As modern sword makers many of the techniques we use to craft historical weapons are similar to those developed by smiths in the past. Sure, we have electricity, torches, and really good abrasives, but the basic process is still pretty darn similar. The way we sell our swords, though, is substantially different. In today's blog post we use a recent incident in which a major digital payments company decided we could no longer use their service to tell the story of how the business of sword making has changed over the centuries.
Fire is good.
When a medieval blade producer would finish up a batch of blades they would bundle them up or place them in a barrel and sell the lot to a supplier who would load it on a wagon or barge and head out selling the blades along the way to cutlers who would hilt them up, or make the blade into a whole sword, locally. Today we make the whole piece in house and a variety of delivery services pick up a box with one sword (hopefully two :-) swords) inside and it goes on a truck and then possibly even a plane and is delivered to your door. Modern shipping has a whole series of challenges, from how to secure an object designed to cut and thrust through all sorts of things inside a cardboard box to "Dimensional Weight" the bane of shipping a spear or quarter staff.
Once a medieval cutler bought a blade they would make or sometimes purchase parts such as cross guards, grips, and pommels to make the bare blade into a complete sword. Sometimes this meant making "stock" products, and sometimes it meant making swords to order. This was often done in batches that were ordered in bulk for armouries or local political powers who where equipping soldiers or levies.
When the medieval customer had decided on their purchase they would hand the cutler a stack or bag of coins to pay for the blade of their choice. Today we offer a variety of options to pay in the digital market ( though it should be noted we happily accept a purse full of silver or gold coinage if you wish). Some of these methods like credit cards and bank transfers are secure and come with little annoyance other than a fee to use the service. Over the last decade the world of digital payments has really taken off and there are dozens of ways to take payment. We recently discovered that not all of these are entirely without problems.
You may have noticed that we no longer have the ability to take payments via Paypal. We were informed six months ago that we would no longer be permitted to use their service since we sell weapons. Silly as this seems, they have some very arbitrary rules and users have little recourse for resolution if they decide you are in the wrong. In our case they froze four accounts, three of which where only marginally connected to our business account and held the funds for 180 days. They then confiscated the funds from A&A production manager Craig Johnsons' personal account and from our non-profit sister organization The Oakeshott Institute.
Nordland Axe the offending item.
Why did they do this? Honestly it's super unclear. They cited a couple of different reasons over the course of a couple weeks, all of which had to do with selling weapons being a violation of their terms of service (of course many, many sellers of knives, axes and swords still use Paypal, so it's clearly pretty arbitrary). After a great deal of time and effort trying to get a straight answer from them, they said the problem was that we sold a Nordland Axe via our website. We admit it, we totally sold a Viking utility axe...
All in all, maybe the modern digital marketplace isn't so different from the challenges faced by our medieval ancestors when the whims of absolute monarchs threatened to impose special taxes at any moment, or highwaymen lurked just around the corner to steal the purses of traveling merchants.
Arms and Armor is going to be just fine, and The Oakeshott Institute is working on ways to recover its funds, but Craig lost a bunch of his personal money to this arbitrary action and we've been counseled that legal action would likely cost more than it would net.
In the end we just wanted to let you know why we no longer offer Paypal as a way to purchase our products. If you are inclined, you can help Craig recover his losses from the anti-sword internet enforcers here.
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.