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JE Sarge




PostPosted: Mon 25 Jul, 2011 12:00 pm    Post subject: Were scabbards traditionally more expensive than swords?         Reply with quote

Were scabbards traditionally more expensive than swords?

I have seen this posted quite a few times over the years by various members in reference to the expense of scabbards. But, I am now extremely curious where this information comes from. Is it a singluar historical reference, or a common fact substantiated by multiple references. To be honest, I am completely in the dark on this topic. Question

I would tend to disagree with this concept off-hand, mainly based on the fact that iron/steel are far more difficult to come by that wood slats, wool, rendered animal glue, linen and/or leather. Traditionally, woodworkers and hide tanners were more prevalent professions than blacksmiths - creating more of a customer demand for the sword than those able to craft something to carry it.

If scabbards were more expensive than swords, would this fact not have fluctuated over the years? As soon as someone figured out that you could make a killing on sword scabbards, it only seems to be natural evolution for more people to figure out how to at least craft a simple scabbard to sell out of two wood slats and a linen cover. As this progressed, it would also seem that more people would become proficient at it over time; whereas blacksmitthing required a totally different skillset and manufacturing facility with much more expensive tools, a forge, an anvil, property, and a source of ore - it seems that crafting scabbards in antiquity would have still required less initial skill and been a more lucrative way to make profit with less initial overhead/investment.

Never making a scabbard before - the process has been duplicated well by many forum members; I only used rudamentary tools on my first attempt at a scabbard, but could have technically only used a knife and small chisel to do so. If I would have used linen for a cover, I could have cut my time further - because I would not have to emboss leather, make risers, add a chape/locket, etc. I just feel that if this can be figured out by amateur forum members in a minimum of attempts, the medieval craftsman would have caught on equally as fast.

Now, on the other hand, give me a forge and a lump of iron ore. I will stand there looking at it for a few hours and give up. I'd not have the slightest idea how to begin making a sword, not to mention the tremendous cost of initial overhead. The iron ore alone would have set me back much more in cost that what it would cost to come up with the materials for a simple scabbard in most, if not all areas that had trees and livestock.

Of course, I understand that some scabbards were beautiful examples of an artisan's craft - evident examples of superior noble quality exist in many museum collections. These were defiantely expensive, and I can see how they migth supercede the price of a blade. However, this is defiantely not the case for many historical scabbards; and certinally not the case for the average soldier that simply needed a simple sword scabbard and belt without artistic adornments, guilding, chapes, lockets, etc...

So, were scabbards traditionally more expensive than swords? If so, what documents/examples can I look to for provence of this?

J.E. Sarge
Crusader Monk Sword Scabbards and Customizations
www.crusadermonk.com

"But lack of documentation, especially for such early times, is not to be considered as evidence of non-existance." - Ewart Oakeshott
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Gene W




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PostPosted: Mon 25 Jul, 2011 12:24 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Definately not the case on combat swords. Scabbards have always been relatively simple cheap affairs compared to the swords they housed.
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Myles Mulkey




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PostPosted: Mon 25 Jul, 2011 12:48 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

This is the only reference I've really looked regarding historical prices is the Lex Ribuaria. It's a Frankish law text but it also mentions the costs of certain items. Notably, a sword and scabbard together are valued at seven solidi, but a sword alone is only valued at three solidi (which were silver coins in Frankish currency, instead of the gold solidi used by the Romans, I think?). Meaning of course that at least in the context of the 7th Century Franks, a scabbard was indeed more expensive than a sword.
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JE Sarge




PostPosted: Mon 25 Jul, 2011 1:54 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Myles Mulkey wrote:
This is the only reference I've really looked regarding historical prices is the Lex Ribuaria. It's a Frankish law text but it also mentions the costs of certain items. Notably, a sword and scabbard together are valued at seven solidi, but a sword alone is only valued at three solidi (which were silver coins in Frankish currency, instead of the gold solidi used by the Romans, I think?). Meaning of course that at least in the context of the 7th Century Franks, a scabbard was indeed more expensive than a sword.


