Wednesday 26 May 2010

A Sword, a Sword

Amateur sword wavers really should not be using authentic artefacts to practice their tameshigiri at home. Sword collecting is quite a popular hobby in Poland (home after all of the winged hussars). There are a lot of copies and fakes around, which of course is fine if all one wants is a decorative item to give a home a particular "feel". I was quite taken with the products of a Polish blacksmith who I came across on the Internet (Edward Pajewski of Stargard Szczecinski, trading on the internet as murarz-kazik: 'Kazimierz the bricklayer') who has taken this a step further. Among his other activities, he produces near-copies of Early Medieval and Medieval swords but treats them in some way to make them look like dugups that have been "cleaned" (stripped) electrochemically and the effect is quite realistic. An interesting addition to home decor. The one pictured here (auction ending today) is not a very convincing copy technically, but some of the "Viking" swords he was offering earlier were closer to the originals in concept. I liked his work so much I am going to give him a free plug here (spelling corrected):
Witam, od wielu [lat] zajmujemy się prawdziwym kowalstwem, wykonujemy ogrodzenia, bramy, balustrady schodowe i balkonowe, mebelki, wieszaki, lampy, świeczniki... oraz mieczyki, o których dwa lata temu było bardzo głośno, kiedy to pewne organy ścigania odzyskały miecze robione u nas, a ogłoszono sukces - odzyskania skarbów narodowych. Ze wstępnych badań wynikało, że mają po 1000 lat, więc jak widać przy robocie się staramy : ). Cena 150 [zł] jest ceną za metr prostego ogrodzenia bez cynku i malowania. Wykonujemy indywidualne projekty klienta. [...] Zobacz inne moje aukcje .
For those who do not read the lingo, he boasts that two years ago "certain authorities" seized swords he had made and announced that national treasures had been saved, and that initial investigations showed that they were "a thousand years old" - "so you can see that we try hard in our work".

Among the many re-enactment groups we have in Poland, "being a Viking" is also very popular. There is a reconstructed "Viking fort" to the north of Warsaw where various events are organized in the summer). If one wants to wave a newer-looking Viking sword around dressed in the authentic kit to get the "feel", these too are available on the Internet from specialist suppliers.

On Friday I came home from work on the underground with a group of long-haired pikemen in linen tunics and pretty authentic looking turnshoes on their way to the station to go to some medieval battle or other. I have friends in the reenactment community, and while some treat it just as a bit of fun, or have some rather romantic notions, when you talk to some of them, they have a deep knowledge of various aspects of the past they are trying to recreate (as do many reenactors generally). Unlike collectors, these people of course (also "passionate about the past") have absolutely no antagonism towards archaeologists or historians. On the contrary.

I really do not see that one has to participate in the antiquities trade to "express a connection" with the past or get the feel of a period or whatever. Even if mere "book knowledge" is not enough, or beyond you.


Damien Huffer said...

good point. As strange as it is to admit this, I was part of the "SCA" (Society for Creative Anachronism) for awhile. And THEN I returned to my archaeology... Regardless, it certainly is harmless, and some of what they can produce or recreate is impressive.

Unknown said...

Interesting to see such a scene in Poland. In UK, of course, well developed-- alongside the culture of detectorism. Do the two intersect ?

Paul Barford said...

In Poland, does artefact collecting interact with reenactment? Not really (I would say), metal detecting without a permit is illegal, posession of unreported dugup ancient artefacts can get you into a lot of trouble, and is also seen to some extent as anti-social. Most metal detectorists I know (and hard that it may be for some to believe this, I do) tend to be interested in militaria of the Second World War or going back to the Napoleonic wars, so a good deal less damaging to the older archaeological record than their UK counterparts. And yes, WW2 reenactment is also popular, but unlike their US and UK counterparts using reproduction items rather tha authentic period stuff (which tends to be on the pricey side here). Those who research the dug-ups know their uniform patterns and equipment and can see at once that many of the reenactors here do not (last year's reenactment of the "Batlle of Berlin" in Modlin was rather comic from that point of view, but hey, even the proper repro stuff is expensive and these guys are just in it for the hell of it). So this I would see as evidence that they are really two separate groups.

There are many ways of "reaching the past" and I really do not see that pretending there is just one can justify the indiscriminate trade.

Unknown said...

I think Raphael Samuel talked about the multiplicity of ways of 'doing history"-- in "Island histories" ?

Are the detectorists, or the collectors, moved at some point by a sense of connection with the past, however selfish and anti-social ?

Paul Barford said...

I am sure they are, but then somebody wandering among the earthworks on the South Downs or among ancient hedgerows on the east coast is too. I think it is too simplistic to say this form of collecting is only due to "a passionate interest in the past" when collecting of many types (stamp collecting when the stamps are old ones for example) is. there are many complex factors involved in why different people collect things, I am sure that collecting artefacts is no less complex.

Unknown said...

As a teenager, I once met a guy who owned a Napoleonic sword. He was very pleased because it was in such a good shape-- the chape on the scabbard was not damaged, as on other examples in the market, by having been dragged on the ground by cavalrymen swaggering about. At the time, I had already worked as a volunteer on two Gallo-Roman digs in France, and immediately recognized the difference between the collector who wants to fondle his artifacts, and the archaeologist who wants to understand life in the past: I would have thought a sword that actually had been used and "lived" would be more interesting.

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