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Old 18th November 2008, 03:44 PM   #1
William V.
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Default 19th century fencing foils

Hello over there

On the special whish of a single person I'm going to present to the forum a matching pair of late 19th century fencing foils. The "ethnographic" aspect may be found in their special grip. They are fitted with a so called "German handle" which means that the quillons are attached directly below the guard, leaving a very small ricasso (in contrast to the Italian style).
The blades were imported by J.H. Lau at 75 Chambers Street, New York. They are both forged at Solingen (Germany) etched with some kind of floral pattern. I assume that they were not used for actual fencing but are nevertheless in a very good condition.

Does anyone have further information on J.H. Lau? I found out a great deal, but I'm still looking for a date when he opened his shop in NY.

All the best


William
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Old 19th November 2008, 02:02 AM   #2
Ed
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Quote:
Originally Posted by William V.
Hello over there

On the special whish of a single person I'm going to present to the forum a matching pair of late 19th century fencing foils. The "ethnographic" aspect may be found in their special grip. They are fitted with a so called "German handle" which means that the quillons are attached directly below the guard, leaving a very small ricasso (in contrast to the Italian style).
The blades were imported by J.H. Lau at 75 Chambers Street, New York. They are both forged at Solingen (Germany) etched with some kind of floral pattern. I assume that they were not used for actual fencing but are nevertheless in a very good condition.

Does anyone have further information on J.H. Lau? I found out a great deal, but I'm still looking for a date when he opened his shop in NY.

All the best


William


Hi.

He was a tall man as the clip demonstrates. And he entered the country in 1889.

Fortunately you can search over at the New York Times.



Here is the first page of a search I made

There are a lot of hits, perhaps what you are looking for is in there somewhere. You might find copies of the NYC Directory and see where his establishment makes it's first appearance.

Good luck.
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Old 19th November 2008, 02:12 AM   #3
Jim McDougall
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Outstanding photos William! and welcome to our forum!!!

These foils are extremely nice, and I have often wondered how the types varied. I have only ever known of the modern versions of French, Italian and foils or sabres. It seems interesting that these appear almost vestigial versions of the famed Spanish cuphilt.

I'd like to know more on the different types of foils used in the 19th century, and hope we can include more on some of the makers and outfitters who provided them. A most interesting sector in arms collecting!!!!

All the best,
Jim
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Old 19th November 2008, 07:28 AM   #4
William V.
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Thanks for the replies

@ Ed:
Very good hint. But unfortunately I have already searched through all hints on the NY Times archive. The date you mentioned is 1869
But I'm not sure if all the dates an information are related to the same person
They could have been 2 persons with the same name....
Unfortunately the TIMES is quiet on the matter when he started his business. Further inquiries with the Brooklyn Library haven't brought up anything new. The NY Library offered a service to check for material but charges 60 Dollar per hour even if they don't find anything.
Thanks for the hint on the " NYC Directory", I'll see what I can find

@Jim
regarding the different grips: There are a lot more. Especially in Italy it seems common that every great "maestro de armas" up to the 1930' developed his own handle according to his own method of fencing.
I might post more on the different styles (depending on the time ).

So far for now,

all the best

William
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Old 21st November 2008, 02:58 PM   #5
Jim McDougall
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Hi William,
It would really be great to have some more examples of the type hilts and styles of these civilian foils. With your posts I was compelled to see if I could find more on these very undiscussed weapons in the world of arms and armour and have found that there are few, if any, resources with any amount of comprehensive information.
While the history of fencing is well represented by a number of books, one of the most thorough that I have found, "By The Sword" (Richard Cohen, 2002), is well written and gives fascinating accounts and history, but little in any description of the weaponry.
The only specific references I found noted the effort to find a weapon that was specifically for sport and presumably practice, in the court of Louis XIV in France, was the "...blunted, rectangular section foil". It describes further the first masks of c.1750 of tin with peep holes or horizontal slits for the eyes, which while offering protection, still left potential for injury, much as with the jousting helms in medieval times. Much as in that case, there did occur eye injuries with the blade entering through the holes. By 1770, the first wire mesh masks were introduced.

