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Simon G.




Location: Lyons, France
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PostPosted: Thu 31 Mar, 2011 11:24 am    Post subject: Irregularity and asymmetry in original weapons         Reply with quote

Howdy, folks!

A recent post by Fabrice Cognot in another thread made me think about this: do we expect too much symmetry and regularity in our modern reproductions as opposed to what exists in period weapons? (I should note that this idea is originally Fabrice's, so I'm merely his humble intellectual henchman here Wink ). Anyway, I'd like to see a good debate on this, and it would be interesting to see what other collectors and makers think, so to avoid clogging the other thread, here we go.

Let's start with the pic Fabrice posted to make his point:

The accompanying text (in French) can be found at http://www.photo.rmn.fr/cf/htm/CSearchZ.aspx?...6NU0TG59AV

As Fab noted and as written on this page it is the sword of a duke of Milan.

Some more pics of the same blade:


And this one of the other side of the blade, on which the symmetry seems "better":


There's another sword in the same museum (the Cluny), attributed to emperor Frederick III (additional data here: http://www.photo.rmn.fr/cf/htm/CSearchZ.aspx?...6NU0TG537C ), which has a similar central ridge and will also be interesting in this debate:



Apparently, the ridge on this sword is also "wavy", at least on one side (first pic), and on the other side (two last pics) it seems straighter but the guard, grip and pommel seem not aligned with the blade (or at least with the ridge), although that could very possibly be due to damage through time.

I'm sure other people will supply other pics (at least I hope so)... Or I will do so myself in the future.

Anyway, the question is this: used, as we are, to perfectly symmetric and regular pieces from quality makers, are our expectations in this regard in line with what some (certainly not all) period originals show? What qualifies as shoddy work and what qualifies as "historically accurate", should we accept that irregularities are sometimes so? As Fabrice said "what makes a flaw?"

(As a last note, both swords shown here seem to be prestigious blades, one that of a duke and the other attributed to an emperor, and in any case richly decorated, not "munition" weapons)

Thoughts everyone?

Cheers,

Simon
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Michael Pikula
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PostPosted: Thu 31 Mar, 2011 1:08 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

It is an interesting question... I don't think that we are asking too much in terms of symmetry and regularity. Technology has sufficiently progressed to a point where making a straighter, more symmetrical, harder, tougher, swords is easily within the realm of possibility if a craftsman does his homework, and is good with their hands. I think how a sword handles, and behaves is the most important factor. Some of the originals that I have had the opportunity to handle have had symmetry issues to the point that if I made an exact reproduction I would have an extremely difficult time trying to sell, if it would be possible at all, however it handled like a dream.

We have a different world view, different needs, different expectations then when swords were made in period. In my work I don't strive for absolute cnc perfection, the entire piece needs to work and function together as a whole. I think it is important for a craftsman to do the best work that they can, and aim for perfection, but when dealing with a forged blade, forged fittings, a forged pommel, and working with your hands there will be a little variation. The closer a craftsman is to becoming a master, the closer the work will be to perfection, and the higher the price.

However the most important factor is what your individual expectations are, and finding a craftsman that meets your expectations and budget, and have an open dialog with the maker about what you are looking for and what they can deliver. The market is pretty vast, there is something out there for everyone and every price range.

BTW http://www.myArmoury.com/talk/viewtopic.php?t...highlight= is the the thread discussing "How Perfect"
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Jean-Carle Hudon




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PostPosted: Thu 31 Mar, 2011 1:42 pm    Post subject: tempering techniques ?         Reply with quote

I once discussed this with a friend who made beautiful armor and quite a few rapiers and sabres ( Michal Dabek).
His explanation was that the tempering of the blade sometimes caused certain irregularities, a waving or warping of the blade.
He remarked that the effectiveness of the blade was not hindered, but the aesthetics could be affected.
Given the overall high quality of the blades shown in this post, it seems to me that this could be the case at hand.

Bon coeur et bon bras
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Peter Johnsson
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PostPosted: Thu 31 Mar, 2011 1:56 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

As I see it, it is not so much a matter of flaws being present in ancient work. It is rather about how good the work is.
You can have something that is "flawless" and still leave you with a feeling of emptiness.
On the other hand you can have something that is very rich and rewarding, that on closer inspection may not be perfectly symmetrical.
But that is beside the point. It is not about being symmetrical, or "perfect" in every detail. It is about being great.

