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Old 1st October 2021, 05:18 PM   #32
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Join Date: May 2021
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The Ultimate Karabela Guide - Part 5


Fakes and replicas

Searching the internet auctions, the serious ones and the various "eBay´s", for Karabelas, the interested person comes across different offers. This topic about fakes in antiques as a whole deserves an own "Guide" which I cannot present you here because of the following problematic. The following is written under the umbrella "Karabela", my dominion, but is also usable for all kinds of antique weaponry. Since I am very specialized on my topic, please correct me if something is different for other types of swords, especially before 1600 and after 1800. I welcome and appreciate every note, correction and additional information. It would be very helpful to acquire metallurgic data of antique blades from that time period and comparison to modern replicas made "the old way" which I have not found yet and doubt it has been made yet.

What is a fake: A fake is something that is presented to you as something complete and original in all parts, a whole item f.e. which is typically known to be made in a specific way in a specific place in a specific time period, but in fact it is not what the title or description tells you.
Even if all parts of that particular item are antique, the whole thing may be constructed using different parts from distant regions and a time shift in decades which changed the phenotype of those parts. So a fake may look or is in fact old, but the parts of which it is made are inconsistend to each other. Such an item is not a representation of the craftsmanship which existed, again, in a specific time, region etc., etc..
An item can be antique and a fake at the same time.

This brings us to the question if an item is a fake, when the curator, seller or whoever tells you it is X but it is in fact Y.

Not completely!
Why is that, and here we look at swords to illustrate that:
As seen in Part 3 of this guide, parts of sword parts were commonly replaced due to destruction and so on. Even just for decorative reasons.
So is a sword made of a 17th century blade mounted on a 19th century hilt a fake? The answer is: Only when somebody who is in charge (for whatever reason) for this item tells you it is an original from the 17th century.

Fake and original are therefore terms which are strongly connected to interindividual communication and help us in categorization of, in our case, antiques. Beforementioned combination of parts on a sword is still an original in its historical context. We know, old blades were re-used. So it is a fake 17th century sword and a original antique hybrid which has to be described appropiatly.

The is of course another class of fakes. The obvious one: A replica has been made and somebody is presenting this item as an original.
What is a replica: A replica is an item made to look like an original item from a specific time and region. Most important here is the time component. In my opinion, an item can be copied in the same time but in different regions and it will still be an "time-original item". It wont be a "time-and-regional original". But time is crucial here. We can assume that historical context in a certain place at a given time will be similar to a different region in the world at the same time. But historical context at a given region in the year A will be a very different one at the same plaxe in the year A+100 years.
Ans this is what a replica in my understanding is: Something that has been copied later than its historical context.

Example: There are (well made) Karabelas made in the 19th century by I. Hoffelmayer in Cracow. Are they original Karabelas? Depends on what you are asking for! They are surely original 19th century Karabelas, but not original 17th century ones. I know this is very obvious, but sometimes obvious things have to be said.

In the rest of this part I will talk about fakes in the sense of "somebody tells you its X with high value but its actually Y with lower value".

Enough of "philosophical" talk, lets focus on the question how to recognize a fake Karabela which is said to be from the early 17th - mid 18th century (Because this is the time period Karabelas were used in their historical context. Later versions could have been used for battle, but they were made for nostalgic reasons mainly).

The overview

When looking at a Karabela, first listen to your "heart". Does it match your basic understanding of how an antique sword should look like? If not, determine what disturbs this understanding and examine it further. Try to match your experience and with sources available to you (Buy Books about your topic!!!).

Knowing a certain sword-style from as much apsects as possible like historical context, regions it was made, techniques and materials craftsmen used and so on is absolutely crucial in the matter of spotting fakes. It is not enough to have seen some swords of a certain type or have red a little bit about it (Except this guide of course, Just a joke. But seriously, you wont find a better Karabela overview than this, I have looked for that! Why do you think I am writing this? ).
Before spending thousands on a weapon you have to be absolutely sure that you know that specific type of weapon you want to aquire. Unless you have too much money, then go ahead! (I bought a 19th century saber lastely myself. I have very little knowledge in that matter and couldnt be sure if it is fake! But I decided that the price is worth the risk and I would like to encourage you to decide for yourself how the chance-risk-ratio is. Researching a very specific type of weapon brings also the benefit to acquire a general eye for antiques, but thats not a security guarantee!).

So, lets say you see a Karabela for sale somewhere and are interested in buying it.
Go through these steps:

-How is the overall condition of the weapon?

-Are there signs of age, where they are and what type are they?

-Determine if these aging signs match your experience wich similar items. Example: Does 300 year old oak wood look like on that item for sale?

-Think about if aging signs on different materials match each other:
"The blade is pretty rusty, but the wood on the hilt looks un-touched by conditions." -> Has the hilt been replaced? Is this a hybrid?

-Look for signs of usage: Blade chipping, scabbard affection due to abrasion, grip abrasion due to handling.

You get the point. Think logically about how materials behave while beeing used and existing in a specific form for centuries. Keep in mind, battle swords have been heavily used. There are battle swords stored since 1650 and never used but you will most likely not see them on auctions. On the other hand, parade/"kontuszowe" Karabelas were probably not used that much in actual battle and therefore show less usage marks, but still aging.


