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Forum Index > Historical Arms Talk > Antique Axe: Tool or Weapon? Reply to topic
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Craig Peters




PostPosted: Sat 16 Jul, 2011 6:48 am    Post subject: A Late 13th Century Bearded War Axe         Reply with quote

My first entry into the realm of antique medieval arms is an absolutely stunning war axe from the latter portion of the 13th century. The axe was found very close to the site of the Battle of Falkirk, which saw the defeat of Sir William Wallace by Edward I on July 22nd, 1298, and the axe is attributed to have been lost or dropped during the battle. Assuming the dating on it is accurate, it is probable that it was lost by an English or Scottish infantry soldier, perhaps one who was slain during the battle.

The axe sat for sale at The Lanes Armoury in England for several years; there were even a couple of newspaper articles published on the axe, including this one here: http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/home-news/...-1.821737. Surprisingly, no one had purchased the axe, and when I saw it a month and a half ago or so, I knew it was an opportunity that was not to be missed, especially because axes from before the 14th century are much rarer and harder to find for sale. I have had it in my care for some two weeks now, but have only taken photos of it today when my girlfriend lent me her digital camera.

Almost exactly two feet long, from the top edge to the bottom of the haft, this axe is an extremely handy and agile weapon. It feels as though one could easily wield this axe while fighting for one’s life in battle. In fact, at least two of the people who have held it in person have expressed the concern that an axe this light might have been “too fragile”; I very much doubt that would be the case, but it nicely illustrates just how light this weapon feels in hand. While gripping the haft with two hands undoubtedly allows for a more powerful blow, one could easily use this axe in conjunction with a heater or kite shield, and I would not be surprised if its original owner did just that. The haft itself is not the original, although it’s unclear exactly when it was affixed to the axe head. From its appearance, I doubt that it dates from the 20th or 21st century, but without more information I am afraid I cannot be more specific than that.

I’ll let the pictures do the rest of the talking for now, and simply enjoy the fact that I am the proud care-taker of a fine medieval weapon, and that I am no doubt the absolute envy of any war axe fans here on myArmoury. As a thank-you for the Albion Next Generation line, which has made it possible for me to own several high-end realistic replicas of swords, and also as a thank-you for entrusting me with details and privileged information about his new, ground-breaking research, I have offered Peter Johnsson first access to measurements and complete photos and sketches of this axe for the purpose of creating reproductions for sale, if he so chooses.



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Craig Peters




PostPosted: Sat 16 Jul, 2011 9:49 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I just received an email from Peter Johnsson. He has informed me that this weapon is most likely not a medieval axe, nor even a weapon! He says that it is almost certainly a barte, a bearded axe that is a type of tool, and looks to him to date to the 17th/18th centuries. If this is indeed true, then I have significantly overpaid for an artifact that is not at all what it was claimed to be.

Can anyone else with knowledge about axes chime in on this matter? Sad
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Jared Smith




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PostPosted: Sat 16 Jul, 2011 9:31 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Craig Peters wrote:


Can anyone else with knowledge about axes chime in on this matter? Sad


I'm not an expert on axes, but have been studying a couple with intent to reproduce one. Your axe reminds me of a specialty carpenter's axe, or broad "hatchet" as might be used for smoothing or trimming small planks. The relatively straight cutting bit or edge is most consistent with the idea of it being a tool. The average angle of the beard should intersect the region of the handle where the hands are meant to be placed. (The beard has a pretty sharp angle, and I would say it was for one handed use.) I would guess an appropriate original length haft would have been close to 16" to 18" long based on the beard angle and your picture. More knowledgeable axe enthusiasts may be able to tell you more about its likely purpose if you can dimension the eye socket or bit style, give an estimate of head mass (hopefully around 2 lbs or 1 kg to have enough mass to work well as a tool, much much less than that if it was a weapon), and describe any other features such as asymmetry from side to side.

Absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence!
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Jared Smith




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PostPosted: Sat 16 Jul, 2011 11:38 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

A couple images in the photos of traditional wood working axes here look pretty close... http://www.ipswichknighthouse.org/methodtools.html
Absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence!
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Luka Borscak




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PostPosted: Sun 17 Jul, 2011 5:59 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Jared Smith wrote:
Craig Peters wrote:


Can anyone else with knowledge about axes chime in on this matter? Sad


I'm not an expert on axes, but have been studying a couple with intent to reproduce one. Your axe reminds me of a specialty carpenter's axe, or broad "hatchet" as might be used for smoothing or trimming small planks. The relatively straight cutting bit or edge is most consistent with the idea of it being a tool. The average angle of the beard should intersect the region of the handle where the hands are meant to be placed. (The beard has a pretty sharp angle, and I would say it was for one handed use.) I would guess an appropriate original length haft would have been close to 16" to 18" long based on the beard angle and your picture. More knowledgeable axe enthusiasts may be able to tell you more about its likely purpose if you can dimension the eye socket or bit style, give an estimate of head mass (hopefully around 2 lbs or 1 kg to have enough mass to work well as a tool, much much less than that if it was a weapon), and describe any other features such as asymmetry from side to side.


