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J.D. Crawford




Location: Toronto
Joined: 25 Dec 2006

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PostPosted: Sun 24 Jun, 2012 12:30 pm    Post subject: Hands-on review: Jeff Helmes 13th Century Germanic Sword         Reply with quote

Introduction

Jeff Helmes has recently made a name for himself, both with collectors and his peers, for his highly artistic and historically accurate Viking / Medieval weapon reproductions. He is extremely versatile; he seems to be able to pull off just about any technique, from pattern welding to sophisticated types of inlay, on the first try. After completing a very successful commission of the ‘Korsoygaden’ sword for me last December, Jeff and I had several discussions about a follow-up project. In the end we settled on a reconstruction of a sword from the Musée de l'Hôtel Sandelin, Saint-Omer, France. The project came together within a few months, over the course of numerous communications and updates.

The entire development process was thoroughly documented here:
http://www.myArmoury.com/talk/viewtopic.php?t=25935

In the course of developing this sword, several other collectors encouraged us to replicate the original inlay on the sword (see below), which became an important part of the project.

Overview

The original sword

Pictures of the original are available here:
http://moteur.musenor.com/images/saintomer/g2018742.jpg
http://moteur.musenor.com/images/saintomer/g2018742_2.jpg
http://moteur.musenor.com/images/saintomer/g2018742_3.jpg

And more detailed pictures from the recent Cluny exhibit:
http://www.vikverir.no/ressurser/usages_mythe...p;page=all (pages 9 and 10)

According to the museum specifications, this sword has an overall length of 106.5CM, and a blade width of 5CM. The Cluny display calls it an Oakeshott XVI blade, but I can see no sign of a ridge near the tip; it looks to me like an XII (almost XIIa in size). I was attracted to the magnificent proportions of this sword, and the fact that it seems to have been largely ignored by authors, collectors, and modern swordsmiths, at least in the English speaking world. In addition, the sword has several interesting features:
- a most unusual pommel, described by the museum site as ‘two pyramids fused at the base’. I have never seen another like it and it does not appear to fall within any classification scheme I am aware of.
- engravings on one both sides, one side showing [+ NEDEHER+EWEDENI +] and the other possessing some ‘stars and swirls’. Based on the Cluny museum description, these were likely inlayed originally with copper and/or gold.
- a very long (27.5CM) slightly curved cross
The museum site dates the sword to the 14th century, but the blade and inlay type seem to date it earlier, even early 13th century (see the above development thread for details).

The modern reconstruction (see photos below):

This was intended to be a faithful replica of the original, including the inlay, except 1) we chose bronze for the inlay, and 2) Jeff felt he could do a better job on the inlay style than the original artist, so I gave him some artistic license on this point.

Measurements and specifications of the modern sword:
Weight: 3 pounds, 5 ounces (1.5kg)
Overall length: 41.5 inches (105.5cm)
Blade length: 34 3/4 inches (88.2cm) from cross to tip
Blade width: 2 inches (5cm) at base, tapering to 1 inch (2.5cm)
Grip length: 4.5 inches (11.4cm)
Guard width: 10 3/4 inches (27.5cm)
Point of Balance: 4 4/8 inches (11.7cm) from guard
Center of Percussion: ~24 inches from guard
Oakeshott typology: Type XII blade, unclassified pommel, slightly curved type 1 guard

Handling Characteristics

The handling of this sword is surprisingly pleasant. Your eyes see a large sword, and your hand initially feels the 3 lb 5oz heft, so one expects a challenge when it starts moving. But instead it seems to dart from one guard position to another and hold with precision. Mostly, it just wants to move. It’s no magic trick; it’s all in the mass distribution. The PoB tells part of the story, but the rest is that the majority of the mass in the sword is close to the hand: the large pommel, the large cross, and the blade, which tapers considerably both in profile and thickness (from about 5.5mm to 2mm). I asked Jeff to give this one a linear taper and he has done so. Thus, we have a powerful sword that is large enough for mounted warfare but also nimble enough for ‘fencing’ in open spaces.

