This article is taken from my book – World Swords 1400-1945. An Illustrated Price Guide for Collectors. To order a copy please go to HERE.
Top Tips for the Care and Preservation of Antique Swords
The care and preservation of antique swords and edged weapons is not an easy task. Here are some Top Tips for their proper care and preservation.
The first thing to remember is that the correct care and preservation of a sword is not an easy task. Many a fine sword has been ruined by overzealous cleaning and poor attempts at amateur “restoration”. It is sometimes better to just leave your sword alone and accept its current condition rather than botch the job and make it look even worse!
If you are new to this field of collecting and you have a sword that requires care and preservation, the basic rule is:
If you are not sure about how to preserve your antique sword and don’t feel confident that you have the necessary skills to complete the job to a competent degree – ask someone who does!
This “someone” might be a fellow collector with past experience of restoration or perhaps a dealer who will be able to tell you whether they know someone who can make a professional job of it. As time goes by and your experience of collecting increases, you will meet people at fairs, auctions and even on the internet, who can offer sound advice and point you in the right direction. Remember that they will be speaking from years of experience, including mistakes that they themselves made at the start – I include myself in that list!
Use an Expert Restorer
If the restoration job is complex, it is always better to hand over your sword to an expert restorer. Expert restorers can be found through word of mouth via dealers and collectors, and some advertise through related militaria journals and magazines. There is also a lively circle of dealers and collectors who speak to each other through internet web sites devoted to collecting edged weapons and they are always more than happy to exchange tips and contacts. An excellent and friendly antique sword web site that I regularly use for help and advice is www.swordforum.com. There is usually somebody on the forum who can help.
Investing in your Antique Sword
You might think that after digging deep, saving up and paying a considerable sum for your sword, the very last thing that you would wish to do is spend even more cash after you have handed over your hard-earned money.
This attitude is wrong. If you intend to keep, preserve and build a fine collection of antique military swords and edged weapons, extra money spent on their on-going preservation will prove to be a sound and ultimately wise investment over the coming years.
Don’t Worry – You can try it Yourself!
Please be aware that I certainly do not mean to frighten away the collector by saying that they cannot or should not do any kind of preservation work on their antique sword. Far from it. An expert is normally required when there are complex or detailed areas of preservation or restoration work. This is particularly so when the sword has to be taken apart or broken parts need to be repaired or replaced.
I have visited too many auction houses and antique arms shows in my time and witnessed at first hand the results of amateurish botched repairs to blades, hilts, grips and scabbards.
Basic Emergency Repairs
Here are some basic emergency repairs that are relatively simple to undertake but vital if wishing to stem the ravages of time, and ensure that the sword does not deteriorate any further and impact on its value and your investment.
Blades, Metal Scabbards and Fittings
One of the fundamental problems that you a collector of antique swords normally encounters concerns the accumulation of corrosion e.g. rust.
The use of a Break Free oil which dislodges the rust is recommended. In the United Kingdom, we have products such as WD40 and there are equivalents both in the USA and worldwide.
NOTE: don’t ever use these oils on blades with blue and gilt decoration as it has been known to loosen the gilding and that would be a catastrophic and irretrievable situation. Personally, I would avoid any major contact with a blue and gilt blade but alcohol or kerosene is light enough to clean these delicate blades. When completely wiped clean a covering of fine carabellum wax can be applied. This provides a protective seal which keeps out damaging moisture.
Specialist Waxes for Antique Swords
There are a number of specialist waxes on the market for the preservation of the metalwork on antique swords and edged weapons. I can recommend Museum Wax or Renaissance/Becketts Wax. All of these specialist products are available from hardware or gun supply shops, and a quick trawl through the internet will also locate a number of merchants who can probably supply mail order. One jar is usually enough to last a very long time.
Vaseline petroleum jelly or pure mineral oil/gel will also protect the blade from future moisture. It is important to note that you will need to inspect the sword on a regular basis (at least every month) to see if any rust or corrosion has returned.
Some swords have very heavy areas of deep rust where the use of a Break Free might not be very effective and other options need to be considered.
In these cases, a very fine abrasive might be an option, but you must decide whether the blade etching or hilt/scabbard plating might actually be damaged or worn away by this abrasive method.
How do you want the Sword to Look?
Ultimately, it all comes down to how you want the sword to look and there are some collectors who cannot resist removing the age or patina of a sword because they believe that a highly polished sword is more attractive. That is their personal choice.
Thankfully, there are not a great number of these individuals but the result of this approach is that you will continue to see swords that have been polished to a gleaming state and I am afraid there is very little that you can do to return its character other than wait many years for the polish to dull!
Do not let this be a reason not to buy a particular sword. I would rather acquire a highly polished but rare piece, than none at all!
Constant Handling of the Sword
Constant and irresponsible handling of an antique sword will ultimately endanger its condition, especially when moisture from hands comes into regular contact with the blade or hilts. Any collector of antique Japanese swords will testify to the permanent damage done to a valuable blade that can result from finger marks that have not been immediately removed. It might be a good idea to acquire a pair of lint free cotton gloves that will ensures that the sword is kept dry when handling.
NOTE: invest in a couple of pairs. This ensures that there is a spare pair on hand when that inquisitive friend or family member pays a visit to see your collection.
Hilts, Scabbards and Leather or Fishskin Grips
A soft bristle toothbrush and some ammonia detergent or soapy water is quite effective in rooting out dirt and grime from recesses in both sword hilts and scabbard mounts. Remember to avoid being too vigorous and avoid losing any of the original gilding – do not use any abrasives in this area.
Leather care Products
Use a good leather care product on grips and scabbards to avoid them drying out and so becoming brittle or flaky. Your leather care product should have a high wax content as this will act as an excellent long term anti-drying sealant. Regular inspection of leather fittings should also be done in conjunction with the inspection of the metal parts. For the care of fishskin grips I recommend a little baby oil to allow the material to breathe again. Do not rub too hard on these grips as they can be very flaky and pieces can easily become detached.
Displaying Antique Swords
Try not to display your swords with leather scabbards or grips too near areas of extreme heat, particularly central heating radiators. This will dry out leather scabbards and grips and probably cause them to shrink. I might be stating the obvious but direct sunlight will never be advantageous to an antique sword.
© Care and Preservation of Your Antique Swords article by Harvey Withers – www.militariahub.com
Not to be reproduced without prior agreement.