I am taking a look at that document now, thanks for posting!

Does it denote anywhere that the swords were from the same source or not? Given the swords without scabbards could have came from one vendor and the swords with the scabbards from another, which could indicate quality. Or if the swords were all of the same type? My Latin is terrible. Laughing Out Loud

J.E. Sarge
Crusader Monk Sword Scabbards and Customizations
www.crusadermonk.com

"But lack of documentation, especially for such early times, is not to be considered as evidence of non-existance." - Ewart Oakeshott
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Chad Arnow
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PostPosted: Mon 25 Jul, 2011 2:44 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

This old thread has some info, some of which is the same as mentioned here already.

http://www.myArmoury.com/talk/viewtopic.php?t=8783

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Last edited by Chad Arnow on Tue 26 Jul, 2011 9:24 am; edited 1 time in total
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Brian Robson




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PostPosted: Tue 26 Jul, 2011 2:37 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I'm no expert on costs of items, but I suspect that there definitely isn't a simple answer and it will depend heavily on the period and the particular piece commissioned.

If you look at scabbards in period artwork/effigies from 1200 - 1300, you'll notice around 1200 scabbards were generally pretty plain affairs.. Wooden core, leather covering, plain, tied belt (I'm assuming the belt is part of the scabbard and thus part of the cost) and a plain chape on the bottom. Not coloured/decorated at all.
Yet when you look at 1300, Scabbards (at least high-class) seem to have a lot of 'added extras' along the lines of numerous cast studs and bars around the belt and scabbard, more decoration, colouring and tooling on the scabbard, buckles etc.

So I'd imagine that a 1300 scabbard cost a whole lot more than a 1200 scabbard.. I'd also be curious as to whether swords became cheaper during that time? I know at some point metallurgy improved making the manufacture of swords cheaper - but can't say when or how much.

I'm also thinking that the decoration on the average sword housed in these respective scabbards didn't really change between 1200 and 1300 either, given that they were a tool for war and will get damaged. (I'm excluding the obviously heavily decorated ceremonial swords here), so the relative sword to scabbard cost ratio would have been totally different.
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Jeffrey Faulk




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PostPosted: Tue 26 Jul, 2011 8:59 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Chad-- did you perhaps forget a link?

For my part I honestly cannot imagine that a very simple wood covered with linen or leather scabbard could cost as much as a sword. As such, I'm not sure what's going on with that Frankish law. Perhaps it's referring to a court scabbard as opposed to a regular one?

I think, however, that part of this issue may be that the person purchasing a sword either a.) does not have the tools or skill to create a scabbard, or b.) is wealthy enough that they don't have to. I would not be surprised if the majority of commoners with swords just looted them off the battlefield, in which case they probably just stuck them through their belts or pulled the scabbards off whatever corpse they took the sword from.

As for hypothesis a.), tools were quite expensive back in the day as they were a product of blacksmith's work; they cost a fair amount. The only tool the common man may have had was his utility knife and perhaps a few farming implements. Specialized things like chisels and such were almost certainly made on a to-order basis-- it was quite rare that blacksmiths would just turn out a lot of tools to sell on a counter. If you don't have a chisel, you can't really learn how to use one, and as such, someone without a chisel may simply decide to go to a scabbard-maker.

You know, that leads to another question-- were there craftsmen who specialized specifically in scabbards, or were they part of, say, wood-working or leather-crafting guilds?
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Chad Arnow
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PostPosted: Tue 26 Jul, 2011 9:24 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Jeffrey Faulk wrote:
Chad-- did you perhaps forget a link?


Apparently. Happy Edited above to fix.

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Ben Anbeek




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PostPosted: Tue 26 Jul, 2011 9:30 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Don't forget every thing in the medieval world was done by guilds.
In these guilds every thing was regulated.
It's even possible a scabbard maker wasn't aloud to make his own wooden slats for the scabbard and also not aloud to make the Brass fithings.
The belt was probable made by a belt maker not the scabbard maker.
If you where not part of a guild you where not aloud to trade in a town.