See below two versions of beauty. Perhaps that is the best way I can express it.



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James Arlen Gillaspie
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PostPosted: Fri 01 Apr, 2011 7:36 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Here are a couple of pics of a pommel and button from a 16th c. Italian longsword that I did some work on awhile back. It was a very nice piece, and worth a bit of money on the collector's market. Proof positive, as if any more was needed, that the vast, vast majority of the craftsmen of the time cared NOTHING about symmetry or what WE call 'perfection'! They were much happier craftsmen, I'll wager, and had far higher productivity. I must confess that I am a 'recovering' perfectionist, and can't recover fast enough! The more I 'recover', the more real my work looks. Wink I have nothing against passing the savings in time (=money!) on to my clients.


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jamesarlen.com
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Simon G.




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PostPosted: Sat 02 Apr, 2011 5:36 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thanks for the replies everyone!

Quote:
I must confess that I am a 'recovering' perfectionist, and can't recover fast enough! The more I 'recover', the more real my work looks.


James, this is very interesting. How do you recover from being a perfectionist? Where (i.e. on which aspects of your work) and how do you accept to stop seeking "perfection"? What do you seek instead?

The pommel you show still looks nearly symmetrical to me... Although a little crooked, which would probably be frowned upon in a modern reproduction indeed.

What's somewhat scary is that we tend to spot asymmetry very easily and that immediately sends up a red flag in our mind... Well I don't know about y'all but it does happen to me when I look at replica weapons.
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JE Sarge
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PostPosted: Sat 02 Apr, 2011 6:52 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

This is one reason I like my Del Tins. They are well-built, yet, they do have their imperfections. Each sword has a personality, not made from a 1000ths of an inch perfection duplication cookie cutter. Hell, I remember when comparing a friend of mines 5161 and my own 5161, one was substantially longer than the other. Still, both swords were good blades in their own right - neither of them being perfect. Such is the case for any hand-made sword. No swordsmith can turn out the exact same sword twice, each will different slightly. Look closely enough, and all have flaws when compared against computer precision lines, angles, widths, weights, etc...

I have seen alot of swords from antiquity. None of them are perfect now, just as they were not perfect when they were created. A sword was a tool for most of history. Ask me if I care about the symmetry of the tools in my workshop. Some work well, but are ugly as sin. Some are shiny and new, but don't work worth a crap. I feel that swords are the same way. They do not have to have perfect symmetry to be good blades.

Imperfections give swords character. I like it this way... Happy

J.E. Sarge
Crusader Monk Sword Scabbards and Customizations
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"But lack of documentation, especially for such early times, is not to be considered as evidence of non-existance." - Ewart Oakeshott
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Brian K.
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PostPosted: Sat 02 Apr, 2011 7:21 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Great topic. I find myself being a perfectionist in my own craft, and yet there are things in which when made by hand the symmetry often has a little sacrifice in perfection.

Handcrafted creations of almost anything, makes it that much more desirable, in my opinion.

Brian Kunz
www.dbkcustomswords.com
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Nathan Robinson
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PostPosted: Sat 02 Apr, 2011 1:49 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I'm often turned off by machine-perfect symmetry or fit and finish and have been known to "muck up" the finish of many swords I've owned. I'm not talking about "antiquing" or "aging" or "beating it up" or anything like that, but rather more subtle things. I also tend not to really do much care and maintenance (if any) on the things I own. Having said that, I do live in California where the climate is stable and not prone to causing damage. I much prefer non-pristine items because they more closely resemble what is attractive to me: historical pieces as they were when they were first created or in use.

As mentioned above, this topic is a great read: How Perfect?

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Quinn W.




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PostPosted: Sat 02 Apr, 2011 2:22 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Nathan,
May I ask specifically what sort of "mucking up" you have done on pieces you own? I would be interested to know what methods you use to achieve the results you are looking for without damaging the item or aging/antiquing it.
Thanks,
Quinn

"Some say that the age of chivalry is past, that the spirit of romance is dead. The age of chivalry is never past, so long as there is a wrong left unredressed on earth"
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Nathan Robinson
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PostPosted: Sat 02 Apr, 2011 2:28 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Quinn W. wrote:
May I ask specifically what sort of "mucking up" you have done on pieces you own? I would be interested to know what methods you use to achieve the results you are looking for without damaging the item or aging/antiquing it


Occasionally I'll just drag a sword from a moving car on a dirt road for a few miles back and forth or wrap it in towels and drop it from a 3-4 story building a couple times. Nothing serious.