When you´re finished with that go through the information I provided you with in part 1 and 2 of this guide. Is the Karabela somebody is selling described correctly or is it plausible that an error was made in time and/or location, based on your knowledge of f.e. differences between Ottoman and Polish-Lithuanian Karabela. Does it affect the amount of money you are willing to spend? Does the item still fit in your collection, when you lets say, are eager to collect Ottoman Karabela only?

Is the blade of a shape which existed in our time period? Remember early Karabela had older blades re-mounted (see chapter 3).
Please be VERY suspicious when encountering blades before the mid 18th century without any markings on them. It has been an important tradition for craftsmen guilds to mark their products individually and this convention fell with the dissolvement of those guilds into manufactories and later industry. Part 4 provides are brief overview of possible marks.

Do you see parts on the Karabela which could not have been produced at that time or were used rarely and for other things? Example: Those tiny things you encounter every day and which are omnipresent, they are called screws, were very difficult to make in the year 1700. It is very unlikely you will see a screw on a Karabela hilt. They existed of course back then, but not on weapon hilts. (If so, please tell me!)


Example 1

See attachment 1 to 4!

Oh, I love this one. The provider of this weapon claimed this is a perfect represantation of a 17th century Karabela and demanden not less than
4000 € for it. Examine it yourself. Go through beforementioned points. The weapon shows no sign of aging. The blade is poorly made. Look at the micro-surface, its not plain but has signs of beeing grinded into shape. Authentic blades were created by using a heavy hammer and look like ice from a specific angle and the right light. The inscription/chiseling shows no corrosion (Rust loves depressions in metall surfaces!). That funny "DEUS SPES MEA" is gilded. Chemistry is VERY important for us in spotting fake blades! Gold has a different electrical potential than steel, hence corrosion gradient will occur STRONGLY in those areas. Look at the hilt-shells: The eagle-beak of the soft material goes beyond the metal cheese part (Think of the sandwhich-design metaphor from part 1!). Such a hilt would hinder the fencer because of clamping. There few things more like the overall blade design or the scabbard without any signs of abrasion etc. decide for yourself if you would believe the seller. SCIENTIA EST SPES MEA in this case. Brazenly!


Example 2

See attachment 5

Looks good, doesnt it? But it is a replica made in the last 30 years. Weapons of this artisan land on auction sites as originals and are sold for according prices. Again, look for sign of aging. Also the style: I cannot amphasize this enough, BUY BOOKS. Compare to what museums have in stock and what researches found out. The hilt decoration on this weapon isnt matching any historical context. The decorations on the blade are contextless too. Overall, a very finy weapon, but not an original.


Example 3

See attachment 6

The masterclass. A saber by Ignacius Hofelmayer of Cracow made in the mid 19th century. More expensive than a original from the 18th century. Note the "fantasy" decoration on the hilt here. It isnt matching the 17th-18th century. The whole hilt architecture isnt neither. The grip is vere well made and not to distinguishable from a possbile earlier example, though the carvings were not common. The blade architecture, the fuller in particular would be unusual for a earlier Karabela. Most 17th Karabela blades, not all, had fuller going all the way down to the hilt. The 18th century is more difficult in that matter.


I hope my approach to shed some light on this topic has been fertile. As I already said, I am absolutely sure the topic of fake antiques is immense and requires the interested person to know a lot about the specific type of weapon he/she wants to acquire. Karabela replicas are not a thing like replicas of Japanese swords which are produced in masses. And here lies the danger. Mass productions are easy to spot. Individual smiths can produce astonishing products as we saw and this makes it a lot harder for comparing. A person I hold in high regard and who helped me with one of my Polish sabers is Dr. Janusz Sekowski, currently the director of a museum in Poland and a expert on sword-restoration. His work "Konserwacja broni bialej" (Conservation of cold steel weapons) published by Semper is currently out of stock and rarely to get, he dedicated a whole chapter to fake antiques from which I learned a lot.

I want to adress the term "fake" here quickly. I think a lot of you will probably define "fake" by criminal intention in creating a new item and make it look older through different process. This is indeed a very valid definition too, but not in the sense of the explanation above. A high-quality Karabela made nowadays is still a Karabela and will be that in 200 years of rightfully descriped as "made in early 21th century". The same goes for the word "gun". You see what I mean.

I strongly want to encourage you to take part at least once in a HEMA (Historical European Matrial Arts)/Historic fencing class if you want to know something about the antique weapons you buy. No book, no guide has the power for giving you the "feel" for antique swords like knowing the basics of techniques of sword usage. Even if you do the exercises with a training weapon, you will immediatly know the authentic weapon when you hold it in your hand. Most replicas, no matter how good they look, feel like a simple metal bar in your hands and the authentic weapon made carefully to help its owner survive will feel like it whispers you exactly how to use it when you know the basic stances and attacks. This is mainly due to the balance which battle-swords have and replica makers dont usually care about. There is nothing better than to link knowlegde with haptics. If you now think, "thank you I´m good", please think about it as a extra chapter in your favourite book about antique swords. I have seen smiths making good looking replicas of sabers, but looking at them while they cut water-bottles and claim the weapon is excellent "because it cuts" is just painfully. A good wepon has to be agile and cut accordingly to its purpose from the contextual stances. Every shaprened metal bar will cut when you swing like crazy. The point back then was to present yourself not too much for the counter-hit while taking a swing.

Until next time!
Attached Images

Last edited by awdaniec666; 1st October 2021 at 05:49 PM. Reason: stylistic editing, fake definition note
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