Info Favorites Register Log in
myArmoury.com Discussion Forums

Forum index Memberlist Usergroups Spotlight Topics Search
Forum Index > Historical Arms Talk > Historic examples of poor quality swords... Reply to topic
This is a standard topic  
Author Message
JE Sarge
Industry Professional



PostPosted: Wed 21 Jul, 2010 8:46 pm    Post subject: Historic examples of poor quality swords...         Reply with quote

We are all familiar with pristine swords in museums. We have all see well-made swords displayed in excavated condition with severe deterioration, corrosion, or perhaps even displayed in pieces - because this is all that exists of them. We can glean scientifically the superiority of the worksmanship and the time and detail that went into these antiquities. Frequently, the better made sword is more-desirable in the collecting community. Most of those that I have seen would be considered to be well-made by collectors; or at least documented as such.

But what about swords that were of poor quality? Those that were not tempered properly, had ill-fitting hardware, little distal taper, poor balance, or were made by a smith in a hurry or perhaps one with little practical experience. Or maybe even something that was made as a munitions grade for bulk issue.

Historical documentation tells us that swords varied greatly in price - from a few meager coins to huge amounts that only royalty could afford. I considered this for a bit - but it's an easy to understand concept for me not overly different from the sword market today. When I look at a machete, I see essentialy an instrument that has done a fine job killing over the last few decades throughout various Third World revolutions; they can be had for very, very inexpensive prices or even fashoned out of scrap metal for free. When I look at a Albion or A&A product, I see a more costly replication of a historic item that does the same job on a human as a machete does - although the historical precedent, design, form, function, and materials are superior - it still will end a life. It's easy to assume it was the same in antiquity.

Could anyone post or point me to examples of poor quality or badly-made swords of antiquity?

J.E. Sarge
Crusader Monk Sword Scabbards and Customizations
www.crusadermonk.com

"But lack of documentation, especially for such early times, is not to be considered as evidence of non-existance." - Ewart Oakeshott
View user's profile Send private message
Timo Nieminen




Location: Brisbane, Australia
Joined: 08 May 2009
Likes: 1 page
Reading list: 1 book

Posts: 1,493

PostPosted: Thu 22 Jul, 2010 2:42 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

From Pierce, Swords of the Viking Age, what look like munition-grade swords: Peterson type F, G, pg 47.

From Oakeshott, Records, XVIIIa.2 (pg 187), very bent blade. Text says "forge-made bend", bent in quenching?

"In addition to being efficient, all pole arms were quite nice to look at." - Cherney Berg, A hideous history of weapons, Collier 1963.
View user's profile Send private message Visit poster's website
Lewis A.




Location: United States
Joined: 18 Jul 2010

Posts: 75

PostPosted: Thu 22 Jul, 2010 4:41 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I can't cite a particular reference to ill-made swords, however something worth considering is this - what would have happened to a poorly-made sword over a course of a few hundred years? Would it have been treasured and preserved by subsequent generations? Would it have simply been scraped? Would it have been converted to some other form for a different use? If there are very few examples to be found of poorly made historical swords, that does not necessarily imply that poorly made swords were a rarity in earlier ages; it may simply reflect that poorly made swords had a lower survival rate than their better-made counterparts.
View user's profile Send private message
JE Sarge
Industry Professional



PostPosted: Thu 22 Jul, 2010 5:25 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

My first general thought was that they were probably used up - either scrapped and melted down or turned into fam implements. But, this does not cover ground or river found items. It would seem there would be at least a good ratio of poor quality, munition-type swords to the better-crafted ones found. Of course, I don't know for sure - that's just conjecture on my part; hence my original question. Happy

Thanks for the input thus far!

J.E. Sarge
Crusader Monk Sword Scabbards and Customizations
www.crusadermonk.com

"But lack of documentation, especially for such early times, is not to be considered as evidence of non-existance." - Ewart Oakeshott
View user's profile Send private message
A. Spanjer




Location: USA
Joined: 26 Apr 2009

Posts: 242

PostPosted: Thu 22 Jul, 2010 6:03 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I don't know of any surviving examples, but the French-made basket-hilts imported during the '45 were supposed to be of very poor quality. So poor that a great many of them were simply thrown away, though I wouldn't be surprised if some of them were made into dirks or other small knives/tools.
Na sir 's na seachain an cath.
View user's profile Send private message
Chad Arnow
myArmoury Team


myArmoury Team

Location: Cincinnati, OH
Joined: 18 Aug 2003
Likes: 21 pages
Reading list: 231 books

Spotlight topics: 15
Posts: 9,134

PostPosted: Thu 22 Jul, 2010 6:17 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

This will be a tough one to track down info for, for several reasons:

1) Lack of metallurgic testing. Not many swords have been tested for composition and/or heat treat. Visually, it's hard to tell sometimes if a sword is/was good or not. The Museum of London monograph Knives and Scabbards has info on knife blades and they varied considerably in terms of materials and heat treat. Some would have held an edge well, others not at all. That lack of quality control may or may not translate to swords. We don't have a lot of data to tell us if it does.

