Tuesday 16 January 2018

Treasurers: Sharp rise in sword prices

Ireland’s fine arts, antiques and collectables column

Third Reich German army officer's sword
Third Reich German army officer's sword

Eleanor Flegg

Swords are the cutting edge of collectibles, especially if they're associated with TV and movies.

Jaime Lannister's sword, with 30in blade of stainless steel, a hilt of cast metal with false ivory inserts, and a wooden plaque silk-screened with the Lannister sigil, costs around €250 from valyriansteel.com. It's a model recreated from the props used in HBO's fantasy epic, Game Of Thrones.

You can also buy replicas from the fantasy books that gave rise to the series, each with a certificate of authenticity signed by their author, George RR Martin. King Robert's Warhammer Axe costs €242; Arya's Needle scabbard costs €116 (the sword is not included).

Lord Of The Rings fans can buy replicas of Anduril (that's the Blade that was Broken) wielded by Aragorn, King of Gondor. It's an exact replica of the prop used in the movie with an unsharpened stainless steel blade, a leather-wrapped handle and gold plating on the fittings. It costs about €175 from lordoftheringswords.com, not including postage and packing. Sting, the short sword used by Frodo Baggins in the same movie, costs €120. The fictional sword shone with a bluish light when orcs were about. The real one doesn't.

Replica swords from The Princess Bride (1987) were made in limited edition. At the time of writing there's a single licensed replica of the sword of the Dread Pirate Roberts for an epic €1,850 on www.amazon.com. The (far cooler) sword of Inigo Montoya is currently unavailable. That's the one he wields against the six-fingered man while saying (repeatedly): "Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die."

You can't buy a replica of the sword from the movie, but you can buy a real one.

An early 18th century Spanish rapier, the spitting image of the one wielded by Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride, is going under the hammer in Whyte's History and Literature Auction on May 9. It's a beautifully-balanced piece with a slender tapering blade, an iron hilt and a knuckle guard, estimated to sell between €200 and €300. Buckle your swashes!

Eighteenth century swords have a degree of flair and craftsmanship that became less pronounced in 19th century weapons, which were produced by a series of industrial processes rather than by individual craftsmen. "They put you in a specific time and place," says Stuart Purcell of Whyte's, wielding an American Civil War cavalry sabre (the guide price is between €150 and €200). It's marked PDL for Peter D Luneschloss, a respected German sword-maker of the time whose work is considered highly collectible, as is a Third Reich German army officer's sword, complete with a swastika on the hilt (€350 to €450).

Despite the romanticism around swords, there's also a seriousness attached to these pieces of history. The swords were designed to kill and have probably been used for their intended purpose. Their sheer honed-down functionality is part of their beauty but they also need to be handled with care. Antique swords aren't mentioned in the list of offensive weapons, but samurai swords were added in 2009, albeit with exceptions for collectors and martial artists.

And, although regulations don't mention this, it's not a good idea to hang your sword collection above your bed. I know someone who ended up in hospital that way.

Whyte's also has a number of interesting items associated with conflict. A Cromwellian breastplate of iron forged into steel by a 17th century English blacksmith, shows a single dimple. This is the proof mark where the armourer shot a bullet into the breastplate to test it. The breastplate would have been worn by a harquebusier (a form of cavalry), who would also have worn a back plate and a helmet. It's extremely small, extremely heavy, and estimated to sell between €350 and €450.

They are also selling four naval cannon balls (€80 to €120). These are unusual as they are rarely found on dry land (although there are plenty at the bottom of the sea). There is also a shillelagh-style bludgeon from 1899 carved with the words "Home Rule for Ireland" (€300 to €500).

Whyte's have two rifles associated with the Enniscorthy Easter Rising of 1916, both owned by Martin Doyle of the Irish Volunteers. One of these, a French 1874 Gras 11mm rifle, is still in working order since suitable ammunition is no longer available (guide price €300 to €500). The other rifle, a 303 Lee Enfield rifle and sword bayonet (€800 to €1,200) has been decommissioned because you can still buy the ammunition.

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