Keep Your Sword Pristine, Or Let It Age?
Although most sword collectors like their pieces to be pristine, there are many others who prefer swords that appear well used, or that have the look of centuries old historical artifacts. Whatever your preference, it all comes down to aesthetics and how the weapon is going to be enjoyed and used. Some collectors mostly intend to display their sword collection and get most of their enjoyment from the beauty of their pieces. These folks tend to maintain their swords in like-new condition. Others, such as historical re-enactors and entertainment users, prefer their swords to have a patina that suggests it has being used on a daily basis. Finally, there are connoisseurs who love the look of aged historical artifacts but aren't able to find an original that fits their aesthetics and budget.
A two Handed Sword done with a rustic finish.
In order to produce high quality swords that look like historical originals you need to understand those originals. Due to our partnership with the Oakeshott Institute we have access to dozens of historical swords that were collected by Ewart Oakeshott over the course of his career as one of the world's foremost authorities on European medieval weapons. Below is a 3D model that we created of one of these swords, which also happens to be one that we reproduce as the Schloss Erbach Sword.
Typically, when we reproduce swords based on an original we are trying to reproduce it as it originally looked and functioned when new. Sometimes this takes a little extrapolation if the original is heavily corroded or was altered in some way in the modern period. Careful reproductions with the original sword for comparison to hand, give us a window into the past, exposing how these weapons looked hundreds of years ago.
Our standard reproduction of the Schloss Erbach Sword
This rapier and dagger where done with a working life finish for a living history venue.
When we set out to make a replica that mirrors the current state of an antique we are trying to speed up a process that took hundreds of years and a variety of often unknown environmental conditions to produce in the original. This can be very challenging. Most original swords have very little provenance that would help us to figure out how they were preserved. Sometimes it is quite clear that an artifact spent a lot of time underwater or below ground, but it is also frequently the case that it is very difficult to say for certain under what conditions a sword developed its particular patination. Additionally, various parts of a sword respond differently to environmental conditions. For example, a leather grip, iron pommel, and steel blade will often all be in diverse states of preservation due to how they interacted with the environment. Organic elements such as the leather and wood of a grip are unlikely to be preserved unless the sword is maintained in an armory or church, or the sword was in an oxygen free environment such as buried in the mud of a river or bog. Swords displayed for centuries often have telltale signs such as more corrosion on one side than the other due to exposure to smoke etc on the side facing out from the wall.
The back side of a complex hilted side sword with a Hercules knot back guard, finished in a dark russet
It should be noted that there is currently a big problem with fake historical swords being sold on the internet as authentic originals.
Folks interested in investing in historical antiquities need to be very, very careful. Many, if not most, items being sold online as historical originals are in fact artificially aged swords made with the intention of defrauding consumers. To make sure any artificially aged swords we make are not fraudulently resold as originals we keep records and photos of any we make and include details and marks that allow us to verify that the piece is one of ours.
Single handed sword with corroded finish and gold plated medallion in the pommel.
However you prefer your sword, they all start out new, then are either preserved, used, or aged.
Nathan Clough, Ph.D. is Vice President of Arms and Armor and a member of the governing board of The Oakeshott Institute. He is a historical martial artist and a former university professor of cultural geography. He has given presentations on historical arms at events including Longpoint and Combatcon, and presented scholarly papers at, among others, The International Congress on Medieval Studies.
Craig Johnson is the Production Manager of Arms and Armor and Secretary of The Oakeshott Institute. He has taught and published on the history of arms, armor and western martial arts for over 30 years. He has lectured at several schools and Universities, WMAW, HEMAC, 4W, and ICMS at Kalamazoo. His experiences include iron smelting, jousting, theatrical combat instruction and choreography, historical research, European martial arts and crafting weapons and armor since 1985.