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Raymond Deancona





Joined: 04 Mar 2004

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PostPosted: Mon 13 Jul, 2015 1:27 pm    Post subject: Medieval sword scabbard tooling and inscriptions         Reply with quote

Hello all, I am looking for any websites or photos of medieval scabbards with tooling and/or inscriptions. Extant pieces would be best, but high quality reproductions are good as well. Thanks!
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Matthew Bunker




Location: Somerset UK
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PostPosted: Mon 13 Jul, 2015 11:13 pm    Post subject: Re: Medieval sword scabbard tooling and inscriptions         Reply with quote

Raymond Deancona wrote:
Hello all, I am looking for any websites or photos of medieval scabbards with tooling and/or inscriptions. Extant pieces would be best, but high quality reproductions are good as well. Thanks!


Any particular bit of the 1000 year medieval period, or are you interested in everything from the 5th to the 15th century?

"If a Greek can do it, two Englishman certainly can !"
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Raymond Deancona





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PostPosted: Tue 14 Jul, 2015 5:32 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I should have been more specific - Western Europe circa 1000 to 1200. I would also like to know where the original is if a reproduction is offered as an example.
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Craig Peters




PostPosted: Tue 14 Jul, 2015 7:08 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I only know of two extant medieval scabbards from the period you've specified Raymond, so there's not much to work with. The first scabbard is that of the Reichschwert, or the Sword of St. Maurice of Vienna. The second is the scabbard of the Sword of St. Hadrian, which some give as being circa 1200 AD. Neither have tooling, although the latter is painted.

I have attached images of the St. Hadrian scabbard. You'll notice that it's for a single edged sword. All of these images are from Roland Warzecha's Dimicator Facebook Page.





If anyone else has any images of other extant scabbards from this time period (never mind whether or not they have tooling on them), I'd be happy to see them.
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Raymond Deancona





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PostPosted: Tue 14 Jul, 2015 7:33 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Craig, thanks for the pictures. I know of only one other scabbard (decorated) but it is later than 1200 - ceremonial sword and scabbard of the Holy Roman Emperor. I have not found any manuscript illustrations of decoration, all the scabbards are plain with only leather suspension and chape, but I find it hard to believe that these were not tooled and/or decorated in some fashion. I will keep looking, and with some luck more forum members will have some good examples.
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Craig Peters




PostPosted: Wed 15 Jul, 2015 4:32 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

My general impression is that tooling on high medieval scabbards does not appear until the second half of the 13th century at the earliest, and even then would have been comparatively rare. I am less confident in making assertions about 14th century scabbards and tooling. My guess is that inscriptions are even rarer than tooling.

Personally, I feel that many modern scabbards have way too much tooling in general, and far too many inscriptions. For the time period you specified, I would always go without tooling and inscriptions, and I wouldn't put a chape on the scabbard unless it was supposed to be after 1180 AD (even then, there are more scabbards without chapes than with up to at least 1200 AD). At least there's evidence of painted scabbards if you want something less utilitarian.
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Harry Marinakis




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PostPosted: Wed 15 Jul, 2015 5:48 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

^^^
What Craig said
No tooling for your time period

It is interesting that knife sheaths of that time period are ornately tooled, but sword scabbards are plain.

Craig Peters wrote:
At least there's evidence of painted scabbards if you want something less utilitarian.

I'd love to see this please!
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Raymond Deancona





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PostPosted: Wed 15 Jul, 2015 6:33 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Harry, I thought the same thing. Why knife sheaths (and belts as well) are ornately decorated and scabbards are not. Looking at some manuscript illustrations most are just plain. A few have what looks like pin designs, but that may just be gaps in the artist's brush work, or loss of ink over time. I'll keep looking. Plenty of online manuscript illuminations to go through.