This is a dedicated ‘hammer grip’ weapon; the hilt is not designed to support the handshake grip. The grip provides excellent contact and control; there is no problem with slippage or blade alignment. Point control is also excellent; the pivot point is nearly at the tip (meaning the tip tends to stay in place despite hand wobbles), but the weight of the sword becomes quite evident and potentially tiresome when the arm is fully extended.

The blade is not droopy or 'whippy' but is slightly on the ‘wobbly’ side when struck. However the harmonic nodes of the sword are good; at the index finger/thumb on the grip (meaning minimal vibration at the key grip point) and at 24” down the blade from the cross (the optimal striking point).

I have not used the sword in contact –and plan to preserve it in ‘as new’ condition— but it’s quite sharp and I expect it would be a ferocious cutter at the optimal striking point with its wide, flat, lenticular blade. With its relatively pointy tip it should also be a decent thruster against soft targets, although it is too flexible for penetrating really tough targets.

Fit and Finish

It is worth noting that Jeff Helmes makes every effort to use traditional methods. The sword parts are hand forged and completed by grinding, filing, and hand polishing to a 600 grit finish. Having said that, there is no need to apologize for the result, which stands up well against the higher end production brands. The components feel very tight and solid. Although the lines are slightly softer, they are all clean and even. Each of the components has a smooth, organic, historically accurate look. The grip is very nicely executed with a fine traditional underwrap and evenly spaced risers.

A number of Jeff’s professional peers have commented on the inlay, which worked out very nicely indeed. From what I understand, Jeff carved out the letters, then hammered in the bronze, and then cleaned of the edges before the final tempering. The result is a very clean, even surface with the blade. Quite remarkable!

There are always imperfections in hand-made articles but to find them hear delves into minutia hardly worth mentioning. There are a few visible gaps in the inlay if it is scrutinized. There are some scuffs along the edge of the blade, presumably from final sharpening that could be easily buffed over. The 13th century knight who owned the original would likely mock such concerns; indeed the modern sword is better constructed and finished in a number of points than the original.

Finally, besides the allowances mentioned above, Jeff has done a remarkable job at capturing the look and proportions of the original. It appears that the blade turned out 1cm shorter, and I suspect the pommel is slightly smaller than the huge pommel of the original, but these again are niggling bits of minutia. The swords are as alike as twins.

Conclusion

Once again, Jeff Helmes has produced a beautiful and highly functional piece that I am proud to call my own. This sword stands amongst the best in my collection, and indeed with its exquisite bronze inlay sets a new standard for me personally. If it were not already the case, it should be clear from this project that Jeff Helmes, although still early in his career, already holds a place with the best of his international peers in the swordsmithing industry.

[editorial note – this review was a bit of a rush job, so I apologize for any rough spots, particularly in the photos below. If I get a chance to take any better pictures I will post them at a future date –JDC]



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Sword in Hand

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Pommel View

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Inlay

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Cross

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With some 'friends'

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With some 'friends' 2
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Luka Borscak




Location: Croatia
Joined: 11 Jun 2007
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PostPosted: Sun 24 Jun, 2012 3:17 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

A true masterpiece! You must feel like a true 13th century German Count wielding it... Surprised
And this makes me want a sword with an inlay. Worried
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Kai Lawson




Location: Madison, WI
Joined: 26 Aug 2010
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PostPosted: Sun 24 Jun, 2012 4:24 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I can't decide which I like more--the picture of that great inlay, or the slanted trio of cutting perfection in the last picture. You are incredibly fortunate to own such pieces by such renowned smiths--now I need to get a hold of some money, and send some emails of my own... Big Grin
"And they crossed swords."
--William Goldman, alias S. Morgenstern
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Robin Smith




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PostPosted: Sun 24 Jun, 2012 4:45 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Nice! I like the inhand shot. Really gives it a sense of perspective.
A furore Normannorum libera nos, Domine
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Tim Lison




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PostPosted: Sun 24 Jun, 2012 5:50 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Gorgeous! Jeff did such a great job on this one. It really looks nice next to your Tritonia and type N. Funny ho it makes them look small...
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Jean Thibodeau




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PostPosted: Sun 24 Jun, 2012 5:56 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Very good review and informative.

