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Michael Pikula
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PostPosted: Sun 03 Apr, 2011 8:14 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Lots of interesting points I'd like to toss a cent or two at. In regard to:
Quote:
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.

There are people who do collect paintings and statues, swords just happen to be some peoples cups of tea Happy And you can buy sword like objects, but in my eyes this is similar to someone that would buy a print of a painting, or a cheap casting taken from a existing statue. There is nothing wrong with doing such, and when browsing the interwebs you can find tons and tons of these. Why? Because they sell, and there are people out there who are perfectly content with these items.

Quote:
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 symmetrical 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).

In regard to CNC blades, I've seen CNC blades that have plenty of flaws, and truth be told when you hand grind a CNCed blade on a fresh 60 grit belt you are basically taking all of that "nice perfect machining" and pitching it out the window. Add the deflection of the material from machining stresses, the distortion from heat treat, and you have a good amount of work that needs to happen to get the blade back to straight prior to grinding. Of course it is less work then forging a blank, however it is a modern technique that allows you to purchase a fine blade for a price less then a totally handmade blade.

If you saw two identical swords (of your liking, either symmetrically perfect or not) in every way that you could detect by your naturally given senses, and one was CNCed and the other was handmade, and you couldn't determine which was which, and the only difference was the price, would one still seem "cold" or would this challenge to redefine your individual standards of evaluation?
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James Arlen Gillaspie
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PostPosted: Tue 05 Apr, 2011 1:26 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I have long noted that people often have difficulty seeing asymmetries and off-center holes in photographs; their minds 'adjust' the image to make more sense to them. The photos I posted were taken DEAD ON. Take a ruler and find where the center should be in the picture, as opposed to where the holes are.
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PostPosted: Sun 10 Apr, 2011 1:29 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Great post, and discussion. It seems that without machines and computers symmetry as we know it today would have been an anomoly and not the norm. We have been raised and conidtioned in a world where symmetry is the norm and asymmetry is the anomoly. I think medieval swordmakers would have strived to achieve asymmetrical perfection or greatness versus symmetry, which would have been not only elusive but perhaps not even valued in the same way it is today. I have contemplated this often while examining my Albion Knight and Liechtenauer, where the only flaw I have found in these fine swords is their perfection! Just a few thoughts.
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Fabrice Cognot
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PostPosted: Sun 10 Apr, 2011 3:39 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hi all

Michael Pikula wrote:
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.


..provided said craftsman uses the tools technolgy makes available. I made the choice not to rely on them (well, not too much...). The tools, methods and technology used shows on the final product. And not just in terms of physical aspects.

I try, when I make an historical-inspired piece, to work with a technology level as close as possible (though this is an endless debate) to the one of the period considered. Or at least, to knwo what parallels, what bridges, what 'simulators' I can use (or chose not to use) to do the job.


But others ave already replied, and better than I ever would. Thanks for this very interesting thread. Happy


Cheers

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J.D. Crawford




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PostPosted: Sun 10 Apr, 2011 7:51 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I'm glad this subject came up. I've been thinking about this for years.

The most specific dillema I've had concerns a certain medieval sword with a highly asymmetric cross. I've been thinking about having a custom version of this sword done for quite a while. But should it be done asymmetric like the original, or symmetric? I love historical accuracy, but I also love symmetry from an aesthetic viewpoint. One might argue that the person who made the original cross wanted to make it symmetric, and may well have made the next one symmetric. However, the fact remains that a true reproduction of the surviving sword would need to be assymetric. I can't make up my mind which way to go.
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JE Sarge
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PostPosted: Sun 10 Apr, 2011 10:42 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

J.D. Crawford wrote:
I'm glad this subject came up. I've been thinking about this for years.