I doubt battle axe would have a head heavier than 1kg. Look at the A&A Dane axe and Hungarian axe. Their weights are 1.30kg and 1.40kg overall with quite long hafts...
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Jared Smith




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PostPosted: Sun 17 Jul, 2011 7:46 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Luka Borscak wrote:


I doubt battle axe would have a head heavier than 1kg. Look at the A&A Dane axe and Hungarian axe. Their weights are 1.30kg and 1.40kg overall with quite long hafts...


That is what I was trying to say.. Since it is not massive in profile size, you can sort of guess whether or not it was a tool if it falls into the weight range of common tool hatchets or small axes. Except for some of the more massive (execution and possibly ceremonial purpose) battle axes, many battle axe heads are often in the range of 600 grams or about 1 to 1.3 lbs. 1.3 lbs is on the low weight side of what most people using hatchets consider practical today for anything but a portable camp hatchet. A couple of current model "Swedish carving" hatchets are offered at around 1.3 lb., But forums on their use have quite a few people commenting that they prefer 1.75 lbs / 28 oz (nearer to 800 grams, very standard weight for modern carpenter's hatchet) as much more effective (less bouncy, more effective in getting a bite into dry wood) in terms of one handed tool use.

This is a fairly unusual antique regardless of what it is. Given that it has a documented providence, It may have a surprising value within an antique tool market. The beard angle is very sharp, and would benefit from a curved handle similar to those on small hunters' axes. Otherwise, it looks extremely purpose specific, such as for cross grain cutting for joinery purposes where timbers are laid out on the ground and being notched or tennoned. These were not consistently made flat on one side (for smoothing) until approximately 19th century. Some had a slightly curved (in cutting plane) head, or possibly a bent handle to keep knuckles away from wood when roughing or smoothing.

Absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence!
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Craig Peters




PostPosted: Sun 17 Jul, 2011 8:29 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Jared,

The axe indeed is asymmetrical. This feature was one of the major reasons Peter identified it as a tool, rather than a weapon. He mentioned that tool axes frequently possess asymmetrical heads, and that he is not aware of any authentic weapons possessing this feature.

As for the eye, I have taken measurements of it. It is an Isosceles triangle in shape. The base of the triangle is widest, at nearly exactly 3 centimeters long. The other two sides are both very close to 2 cm in length.

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Jeffrey Faulk




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PostPosted: Sun 17 Jul, 2011 10:17 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Perhaps the thread could be re-titled something like "Antique Axe: Tool or Weapon?", and a new thread opened for the antique swords/weapons idea? Just a thought...

Even if this axe is a tool, there's absolutely no reason a peasant soldier couldn't have packed it along as a back-up weapon or even as his primary. Not the purpose it was made for, but it'll put a hole in someone just the same as it'll chop wood. That's how I see it, anyway...
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Luke Zechman




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PostPosted: Sun 17 Jul, 2011 12:11 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Both... Didn't many militia/ various other soldiers employ the use of tools on the field of battle? It is likely that no tool had been deployed as a weapon more often than an axe of sorts. Bill hooks are another classic example. I say it could be both.
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Jeff Pringle
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PostPosted: Sun 17 Jul, 2011 12:37 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Here are some examples of this type of axe from "Das Werkzeug des Zimmermanns" by Schadwinkel, H.-T. & G.Heine, a good book about old woodworking tools... Wink


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Jared Smith




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PostPosted: Sun 17 Jul, 2011 3:52 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Craig,

I'm sort of excited about it in the context of possibly being a period "tool axe.". The interest in early ship building tools being displayed and identified and similar tools has been low compared to weapons. That said, siege and shipbuilding were significant aspects of the same conflicts. Some tools that could be like that were roughly illustrated in some 16th century manuals that I saw last night searching for "roughing" and "joining" under medieval carpentry. It does look like a classic English shape known in much later period, but you may have one of the earliest examples. Despite it not being what you thought you were buying, I hope you will consider taking some effort to possibly place it with a more interested owner or museum.

Jared

Absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence!
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Craig Peters




PostPosted: Sun 17 Jul, 2011 6:08 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Jared Smith wrote:
Craig, Despite it not being what you thought you were buying, I hope you will consider taking some effort to possibly place it with a more interested owner or museum.


Jared,

I am willing to consider finding a more interested owner or musuem. The problem is that I paid a fairly substantial price for this piece, based on the assumption that it was a genuine, 13th C war axe (see the newspaper article in the first post for the exact figure). My guess is that were this axe sold to a collector, it would be for significantly less than the original asking price because of the nature of what it is. Given that I have bought an axe that is neither:

a) 13th century nor medieval
b) from the Battle of Falkirk
c) even a weapon

at this point, what I would really like most is a refund. It is a cool piece for what it is, and it's pretty awesome that I have a old and uncommonly-seen tool. But the first thing for me at this point is to try and recoup my funds.
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Jeremy V. Krause




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PostPosted: Sun 17 Jul, 2011 8:57 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Craig Peters wrote:
Jared Smith wrote:
Craig, Despite it not being what you thought you were buying, I hope you will consider taking some effort to possibly place it with a more interested owner or museum.


