Militaria and edged weapons

Collecting Antique Swords in 2019 – Part One

Dear Collector and Enthusiast!

Collecting antique swords has been for me a passion, hobby and now full-time business for over 20 years.  As a boy, I was fascinated by all things military and birthdays and Christmas usually involved some new addition to my small collection.  I was not particularly selective and my collection ranged from battered old tin helmets to soldier’s army pay books and puttees!  The ability to be a little more discerning came later and is in fact, one of the most important first lessons that one can learn when collecting.  This is what I have learnt to date…

  • Always buy the best quality you can afford

It is always tempting to opt for quantity rather than quality – to be able to say that you have amassed a “large collection” might inpress your friends, but is it a collection of true quality?  When I started out collecting antique swords I was driven mainly by price e.g. I have limited funds and I am going to see how much I can buy with that amount – WRONG!

It is much better and smarter to say that I am going to buy just one piece today and it is going to be the best that I can afford.

  • What does “best” mean?

Well; it can mean a number of things and in the case of antique swords, it can include:

Condition – sounds obvious but “condition” is crucial – you need to buy a sword that has retained as much of its original condition as possible.  This includes finish e.g. the metal parts including the hilt, blade and scabbard, have not been cleaned or abraded too much.  This is an area of debate and some collectors like to see a sword that is polished bright i.e. original finish.  I believe that they are in the minority.  I fall some way in the middle – not too bright but not black with age – with brass hilts and scabbards, I always look for a nice honeyed colour – you dont always find them with that colour but it is always a pleasing surprise when they do come along.

I have a personal dislike of swords that have lost their grip covering or have little remaining – I think that visually they are lacking a great deal and look a little scruffy for my tastes.  Some collectors decide to re-wrap sword grips and that can include adding the twistwire and using the original wrapping materials i.e. leather and fishskin.  It is very rare that I come across a sword that has been re-wrapped and re-bound that looks ok and authentic – most I see are pretty poor attempts and amateurish.  This job takes considerable skills and in the days that the swords were originally produced, took a skilled craftsman to complete.  There are skilled craftsmen out there today who can do this job well but they are very few and far between.  I always work on the premise that if you can’t do as good a job as the original sword maker would have done, leave it alone.

There is also the aesthetic angle to consider – if you completely replace the grip wrapping, then it will look like new and probably quite incongruous when compared to the genuinely “aged” other parts of the sword.  You can age the grip but again, you will need the necessary skills to make it look authentic.

Blade condition is also important and when purchasing officer grade swords that would have been either engraved or etched, you want to try and acquire swords that retain as much original crispness and detail as possible – blades that are heavily worn or pitted should be avoided UNLESS the sword is known to have been owned by a reputable or famous officer with an interesting military career.  Don’t buy an ordinary sword with a poor blade – it might be cheap but it does nothing to enhance your collection.

  • To Clean or Not to Clean?

This is an important question and as I mentioned earlier, some collectors prefer “untouched” examples and leave all the muck etc on the sword.  Personally, I am not one for radical work on a sword but certainly believe that any dirt or gunge should be removed as should any active rust – if you do not remove this it will damage the sword.

© Collecting Antique Swords in 2012 – Part One article by Harvey Withers – www.harveywithers.co.uk