Patrick Bárta's reproduction Kirkburn sword
Some time ago I contacted Patrick Bárta about a Celtic longsword and in his response he noted he was working on a reproduction of the Kirkburn sword but that he did not yet have a patron for the blade. Needless to say I jumped at the chance to have a Patrick Bárta reproduction of the Kirkburn sword.

The actual Kirkburn sword is in the British Museum. There is a Highlights summary of the sword and an extremely detailed academic description of the sword on the British Museum’s website.

From the Highlights summary:
The Kirkburn Sword
Iron Age, 300-200 BC
From a burial at Kirkburn, East Yorkshire, England

Probably the finest Iron Age sword in Europe… The iron blade of a sword needed great time and skill to make and the sword as a whole is an incredibly complicated weapon and piece of art. The handle of this sword is unusually elaborate. It is made of thirty-seven different pieces of iron, bronze and horn. After it was assembled, the handle was decorated with red glass. The sword was carried in a scabbard made from iron and bronze. The polished bronze front plate was decorated with a La Tène style scroll pattern, and with red glass studs and insets.
The sword was clearly a valued object. The scabbard had been damaged and was repaired some time after it had been made, which might have been many years before it was placed in the grave with its final owner.

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From the beginning it was clear this was not going to be a carbon copy of the Kirkburn sword and I was okay with that. Patrick’s blade was longer than the original which was fine; the original Kirkburn sword was quite short as was common for the Iron Age swords from the northern parts of the British Isles.

But at the very end of the process, when Patrick was working on the hilt, that was when some serious roadblocks were encountered. In November 2013 Patrick contacted me stating that he was encountering difficulty with the enameling of the glass onto the hilt and was concerned that he would not be able to enamel it in a way that was acceptable to him.

I had been curious about how Patrick was going to approach the glass enameling of the hilt and scabbard. In Ian Stead’s British Iron Age Swords and Scabbards there is an entire appendix by Valerie Rigby entitled “Weapons and fittings with enameled decoration.” In this appendix it she discusses the Kirkburn sword and scabbard glass enameling in exhaustive detail.

Valerie Rigby states:
The Kirkburn sword and scabbard remains the only definite example of combining the techniques of excised cells for patterning, coated keyed areas and the three piece domed caps found anywhere in Britain and Europe… it seems likely that all three (Kirkburn and two similar) weapons were produced using very localized skills, possibly in the same workshop and within a generation, if not by the same hand.

The glass enameling techniques were not the familiar cloisonné from the European Migration Era but are instead excised cells known as champlevé enamelling. In this method the decorative pattern was excised with an engraving tool and red glass was laid into the cells.

Additionally the sword featured keyed areas which were then covered with softened glass and polished. Finally, the domed caps of the sword and scabbard fittings were keyed and coated with hot glass.

Attempts to reproduce these techniques were not succeeding. We agreed that Patrick would work with professional enamelers with a specialized furnace to work on the enameling. I awaited the results anxiously. Then I got the email from Patrick:
The grip. Although I have tried the enameling three times and have cooperated with professional enamelers, I wasn’t able to do it good. Making of enamel-champleve on this 3D object is very complicated and I wasn’t able to do it good.

There were many problems:

1-iron is more problematic for enameling than for example copper alloys. On iron must be used a special basic enamel and over it face enamel. But basic enamel (with different containing of chemical compounds) is made only in grey or black colour and for red enamel champleve it isn’t possible to use, because after grinding is usually on some parts visible.
2-The best is, when is first heated the metal base and than on the surface is melt the enamel.The iron of the grip is relatively massive (cca 3mm thickness) and the enamel was from all sites. So in the time of heating, although it was extremely slow, was first melt the enamel and second was with full temperature the iron. After cooling it looks good, but after grinding was enamel porous. The bubbles was probably from overheating of the enamel. I used technical enamels, so with flowing of melted enamel wasn’t big problems- it isn’t so liquid.

We had hit two roadblocks that could not be surmounted: my budget for Patrick to research with the professional enamelers was exhausted (remember - I had initially hoped to just purchase a basic Celtic sword from Patrick; this project was significantly greater in cost). The other barrier for this project was time.

So what solution was there to get an acceptable reproduction of the Kirkburn sword into my hands?

Patrick proposed using a very red copper in place of the glass enameling on the hilt. Honestly I was very hesitant because I was not able to visualize what Patrick had in mind. Essentially Patrick did it and sent me photos - and I loved what I saw. The sword was completed and it was beautiful!

Oh, yeah, you wanted photos and stats. Sorry, I almost forgot about that (just kidding).

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Apologies about the quality of the photos.

From Patrick, the stats:
The sword is: overall length 843mm, blade length 689mm, blade width 44mm, point of balance 105mm before the guard, weight 860 for sword, 1630g with scabbard.

The blade has sandwich construction with welded steel piece in the middle covered by two pieces of more heterogenous(from the view of carbon content) iron - on the surface is possible to see by eyes /bad to photograph) structure of this materials partly similar to pattern-welding.

The scabbard is made from iron and engraved bronze plates decorated by rivets with copper heads, the scabbard chape is decorated by red enamel.

The hilt is made from nut wood covered by iron plate, rivets with copper and iron heads.

The grip. In the end I made (it was my 4th. grip for the sword)the motif inlayed by copper(although it was difficult on this concrete object too). The inlaying was used by celts too and the design is almost the same.

Some final thoughts.

First, this blade is big and solid. There is no fuller to lighten the blade (which is historically accurate; the original had no fullers and the vast majority of La Tène swords do not). My impression is that this is a meaty La Tène long sword which really wants to be used. There is a pattern on the blade, but as Patrick said, it is so faint that it defies attempts to photograph it.

It is not a leaf blade but in photographs it really seems to create the illusion of being on and in the right light it does appear waisted but it is not.

The sword is very comfortable in the hand, more comfortable than my custom migration era sword by Randal Graham or the Hanwei Anglo Saxon sword or Godfred sword I have.

The lesson I take from this whole experience is that our ancestors were master artists whose skill defies even the experts of the modern era. I am very pleased by the work Patrick Bárta did on this sword. Both it and my Gullinbursti La Tène anthropomorphic dagger are tied for the favorites in my collection.
Almost too beautiful for words. Such an excellent original from which to start, and Barta is clearly one of the best.
The blade does look a bit 'leafed' to my eyes.

Thanks, Andy.


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You're a lucky man! I never really appreciated the Celtic swords until I went to the Museum of London a few months ago and saw their collection. This really reinforces why I liked them so much when I saw them there. The shape of the blad, the fittings, the scabbard...they are all perfect! Patrick realy did a great job! Congrats on your new sword!
This is lovely. Very cool choice! You are a very lucky man to have gotten the opportunity to get in on this project. I love the red copper alloy
Really well done. I was just looking at some pictures of the original last week and thinking it would make a great custom for an era where there aren't as many familiar forms of swords. You picked a good one and Patrick did a great job, making the most of the challenges.
Simply amazing, that is fabulous sword.
... Really can't echo my fellow members sentiments enough. Just beautiful ...
specially the scabbard. Every now and then I've looked at custom swords of
this type and it seems to me the scabbards lack a finished look -- probably
just me, though. But this one takes the proverbial cornbread ...
That's SO nice!

Congratulations Andy.

Definitely a keeper!!

A formal review for the site would be super nice to really document this piece for the community.
Simply incredible!

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