With that, we are left wondering just what the earliest foils looked like, were they very different from those seen today? Were there distinct differences in the features of the foil preferred by the various countries who practiced this civilian sport? Did these change in any particular way as the sport developed?

These are some of the things I hope we can bring into this discussion thread, and I'm really glad you have brought this fascinating subject to the forum!
Thank you!

All the very best,
Jim
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Old 22nd November 2008, 07:09 AM   #6
Chris Evans
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Hi William,

Those look to me like decorative display foils. Their hilts aproximate that of the Flamberg type transitional rapier, but without the pas dáne (see E.Castle).

Cheers
Chris
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Old 22nd November 2008, 10:35 AM   #7
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Default foils etc.

Hello all. I had my own short time of interest in 19th century fencing weapons, it isa subject yet to be thoroughly researched, as Jim said. By the way, it is not less "ehtnographical" than any other flyssa or shamshir (just for example).
Matching sets of highly decorated foils and epees were sold as "case of swords" = presentation gifts and trophies to champions and maestros.
The foil appeared first at the second half of the 17th century, just as a drill substitute to a sharp smallsword. Later on, when fencing was booming as a popular sport in Western Europe It has became as fencing tool of its own, especially with women & children because of its lighter weight and sometimes shorter length. One must remember that honor duelling was still a regular did at the end of the 19th century and it was customary for all gentlemen to be trained in swordplay as a matter of manhood; the heavier epee with its longer stiffer blade and large bowl guard was considred as the weapon of honor, so cases of matching decorated epees were reserved for serious affairs.
I think you will find interest in those links: http://www.tcasfencing.com/antique_fencing_catalog.htm
http://www.fencingmuseum.com/index.htm
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Old 23rd November 2008, 01:57 AM   #8
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Outstanding input Broadaxe! and welcome!
BTW, no need to worry about ethnographic or not. The reason we began the European Armoury was to diversify into other fields of arms and armour study.

All best regards,
Jim
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Old 23rd November 2008, 04:18 AM   #9
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While not strictly concerning fencing foils, discovered an interesting note from early classical antiquity with most distant relation to fencing, from about the 12th century BC,

"...the long rapier, which was the commonest type in the shaft graves, was not Mycenaean in origin, but had been developed by the Minoan bronzesmiths of Crete".
"...it is a huge weapon,-many of the extant examples exceed three feet in length, without the elaborate hilt attachments with which they were originally fitted- but this in itself reduced its practical value. A heavy blow on the edge of the sword, if it did not shatter the slender blade was likely to snap the even thinner tang, so that hilt and blade parted company. In many cases the swords have been found with thier tangs broken in this way, probably during use. Strictly these are thrusting weapons and thier designed use must have been largely limited to the fencing duels, between single champions, we see represented on some signet rings of the period".
"Arms and Armour of the Greeks"
A.M.Snodgrass, 1967 , pp.15-16
Just thought it was interesting while we discuss the history of fencing.

All best regards,
Jim
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Old 23rd November 2008, 04:04 PM   #10
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Jim, the citation is very interesting indeed.
Back the original subject, I'm aware of two individuals who are being regarded as a "living source" of classical and olympic fencing. Interestingly both were fencing instructors (one of them still is) and both hold private fencing museums:
Maitre (maestro) Rudy Van Oeveren http://musee.escrime.free.fr/
Maitre Jaque Castanet http://www.antiquaire-escrime.com.fr/index.htm
I have met with Mr. Castanet in person and visited his museum - it is most fascinating, and one can touch (and buy...) almost everything. Note the antique-looking swept-hilt foil on the opening page, it is possibly the oldest known survivng foil, circa 1670. For me, the section of sharp epees was the most interesting part, he has pairs of varied hilts including cup-hilt style that were used in Spanish colonies. If there is interest I can upload here some pics I took there.
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