The Albion Mark Peter Johnsson Museum Collection
A hands-on review by David Kite
The medieval mind divided society into a class system of the Three Estates: those who worked, those who prayed, and those who fought. With the emergence of the middle class and the stresses placed on society due to calamities such as the plague and the rising cost of frequent wars, the boundaries of this class system began to crumble. The sword, once the ubiquitous symbol of the noble fighting class, no longer was limited to the warrior elite. Evidence of this comes to us from much of the literature of the time, including Geoffrey Chaucer's The Canterbury Tales, in which swords and bucklers are carried by gentry and commoner alike. The oldest known surviving treatise on swordsmanship (MS I.33, The Royal Armouries, Leeds, circa 1275-1305) depicts sword and buckler practice not between two warriors, but between a priest and his female student.
The form of the sword changed to reflect both this civilian adoption of the weapon and improvements in armor. Most noticeably, swords developed more acute points. Oakeshott blade Type XII and Type XIV, though broad and of lenticular cross-section, taper gracefully to a serviceable point generally absent from the blades of preceding centuries. While still designed for cutting against unarmored and lightly armored opponents, the taper allowed for greater maneuverability and made the blade better-suited for thrusting into the joints and exposed areas of the increasingly-effective plate armour. One such surviving sword, dated to the late 13th century, fits somewhere between these two Oakeshott types and now rests in the Deutsches Klingenmuseum in Solingen, Germany.
In 2001 swordsmith Peter Johnsson created for the Deutsches Klingenmuseum an exacting reconstruction of the sword in their collection. Now Johnsson, in partnership with Albion Armorers, offers reproductions of this fine sword as part of their Peter Johnsson Museum Collection.
Other swords offered by Albion, such as their popular Next Generation line, are designed with existing artifacts in mind, but are intended to be representatives of a particular sword type rather than an individual sword. What distinguishes the Museum Collection is that each sword is as exacting a reproduction as possible of an existing artifact. In defining his typology of the medieval sword, the late Ewart Oakeshott recognized that not all swords fit neatly or easily into one particular type, but may exhibit characteristics of many types. The Solingen is one such sword.
Measurements and Specifications:
Replica created by Albion Armorers of Wisconsin.
The weapon is very comfortable and easily controlled during guard transitions and slow-to-intermediate cutting exercises and flourishes, but it absolutely shines when used with speed and intent. It makes follow-through instinctive, with easy and natural transitions from full-arm blows to wrist cuts.
The dynamic balance of this very fast and agile weapon, with its pivot point close the Center of Percussion (CoP), allows for powerful sweeping cuts without being cumbersome in recovery or thrusting. It seems equally capable of brutal shearing blows as well as more intricate swordplay such as quickly changing the angle of attack either before or after binding the opponent's weapon.
Similar in profile to Oakeshott Type XVI swords, Type XIVs differ in their lack of a reinforced point of diamond section by maintaining their lenticular section throughout their length. This difference allows much greater cutting capability though lessens its stiffness and therefore ability to thrust. Though ideally such weapons were used in conjunction with companion weapons such as the buckler, there is nothing about this sword that makes it incapable of being used on its own.
My test cutting with the Solingen included strikes against other swords, a steel buckler, and a hood of imported Indian mail stuffed with a soccer ball wrapped in shirts and suspended from a rope. Strikes with Solingen's edge against the flat of another sword resulted in denting at the contact area of the Solingen and minor folds in the blade edge that needed to be filed off. Strikes of the other sword against the Solingen's flat yielded no damage to the Solingen. Strikes against the buckler yielded no damage to the Solingen except once when the sword accidentally struck the lip of the buckler, resulting in a minor twisting of the edge at the contact area. Strikes against the mail dummy resulted in multiple but very minor nicks along the blade edge. The only damage visible after these tests is from the strikes against the other sword, and these appear only as minor distortions along the edge. The damage sustained was acceptable for what a sword could reasonably expect to encounter.
Fit and Finish
The blade itself is equally well polished and shaped, with a well-executed fuller that blends into the blade at its terminus. The blade also has a subtle flare near the hilt. I find this last detail one of the most aesthetically pleasing parts of the weapon. The point of the weapon is also well formed.
As a standard complement to their Museum Collection swords, Albion ships swords of this line in a wooden box to further protect them during shipping and future transport. The wood itself is unfinished, though with a little work could easily be made into a serviceable and attractive display.
The purpose of any sword was ultimately one of simple utility: to quickly and forcefully kill an opponent who more than likely was intending to do the same to you. It filled this role exceptionally well. Though not always the principal weapon on the battlefield, it more effectively combined both elements of offense and defense than any of its contemporaries. It was perhaps because of this, along with its simple yet elegant design and links to the warrior nobility of times past, that it carried with it a mystique and reverence that survives to this day.
Every sword in the Museum Collection by Albion Armorers is a fine representative of this mystique, and the Solingen is no exception. As an exacting recreation of a surviving artifact studied by a talented and skilled swordsmith and produced with care and precision by a leading sword manufacturer, the quality of this weapon cannot be denied. To the practitioner it offers the assurance of period-authentic performance characteristics. To the collector it offers a finely crafted work of art. To everyone it offers a piece of history.
About the Author
David Kite has had a fascination with edged weaponry since early childhood. Disaffected for years by the lack of martial intent in swordplay, he finally discovered the Association for Renaissance Martial Arts and has been pursuing swordsmanship under the ARMA way for three years. He has long harbored suspicions that his swords are the reason for his difficulty getting dates.
Photographer: Chad Arnow