Having painted leather for other projects I cannot recommend it. The paint removes VERY easily from wearable leather items. Perhaps this was only done at special occasions?
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Jeffrey Faulk




Location: Georgia
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PostPosted: Wed 15 Jul, 2015 7:53 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I see nothing wrong with a few simple line and dot designs. I also concur that it's odd that knife scabbards are fairly well decorated, but swords are not. So I feel that some extrapolation from knife scabbards would not be greatly amiss.

Leather paint was quite possibly a bit different back in the day; it would have used a different base, and the leather was treated by natural tanning methods rather than modern chrome-tanning. It's possible the pigments from paint would have meshed better with the natural surface of the leather than with leather tanned by modern methods.
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Craig Peters




PostPosted: Wed 15 Jul, 2015 8:08 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Quote:
I'd love to see this please!


Harry,

The St. Hadrian's scabbard, above, was the painted scabbard I refer to. Here's more from Swërtelîn's Facebook page:

The painting seems to be made with a kind of ink. Maybe iron gall ink. As we could see from medieval manuscripts, this ink will sometimes get a brownish tinge and might fade a bit. Something we could also recognize on the scabbards painting. So it´s original coloring would be somewhere between anthracite and deep black. The contours seem to be made with a quill (deep black), while the fields where filled with a brush (anthracite).

Swërtelîn also posted a digital reconstruction of the scabbard. Note that this is only a digital reconstruction; it's not a real object, although Roland posted a reconstruction by a scabbard maker on his Dimicator Facebook page. The reason I posted the digital reconstruction is that I believe the colour is more accurate as to how the antique scabbard probably looked when it was newly made. Note that the Swërtelîn reconstruction is a scabbard for a double-edged sword.

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Harry Marinakis




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PostPosted: Wed 15 Jul, 2015 8:24 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Sorry Craig apparently the photos are blocked on my browser and I don't see anything. I will try a different computer tomorrow.
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Craig Peters




PostPosted: Wed 15 Jul, 2015 8:57 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I have found another scabbard, said to be from the 12h century. This one is attributed to Jaxa of Miechow, who was apparently a lord of the Obodrites from Pomerania. It is dated to 1150-1200 AD, and is currently held by the Museo Nazionale del Bargello in Florence, Italy.

Note that the scabbard is very plain, and seems to have neither suspension nor belt; either that, or the belt and suspension are now lost. My guess is that the metal pins are not original.

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Jeffrey Faulk




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PostPosted: Wed 15 Jul, 2015 10:13 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Ink? Now that's a thought. You can get ink in a number of different shades, even medieval authentic inks came in a variety of shades of brown, black and (IIRC?) red. They used verdigris (the green corrosion product from copper and brass) to produce a green ink (or was that paint?) as well. Ink would have a tendency to be absorbed by a leather surface to almost 'tattoo' it and be rather more durable. Black ink on a natural white leather would have worked very well as far as being highly visible and distinctive goes.
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John Hardy




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PostPosted: Thu 16 Jul, 2015 1:15 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

It makes sense to me to have an ornately decorated knife sheath but a plain sword scabbard for two reasons:

1. Your knife is worn "on display" a lot more than your sword and in places where fine dress clothes would be expected. For example, it was often considered inappropriate to wear a sword - and especially not a full-sized "war sword" - at royal or semi-royal courts. However, everyone would carry a knife there without comment. So your knife sheath is the finest and fanciest you can afford, while your sword travels to battle in a good but plain scabbard.

2. Quite possibly, a sword scabbard was viewed as more of an expendable or consumable item than your knife sheath. A knife sheath is small and unobtrusive on your belt and carries your knife for last-ditch emergencies, among other things. You expect to draw and re-sheath the knife frequently, even in battle. So the sheath stays with you.

Once you have drawn your sword, however, your scabbard becomes a potential hindrance and hazard -- especially for a sword with a 30-inch+ blade. I would not be surprised, therefore, if a warrior expected to jettison his scabbard at need. For example, once the sword had been drawn while fighting on foot.

