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Matthew P. Adams




Location: Cape Cod, MA
Joined: 08 Dec 2008
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PostPosted: Sun 01 Feb, 2015 8:12 pm    Post subject: How did one purchase a sword?         Reply with quote

If I'm in Medival Europe, and I wanted a new sword, did I go buy one "off the rack" ? Would I go to a cutler with a bunch of bare blades and pick out hilt furniture? Did I talk with a bladesmith about what qualities I needed in my blade, how stiff, length, etc, and have him make me something?

Is there even an answer to this question? If I had enough money I'm sure I could get whatever I wanted made, but is there an answer for the average guild member in a large town or small city?

"We do not rise to the level of our expectations. We fall to the level of our training" Archilochus, Greek Soldier, Poet, c. 650 BC
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Craig Peters




PostPosted: Sun 01 Feb, 2015 10:04 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

As far as I know, in many cases, men were presented a sword when they were knighted. In some parts of Europe, free men were given a sword as a sign of their freedom. In many cases, swords were probably acquired in this manner- as gifts- but I'm not sure in regards to someone who wants to purchase a sword.
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Pieter B.





Joined: 16 Feb 2014
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PostPosted: Mon 02 Feb, 2015 1:31 am    Post subject: Re: How did one purchase a sword?         Reply with quote

Matthew P. Adams wrote:
If I'm in Medival Europe, and I wanted a new sword, did I go buy one "off the rack" ? Would I go to a cutler with a bunch of bare blades and pick out hilt furniture? Did I talk with a bladesmith about what qualities I needed in my blade, how stiff, length, etc, and have him make me something?

Is there even an answer to this question? If I had enough money I'm sure I could get whatever I wanted made, but is there an answer for the average guild member in a large town or small city?


I don't think we got any hard answers for this. In some places you probably had a wide selection of "off the rack" swords with ready made hilts, in other places a limited number of ready made swords or bare blades that still need to be hilted. As for qualities in a sword, think of it like a car sale. Some folks will let the salesman unleash a waterfall of information while others will give the brochure a quick glance and go for a test drive. In ordering a new sword one might give general specifications like make it good for armored fighting and about "this" long, while the other would go through the details in the most minute detail. This is all of course provided you find a bladesmith/send a letter or are willing to travel to one.
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Glen A Cleeton




Location: Nipmuc USA
Joined: 21 Aug 2003

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PostPosted: Mon 02 Feb, 2015 7:02 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

So much depends on time and place. By the 14th century in England, pretty mucxh anyone earning a wage could buy swords.

WEAPONS
Item Price Date Source Page
Cheap sword (peasant's) 6d 1340s [3] 174
http://web.archive.org/web/20110522064216/htt...html#WAGES

Consider earlier, barrels of swords loaded on the boats for the Norman invasion. Or armies throughout history.

Cheers

GC
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M. Curk




Location: Slovenia
Joined: 21 Dec 2011
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PostPosted: Mon 02 Feb, 2015 8:31 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Isn't it true that a bladesmith usually made just the bare blade and than shipped it off to another tradesman who finished grinding and hilting the thing?
As far as car = sword goes, people with good wage shouldn't have a problem buying a reasonably priced car today so I guess if you weren't poor in the old days you could afford a sword.

Cheers MC
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Lafayette C Curtis




Location: Indonesia
Joined: 29 Nov 2006
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PostPosted: Mon 02 Feb, 2015 10:02 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Which part of medieval Europe and when? Your mention of guilds largely confines the discussion to after, say, the 13th century, but even then that still leaves a considerable span of time up to the end of the Middle Ages (regardless of whether you prefer to end it at the turn of the 15th century or the 16th century or any other arbitrary cut-off point).

In any case, there's probably going to be more than one way to acquire a sword for the "average" person who could afford one. He (or, in some cases, she) could have bought an old second-hand sword in good condition. Or got a second-hand blade in good condition and had it rehilted. Or bought a finished sword whole from the cutler. Or picked a blade at the cutler's shop and asked for it to be fitted with a custom hilt (or a reasonable combination of stock parts). And that only lists the possibilities that involve money -- obviously it was possible to beg, borrow, steal, or inherit a sword without money changing hands.
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Matthew P. Adams




Location: Cape Cod, MA
Joined: 08 Dec 2008
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PostPosted: Mon 02 Feb, 2015 10:04 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I was thinking southern Germany, Northern Italy, so if you drew a triangle from Milan, over to Venice and up to Munich, that area. And I was thinking guild members so swords that were used by the middle class to defend their home. Let's say 1480-1530.

I know there would have been many ways to obtain a sword, I'm wondering how much customization would have been available to a non-royal, but reasonable comfortable to fairly well off citizen purchasing a new sword.

When I want a sword today, I can get an off the rack Albion or A&A, I could ask Craig at A&A to mod an existing piece, or go full custom, I could talk to John Lundemo or one of the other custom smiths and have something entirely unique made. How closely, if at all, does this mirror how someone would buy a blade back then?

Are there any records of this type of thing?

I know the answer "really" is you can have whatever you want if you can afford it, but can any general statements be made about how much customer input could be expected?

I'm really curious to know if someone went into a... What, armory? sword store? Cutler? Smith? And what would I see? A rack with finished weapons to choose from? A bunch of unhilted blades, and I order a style of hilt I want to go on whichever blade I pick out? Do I ask the blade smith for "A sword this long, with a handle this long, that's good for cutting, and if it's at the expense of thrusting then so be it."

