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Smallsword: the Ultimate Collector's Item

Saturday, 27 March 2010

smallswordToday, cold steel arms enjoy a revival as they emerge not as a real weapon but a unique and precious collector's item. That said, both fire and cold steel arms are highly valued but the latter enjoys a much greater demand. This is especially true with regard to smallswords which are appreciated for their delicate shape and elegance as well as for their precious beauty (in their time, most swords were expensive weaponry decorated with precious metals and stones). Probably, their popularity can be explained by the perception of smallswords as a weapon of noblemen, officers and generals.

The smallsword is a light one-handed sword designed for thrusting which evolved out of the longer and heavier rapier of the late Renaissance. From times immemorial, cold steel arms in general, and swords in particular were not only a part of military gear, but also an object of admiration, a work of art, that would make its owner proud. It was the ultimate man's attribute that bore the engraving of their owner's coat of arms. Today, buying an authentic antique smallword can be tricky as they are very expensive and stored mostly in museums and private collections. What's more, smallwords are highly valued because of their history, as swords had another purpose: they were symbols.

The height of the smallsword's popularity was between mid 17th and late 18th century. It is thought to have appeared in France and spread quickly across the rest of Europe. The small sword was the immediate predecessor of the French foil. Smallswords were also used as status symbols and fashion accessories; for most of the 18th century anyone, civilian or military, with pretensions to gentlemanly status would have worn a small sword on a daily basis.

The noblemen, the warrior class wore smallswords when unarmored, when in civilian dress. The powerful merchants then wore swords too as symbols of power and for the sake of fashion. Duels, which had once been a means to settle disputes between nobles, started spreading to civilians. The art of defense (hence fencing) became ubiquitous. The sport of fencing was formed. Thus the smallsword evolved from use in battle to use duels and sport.

Since that time, smallsword has become a symbol of nobleman's pride; a recognized emblem of honor the carrying of which was regulated by certain formalities. The owners often «customized» their smallswords by decorating it with jewels, took special care of their precious weapon and valued it above anything else. Pawning a sword was despicable, an equivalent to losing one's honor. To deny the right to carry a smallsword was a punishment that is why the procedure of forfeiture of title in Russia (so called «civil execution») included public breaking of nobleman's sword, a ritual of the ultimate disgrace.

The history of smallsword as a weapon was over by Napoleon era. Militarily, smallswords continued to be used as a standard sidearm for infantry officers. In some branches with strong traditions, this practice continues to the modern day, albeit for ceremonial and formal dress only. The carrying of swords by officers in combat conditions was frequent in World War I and still saw some practice in World War II. Today, smallsword are still featured on parade uniforms of some corps.

The production of replicas of historical smallswords originates with 19th century historicism. Contemporary replicas can range from cheap factory produced look-alikes to exact recreations of individual artifacts, including an approximation of the historical production methods. Most high quality swords (replicas) may be found in lands that first adapted to the idea of this weapon, or which later improved it. Authentic smallswords are very hard to find and their prices are soaring high. However, they can be a valuable addition to your cold steel arms collection and a nice decorative touch as well as excellent investment in times of crisis, as with proper care a smallsword can be stored for centuries. Richly decorated noblemen's swords of fine craftsmanship are less valued though they look more like a precious work of art than a lethal weapon. Collectors also highly value original smallswords bearing the intricate engravings; especially those with long history that might probably belong to some outstanding people. Ordinary military smallswords are prized as remarkable cold steel arms.

Certainly, every collector who holds a smallsword in their possession can be proud, because to some extent having a smallsword is equivalent to owning a fragment of history and standing in line with those officers and noblemen who once defended their honor with this fine weapon.

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