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Taylor Ellis




PostPosted: Fri 14 Oct, 2005 3:13 am    Post subject: A question on sword purchasing         Reply with quote

How did Europeans traditionally purchase their swords? I realise that armies would have brought munitions grade weapons en masse, but what about individual buyers, be they middle class, nobles or kings?

Would they seek out individual craftsmen much like moderns might comission Peter Johnsson or Vince Evans today, or would they be more likely to order from one of the famous guilds from Solingen or Toldeo, similar to us ordering from Albion or Arms & Armor?

I guess both would have been done, but was the situation similar to today in that the individual craftsmen could command higher prices than guilds due to the individual detail they could give each piece, or did the reputations of the guilds make it the opposite?
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Peter Johnsson
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PostPosted: Fri 14 Oct, 2005 3:59 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

This is a big question that is ifficult to answer as it would have differed ower time and geographically.

In wide terms the situation was like this:
Culters sold swords. They were the entrepreneurs of the business.
They catered for individuals and for representatives of groups.
Orders were filled after specification and the cutler could sub contract different craftsmen to do various parts of the manufacture.
The swordsmith supplied the blade blank. He also would have worked with the grinders. If his situation was organized locally or supervised by the cutler would have varied, I guess.

There would also have been craftsmen directly employed by persons of power. Wealthy and influential people would have made very particular "custom orders" both for private use and for selected troops.

Craftsmen were organized in guilds, but I do ot know to what extent or if at all the guilds had any role apart from organizing the craftsmen and seeing to their rights and duties. I do not think the guilds were doing wholesale of products.

It was rather a situation where craftsmen worked more or less individually (rarely) or in groups for longer or shorter periods to fullfill various orders and "projects".

The common situation today when someone commissions a custom sword is not much like it would have been historically.
With out knowing for certain, I´d like to envision the situation like this:
A cutler has a reputation for offering fine swords. He has contact with a number of sub-producers responsible for blades, buckles, gold and silver work (and sometimes even cooperated with artists to develop novel designs and decorative styles).
A customer might consider a new sword and visits with /contacts the cutler. He will show the customer different options for blades and mountings. They´ll discuss any decoration and special features for the sword. The same would go for an order for many swords: stype of blade, style of hilt, materials used, price and delivery date.
After this the cutler would organize the manufacture of the sword(s) and do quality controll of the finished product.
Swords were also made from scratch to be sold on export. In those cases the customer contact would have been less involved. Perhaps the craftsmen knew what styles went well for different markets and supplied what they thoguht would sell best.

Quality control and regualtion of work practises and prices were an important part of medieval guilds. Craftsmen had to comply to these or be fined or forced out of business. This was a tool to limit the impact of competition as well as offering a protection against favouratism.

Again, the situation would have varied very much, but generally there were more than one craftsman involved in the making of a sword, but one person fronted the business.
This is true from high middle ages an onwards. In the fringe areas of Europe the market relied more on import of finished swords and unmounted blades. In towns there were still cutlers working refurbishing old swords, rehilting blades and making new swords from locally made blades or imported stuff.

To what extent customers had an impact on design and execution, we can only guess. There are no records of this from this early time. Not that I know of anyway. I suspect that customers usually had rather general ideas and let the craftsmen work after a chosen theme or motif or style, sometimes presenting sketches in advance to base final decision on. Concept drawings are nothing new ;-)
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Taylor Ellis




PostPosted: Fri 14 Oct, 2005 4:50 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thanks for the reply Peter! I wonder if there are any surviving legal documents in English (or any other language) documenting any specific regulations of the arms manufacture? The often quoted ban on private sword & buckler fencing schools during Edward I's reign is pretty much the only legal medieval reference to the subject I know of.
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Russ Ellis
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PostPosted: Fri 14 Oct, 2005 6:21 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thanks for the informative post Peter! If I can ask how did you come to these conclusions? Was it by way of studying the swords themselves? (I know you have mentioned swords that you believe came from the same workshop Svante - Bayeriches for example) Or in your studies have you examined business documentation or ledgers or such? A combination of the two sources? Something else entirely? I find this subject fascinating... (Thanks for posting it Taylor we really must be cousins... Happy )
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Shawn Mulock




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PostPosted: Fri 14 Oct, 2005 4:55 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Peter's reply is much more thorough than any I could give, and in my humble opinion is correct.

How I would have said it went is very similar.

A blade smith would make several hundred swords in a month at his place of business using his journeymen, apprentices and labourers (a form of mass production and industrialization existed even as early as the 1200's from what I can tell and even earlier when you look at classical societies). He would oversee the manufacture right from the basic forgework all the way down to the finishing touches with the final stock removal. Then he would pile the swords into groups, dependant upon destination (client/cutler) and ship them out via (wagon) train to the cutler. The cutler would then have some blades prepped for use by his various contractors (or employees, depending upon the laws & customs of the town and the relative power of the cutler) and others (the real nice ones, I bet) put out for the purchaser to see and have done up to their specification. I see it as a lot like how we do things today in the Aeroplane industry. You buy it from the maker and have it out-fitted to your specs.

I have to admit, I extrapolated my information from an essay by Craig Johnson.

http://www.oakeshott.org/metal.html

"It is not what you have, but what you have done".
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Taylor Ellis




PostPosted: Sat 15 Oct, 2005 9:54 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Russ Ellis wrote:
Thanks for posting it Taylor we really must be cousins... Happy

I don't know mate, I liked the Edward III with the gold mounts... Razz
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Russ Ellis
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PostPosted: Sun 16 Oct, 2005 8:04 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Taylor Ellis wrote:

I don't know mate, I liked the Edward III with the gold mounts... Razz


Yeah well you know... one of us must be from the slow side of the family... course what if that's me... DOHP!!!

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Bob Burns




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PostPosted: Sat 22 Oct, 2005 9:37 pm    Post subject: Sword Purchasing         Reply with quote

Well I have no idea how they did it in the medieval era, this is amongst the many things I want to learn. However, in our modern era, perhaps I need to play the lottery now and then. LOL

Edward III Sword by A&A is the next acquisition on my list and scheduled for early months of 2006.

Is there really such a thing as too many swords?


Happy Collecting,

Bob
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