The most specific dillema I've had concerns a certain medieval sword with a highly asymmetric cross. I've been thinking about having a custom version of this sword done for quite a while. But should it be done asymmetric like the original, or symmetric? I love historical accuracy, but I also love symmetry from an aesthetic viewpoint. One might argue that the person who made the original cross wanted to make it symmetric, and may well have made the next one symmetric. However, the fact remains that a true reproduction of the surviving sword would need to be assymetric. I can't make up my mind which way to go.


I would say just have it done symmetrical. It will please your eye, and therefore, please your collection more.

Then later down the road, if you want to sell it, you won't get a flock of emails asking 'what's wrong with it'? Laughing Out Loud

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Jean Thibodeau




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PostPosted: Mon 11 Apr, 2011 1:31 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

J.D. Crawford wrote:
I'm glad this subject came up. I've been thinking about this for years.

The most specific dillema I've had concerns a certain medieval sword with a highly asymmetric cross. I've been thinking about having a custom version of this sword done for quite a while. But should it be done asymmetric like the original, or symmetric? I love historical accuracy, but I also love symmetry from an aesthetic viewpoint. One might argue that the person who made the original cross wanted to make it symmetric, and may well have made the next one symmetric. However, the fact remains that a true reproduction of the surviving sword would need to be assymetric. I can't make up my mind which way to go.


Let assume that the period maker of the sword you had in mind made dozens or hundreds of swords of close to the same pattern and that some may have had an asymmetrical cross and/or some other perceivable asymmetries like a lumpy pommel, but if one could see all the sword he made that where similar ( I won't say identical as they would not be so in all probability ), some might well have a much more symmetrical guard unless it was a deliberate design feature ?

So unless you absolutely want an identical copy of the sword that has come to us and is still in existence, copying the design without an obvious flaw but with the handmade minor irregularities one associates with period work would be fine I think. Wink Big Grin Cool

Maybe using convenient arguments or sophistry or Jesuit style rhetorical tricks to get the result you would prefer .... but why not justify doing what you want the way you really want to have it done. Wink Razz Laughing Out Loud

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PostPosted: Mon 11 Apr, 2011 5:14 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Jean Thibodeau wrote:
J.D. Crawford wrote:
I'm glad this subject came up. I've been thinking about this for years.

The most specific dillema I've had concerns a certain medieval sword with a highly asymmetric cross. I've been thinking about having a custom version of this sword done for quite a while. But should it be done asymmetric like the original, or symmetric? I love historical accuracy, but I also love symmetry from an aesthetic viewpoint. One might argue that the person who made the original cross wanted to make it symmetric, and may well have made the next one symmetric. However, the fact remains that a true reproduction of the surviving sword would need to be assymetric. I can't make up my mind which way to go.


Let assume that the period maker of the sword you had in mind made dozens or hundreds of swords of close to the same pattern and that some may have had an asymmetrical cross and/or some other perceivable asymmetries like a lumpy pommel, but if one could see all the sword he made that where similar ( I won't say identical as they would not be so in all probability ), some might well have a much more symmetrical guard unless it was a deliberate design feature ?

So unless you absolutely want an identical copy of the sword that has come to us and is still in existence, copying the design without an obvious flaw but with the handmade minor irregularities one associates with period work would be fine I think. Wink Big Grin Cool

Maybe using convenient arguments or sophistry or Jesuit style rhetorical tricks to get the result you would prefer .... but why not justify doing what you want the way you really want to have it done. Wink Razz Laughing Out Loud


A thorny issue indeed J.D. !

One problem is that, were the guard symmetrical, perhaps this model wouldn't draw your attention?

I'd like to point out that there is a third possibility, between "flaw/failure on the part of the maker" and "deliberate design". That possibility is "do not care". Today, the norm, nearly universal and borne out of industrial standardisation and legal issues, is that every aspect of a product tends to have a specification that must be met. But was that the case for a medieval weaponsmith? That's highly doubtful. It is very possible that at least some makers (and a good many clients) didn't bother to have any norm regarding guards other than "usable as a guard". Many makers probably worked by eye only where we tend to bring out the millimetered ruler; and it is very possible than some didn't even bother for anything else than a quick glance at the guard they were working on before placing the hole for the tang. (This is not to say there weren't some pre-industrial aspects about medieval weaponsmithing, in tools used, economic models etc. but probably not in the realm of standardisation.)