2) Corrosion or sloppy fit or....? It's sometimes hard to know if a loose guard was always loose (bad fit) or if corrosion helped it along. Also, perhaps it was a loose fit corrected in period by shims which have fallen out or corroded away. In that case, what do you call it? It may have been serviceable in period though it is very loose today.

3) Recycling. This has already been mentioned, so no need to go further into it.

4) What is collected/preserved. Also mentioned, but worth repeating. The nicest stuff tends to be what is collected, preserved, put in royal storehouses (Churburg, for example), and generally held onto. That tends to be what is published and displayed prominently in museums. The "other" stuff may have been recycled in period or could be in drawers in museum storerooms.

5) Modern perceptions. As Craig Johnson's article on Blade Hardness pointed out, there was a lot more variability in materials and heat treat back then than what we're used to. What we consider "acceptable" and "good" may be a much narrower set of criteria than our ancestors used.

I guess we'd need to define "poor" versus "good." Then look at the scant data available and see what we can find about swords that don't fit the acceptable range.

Interesting question, Jonathan. Happy

Happy

ChadA

http://chadarnow.com/
View user's profile Send private message Visit poster's website
Craig Johnson
Industry Professional



Location: Minneapolis, MN, USA
Joined: 18 Aug 2003
Likes: 16 pages
Reading list: 20 books

Spotlight topics: 1
Posts: 1,284

PostPosted: Thu 22 Jul, 2010 6:29 am    Post subject: Difficult question         Reply with quote

This is one of the those difficult questions that one could spend an enormous amount of energy trying to answer and still may not get much closer to an answer than we are now.

All the points made so far are valid as well as such factors as, over the use of the sword in Western culture the definition of high quality, acceptable quality and low quality has shifted multiple times. The quality of the blade and the quality of the hilt are often two different things. What we consider a quality spec on a period sword may well be different than what they considered acceptable. The variety of construction methods and finishes in period would also provide a challenge to define what is "high" quality and what is not.

Now when we look at swords today and see some of the rough work done on even royal weapons of the past one also must address the idea of a period aesthetic. Some swords where made mainly to be impressive when some from a bot of a distance others where made to impress when in the hand. This all for a market that had a very different idea of what looked good then we do. They also did not have the same ideas about symmetry, line and consistency than we do. As an example does a sword with a lopsided pommel indicate a poorer quality?

So I think there where distinct variables for the customer of the middle ages and when we describe something like munitions grade this should probably be considered a group that was purchased in group lots by some entity other than an individual customer. The individual buyer in period would still be able to have a variety of price points to chose from but the way the market was structured it was probably far less neat and tidy then some of concepts we carry back with us as we look at markets and production.

Very interesting area of study and one that has a great deal of questions to answer.

Best
Craig
View user's profile Send private message Send e-mail Visit poster's website
Sean Flynt
myArmoury Team


myArmoury Team

Location: Birmingham, Alabama
Joined: 21 Aug 2003
Likes: 10 pages
Reading list: 13 books

Spotlight topics: 7
Posts: 5,900

PostPosted: Thu 22 Jul, 2010 6:55 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I struggled with this problem when writing the article here about Swords In the Virginia Muster, 1624-25. The first English colonists were expected to bring at least one sword, and it seems likely that many of them didn't know much about selecting or using a sword. There must have been some junk among the imports, but we have very little of either junk or premium weapons. We just don't know where those swords went. I would guess that swords of mediocre quality used by untrained hands might have snapped and been turned into knives, daggers and tools (by colonists and natives alike).

You can see 17th c. munition-grade swords in the Graz Landezeughaus, by the way.

-Sean

"Everywhere I have searched for peace and nowhere found it, except in a corner with a book"- Thomas a Kempis (d. 1471)
View user's profile Send private message Send e-mail
Bill Grandy
myArmoury Team


myArmoury Team

Location: Alexandria, VA USA
Joined: 25 Aug 2003
Reading list: 43 books

Spotlight topics: 2
Posts: 4,146

PostPosted: Thu 22 Jul, 2010 7:24 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Chad Arnow wrote:
5) Modern perceptions. As Craig Johnson's article on Blade Hardness pointed out, there was a lot more variability in materials and heat treat back then than what we're used to. What we consider "acceptable" and "good" may be a much narrower set of criteria than our ancestors used.