Or maybe I just limit the stuff to Scotch-Brite pads, sandpaper, and occasional "pressing" of the metal with other hardened rounded pieces of metal (such as the shaft of a hardened screwdriver) to dent and otherwise deform the shaping in subtle ways.

Really, I dislike pristine, machine perfect, sterile characteristics as much as I dislike sloppy, lazy, unskillful work. There are quite a lot of gray shades between those two absolutes and it's in those gray areas where the items from history lived.

The most important thing I do, however, is pick makes who create products that are compatible with my sensibilities.

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Allen Jones




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PostPosted: Sat 02 Apr, 2011 4:13 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I personally have an aversion to most replicas due to their machined look. You read reviews that so often talk about a replicas perfect symmetry, perfect fit, and unblemished finish. As an artist and craftsman myself when I look at antiques this is not what I see. In an antique you can see the craftsman hand in their work. I think to the modren eye, for the most part, that inperfection looks like shotty work. To me that imperfecton is beauty and the "perfect" replicas look foreign. That is why I started making swords for myself as a hobby. I can't afford the replicas I like and I don't care for the look of the ones I can afford, so I make my own. In the pictures provided at the start of this thread I would have to say those are extreme even for my taste. So that brings us back to what is acceptable and what is not? What is a "flaw"? I can't really say. It is personal opion based on a case by case situation. As I grow as an artist even that opion changes.
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Maurizio D'Angelo




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PostPosted: Sat 02 Apr, 2011 7:16 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Swords made ​​of CNC are cold. Contrary to popular belief, perhaps 50% of the finishing work is manual.
Inevitably have flaws. Fortunately, this work by a manual imprint of the sword, takes a cold perfection.

The swords are a symbiosis of technique and art. The technique we can quantify.
A defect becomes good or bad, other than the sensitivity of the observer.

The art, by definition, not be defined.


P.S.
Above:
These slots in groups of different lengths, are in the depth of the frame and within a few tenths of a millimeter.
It seems that those who made this sword, had an idea of perfection out of the ordinary



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Ciao
Maurizio
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Simon G.




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PostPosted: Sat 02 Apr, 2011 8:29 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hey all,

Glad to see this thread growing.

Many speak of CNC, but is it not the intent of the maker, as much as his or her means, which defines the end product? As Maurizio said, CNC-made swords are hand-finished anyway. So I'd be inclined to think that symetrical perfection, which some see as cold and others might see as beautiful, is achieved in great part by hand (which speaks volumes about the technical skill of the makers).

I suppose one element of the equation is that, for production swords at least, in our economic model and especially as pertains to online sales, you need a product that will exhibit a great deal of regularity and conformity to photos posted on your website... Else customers might complain or perhaps even sue.

This thread is something of a religious conversion (or "starting to see the light") for me. I am the kind to obsess a bit over symmetry, although not volutarily. What I mean is that my obsession isn't borne out of ideology - it's just how my eye is trained. Recently I recieved a sword with a S-shaped guard and started remarking that one branch was a bit closer to the blade than the other, then measuring it with a ruler... Forgive me, for I have sinned Big Grin

Michael Pikula wrote:
Some of the originals that I have had the opportunity to handle have had symmetry issues to the point that if I made an exact reproduction I would have an extremely difficult time trying to sell, if it would be possible at all, however it handled like a dream.

This remark is very interesting too. It recalls to my mind what should be obvious: by and large we focus far more on form than on function, whereas in the case of a medieval weaponsmith, it was probably usually the opposite, except perhaps for makers of luxury blades - and even them didn't seem to seek our modern idea of "perfection" as exemplified by the sword of the duke of Milan above. Looks are also probably easier to understand and to copy than handling...

Nathan Robinson wrote:
Occasionally I'll just drag a sword from a moving car on a dirt road for a few miles back and forth or wrap it in towels and drop it from a 3-4 story building a couple times. Nothing serious.

Or maybe I just limit the stuff to Scotch-Brite pads, sandpaper, and occasional "pressing" of the metal with other hardened rounded pieces of metal (such as the shaft of a hardened screwdriver) to dent and otherwise deform the shaping in subtle ways.