To go back to J.D.'s question, spending an important amount of money on a peculiar design that may not please one completely, and prove difficult to resell, is indeed a difficult decision to make. But, for me, if I had the opportunity to commission a not-too-costly reproduction or better yet to make one myself from a bare blade or what have you, I'd do it. After all, such a reproduction can also become a real rarity in modern-day sword collecting, one that will stand out when compared to nearly all other repros and become the highlight of a collection.
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Jeremy V. Krause




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PostPosted: Mon 11 Apr, 2011 7:21 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

J.D. Crawford wrote:
I'm glad this subject came up. I've been thinking about this for years.

The most specific dillema I've had concerns a certain medieval sword with a highly asymmetric cross. I've been thinking about having a custom version of this sword done for quite a while. But should it be done asymmetric like the original, or symmetric? I love historical accuracy, but I also love symmetry from an aesthetic viewpoint. One might argue that the person who made the original cross wanted to make it symmetric, and may well have made the next one symmetric. However, the fact remains that a true reproduction of the surviving sword would need to be assymetric. I can't make up my mind which way to go.


Well since the majority of your (fine) collection is quite symmetrical, I think having a piece that demonstrates an historical assymetry would be cool.

On the other hand I can see some aversion to the replication of a specific anomally as it could feel wrong compared to a modern smith accidentally doing so, though, as others have said, this isn't really going to happen.

In short, I think it would be cool though, for many reasons! Happy


Last edited by Jeremy V. Krause on Tue 12 Apr, 2011 8:04 am; edited 1 time in total
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Michael Pikula
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PostPosted: Mon 11 Apr, 2011 10:01 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Fabrice Cognot wrote:

..provided said craftsman uses the tools technolgy makes available. I made the choice not to rely on them (well, not too much...). The tools, methods and technology used shows on the final product. And not just in terms of physical aspects.



Very true.

For me part of what goes into making a piece is using utilizing these technologies. I believe that part of the mentality that went into making a sword in period was using the best materials and techniques that the smith/shop was able to afford or take advantage of. I believe that extending this same mentality into the modern shop is a continuation of the same spirit and mindset of our predecessors.

In the end the piece needs to stand for itself though. Process is just a means to an end Wink
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Jean Thibodeau




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PostPosted: Mon 11 Apr, 2011 11:26 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

J.D. : One possibility is to have one made as exactly reproducing the specific sword as it appear to have been made originally and have a less expensive version of a sword of the same type made for the modern eye but with the same basic design.

Maybe if we knew and saw the sword you have in mind we might be more precise in our advice or opinions ?

Obviously a more expensive option to have two swords made instead of one but the second sword may not need as much detailing and easier to do without having to replicate another's flaws and " individuality " to as close tolerances ?

It might be very interesting seeing the two next to each other both reflecting good craftsmanship but with different criteria as to what is acceptable aesthetically ?

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Peter Johnsson
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PostPosted: Tue 12 Apr, 2011 12:39 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

To get a perspective on the matter of asymmetrical details in historical swords, it is important to understand that the sword smiths produced swords in series. Most probably according to some kind of specifications.

Work was most probably shared between several subcontractors, each with his own responsibility. This affects the scope and perspective of the work. The major concern for the blade smith would not have been if the midrib lined up with the guard. He did not make the guard, and may not have known what it would look like.
The blade smith was concerned with weight, heft, a good edge, making sure the steel was sound and without serious flaws and given a good heat treat (if that was part of his responsibility).

