the tip.

It is an intriguing peice, but I must admit to being a little daunted by the claimed provenance and the identity of the owner of the peice to say "I'm sorry, but the provenance claimed for it is almost certainly false. the reality is that the sword is...." even though my first reaction from a single glimpse was "bullshit is that a sword belonging to..." Happy



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Bjorn Hagstrom




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PostPosted: Thu 20 Aug, 2009 5:24 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

JG Elmslie wrote:

The filled ring-hilts with the solid plates is the most unusual part that I've not seen before, and I'm trying to find reference to in any other surviving peice - but my gut instinct tells me that a filled plate should be on top, with hollows of the rings pointing down towards the pommel, not up towards the tip.

[/b]


Filled rings is maybe unusual on large swords, but the design is not unknown on rapiers, check out "Pappenheimers", maybe that can also be used as a clue to place this piece into a historical context? Hopefully someone with a better grasp of this can chime in..

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JG Elmslie
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Location: Scotland
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PostPosted: Thu 20 Aug, 2009 6:04 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Bjorn Hagstrom wrote:


Filled rings is maybe unusual on large swords, but the design is not unknown on rapiers, check out "Pappenheimers", maybe that can also be used as a clue to place this piece into a historical context? Hopefully someone with a better grasp of this can chime in..


I've seen clamshell guards on large two handers of scots origin, I've seen more pappenheimers than I can count, a good few dozen germanic zweihanders, and a good number of scots/english two handers with ring hilts... but I've never encountered one with closed plates.

its rather puzzling.
(edited to fix formatting)
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Bjorn Hagstrom




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PostPosted: Thu 20 Aug, 2009 6:39 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

JG Elmslie wrote:


I've seen clamshell guards on large two handers of scots origin, I've seen more pappenheimers than I can count, a good few dozen germanic zweihanders, and a good number of scots/english two handers with ring hilts... but I've never encountered one with closed plates.

its rather puzzling.
(edited to fix formatting)


It is a bit hard to see from the 3d-mockup (which is awesome anyway in helping out to understand the topic) but the filled ring and the pommelshape looks rather "rapier-esque" to me. A wild theory could be that a craftsman accustomed to build rapiers gets commisioned to hilt this larger blade, and this is the result?

There is nothing quite as sad as a one man conga-line...
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Justin King
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PostPosted: Thu 20 Aug, 2009 6:52 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Some of the large "Lowlander" two-hand swords had elements of some sort within the side-rings, two are pictured/mentioned in Wallace's "Scottish Swords and Dirks", although the actual fillers are hard to make out in the photos and are comprised of bars rather than solid plates. The one pictured in "Culloden: The Swords and the Sorrows" also features side-rings "bridged by a cruciform guard with a quatrefoil plate at its centre". Whether these are placed at the top or bottom edge, or inside, the rings, is not mentioned. Most filled rings I have seen on other hilts are set into a groove or shoulder that is formed on the inside surface of the the ring, and all that I have seen are pierced with decorative designs, or round holes at the least.
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Craig Johnson
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PostPosted: Thu 20 Aug, 2009 7:15 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

JG Elmslie wrote:


It is an intriguing peice, but I must admit to being a little daunted by the claimed provenance and the identity of the owner of the peice to say "I'm sorry, but the provenance claimed for it is almost certainly false. the reality is that the sword is...." even though my first reaction from a single glimpse was "bullshit is that a sword belonging to..." Happy


Hi JG

This is a difficult thing to approach. Some want to know the true origin of the pieces they have care of, while others are more concerned about the story or perceived truth they have for the item. It often in their eyes is an invaluable relic. Sadly this clouds their ability to listen to evidence with an open mind.

If they have hired you to asses the authenticity of the piece then one is obligated to be honest with your opinion. If they have just asked in passing one can be more diplomatic about the approach and you will need to decide how to state your opinion. If it is unsolicited and you are offering your view then they will often assume they know more than you. They will also be most inclined to not believe you as almost certainly others have told them the same over the years.

If the situation is not an official transaction where they are paying for your opinion I will often structure my response to the level they are open to it. Something along the lines of " The use of oral tradition in placing provenance on a piece can be a delicate matter. There are many major museum collections that are salted with pieces that are not quite right as the collector who originally purchased the item before donating it was sure the piece was special but this was information the dealer or seller gave the purchaser. Sometimes the items are required to be on display as part of the bequest and this proves a big challenge to curators. This form of sword is usually only seen in the 16th C. There could of course be some forerunners of the style earlier but this would just be a few decades as opposed to centuries. If this where to be that old we would seriously need to look at the research of the last 50 years as being quite off."

You do not call it completely off but make it clear that you would be inclined to do so if pressed. If they want more info they will ask if they do not, they will change the subject.

Best
Craig

PS Just thought of a great local example of this type of thing. The Kennsington Rune Stone which lies just a few hours north west of me. For a long time the official policy of the "museum" where it is housed did not allow the guides to acknowledge that it may not be completely authentic. It was absolute and one can not question this. People are not really logical beasts. That takes training and contemplation. We are more inclined to view the world through the glass of what is known and comfortable to us as opposed to using a critical eye to deep beliefs or that which we are familiar with.
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