Wow, Nathan, that still sounds pretty extreme, at least to me! I never would have the guts to do this with most of my swords. But perhaps I should. I'm surprised, though, because this doesn't show at all in the pictures of your collection. Were these taken before this kind of treatment? Would you have some pics to show the results? I'm especially curious to see the results of a sword being dragged from a moving car (I can't help but picture you in cowboy attire dragging an Albion behind your horse, now... Wink )

Allen Jones wrote:
To me that imperfecton is beauty and the "perfect" replicas look foreign. That is why I started making swords for myself as a hobby. I can't afford the replicas I like and I don't care for the look of the ones I can afford, so I make my own.

Allen, I would be very interesting in seeing some pictures of your creations!

Cheers all,

Simon
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Chad Arnow
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PostPosted: Sat 02 Apr, 2011 8:55 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Simon G. wrote:
This remark is very interesting too. It recalls to my mind what should be obvious: by and large we focus far more on form than on function, whereas in the case of a medieval weaponsmith, it was probably usually the opposite, except perhaps for makers of luxury blades - and even them didn't seem to seek our modern idea of "perfection" as exemplified by the sword of the duke of Milan above. Looks are also probably easier to understand and to copy than handling...


We sometimes focus more on form than function these days for a couple of reasons (at least). First, these weapons and armour are mostly or entirely removed from their historical purpose for most of us. Since they will almost certainly never be used to defend or harm life and limb, they've lost much of their status as tools and have become objects of a different sort where aesthetics can overwhelm the rest. Second, we live in a mass-produced world where symmetry abounds. It's easier to make items like that than ever before. We've come to expect it. If my computer monitor were asymmetrical, I would send it back... Happy

I like asymmetries that are the result of handwork. What I don't think I'd like is seeing a maker slavishly reproduce every single asymmetry of an original. Those quirks present on the original have a backstory: maybe the smith was hung over that day or got bumped by his assistant as he was shaping things; maybe his eyesight was going from mercury poisoning from too much fire gilding; maybe he was just sloppy; etc.. I want to see the quirks from the person who made my item, not a wholesale copy of someone else's quirks. I want first generation "soul," not a copy of someone else's "soul."

But then I'm against artificial aging, too, for the same reason. I don't want to falsify my stuff's history. I want it to have its own history. When I look at some minor damage some things of mine have acquired over the years, that damage tells a story and triggers a memory. I'd rather have that than have artificial backstory created for the sake of itself.

I'll admit that the lines between what's original good design and a quirk are blurry and indistinct. Happy That's why I, like Nathan and others, tend to seek out makers whose work I trust and whose aesthetics fit my own ideals. If I were to commission a copy of the Cluny sword above, I'd want the maker to try to hit the same goals the original maker did not just to copy every single quirk. If the midrib wasn't straight because the maker couldn't make it straight using their methods/techniques, I'd like that better than if they could have made it straight but chose to "sloppify" it just for the sake of sloppifying it.

Happy

ChadA

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Nathan Robinson
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PostPosted: Sat 02 Apr, 2011 8:59 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Simon G. wrote:
Wow, Nathan, that still sounds pretty extreme, at least to me! I never would have the guts to do this with most of my swords. But perhaps I should. I'm surprised, though, because this doesn't show at all in the pictures of your collection. Were these taken before this kind of treatment? Would you have some pics to show the results? I'm especially curious to see the results of a sword being dragged from a moving car (I can't help but picture you in cowboy attire dragging an Albion behind your horse, now... Wink )


Uh. I was joking about the dragging behind the car and dropping from a building thing.

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Simon G.




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PostPosted: Sat 02 Apr, 2011 9:53 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Quote:
Uh. I was joking about the dragging behind the car and dropping from a building thing.


Damn. I was half doubting you were doing this, but you seemed so serious... Especially since the abuse methods you quoted later were more reasonable. Well played, I fell for it. But I will keep the mental image of you in cowboy attire dragging a sword behind your horse as compensation. Razz

Quote:
We sometimes focus more on form than function these days for a couple of reasons (at least). First, these weapons and armour are mostly or entirely removed from their historical purpose for most of us. Since they will almost certainly never be used to defend or harm life and limb, they've lost much of their status as tools and have become objects of a different sort where aesthetics can overwhelm the rest.