The same goes for the hilt smith. He may not have had the blade at hand to work with. He could have been working from drawings or verbal descriptions.
The hilt smith may have known the type of blade his work was intended for, but not necessarily. If there were specifications on dimensions, he could have followed that. With some margin of error, and not always with symmetry as the deciding factor. Without the blade to check against it is not always as clear how of centre the tang hole is...

The smith forging cross and pommel, would probably not have been the one to add gilding or embellishment. That was the work of another craftsman. That is why we see richly gilded and engraved hilts with obviously asymmetrical forging work.

The cutler was the man who put all together. He wanted it all to come together in a good way, but had to work with what he was given. Some adjustments would have been made, but you cannot turn a crow into a falcon.
It had to end up as a dependable weapon. If it was a rich manīs weapon with rich work in the hilt and scabbard, it had to look good as he was wearing it. If the midrib was a bit off, that was perhaps not a fatal flaw, as those who saw this may not be in a position to notice, or tell about their observation afterwards...

This is what we need to keep in perspective when we discuss these things.
Asymmetries and other flaws are results of the process of making, and the organization of the production.
It was not part of an ideal. These swords were not supposed to look crooked. They ended up that way for some reasons, some better than other.
Most swords were probably made based on an idea of the finished product. In some cases this idea was fairly generic, wis margins of change all the way, in other cases the production may have been very specific in its parameters from start to end.
In any stage of the process for any craftsman involved, there were traditional and product specific goals to meet. Things were made to be *right* according to the ideas of each class of craftsman involved.

I am pretty sure there was some bickering and bad mouthing between the craftsmen involved in the process.
We have written records of London blade smiths complaining that sloppy grinders destroyed their blades.
All craftsmen men involved were on a timed schedule for delivery.
I am pretty sure they all had good excuses for their own mistakes, and were prone to complain about the mistakes of others, but not in a position do actually do anything about it.
Medieval craftsmen were restricted by guild rules. A blade smith could only forge blades. A cutler could only do the end part of the process. Each class of craftsman was guarding their rights and trying to carve a living from the margins (perhaps sometimes by bending the rules, or delivering just barely OK goods as long as contract and delivery time was met).

Ancient swords tell about how they were made, if we look for it. We can see the traces of different hands and mindsets being involved in each sword. Each type of craftsman would have different ideas of what was important and would be working in his scale. What goes as precision of a blade or hilt smith, is not the same as the notion of precision for a gold smith.

Sloppy work today hardly compares to flaws in ancient swords, because it is born from completely different reasons. Most often it comes from a shallow understanding or lack of interest in the object made. This cuts both ways. If customers are happy with sloppy work or badly researched swords, that is what the market will supply.

Ancient swords were made with a professionalism and understanding that is very rare to find in contemporary swords, even if they show flaws that are rare to see in good work today. Those swords that are made today that show these kind of flaws are generally far below in quality of ancient swords, because fatal compromises have been made that affect functional quality in a way that would have been unacceptable by the guilds in medieval times.

We see a romance today in "primitive" work methods. But to get things right it is not as easy as to take a length of steel and hammer it on a stone instead of an anvil, or only use hand tools. That is no guarantee the end product will be any more authentic.

It all boils down to an understanding of the craft and the ancient blades.
If you study these old swords in detail, you get a detailed image in your mind. The result that comes from your hands will tend to be meticulous and precise if you want to capture all the details you have noted.

To get the kind of not-precise work we see in ancient originals, we have to work at a certain speed, but at high skill. That is the only way to come close to this quality. Speed without skill, or flaws without understanding only results in bad work.
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Michael Edelson




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PostPosted: Tue 12 Apr, 2011 10:08 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I don't want to take anything away from Peter's post, which is fascinating reading. I just want to add my two cents to the topic itself.

I disagree with the idea that modern tools and production methods result in symmetry and "perfection" while hand work resulsts in flaws. First, I can find flaws in all my high end modern swords, but that is neither here nor there.

