Saturday, May 17, 2014

The Reproduction Sword

There is nothing wrong with reproductions, if they are bought and sold as such.   The collecting of antique weapons is an expensive hobby.  Reproductions offer the history buff a "wall hanger" at a much more affordable price.   Reenactors also benefit from the efforts of those reproduction manufacturers who strive for historical accuracy.  Taking a $1500.00 sword on a reenactment weekend and risking it to damage is just not smart.  Also, practically speaking, reenactors work hard to have correct time appropriate detail in their uniforms and equipment.   A sword that has 150 years worth of age and wear and tear on it just doesn't look right with a period correct uniform. 

Reproductions cross into the world of fakery when they are artificially aged and offered for sale as originals.  Militaria dealing is big business and people will pay significant amounts of money for good items. Inexperienced collectors will pay serious money for faked items.  As a result, the business attracts the devious and criminal minded. 

When I decided to delve into Confederate sword collecting a few years back, I first bought all of the good reference books. I then purchased a reproduction Confederate sword.   With my heritage being from Louisiana, I opted for a repro of a well known Louisiana staff and field officer's sword made by a variety of New Orleans cutlers.  

It's not so easy to discern in this picture, but the guard contains a pelican feeding her young flanked by the letters C S.   

This repro cost me around $250.00.  The original sword, assuming that one can be found for sale,should fetch a price in the $9,000 - $12,000 range.   

Here is a photo of the same sword as mine, artificially aged. 

Now look at the original sword.

Notice the  fine detail of the original compared to the reproduction.  Also notice that the brass of the original has dimpling caused by the coarseness of the sand mold used by the Confederate   manufacturer.  Confederate manufacturing processes were in general not as refined as those in the north or in Europe.  The repro attempts to mimic the casting flaws, but the dimples are much more apparent.  That's because the dimples are intentionally placed there. 

Now look at the detail of mother pelican and her young.  A common image of the Confederacy and Confederate manufacture is of shoeless men in rags carrying shoddy blacksmith made weapons.  While this perception may be true in some cases, the South did have some very reputable cutlers and  manufacturers producing fine weapons and equipment.   Early in the war, New Orleans cutlers such as Agrudier Dufihlo and Thomas Griswold & Co. produced well made and very detailed swords.  The pelican on the repro looks like a child's drawing. There is no comparison to the original. 

Another easy way to spot a repro is the blade etching.   Early 19th century blades were hand etched or engraved. Often the engraving was gold filled to stand out  against a dark blue area created on the blade by a chemical process known as bluing. By 1860, "blue and gilt" blades, except on some presentation swords, was out of fashion. Engraving became larger and much more prevalent was acid etching.   

Here is an example of etching on a repro. 

Here is an example of 150 year old etching. 

Years of use have faded the etching in the original. Although more
Industrialized than before, 19th century etching was still applied by hand, sword by sword.  The repro etching is crisp and clear and is clearly mass produced by machine. 

Look also on repros for subtle details that say "this ain't right."   Notice the photo below. 

There was a Confederate armory in Fayetteville, North Carolina.  It did not produce Louisiana officer's swords.  In fact, I can't think of any CS officer's swords that bear an armory mark. Why?Because Southern officers were required to purchase their own edged weapons.  They were not government issued.  

Another mark to watch out for is the "CS"
with "1862" underneath.  CS edged
weapons are typically not CS marked and year dated.  US government purchased weapons (not private purchase officer's swords) bear "US" with the inspectors intials and the date.  Many CS officer sword repros have the CS and 1862 mark. 

The feel of the weapon can tell you a lot about its origins. Even 19th century blacksmiths turned out a blade that is light and flexible. An inflexible sword blade will easily break.  The blade on the  repro I bought feels like a piece of rebar.  

Grips can tell you a lot.  Here is the repro. 

Ain't no way that is 150 years old. 

Here is an original. 
The leather is thin, as compared to the thick repro wrap. The original is also worn with age and the wooden core has shrunken some. 

Not all newer looking grips signify a repro. Regripping (replacement of grip wrap and wire) has been something of a
controversy. Some say that an original sword that has been regripped is ruined. Others believe it to be a form of restoration that doesn't mar the value. I lean towards approval of professional regripping where it fits with the condition of the rest of the sword in its as is state. If the sword is in relic form - aged rust, dinged blade and other signs use and natural aging - then leave the grip alone even if all that is left is the wooden core.  

Leave them alone!!!!!!  These swords are in relic condition. 

If the sword is in better condition with little rust and simple age mellowing to the brightness of the metal, but the wire is missing or broken and the grip wrap is falling off or mostly gone, I am not opposed to restoring the grip. To me, however, the grip should be appropriately aged. Most importantly, if the sword is offered for sale then the regripping should be duly noted. 

A final note is to look for the absolute most obvious sign of a repro.  

The stamp, although blurry in this photo, says "India."   No CS or US Civil War swords were imported from India. 

Happy hunting.