Jared,

I am willing to consider finding a more interested owner or musuem. The problem is that I paid a fairly substantial price for this piece, based on the assumption that it was a genuine, 13th C war axe (see the newspaper article in the first post for the exact figure). My guess is that were this axe sold to a collector, it would be for significantly less than the original asking price because of the nature of what it is. Given that I have bought an axe that is neither:

a) 13th century nor medieval
b) from the Battle of Falkirk
c) even a weapon

at this point, what I would really like most is a refund. It is a cool piece for what it is, and it's pretty awesome that I have a old and uncommonly-seen tool. But the first thing for me at this point is to try and recoup my funds.


I'm really about this Craig,

I hope you can get a refund. I couldn't get the link in your OP to work.
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Sander Marechal




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PostPosted: Sun 17 Jul, 2011 9:33 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The dot at the end of the sentence is what caused Crag's link to fail. Here's a working link: http://www.heraldscotland.com/news/home-news/...n-1.821737
The Knights Hospitaller: http://www.hospitaalridders.nl
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Craig Peters




PostPosted: Sun 17 Jul, 2011 10:19 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

It seems to be truncating the article when I open it now, for some reason. The axe cost £1195, before shipping.

By the way Jeff, thank you very much for posting the information that you did. It will help me a lot in getting a refund.

What is the value of an antique barte? It's possible that my haft is the original haft; it certainly looks like the wooden hafts seen on 17th century polearms. I'm curious what a complete, original specimen is worth.
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Craig Peters




PostPosted: Sun 17 Jul, 2011 10:32 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I have a question regarding refund etiquette, since this is not an experience that I have had before. Is it appropriate for me to request a refund for the cost of shipping, given that I had to pay for an item that was clearly not what it was said to be?
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Jean Thibodeau




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PostPosted: Mon 18 Jul, 2011 8:09 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Craig Peters wrote:
I have a question regarding refund etiquette, since this is not an experience that I have had before. Is it appropriate for me to request a refund for the cost of shipping, given that I had to pay for an item that was clearly not what it was said to be?


Sure getting the shipping costs covered for when you received it and for sending it back would be nice but considering how much you paid for it just getting what you paid for it would be good and a relief.

A lot depends on how much of a reputation your vendor has to lose and if he has a good reputation to lose in the first place ?

Assuming you can get your money back without too much of an argument I would like having the money in the bank before shipping it back ? ( Again reputation of the vendor is critical here to sending the axe back and getting your money back ).

Do you think that this is a case of an honest mistake where the vendor believed the provenance and identification of the piece and they too are the " victim " of bad research or expertise ( ? ): If an honest mistake I would take the loss for the shipping costs, If it wasn't an honest mistake just getting your money back may be a challenge ?

Oh, and this is just me thinking out loud and I really don't know what the etiquette is in a case like this, but a vendor giving good customer service would probably offer to refund everything and add some " sheepish " apologies " about his mistake selling something misidentified. Wink

Much less money, and decades ago, but I remember the sinking feeling when I bought what I thought at the time was a nice flintlock pistol in 1967 at Expo 67 in Montréal: At the time the $30 was months of my allowance and the flintlock didn't look so good when I took it home and really looked at it carefully ! A original lock matched up to a crude piece of pipe and a very sorry looking piece of wood for the stock. Sad Cry Anyway a form of " buck fever " that seems to blind collectors when they think they have found something rare and very desirable ! ( I feel your pain here Sad ).

You can easily give up your freedom. You have to fight hard to get it back!
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Jonathan Hopkins




PostPosted: Mon 18 Jul, 2011 8:15 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Most dealers have a "Terms & Conditions" section on their websites. Often they will state a time period after which they will not accept returns. Check this section first and then contact them immediately to begin the return process. Don't wait too long for additional feedback here lest you miss your window of opportunity to return the item. Good luck!
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Gene W




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PostPosted: Mon 18 Jul, 2011 10:39 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Also if of course the payment method used has any insurance or a buyer protection scheme.
When you send it back make sure you use a good courier with full tracking.
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Bill Grandy
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PostPosted: Mon 18 Jul, 2011 1:29 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Jonathan Hopkins wrote:
Most dealers have a "Terms & Conditions" section on their websites. Often they will state a time period after which they will not accept returns. Check this section first and then contact them immediately to begin the return process. Don't wait too long for additional feedback here lest you miss your window of opportunity to return the item. Good luck!


I can only second what Jonathan says here. Alas, the vast majority of weapons that are pre-Renaissance (and many that aren't) that are publically sold are either fakes or Victorian reproductions. Unless if the dealer has a phenomenal reputation, or unless if there is serious documentation, you can almost outright assume the item is not geniune, sadly.

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