This is a big one. For example, Dr. Lee Jones owns a beautiful sword (I believe from the 11th century, if I remember correctly) that is not heat treated at all. It isn't as if the technology didn't exist; Tools from that time period are heat treated to a high hardness. This was a good, functional sword that was intentionally left soft.

Virginia Academy of Fencing Historical Swordsmanship
--German Longsword & Italian Rapier in the DC Area--


"A despondent heart will always be defeated regardless of skill."
View user's profile Send private message Visit poster's website
David Rushworth




Location: Leeds, England
Joined: 27 Jul 2010

Posts: 27

PostPosted: Sun 05 Sep, 2010 2:48 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

This is a very similar thread to the one about munitions sword, perhaps they should be combined. I collect oriental stuff, and the quality varies incredibly, perhaps the poorest swords you will ever see are "takouba" the Tuareg and Chad area sword. Dubious metal, lentoid section blades, irregular grooves imitating fullers.....I could go on, but they are swords made for use!
Historicaly, look up the analysis of the swords from the Frankish graves at Salin ,France. Briefly the swords were randomly carburised, not carburised, heat treated effectively, heat treated iniffectivly, not heat treated......partialy heat tre......hammer hardened...It's worth following up, some smiths knew what they were doing and others hadn't a clue.
By the way, I am a new member and I am running round this site like a kid in a sweet shop, so please forgive my verbosity.

Never ascribe to malice what is adequately explained as stupidity.
View user's profile Send private message
David Wilson




Location: In a van down by the river
Joined: 23 Aug 2003

Posts: 774

PostPosted: Sun 05 Sep, 2010 4:56 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

In terms of poor handling qualities, the worst handling historical sword I've ever handled was a Basket-hilted cavalry backsword by Samuel Harvey. It was made in, I believe, Birmingham for the British military in about 1750 or so, and is a full basket resembling Scottish Glasgow-type baskets. The sword was very heavy, at somewhat over 4 lbs (most historic Scottish-style baskets I've handled have weighed between 2 and 3 lbs), and felt "dead" or "clunky" in the hand, the balance being entirely in the hilt itself. This was an actual sword meant for combat use.

Of course, handling is a fairly subjective matter, and does not take into consideration how the sword was used/intended to be used by the people who originally used it (that being said, in comparison to similar basket-hilted swords of the time by other makers, the Samuel Harvey sword suffers in comparison. So, maybe it's not so subjective after all...?).

I don't know how well tempered the blade was, but it being a British military sword, I can't imagine they would have accepted a poorly tempered sword... just a poorly handling one...?

Anyway, I don't know if this single example helps... fwiw, ymmv, etc.....

David K. Wilson, Jr.
Laird of Glencoe

Now available on Amazon: Franklin Posner's "Suburban Vampire: A Tale of the Human Condition -- With Vampires" https://www.amazon.com/dp/B072N7Y591
View user's profile Send private message AIM Address
David Wilson




Location: In a van down by the river
Joined: 23 Aug 2003

Posts: 774

PostPosted: Sun 05 Sep, 2010 5:01 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Timo Nieminen wrote:
From Pierce, Swords of the Viking Age, what look like munition-grade swords: Peterson type F, G, pg 47.

From Oakeshott, Records, XVIIIa.2 (pg 187), very bent blade. Text says "forge-made bend", bent in quenching?


Also from Pierce, page 36, Peterson type C. Sword is described as having a very poor balance, and weighs in at 4.17 lbs (1.896 kg).

David K. Wilson, Jr.
Laird of Glencoe

Now available on Amazon: Franklin Posner's "Suburban Vampire: A Tale of the Human Condition -- With Vampires" https://www.amazon.com/dp/B072N7Y591
View user's profile Send private message AIM Address
David Rushworth




Location: Leeds, England
Joined: 27 Jul 2010

Posts: 27

PostPosted: Mon 06 Sep, 2010 3:36 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Re the badly balanced cavalry backsword, its on record that the Duke of Malborough's men (late17 early18thC) would hold the blade and club with the hilt. Regarding quality of temper, scandals of poor quality blades were a regular feature of 18th and 19th C British military equipment.
Never ascribe to malice what is adequately explained as stupidity.
View user's profile Send private message
J.D. Crawford




Location: Toronto
Joined: 25 Dec 2006

Spotlight topics: 1
Posts: 1,596

PostPosted: Mon 06 Sep, 2010 9:13 am    Post subject: Literary Evidence         Reply with quote