Japanese swords, good ones, were perfect in every human measurable sense. Completely symmetrical. And they were made entirely by hand...no grinding wheels, etc. So if perfection is desired, it can be done by hand far better than by machine (primitive or modern). This is true even on modern swords. Hand polished swords made by top makers have much better (more perfect) finishes than swords that come out of even the best production shops.

I think the issue with medieval swords is that people back then had a different way of looking at things than we do. We had to be taught to expect symmetry and perfection, they never were. I've been in a bunch of cathedrals and surviving medieval houses and there is not a straight line to be found in any of them. Look up the seemingly perfect column of a cathedral and you will see wavy lines. Look at a carved wooden wall partition in a wealthy man's home and you will see different size pattern elements, crooked lines and all sort of other "flaws."

Having seen so many of these things, and having seen so many period swords (mostly pictures, but a good number of originals), I'm convinced that they simply didn't see these things as imperfections, if they even saw them at all.

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Paul Hansen




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PostPosted: Wed 13 Apr, 2011 2:10 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Chad Arnow wrote:
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.

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.


I hear what you are saying, but the swords that started this thread were most likely NOT purely intended for combat. Instead, they were dress items or status symbols. As such, display of wealth through decoration or complicated production technique would be important. And, interestingly, one would expect that symmetry would also back then would be perceived as a mark of quality. That it's apparently not important is very interesting and says a lot about medieval aesthetics. Especially because the concept of (rough) symmetry clearly was important to them, as also evidenced in architecture, especially churches.

But I think that a big part of this can be attributed to, as Peter said, the work process rather than any deliberate design. Nevertheless, the question remains why people of obvious wealth would still accept sloppy work, regardless of how this may be explained.
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PostPosted: Mon 18 Apr, 2011 6:59 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I'll try to revive this thread a bit... Thanks to everyone and especially to Peter for contributing!

Another thought. We like to look at collections like the Wallace, in museums like the Cluny, and in arms & armour books... But do we sufficiently take into account the understandable tendency that curators and editors would have, consciously or not, to display the best and most beautiful pieces?

This especially struck me looking at the daggers in the Wallace. I was thinking, wow, these are all so finely decorated, were they all like that? Then I went to the Portable Antiquities Scheme website and found very different-looking dagger parts...


Guard from a quillon dagger, 14th century?


Dagger guard, 15th c.


Dagger guard, 16th c.


Dagger guard, 15th c. ?

These can't really be called shabby, just simpler. Yet the craftsman took the pain to decorate them a bit. Today we tend to see three things in reproductions:
1. Very simple (ie not decorated at all) but very precisely made pieces, with crisp lines etc. Albion Next Gens are probably the best example (except some models).
2. Pieces that are somewhat decorated, but with decorations somewhat lifted from historical pieces and then mass-reproduced with a symmetrical, somewhat industrial look. Windlasses and Hanweis often illustrate this.
3. High-end custom works with very precise and finely-made decorations.

But we don't see much work like these guards, and especially the last two, illustrate: pretty simple, somewhat decorated, but not symmetrical to a notch. For instance, I really like the third one, which is really simple yet elegant, but the ring does seem a bit crooked to one side... Not that you would notice unless really inspecting it closely.

Nowadays, only DIY projects and works by people we think as "minor" or "junior" smiths capture that look.
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PostPosted: Mon 18 Apr, 2011 7:20 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Simon G. wrote:
Another thought. We like to look at collections like the Wallace, in museums like the Cluny, and in arms & armour books... But do we sufficiently take into account the understandable tendency that curators and editors would have, consciously or not, to display the best and most beautiful pieces?


I'm sure you know this, but many of the readers might not: even the beautiful pieces on display at museums such as the Wallace Collection or the New York Museum of Art exhibit quite a bit of asymmetric shapes, "fixes", and other such "imperfections".

The critical viewer can see many examples simply by thumbing through books and looking at close-up photographs of even the most frequently published items.