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Johan Gemvik




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PostPosted: Tue 26 Jul, 2011 10:20 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Obviously a scabbard could vary in level of craftsmanship, plating, even gilding and gem decoration. My guess would be they'd cost anything from far below what a decent sword cost to far more than any blade ever made.

Here's something else to consider. What sword are we comparing with exactly? Say on one hand a comparatively cheap and simple rough made sword, while on the other a prohibitively expensive master crafted one with pattern weld and a highly tempered steel edge, perhaps with finely decorated or even gilded fittings as seen in quite a few late iron age swords found in (probably wealthy noble) graves.

The germanic scabbards referred to might be for decent and practical swords but with gaudy showoff scabbards. Then it makes sense and some scabbards like that have been found. On the other hand the "simpler" undecorated linen wrapped scabbards have also been found, and even kings have used these, i.e. the everyday scabbard of Charlemagne was a linenwrapped scabbard, though perhaps only seemingly plain since it had layers with inserted crosses between and doubtless made by the finest craftsmen available.

From some scabbards I've made I got these work times:

Scabbard I
Flat hollow wood core, lambs pelt liner, modern glue
Working from pre-cut wood, pre tanned leather and pre cast bronse chape and locket (these would add cost or add work + lesser cost respectively historically) Casting bronze would have been common practice but requires special skill. So does tanning though it would probably be more common and less expensive.

Scabbard 1 took about 40 hours to make. This includes chiseling out the core hollow, gluing the liner in place, gluing the core halves, adjusting the complete core to fit bronze cast chape and locket with room for leather covering in between, cutting the leather, stitching the leather, soaking it and shrinking it tightly in place. Then fastening the cast fittings.


Scabbard II
Lens shaped hollow wood core (after Geibigs diagrams), lambs pelt liner, historical casein glue. No cast fittings but with "Norman style" split tounge belting and Z-loop fasteing as seen on swords like the one from King Sancho IVs grave and illustrations in the chronicle of Ivar the Boneless.

I made my own Casein glue, that took about 2 hours to make from cottage cheese and Natron salt (which could be exchanged for other more easily found reagents) .

Total work time was about the same as the one above, 40 hours, but with the belting included and a fully lamination glued leather covering. Also no scabbard fittings.

Probably professional craftsmen doing this for a living could produce these quicker, or add more embellishments within the same timeframe.

How long does it take to make a sword? I've heard anything from 3-4 hours for a very plain blade to about 60 hours for a top grade pattern weld blade, then add anything between a couple of hours for a crude handle to as much as 40 hours for finely made and finished fittings and then a few hours more for high grade polishing and sharpening.

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Last edited by Johan Gemvik on Tue 26 Jul, 2011 10:27 am; edited 2 times in total
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Johan Gemvik




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PostPosted: Tue 26 Jul, 2011 10:21 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Ben Anbeek wrote:
Don't forget every thing in the medieval world was done by guilds.
In these guilds every thing was regulated.
It's even possible a scabbard maker wasn't aloud to make his own wooden slats for the scabbard and also not aloud to make the Brass fithings.
The belt was probable made by a belt maker not the scabbard maker.
If you where not part of a guild you where not aloud to trade in a town.


Good point!

"The Dwarf sees farther than the Giant when he has the giant's shoulder to mount on" -Coleridge
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Paul Hansen




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PostPosted: Tue 26 Jul, 2011 2:34 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Here's a link to an interesting website about prices of weapons and armour:
http://www.keesn.nl/price/en2_sources.htm

On the price of the sword and scabbard in the Lex Ribuaria, Dr. Kees C. Nieuwenhuijsen says the following:
Quote:
The scabbard in Lex Ribuaria costs more than the sword itself. Coupland [1990] suggests that scabbards often had silver fittings, which would explain their high value.

