Del Tin 5174 Dussack
A hands-on review by Sean A. Flynt
The richly innovative arms and armour culture of the Germanies gave the world some unique and beautiful weapons. German close-hilt swords are especially attractive, even mounted on broad, short falchion blades. Whether one calls those compact weapons falchions, dussacks, hangers or cutlasses, they were among the most popular military swords of their day. Some original examples are exceptionally fine and some are painfully crude, demonstrating that all economic classes appreciated the form.
The Italian firm of Del Tin Armi Antiche has chosen to recreate a German Dussack of the early 17th century. The form of its hilt may be related to the Sinclair I hilt type, which Ewart Oakeshott informs us was common during the same period and frequently was mounted on falchion blades. But then, many such weapons in this period tend to resemble each other irrespective of cultural origin. They typically feature an iron plate guard (often of scallop shell form) and a short, broad, single-edged blade. But although the Del Tin weapon fits into this larger category, certain elements of its hilt are distinctively German. The vine-like form and gentle curves of the quillons, ending in blackberry-like finials, recall many German hilts of the period. The roughly hemispherical pommel echoes the shell form of the guard and the wire-bound grip of spiral form complements the other organic lines of the hilt.
The weapon's primary guards include the S-curved quillons, knuckle-bow and an outside plate guard of scallop-shell form. Secondary inside defenses include an inverted Y-shaped guard which splits from the top half of the knuckle-bow and extends down past the quillons to join another bar. That bar extends downward from the rear quillon on an angle for just over an inch, then bends abruptly toward the edge of the blade, almost contacting it. This bar then bends upward to join the base of the forward quillon, creating a faux finger ring (the plate guard prevents its use).
The blade is short and broad, maintaining its 2" width for most of its length, constricting slightly before swelling 14" below the guard. Below that is a very blunt false edge. Three shallow fullers run along each flat of the blade. The fuller closest to the back of the blade ends 12" below the guard, while the other two run to 19" and 20", with the longest fuller closest to the edge. The manufacturer's arms are stamped on both flats of the blade just below guard. The smaller DELTIN name is stamped only on the inside flat of the blade, inside the middle fuller.
Nathan Robinson, myArmoury.com's founder, viewed the antique weapon at The Wallace Collection on which Del Tin appears to have based its reproduction. He says that Del Tin has largely been faithful to the original. He noted that the Del Tin piece lacks the original's thumb-ring, however. As the photo above indicates, the hilt of the original also was blackened, while the reproduction's hilt is bare steel.
This sword is difficult to evaluate on the basis of a photograph, so don't let the attractive lines of the hilt fool you. As indicated by its vital statistics, this is a tank of a weapon.
Measurements and Specifications:
Replica created by Del Tin Armi Antiche of Italy.
Tin swords have a reputation, fair or not, for inappropriately high weights. But although this weapon certainly feels hefty, the weight and balance aren't as inappropriate for a weapon of this type as they might for a different type. The weapon at The Wallace Collection is two pounds, 11 ounces, after all.
Western martial arts instructor and myArmoury.com Team Member Bill Grandy also examined this weapon and offered notes about its handling in period-appropriate exercises. "Holding it in a static position does not give the user a strong sense of confidence in the weapon," he acknowledged. However, he added, "when the sword is in motion it is actually a lot more dynamic than expected." He observed that transitions between cuts and guards were easily made and, ultimately, he came away with a favorable impression of the piece. "The more I used the sword the more I liked it," he said.
Grandy also noted that Del Tin's inclusion of a false edge on the blade allows for a typical German maneuver in which one intercepts an incoming blow with the knuckles facing upward and simultaneously cuts downward toward the opponent with the false edge of the blade. According to Grandy, "a counterattack such as this, known as a schielhau (squinting strike), feels very natural with this sword, particularly with the extra hand protection it provides." I will second Grandy's observation of the security this weapon offers the hand.
The bars of the hilt are robust and well-positioned for defense, and neither too roomy nor too constricting. I would request only the addition of a thumb ring, as per the original. That could dramatically improve handling of the weapon in even its blunt form.
Fit and Finish
In overall dimensions and form, this weapon is true to the original on which it appears to be based. However, close inspection reveals an indifference to detail. This wouldn't necessarily be out of place on an infantry weapon of the period but some collectors might find it unacceptable.
Poor definition in the cast quillon finials and pommel is my primary grievance about this weapon's finish, but some also might object to the finish of the welds at various points on the bars of the hilt. On the other hand, Bill Grandy observed that the welds were better-finished than on many other Del Tin swords. "This weapon gives a slightly rugged look without appearing unfinished," he said. "Overall this is a good looking sword for what it represents." That pretty well sums up my feeling, too, and I'll add that blackening of the hilt to match the original would conceal the flaws described above.
The price of this weapon is reported to be $450 US, but may be less expensive in Europe. Judging only from the construction quality, finish and subjective feel of the weapon, that price is perhaps $100 higher than I, as a casual admirer of the form, would be willing to pay. However, considering that there really is no alternative other than a custom commission (which might cost several hundred dollars more,) if this type particularly appealed to me I wouldn't hesitate to add it to my collection, albeit with the understanding that I'd be doing some simple upgrading, including sharpening the blade and refinishing the hilt. There's room for improvement here, but Del Tin Armi Antiche deserves praise for resurrecting a very interesting weapon type.
About the Author
Sean Flynt is a public relations professional in Birmingham, Alabama. He is interested in the martial culture of all periods and people but focuses on 1450-1650, with special interest in German and Austrian arms and armour.
European Weapons and Armour: From the Renaissance to the Industrial Revolution, by R. Ewart Oakeshott
Photographer: Patrick Kelly