Observations on Swords, &c., &c.

It is universally acknowledged that the manufacture of Swords was never at a lower ebb in this country than at present moment. Our officers returning from India can attest the numerous failures they have witnessed. Every civilized nation in the world, except England, attaches great importance to this branch of manufacture. In the East enormous sums are given for swords, and they are handed down as heir-looms from one generation to another. Russia has made great advances in all things, and at the present stands unrivalled for the beauty and excellence of her sword-blades, as well as for numerous elegant and useful articles of steel.

Austria and France also pay great attention to the subject, but in this country cheapness is the principal recommendation to the seller; and the purchaser, not knowing where to procure a trustworthy sword, or where to have it proved, becomes indifferent, and is content to order one with his regimentals, hat, or epaulettes, conceiving it to be completely a matter of chance; Greengrocers, Bakers, or Milliners may be just as likely to sell good swords by accident as Tailors, Linen-drapers, or any other tradesmen wholly unacquainted and unconnected with the manufacture of metals, who have, of late years, become the principal vendors of swords to the officers of our Army and Navy, and, of course, know much less about the weapon they sell than their customers.

A young gentleman going to India is presented with a regulation-sword purchased along with his shirts and stockings, and he only discovers, when opposed for the first time to some sturdy Affghan, that the hoop of an ale-cask would have been equally serviceable, being fortunate if he escape with a few severe wounds, as reminiscences of the mistake that has been committed. There is little inducement to the manufacture of a superior article when all parties, vitally and pecuniarily interested, exhibit so much indifference, which must arise, in some measure, from the difficulty of discriminating between a good sword and a bad one. An officer's sword undergoes no authorized proof whatever, and seldom, if ever, more than the manufacturer, with fatherly tenderness, chooses to inflict upon it. This state of things is giving place to a more correct notion of the importance of the subject, in consequence of the accounts received from those officers who have served in India. The swords of the private soldiers are all proved before they are received, either by the Ordnance, or by the East India Company, and if it be necessary for the privates, surely it is for the officers. It cannot be either an act of bravery, prudence, or economy in an officer to trust his life to the chance of an untried and doubtful, in preference to an efficient and proved weapon; but such is actually the case.

The swords of privates are proved by striking each side flat upon a table, and then back and edge on a block of wood; afterwards bending the blade each way until the curvature amounts to a shortening of four or five inches in the whole length, according to the pattern and substance. The operation of striking, being performed by a man, is liable to great uncertainty, no two men will strike with equal force, nor will the same man at different periods of the same day; this method is also open to favoritism, bribery, and error, in a variety of ways, and cannot be compared with the unerring power of a machine. The manufacturers in the country, knowing the ignorance of those for whom they usually make Officers' swords, become as indifferent as the sellers and purchasers, and study only the cheapest methods of carrying on their business; so long as the regulation pattern is preserved, all parties are satisfied, and remain so until the hour of trial arrives. If it be worth while to wear a sword at all, surely it is worth while to know how to use it, and to feel that confidence which the knowledge of possessing a good weapon can alone inspire. The prevailing mania for cheap, I mean low-priced articles, is ruining the trade of this country: formerly, we were celebrated for the excellence of our steel manufactures, and the honesty of our commercial transactions; by this line of conduct we acquired pre-eminence and character, both of which we are losing faster than we gained them. Our goods were received abroad with perfect confidence, and transmitted from one merchant to another without examination: the invoice was sufficient. Now, every package requires to be verified for quality as well as quantity, if for a foreign market. There are still many highly honourable exceptions, but they suffer most by such transactions, as they cannot, and will not, attempt to compete in price with those who will send out worthless articles.

Our trade with America in cutting instruments is wonderfully reduced; cast-iron hatchets, saws, chisels, and other edge tools, have been manufactured by thousands, exported and taken hundreds of miles into the interior of the country to clear a piece of land, and then broken at the first stroke. We compel foreigners to manufacture for themselves, when they would prefer being consumers; and then petition Parliament to remedy our grievances, and restore our loss of trade by legal enactments. The fault, however, does not rest wholly with the manufacturer. The merchant, or factor, who seeks only to make his own fortune, or one good adventure, regardless of the future, by going from one manufacturer to another, in order to purchase from those who sell at the lowest prices, is even more to blame than the manufacturer himself. How can it be expected that a poor half-starved artisan, ground down to a minimum of wages, barely sufficient to support life, should take any interest, or even be capable of producing good work? There must be a community of feeling between the employer and employed; no man will work well if inadequately paid for his labour. There is an overtrading in bad articles, and each manufacturer is encouraged to undersell his neighbour.

A recent visit to our iron and steel manufacturing districts, has convinced me, that, unless some check can be put to such proceedings, our trade in cutlery and edge tools will be entirely ruined, while other countries, taking advantage of our deplorable ignorance, and having solely to depend on the goodness and perfection of their manufactures to establish a character, will rise into importance, and we may then arrive at the unenviable distinction of being the principal manufacturers of rubbish to the whole world.

It is much easier to detect faults than to suggest remedies; but the obvious method to be adopted by all who desire to obtain good and cheap articles, is to purchase them not only at respectable houses, but from those who are likely, from the nature of their business, to have some knowledge of the articles in which they deal; for example, who would think of ordering his Bootmaker to supply him with a chronometer? - yet the absurdities I have pointed out are as great, and must strike every one on calm reflection.

After so long a digression, I return to my principal subject, Swords, the manufacture of which I have studied for several years, and now propose to enter into fully, in connexion with my own business. There are many essential properties in a sword besides the quality of the steel and the temper, which are either unknown to the makers generally, or wholly neglected, but which are most important to all who have occasion to use them, namely, - the mounting, the balance, the combination of strength and lightness; and elasticity with firmness. Every swordsman knows that a thrust is always more efficient than a cut, and a sword that is too elastic vibrates in the hand, and is more inconvenient to use than one that is firm. The centre of percussion, or that part of a sword in which its* whole force is concentrated, and on which there is no vibration, ought to be distinctly marked, so that every one using it may at once know on what part the hardest blow can be struck, without regarding, or entering into the philosophy of the subject. To all these points I propose especially to direct my attention, so as to redeem, if possible, this branch of our manufactures; and in order to effect this object, and to give a more severe proof than has ever been attempted, I have invented a sword Eprouvette, which will represent a power similar to, but far exceeding any human force. It is easily adjustable to every kind of sword, and having ascertained, by means of a dynamometer, the maximum of human force in striking with a sword, I propose to subject every sword, manufactured under my direction, to the unerring and unfavouring power of my machine, which may be likened to the arm of a giant, with power sufficient to decapitate at a single stroke; after which proof, it is not likely these swords will ever break in any actual encounter. I propose, also, to prove the swords of any officer or civilian, who may desire to ascertain the capabilities of his own blade, and at the same time to afford an opportunity of ascertaining the individual strength of each person when making a cut, in order to compare it with the proof, to which I will afterwards subject the blade.

I feel assured that sufficient patronage will not be wanting to enable me to persevere in an attempt to render the swords of this country equal, if not superior, to any in the world.

The Machines are now ready for inspection and use, and certain days and hours in each week will be devoted to the proving of sword blades.

Henry Wilkinson. 27, Pall Mall, London, June 1st, 1844.

Lately published by Longman and Co., London,

In One Volume, 8vo., price 9s.,

Engines of War; or Historical and Experimental Observations on Ancient and Modern Warlike Machines and Implements, including the Manufacture of Guns, Gunpowder, and Swords, with Remarks on Bronze, Iron, Steel, &c. By Henry Wilkinson.