Sure, but if we see swords merely as works of art, and not as weapons, well - why not collect paintings or statues or somesuch? Or, we could for instance buy swords that are merely "lookers", made in soft, untempered steel. I'm sure that would mean cheaper and easier to make swords. Rat-tail tangs, too, become entirely acceptable if we go this route (at least if they're not associed with an ugly, shoddily made sword, as they almost often are). Personaly, it is the reason I refuse to collect blunt blades. It may sound silly, but in my opinion, a sword has to cut, otherwise it's not a sword, just a "sword-like object" (even if very well made, gorgeous etc.). Of course, conversely the case could be made that a sword is only a sword in its original context, ie a culture which uses it in battle, and that collecting replica blades today is meaningless. Not entirely false, in my opinion, although I do choose to collect replica blades nevertheless. But I digress...
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Nathan Robinson
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PostPosted: Sat 02 Apr, 2011 10:01 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Simon G. wrote:
It may sound silly, but in my opinion, a sword has to cut, otherwise it's not a sword, just a "sword-like object" (even if very well made, gorgeous etc.).


It does sound silly to me because not all swords from history were intended to cut. There were antique training weapons that couldn't cut when they were made. There were swords that can thrust through layers of resistance but cannot cut simple targets. There were historical swords that were not edged but intended to be symbols and not weapons.

I know you're making a wide assertation and not entirely being literal, but it needs to be said because the root of this topic is about context. The context of a sword's historical purpose is akin to the sword's context of historical cultural expectations. Since we're contrasting today's items with those from history, the issue of context is everything.

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Simon G.




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PostPosted: Sat 02 Apr, 2011 10:28 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Indeed, I should have said "a sword needs to be able to do harm", but that would've sound creepier. However, regarding swords made for thrusting, isn't a thrusting wound a cut -- made on a smaller surface and with a different movement? The effect on matter (ie flesh) is physically the same (as opposed to ie blunt force trauma).

As to swords made purely for parade or training, I don't think I would be much interested in those, and indeed one could question whether they are swords... To take an extreme exemple, I wouldn't consider a fencing foil, the logical and historical descendant of trainer weapons, to be a "sword". The only interest I'd have in buying say a so-called Federschwert would be to use it for HEMA practice (which too corresponds to the initial purpose of such an object).
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Chad Arnow
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PostPosted: Sun 03 Apr, 2011 6:20 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Simon G. wrote:
Sure, but if we see swords merely as works of art, and not as weapons, well - why not collect paintings or statues or somesuch? Or, we could for instance buy swords that are merely "lookers", made in soft, untempered steel. I'm sure that would mean cheaper and easier to make swords. Rat-tail tangs, too, become entirely acceptable if we go this route (at least if they're not associed with an ugly, shoddily made sword, as they almost often are). Personaly, it is the reason I refuse to collect blunt blades. It may sound silly, but in my opinion, a sword has to cut, otherwise it's not a sword, just a "sword-like object" (even if very well made, gorgeous etc.). Of course, conversely the case could be made that a sword is only a sword in its original context, ie a culture which uses it in battle, and that collecting replica blades today is meaningless. Not entirely false, in my opinion, although I do choose to collect replica blades nevertheless. But I digress...


Simon,
I purposely said they've "lost much of their status as tools," not all. Happy Function (or at least the perception of function) is still important to many people. But because the complete, original function of the item will likely not be fully realized, a disproportionate amount of emphasis can be put on the looks by some people. Especially since most swords will be looked at and admired these days much more often than they'll be used. It's interesting to me that people often make a distinction between "wallhangers" (poor swords unsuitable for anything but display) and functional swords, even though many of those functional swords will spend the vasty majority (in some cases, all) of their time hanging on a wall. I know people who will never cut (or thrust) with their stuff, yet they will only buy things that can cut because that makes the sword more real in their mind even though it will never see its intended usage.

Is a screwdriver really a screwdriver if you never use it to turn a screw? You could argue that it's not; it's an object d'art or even a paperweight if it never sees use. If you remove use from a tool, at what point does it stop being a tool? We're getting into existential questions with no easy answers... Happy Weapons, for much for their history, were defined as much by their use as their look. Nowadays, with a good deal of the items' use removed, it's easier to focus on the looks.

Our ancestors relied on real swords to keep them alive and to do harm to their enemies. An asymmetry was the least of their worries. Not that they didn't care about looks. But because the sword was first and foremost a weapon/tool and because they lived in an era when symmetry was harder to achieve across the manufacturing spectrum, they seem to have been more willing to put up with these issues than we often are.

Disclaimer: I'm talking about real battlefield weapons, not ceremonial weapons or training pieces.

Happy

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