I have always thought that this might explain why Roman gladius sheaths have hanging rings, and even the slightly longer but still fairly short spatha and/or Migration-era sword had a rigid belt loop on the scabbard, but early Medieval war sword scabbards were just slid into leather loops in the belt -- a good hard tug can quickly strip that scabbard off the belt in seconds while leaving the belt itself in place.

You might not want to put a lot of money into decorating an object you expect to discard at a moment's notice and maybe never recover. So your belt is nicely tooled, and the knife sheath securely fastened to it is quite ornate, but the discardable sword scabbard is plain.

Jeffrey Faulk wrote:
I see nothing wrong with a few simple line and dot designs. I also concur that it's odd that knife scabbards are fairly well decorated, but swords are not. So I feel that some extrapolation from knife scabbards would not be greatly amiss.

Leather paint was quite possibly a bit different back in the day; it would have used a different base, and the leather was treated by natural tanning methods rather than modern chrome-tanning. It's possible the pigments from paint would have meshed better with the natural surface of the leather than with leather tanned by modern methods.
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Craig Peters




PostPosted: Thu 16 Jul, 2015 3:33 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I think the second point you made, John, may have a good deal of validity. Scabbards play a highly utilitarian function of allowing you to transport your sword in good state to and from a siege, skirmish, or the field of battle. They're really only casing for the purpose of protecting the sword. Once you are engaged in a fight, they become more of a hindrance, and may well have simply be placed somewhere to the side, time and place permitting.

In my practice with single handed sword and long sword, I have spent a little bit of time practicing with a scabbard and sword belt hanging from my hip. While it’s certainly possible to fight effectively while wearing the belt and scabbard, they do tend to be more of a hindrance than anything else. Additionally, period art frequently shows knights who have no scabbard. This might be simply because the artists were lazy and did not want to bother to draw anything, but alternatively, it may also indicate that the knights might remove their scabbards and place them somewhere safe if the opportunity presented itself. We do not have enough evidence to say one way or another, but leaving aside the scabbard seems not unreasonable if the situation permits.

As everyone here is undoubtedly familiar, the ceremony, pomp, and panoply associated with knighthood and aristocracy tended to increase with the passage of time. Thus, it seems unsurprising that later scabbards might have tooling, inscriptions and other décor not present on earlier scabbards, much the way that simple thong belts gave way to belts with buckles, belt studs, and later plaque belts. From the limited research I’ve done, it seems that tooling does not appear on scabbards until nearly 1300 AD, and this fits with the hypothesis about increasingly fancy décor and aristocratic display.
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Chad Arnow
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PostPosted: Thu 16 Jul, 2015 8:20 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Here's a thread I started several years ago about the same topic. It has some examples people will find interesting and relevant.

Decorated Scabbards

Happy

ChadA

http://chadarnow.com/
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Craig Peters




PostPosted: Fri 17 Jul, 2015 3:08 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Chad’s thread seems to give support to the general outline I suggested above. Extensive scabbard decoration does not really begin until close to 1300. After that, we seem some evidence of scabbards with tooling from the 15th and 16th centuries. There seems to be even less evidence for inscriptions. It seems probable that the majority of scabbards from this time- except (perhaps) for a brief period from circa 1300-1330 AD- had relatively little décor and little tooling. In fact, I would suggest that the general pattern of a scabbard with no tooling, and sometimes having a chape, sometimes not, persisted until the late 15th century. Obviously, there are some exceptions, with scabbards having lockets or other metalwork for décor. There does seem to be greater evidence of tooling around the beginning of the 16th century, but it’s hard to be certain how common/ representative it would have been on scabbards.
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Matthew Bunker




Location: Somerset UK
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PostPosted: Wed 22 Jul, 2015 3:18 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Craig Peters wrote:
Chad’s thread seems to give support to the general outline I suggested above. Extensive scabbard decoration does not really begin until close to 1300. .


There are, of course, plenty of examples of highly decorated scabbards (either cordwork under leather or with the decoration carved directly into the surface of the wooden core) from the 4th to 7th centuries in North West Europe.

"If a Greek can do it, two Englishman certainly can !"
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