"We do not rise to the level of our expectations. We fall to the level of our training" Archilochus, Greek Soldier, Poet, c. 650 BC
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Harri Kyllönen




Location: Finland
Joined: 12 Jun 2009

Posts: 42

PostPosted: Tue 03 Feb, 2015 3:14 am    Post subject: Re: How did one purchase a sword?         Reply with quote

Matthew P. Adams wrote:
If I'm in Medival Europe, and I wanted a new sword, did I go buy one "off the rack" ? Would I go to a cutler with a bunch of bare blades and pick out hilt furniture? Did I talk with a bladesmith about what qualities I needed in my blade, how stiff, length, etc, and have him make me something?

Is there even an answer to this question? If I had enough money I'm sure I could get whatever I wanted made, but is there an answer for the average guild member in a large town or small city?


Many areas wouldn't have a qualified or affordable bladesmith since German blades were exported all over Europe.

A travelling salesmen or local merchant would have had imported bare blades in their inventory. A buyer would buy just the blade and pay a local artisan for a custom hilt and scabbard of his liking.

Someone living near areas of war gear industry (or have means to travel far) could propably buy completely custom blades made to personal taste.

Sword caches of merchants have been found in areas where there was no known local industry.
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Terry Thompson




Location: Suburbs of Wash D.C.
Joined: 17 Sep 2010

Posts: 144

PostPosted: Tue 03 Feb, 2015 8:15 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

People did need to defend themselves, and merchants undoubtedly sold swords and long knives. But was there a dedicated shop of swords? Probably not for the most part. Perhaps in major cities like Paris or London, you could have a very exclusive product line and stay in business. I'm surprised we have these things called Yankee Candle shops that sell nothing but candles. Didn't someone invent a bulb like 100 years ago?

Anyhow,back to the point.
I think what is more interesting rather than where you might acquire a sword (they were available. people had them. And they must have been buying or bartering for them), is the whole back end industry that was the birth of a sword.

When you wanted a sword, you didn't just go grab your pick-axe and head off into the hills to dig up some iron ore and start hammering it on your blacksmith anvil. There were whole industries of mining interests. Those mining interests had miners that dug for ore. The ore was then taken to (or sold to) bloomeries where they reduced the ore to sponge iron. The sponge iron was then sold to blacksmiths or plateners and possibly blade makers directly. The plateners in turn sold finished sheet, ingot and bar stock, which in turn could be bought by sword smiths.
It was a very specialized skill to forge low carbon steel that bloomeries could produce into a finely crafted blade. A skill-set and time investement that most likely a bloomery probably never invested in. A sword smith would make the sword and tang, but it could have been an entirely different person who made the hilt hardware forging or casting and finishing it. And perhaps another tradesmen to do the handle and scabbard. And it probably passed back to the sword-smith for final honing.
If purchasing for bulk, such as a lord or township providing for a garrison, they probably purchased directly from the swordsmith, and the swordsmith took care of the sub-contracting portions of: acquiring quality raw materials for the steel, and sourcing hardware and labor for the hilt and scabbards. And only performed the forging, sharpening and honing in-house. The very structured guild systems in major cities attest to this.
A Todeschini-all-in-one shop would probably be driven out of a city by the guilds for crossing the line in doing the work of one of any number of other trades. Pewterers (sp) didn't work in silver and vice versa. If you were caught doing it. You were in big trouble.

This type off tiered or multi-layered industry continued into the colonial era. In the colonial period in the Americas, you most often didn't walk into a tailor shop and buy a jacket off the rack. Tailors weren't JC Pennys. And they couldn't afford to have hundreds of sizes of jackets fabricated hoping that someone of that size came in to buy that exact color and style. They had display pieces they might sell you if it was exactly what you needed (and you'd probably pay a premium), but for the most part, you had to have it made. And tailors didn't stock or sell cloth. You usually had to purchase or barter for cloth from a merchant, and then took those materials it to the tailor to have your clothes made. A silversmith rarely had stocks of silver. It was a commodity that didn't make sense to make into things that just sat around. They might have a few pieces for sale. But for the most part you had to acquire silver, perhaps in coin and take it to the smith, and tell the smith what you wanted made out off it. They would take payment out of a percentage of the source material.

I find the fine details of how the engines of these economies work to be really fascinating. And how they have evolved into the megamalls-amazon-powered-drop-ship-direct-e-sales of today is really amazing (if you're a nerd like me).
-T
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Lafayette C Curtis




Location: Indonesia
Joined: 29 Nov 2006
Reading list: 7 books

Posts: 2,689

PostPosted: Wed 11 Feb, 2015 2:45 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Terry Thompson wrote:
This type off tiered or multi-layered industry continued into the colonial era. In the colonial period in the Americas, you most often didn't walk into a tailor shop and buy a jacket off the rack. Tailors weren't JC Pennys. And they couldn't afford to have hundreds of sizes of jackets fabricated hoping that someone of that size came in to buy that exact color and style. They had display pieces they might sell you if it was exactly what you needed (and you'd probably pay a premium), but for the most part, you had to have it made.


Actually, there was a lively trade in second-hand clothing throughout the early modern period, and almost certainly in earlier eras too. Some of this clothing could have been bought right off the rack if their size wasn't too different from the buyers, but tailors were quite willing to provide alteration services for clothes that didn't fit perfectly. In fact, sometimes the tailors were directly involved in the second-hand clothing trade, buying interesting items of second-hand clothes and offering them together with the necessary alteration work in a broadly similar way to how some clothing stores today offer in-house alteration services. Here's an interesting example of an 18th-century coat that was given a "second life" through substantial alterations: https://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/essay/the-lives-of-a-mans-eighteenth-century-coat/
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