I recall seeing several references to the use of 'tried' and 'proven' weapons in the Sagas, the inference being that 1) viking-era warriors were nervous about going into battle with a brand new weapon, and therefore 2) it must have been a relatively common, or at least familiar experience for new weapons to fail in some way. This fits with the web articles that have come out recently (and discussed in other threads) about poor quality Viking swords and fake Ulfbehrts. -JD
View user's profile Send private message Visit poster's website
Kel Rekuta




Location: Toronto, Canada
Joined: 10 Feb 2004
Likes: 1 page

Posts: 612

PostPosted: Mon 06 Sep, 2010 9:41 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Bill Grandy wrote:
Chad Arnow wrote:
5) Modern perceptions. As Craig Johnson's article on Blade Hardness pointed out, there was a lot more variability in materials and heat treat back then than what we're used to. What we consider "acceptable" and "good" may be a much narrower set of criteria than our ancestors used.


This is a big one. For example, Dr. Lee Jones owns a beautiful sword (I believe from the 11th century, if I remember correctly) that is not heat treated at all. It isn't as if the technology didn't exist; Tools from that time period are heat treated to a high hardness. This was a good, functional sword that was intentionally left soft.


Or survived a fire at some point later, only to be repolished and sold to an unsuspecting buyer? Just a thought.
View user's profile Send private message Visit poster's website
David Rushworth




Location: Leeds, England
Joined: 27 Jul 2010

Posts: 27

PostPosted: Tue 14 Sep, 2010 1:37 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Re poor quality swords, I have a shamshir blade that has split lengthways down the back..... Reference G.C.Stone and the recylcle of Damascus steel blades, forged out to twice the original length, and then wrapped over a core of inferior metal and welded down. I think I have one of these!
Never ascribe to malice what is adequately explained as stupidity.
View user's profile Send private message
Jason Hollman




Location: Derby
Joined: 12 Sep 2010

Posts: 23

PostPosted: Wed 15 Sep, 2010 9:02 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Weapons of necesscity are also frequently of poor quality. There are some examples of large 'broadswords' from the 1745 rebellion which are little more than a length of iron bar, hammered flat with a crude cross guard hammer welded on. Unlikely to have been a weapon wielded by a competent swordsman but probably highly effective when swung wildly whilst charging! (I'd be tempted to get out of the way, wouldn't you?)

To repeat an anecdote from the Kim Siddorn book on Viking Weapons

'A Stafford! A Stafford!'
View user's profile Send private message
Jason Hollman




Location: Derby
Joined: 12 Sep 2010

Posts: 23

PostPosted: Wed 15 Sep, 2010 9:07 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

(helps if you finish what you were typing!)

A Blacksmith of his aquaintance admitted 'Starting many pattern welded swords but finishing more daggers and spearheads'

With the art of hand forging pattern welded blades, even an expert is sometimes at the mercy of the metal and many a true looking blade shatters along an invisible fault line when put to the test.

'A Stafford! A Stafford!'
View user's profile Send private message
David Rushworth




Location: Leeds, England
Joined: 27 Jul 2010

Posts: 27

PostPosted: Wed 15 Sep, 2010 12:33 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Probably Hector Coles, he told me that he made a pattern welded sword for a museum, and in the final polishing a small piece fell out leaving a hole. He offered to redo the sword and was told, "don't worry, a lot of originals have just the same fault". Apro pro spearheads, wasn't the spear "Gugnir" a reforged sword of noble lineage and reputation.
Never ascribe to malice what is adequately explained as stupidity.
View user's profile Send private message
Jason Hollman




Location: Derby
Joined: 12 Sep 2010

Posts: 23

PostPosted: Wed 15 Sep, 2010 11:37 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The name rings a bell, I was going to pull the books out this morning and get the references but I was assaulted by a kitten at a crucial moment and almost collapsed the bookcase. Consequently nearly late for work after I'd tidied up the mess! Will try at some point over the weekend to drop in the references I've omitted.
'A Stafford! A Stafford!'
View user's profile Send private message


Display posts from previous:   
Forum Index > Historical Arms Talk > Historic examples of poor quality swords...
Page 1 of 1 Reply to topic
All times are GMT - 8 Hours

View previous topic :: View next topic
Jump to:  
You cannot post new topics in this forum
You cannot reply to topics in this forum
You cannot edit your posts in this forum
You cannot delete your posts in this forum
You cannot vote in polls in this forum
You cannot attach files in this forum
You can download files in this forum






All contents © Copyright 2003-2018 myArmoury.com — All rights reserved
Discussion forums powered by phpBB © The phpBB Group
Switch to the Basic Low-bandwidth Version of the forum