I also agree that if one wanted to nitpick one can always use a magnifying glass and find tiny tiny scuff marks or slight irregularities in almost any hand made sword.

On the other hand when writing a review one has to mention these small things to give an honest review.

Even if one could find a " perfect sword " with zero flaws when it left the hands of the maker the only way to keep it that way would be under glass in a nitrogen atmosphere: Any contact of any kind or handling will produce small scuff marks, and time will cause some level of patination.

Quote:
The 13th century knight who owned the original would likely mock such concerns; indeed the modern sword is better constructed and finished in a number of points than the original.


I fully agree, and this looks like a well proportioned and well executed sword of the highest quality.

Quote:
The handling of this sword is surprisingly pleasant. Your eyes see a large sword, and your hand initially feels the 3 lb 5oz heft, so one expects a challenge when it starts moving. But instead it seems to dart from one guard position to another and hold with precision. Mostly, it just wants to move. It’s no magic trick; it’s all in the mass distribution.


Yes even very heavy swords can be agile for their weight because of good weight distribution and other subtle things hard to quantify and explain, but easy to feel in hand: I have a very large custom one hander weighing 5 pounds that feels this way, so not too surprising to me that a sword at 3 pounds 5 ounces can be a very good handling sword. Big Grin Cool

Where the heavier good handling swords differ from lighter good handling swords is that initially both can be handled at speed but after some minutes the heavier swords do tire one out faster. A stronger person can handle a heavier sword without being slowed down too soon since most sword fights are over quickly if one of the swordsmen is considerably more skilled than the other. ( So if you wield a heavy sword, better be strong and very skilled to be able to end it quickly. Wink ).

You can easily give up your freedom. You have to fight hard to get it back!
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J.D. Crawford




Location: Toronto
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PostPosted: Mon 25 Jun, 2012 3:28 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thanks guys! I'm sure Jeff is reading this and appreciating the comments as well.

Luka - most of the time I feel like a middle-aged guy with too many responsibilities and not enough sleep, but it definitely feels good to hold a sword like this!

Kai - if I can inspire others to fund projects like this, as others have inspired me, all the better!

Jean - thanks for your comments. I agree that some attempt at criticism is necessary in a review, in order to know that the praise is sincere; one can tell by the level of minutia of the criticism how good the important parts of the product are.

Regards, JD
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Jeremy V. Krause




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PostPosted: Mon 25 Jun, 2012 9:49 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thanks for the review J.D.,

Nice to see a big project like this come to completeion. It's a beautiful weapon, but I've already said that so. . . .

Congratulations!!
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Petr Florianek
Industry Professional




Joined: 01 Oct 2008

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PostPosted: Tue 26 Jun, 2012 5:37 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Great review! and also a great weapon from awesome artist and craftsman Jeff. I can see that he will be one of the big names in the field. I do share artistic vision with Jeff and i admire his humble approach. He recraetes and creates in the same time. This is hard to get combination. everyone contemplating having piece made, should think seriously about commissioning Jeff
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Kai Lawson




Location: Madison, WI
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PostPosted: Mon 04 Nov, 2019 6:02 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I'm casting a thread necromantic spell to try to dig up some specific information (I can't believe this is from '12!). Does anyone have information as to the provenance of this sword, beyond its museum location? I'm not really looking for dating, as I have information on that already, but I have no information pointing towards place of origin or find location.

Does anyone have anything?

"And they crossed swords."
--William Goldman, alias S. Morgenstern
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J.D. Crawford




Location: Toronto
Joined: 25 Dec 2006

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PostPosted: Mon 04 Nov, 2019 6:58 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Kai Lawson wrote:
I'm casting a thread necromantic spell to try to dig up some specific information (I can't believe this is from '12!). Does anyone have information as to the provenance of this sword, beyond its museum location? I'm not really looking for dating, as I have information on that already, but I have no information pointing towards place of origin or find location.

Does anyone have anything?


The museum web-site says 'Germany', but its hard to say if that's an actual find place or a speculative origin.

A few years ago, maybe around 2015-2016, there was a thread here on sword inlay that ended up talking about this sword in some detail. There might be some clue there, but I can't remember where to find it.

BTW, I'm considering letting my version go. Need to move on.
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