The prices mentioned here are from before the money reformation that took place during Charlemagne's reign, by the end of the 8th century. The old unit of account, the golden solidus, is still used. This golden solidus equalled 36 silver pennies, or 36 x 1,3 grams of silver [Henstra, 1999].


The possible presence of silver fittings might explain the price difference between sword and scabbard, but it still seems a bit far fetched to me. After all, there were also highly decorated swords...

Since this was before the guild structure was firmly in place, that also can't be an explanation...

From a logical standpoint, I feel inclined to agree with JE: it's quite possible to make a scabbard that is neither high quality nor pretty, but at least offers basic functionality with materials that are widely and cheaply available, with tools that were widely available. Given the fact that, especially in the early middle ages, time involved was hardly a consideration, one could make a scabbard with a small knife that everybody would have, using wood that would be widely available and basically free. Even a basic linen covering is in fact an extra that is not absolutely necessary.
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JE Sarge




PostPosted: Tue 26 Jul, 2011 11:03 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Alot of good information here, thanks for the input. After taking a look at this for the last few days, I think the safe answer would be:

"Sometimes. But not all the time..."

I do believe, as I said, in the case of a masterwork scabbard by a noted craftsman, it might be valued more than the sword. However, I think for the average soldier - this would not have been the case. When I think of the average foot soldier trodding along in the 14th century, I don't see him carrying a masterwork scabbard. I see him funded by an army that had rather have two swords than one scabbard - and it makes sense to think that af least in the equipping of larger armies, scabbards would have been utilitarian, inexpensive, and easily replaceable. They would not have looked pretty, but then again, they did not need to.

If we look today at the master scabbard makers and cutlers, such as Christian Fletcher or DBK, you can see the hightest quality at the top end of the spectrum. Then, at the very low end, you have the KoA custom scabbard service starting at $99.00, or scabbards which are included with swords. The lower end scabbards are more prevalent in the industry than the best quality ones. The best costs more, it's more difficult to make, and there is less of it to go around. It's this way in EVERYTHING today - cars, houses, jewelry, books, computers - and in swords and sword scabbards.

I do not think there is not enough evidence to state definatively that scabbards on average did cost more than swords, and though we know it could happen - there is nothing which would point to this as the norm. So, when I look at this question, I see the answer reflected in sword sales today. Some custom scabbards are more expensive than the blades they hold. Frequently they are cheap. Some are well made, most are not. Some are beautiful works of art, and many are barely recognizable as a servicable scabbard at all.

It would not have been that different in antiquity. In fact, I think this is EXACTLY the way it was historically. Happy

J.E. Sarge
Crusader Monk Sword Scabbards and Customizations
www.crusadermonk.com

"But lack of documentation, especially for such early times, is not to be considered as evidence of non-existance." - Ewart Oakeshott
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Aleksei Sosnovski




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PostPosted: Tue 26 Jul, 2011 11:29 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I have made 3 scabbards. Two were made to store sharp swords and were never completed (i.e. only the wooden core was made, no cover or fittings), but the third one, for a blunt longsword, was completed. With modern hand tools (the only power tool used was a drill and even that could be substituted by a hand tool with little time loss if modern drills were used, don't know how effective were the medieval drills) and glue but comparatively little skill it took me about 6 hours to finish the core lined inside with woolen cloth at both ends, let's say 2 hours to cover it in woolen cloth and let's say 2 more hours to make a simple brass chape. It took several more hours, let's say 5, to make a simple 3-point suspension. I used factory-made buckles and brass nails as rivets but made plates with which the buckles were attached to the leather. So total time spent is less than 15 hours! Double that time and I could make a plain but very high-quality scabbard: leather cover, chape, locket, well-fitting hardwood core, etc.

Now let's consider a hypothetical scabbard maker of the middle ages. How would he work if we don't think too much about the guilds? He would probably buy leather/cloth, thread, fittings, wooden planks and glue ingredients and make scabbards out of these "parts". A skilled craftsman would easily be able to make a simple scabbard with suspension in less that 2 days. The most expensive materials for him would probably be leather and fittings.