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PostPosted: Mon 18 Apr, 2011 7:42 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Nathan Robinson wrote:
Simon G. wrote:
Another thought. We like to look at collections like the Wallace, in museums like the Cluny, and in arms & armour books... But do we sufficiently take into account the understandable tendency that curators and editors would have, consciously or not, to display the best and most beautiful pieces?


I'm sure you know this, but many of the readers might not: even the beautiful pieces on display at museums such as the Wallace Collection or the New York Museum of Art exhibit quite a bit of asymmetric shapes, "fixes", and other such "imperfections".

The critical viewer can see many examples simply by thumbing through books and looking at close-up photographs of even the most frequently published items.


Yes, I probably exaggerated. Thanks for pointing that out! As James Arlen Gillaspie pointed out earlier, we probably tend to "auto-correct" things. This is probably easier when looking at the pieces of the Wallace or another fine museum - awe-inspiring as they tend to be - than with less... fine pieces such as these (I'll be quick to add, however, that I prefer these pieces to some in the Wallace which, fine as they are, look a bit ugly to me).

A good case in point to illustrate your observation could be the lettering in inscriptions. On historical swords, even luxury swords made for kings, the letters tend to be at least a little bit irregular, and sometimes very clearly so. On many a present-day repro I've seen, lettering looks far too regular, as if stenciled.

Another example from a sword I recently posted in the Ornamentation thread... This is a sword given to king Henri IV of France by the city of Paris as a wedding gift, very well-decorated and finely adorned...





...yet something's "wrong" with the pommel-grip junction (this could be due to later deformation but I don't think that's the case). And when you go at it with a ruler, grip and pommel are off-centre in relation to blade and guard.

This doesn't stop the sword from being really amazing and striking as a work of art...

...neither did it stop the city of Paris to give this sword to its king for his wedding, so I doubt the subtext was "for your wedding, we present you this botched, asymmetrical sword, because we don't give a damn about Your Majesty".
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Aleksei Sosnovski





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PostPosted: Mon 18 Apr, 2011 11:57 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

This last one is a very interesting example. Grip and pommel being off-center are not a problem. Actually the grip is bent "the right way", just as it would be bent on a saber or messer. So it may actually be even better than a perfectly straight grip. But the pommel and handle junction looks too odd and may well be due to age. A once solid grip shrank and shifted when somebody tried to swing the sword.
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PostPosted: Tue 19 Apr, 2011 12:29 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Just pointing out what is perhaps obvious: all asymmetries we see today were not there originally. Quite a bit can happen a sword over the centuries.
Even well cared for swords on display in collections have had their knocks and bumps. It is not unusual that they have been taken apart for cleaning and put together again. If the parts are not assembled in the right way, a slight asymmetry (that may have been adjusted for originally) can be exaggerated by turning the grip or pommel the wrong way.
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Aleksei Sosnovski





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PostPosted: Tue 19 Apr, 2011 1:34 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

That's right. Some of the asymmetry is too obvious and at the same time too easy to correct, just like the handle and pommel being misaligned on the last picture.

On the other hand, some of the asymmetry is not that obvious or even totally invisible. I don't think somebody would easily notice that handle is not perfectly aligned with the blade, especially when the hilt itself is asymmetrical. Aslo swords were usually held in scabbards so asymmetry in the blade itself (fullers, etc.) is hidden from the onlookers.

This asymmetry can also have a practical meaning as I stated previously, after all handles on sabres are usually not in line with the blade, so why not do the same thing on a sword that, though double-edged, can only be gripped in one way due to complex hilt? Or at least why care about it?

But still we may be too strict about symmetry. For example if a hilt is anyway asymmetrical (for example messer with nagel) there is no need to make both ends of the crossguard of same length. But such a messer would probably look "wrong" to most of us.

Yet again asymmetry may be introduced to make the weapon more comfortable. Nagel of a messer and sigle side ring on some parrying daggers may well be examples of that case. We are simply used to this asymmetry so it does not bother us.
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