A fine rapier of the Trabantenleibgarde, Dresden c. 1600
Length: 113 cm (44.49 inches).
Weight: 1250 g (44.09 oz.).
Blade: Of flattened lens section, single short groove, marks: viper of Milan under ducal crown and half moon poincon, inscription IHS, ornaments.
Hilt: Iron, etched and blued, grip with leather covering and copper wire, signed SA, at transverse side engraved number 24 on central shield.
During the second half of the sixteenth century there occurred increasing confessional frictions in Central Europe due to the process of reformation. In
the course of the Saxon elector’s confessional politics it became more and more important to deploy a personal life guard. This Trabantenleibgarde was
about 100 persons strong and cared for the personal safety of the Elector and the residence. They also undertook other tasks at the court, at hunting and
were also representatives of power who displayed the status and wealth of their lord during travelling and political gatherings of the electors. Members of
the Trabanten came from the Saxon, Meissen and Thuringin knighthood and both Saxon and foreign aristocratic families.
As an integral part of the arming for the Saxon Trabantenleibgarde of Christian II. this rapier is an important object for the history of courtly culture
in general and of the Saxon court in particular.
The shape of the hilt represents the fashion during the transition from Renaissance times to Barock. In respect of functional aspects it is designed for
the art of fencing as it was en vogue at the late sixteenth century. Typical for this time of transition the leading quillon swings up highly. On the
outside the Trabant’s hand is protected by an upper and lower side ring, both elegantly retracted in the middle and cut with a molded swelling as an
ornament. Fencing required[...]
grabbing the blade with the forefinger and thumb at the so called Ricasso. In order to protect the fingers from being hit
there are two arms of the hilt, reaching from the basis of the upper side ring at the quillon down to the starting point of the lower one. At this point
of unification there is a box ornament that has a diamond shaped elevation on the face side stamped with the Mark „SA“. It is the mark of Anton Schuch who
became master of craftsmen in Munich back in 1577 and is mentioned there until 1587 in invoices of the residence.(1) Beginning in 1590 there is evidence for
the employment of Schuch at the court in Dresden where he is active until 1607.(2)
On the inner side of the rapier protection was also necessary. Here you can find three typical diagonal side rings that originate at a common basis on
the middle shield and swing out widely over the area necessary to protect and finally merge at the end of the lower side ring and the arms of the hilt
respectively. At the middle shield there is the engraved number 24. This is the number of the weapon that signals the ownership of a particular Trabant.
The custom to mark the rapiers this way arises in the necessity to individually adjust the length of the weapon to the body height of the person who fought
with it, in order to ensure optimal ergonomics.
Above the middle shield there follows the impressive grip that is carved in diamond shapes and covered with leather. In the cavities of these sections
there runs a fine copper wire to produce a visual contrast to the dark appearing of the leather. The upper and lower end of the grip is decorated with turk
heads. As a harmonic final the hilt is closed by a plum shaped pommel that is topped by the tang button that firmly joins blade and hilt with each other
and has never been opened since the production of this outstanding rapier.
Now let us shift to the analysis of the blade. This piece is not a work of Anton Schuch but supposable originates from Solingen. It was probably bought
by the workshop of Schuch at the trade fair at Leipzig. Since medieval times it was normal to trade blades all over Europe and mount them with hilts
that were made according to the local fashion or the individual necessities of a specific client. As a reason for this the technological requirements of
blade production can be assigned, for there were several crafts involved[...]
in the process and the manufacture depended on the local availability of specific
resources. So in the course of time specialized blade producing centres developed, like Toledo, Milan and Solingen that competed among each other.
At about 1600 blades from Toledo and Milan were considered to be best and had a corresponding reputation. These products were comparable to luxury
consumer brands in the modern sense and much sought-after by the high society. The rapier was more than an ordinary weapon, but served as a fashionable
accessory of the gent and formed an integral part of clothing – a luxury good that symbolised the status of its owner. Like people buy an expensive watch
today back in those days it was habit to order a splendid rapier and have it assembled with a precious blade. Solingen was an upcoming centre of blade
production and competed against Milan and Toledo in a market that was already global so early. From Solingen’s point of view it suggested itself to imitate
the marks of Toledo or Milan based blade smiths in order to benefit from their strong brand images and strengthen the sales – even if the quality of the own blades was already coequal.
In the case of this particular rapier the blade smith used as a mark the viper under the ducal crown, which is a Milan brand, and at the same time the half
moon, which suggested a Toledo origin. This combination leads to the assumption of the Solingen manufacture.(3)
One can designate it a stroke of luck that this Trabanten rapier has survived the centuries without any damage and in such an outstanding state of
preservation. The hilt still shows its original bluing, wich has been destroyed at the vast majority of antique arms and armour by means of cleaning and
polishing in the course of time. It is also highly unusual to find the grip with the original leather and wire in the recessions of the ornate diamond
shaped surface. Usually such expandable parts have been replaced at the existing rapiers. Also the blade is still flawless and has no traces of corrosion
on the surface as it is normally the case when it comes to antique rapiers.
I. The excellent condition of this rapier can be attributed to the fact that it comes from the Saxon Electoral Armouries where it had been preserved until
the early twentieth century. Especially back in 1919 and the following years the museum’s administration decided to sell single weapons and pieces of
art in order to raise funds against the background of severe financial constraints. A few other objects were sold by the government of the GDR for
procuring foreign exchange. This was the only way rapiers of the Trabantenleibgarde got into private ownership.
II. Collection Clément Bosson, Onex, Schweiz. Monsieur Bosson was curator for arms and armour at the Musée d'Art et d'Histoire Geneve.
Significance for mercantile aspects
This particular rapier of Anton Schuch belongs to the finest that has ever been traded on the market for antique edged weapons. Like on other fields of the
art market during the last decades the number of outstanding objects has steadily diminished, as many of the great collectors bequested their collections to
museums. Other pieces have been bought directly by public institutions. This development will continue as the interest in fine antique arms is stronger
than ever in the international context, also on the part of important museums.
Analogue rapiers in museums
Bayerisches Armeemuseum Ingolstadt.
Philadelphia Museum of Art, Inventar Nr. 1977-167-588.
Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, Rüstkammer, Inventarnummer III 754.
1. Zeitschrift für Historische Waffenkunde (1909), volume 5, p. 61 f.
2. Zeitschrift für Historische Waffenkunde (1899) volume 1, p. 270.
3. Müller, H. et al.(1990): Europäische Hieb- und Stichwaffen, p. 377;
Schöbel, J. (1973): Prunkwaffen, p. 82 f.[...]
Diener-Schönberg (1912): Die Waffen der Wartburg, p. 172, No. 873, plate 72.
Ehrenthal, M. (1899): Führer Historisches Museum, p. 81, No. 272.
Müller, H. et al.(1990): Europäische Hieb- und Stichwaffen, p. 377, p. 207.
München (1905): Führer Bayerisches Armeemuseum, plate 5.
Schöbel, J. (1973): Prunkwaffen, pp. 82, 85, 95.
Seitz, H. (1981): Blankwaffen volume 2, p. 36, pl. 23.
Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden (2012): Churfürstliche Guardie, p. 126.
Zeitschrift für Historische Waffenkunde (1899) volume 1, p. 270.
Zeitschrift für Historische Waffenkunde (1909) volume 5, p. 61 f.