Now how would a sword maker work? He would have to buy steel, a pretty expensive material. He would have to forge it using much more expensive tools than needed to make a scabbard. Working alone it would take a day to forge a blade, maybe even more. Then he would have to heat treat the blade risking to break it. Then he would have to grind the blade to the final shape and sharpen it, again using some very expensive tools. I also suspect that medieval grinding tools were far less effective than modern ones. Then the craftsman would have to forge crossguard and pommel and file/grind/sand them. Then make a handle core, wrap it in leather and finally assemble the sword. The whole process would take at least 2 days, probably 2.5-3 days. So approximately 1.5 time longer than to make a scabbard. And he would have to use much more expensive tools and probably pay more for the required materials.

Considering the above-written, it's very unlikely that a simple but quality scabbard would be more expensive than a simple but quality sword. We can't argue the fact that at some time in some place a sword in scabbard was more than two times expensive than a sword alone, but we don't know what caused this difference. But it seems very unlikely that the difference in price is the price of the scabbard alone.
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Brian Robson




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PostPosted: Wed 27 Jul, 2011 2:24 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

This is just based on human nature - but I think it's explainable by the 'bling factor'

Scabbards/sword-belts being an item that is worn, swords being an item that is used, it may be fair to say that scabbards became a fashion item while the swords they contained remained fairly plain and utilitarian by comparison..

As we know, the medieval knights liked to show their wealth in their accoutrements and I can easily imagine that they would happily be spending extra to bling up their scabbards.. 'Pimp my side!'
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Jojo Zerach




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PostPosted: Wed 27 Jul, 2011 8:43 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Looking at English knightly effigies from the 14th century, their swords, scabbards and belts were generally decorated to a level far beyond what I've seen in reproductions.
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Ben Bouchard




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PostPosted: Thu 28 Jul, 2011 3:07 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Aleksei Sosnovski wrote:

Now how would a sword maker work? He would have to buy steel, a pretty expensive material. He would have to forge it using much more expensive tools than needed to make a scabbard. Working alone it would take a day to forge a blade, maybe even more. Then he would have to heat treat the blade risking to break it. Then he would have to grind the blade to the final shape and sharpen it, again using some very expensive tools. I also suspect that medieval grinding tools were far less effective than modern ones. Then the craftsman would have to forge crossguard and pommel and file/grind/sand them. Then make a handle core, wrap it in leather and finally assemble the sword. The whole process would take at least 2 days, probably 2.5-3 days. So approximately 1.5 time longer than to make a scabbard. And he would have to use much more expensive tools and probably pay more for the required materials.


I know one of the common techniques for rapid stock removal in the days before electric grinders was to "hot file," or file away at a piece whilst it was still red from the forge. The comparatively soft material came off a lot quicker this way.

On a related note, does anyone know the quality and method of manufacture for files during this time period? I know from experience the difference that having a high-quality file makes.
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Bjorn Hagstrom




PostPosted: Thu 28 Jul, 2011 5:32 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Ben Bouchard wrote:

On a related note, does anyone know the quality and method of manufacture for files during this time period? I know from experience the difference that having a high-quality file makes.


Check this out!

http://www.google.se/url?sa=t&source=web&...mp;cad=rja

I have a mastermyr type hand-hewn file. It works great and as long as the hardening-tempering is done right it should work fine on iron. I rarley do it though since I mostly work in wood, horn and bone when i am at markets and such places where I can only use the historic tool-set.

There is nothing quite as sad as a one man conga-line...
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Ben Bouchard




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PostPosted: Thu 28 Jul, 2011 4:56 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Thanks for that! Fascinating! Big Grin
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Johan Gemvik




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PostPosted: Fri 29 Jul, 2011 6:35 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Tack för länken Björn! Mycket bra. Wink
"The Dwarf sees farther than the Giant when he has the giant's shoulder to mount on" -Coleridge
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