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Single Edge Ulfberht


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Does anybody know the details of this sword? It appears to be a single edge Ulfberht... I saw it, in of all places, on a website advertising a winter 'Viking' run. http://americamultisport.com/event/viking-winter-dash/

 

It struck me as odd to see a single edge Ulfberht. Are there other examples? I thought the single edge variant was held to more commonly be the work of local smiths and thus less sophisticated, which lends to the reason so few are pattern welded. While it is shown that this is not likely a true Ulfberht it seems usually hightly decorated for a single edge variant.

 

 

Thanks,

Mark

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Edited by MSchneider
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Williams seems to believe that there were a lot of period forgeries and that they could be differentiated based on the blade being made from cleaner crucible steel as compared to steel from a bloomery process. See "The Sword and the Crucible" by Williams. I actually just looked at these swords in Chicago, too. The decoration on the pommel seems quite odd to me.

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I am fairly convinced that at least the single edged sword is a recent fake. It is not a Viking period sword.

Everything about it is atypical an odd looking. The style of the pommel cap is very unique if not even abnormal. The single edged blade with +VLFBERT+ inscription is in itself cause for pause and reflection.

 

There are other things apart from these, but a closer examination in real life or several close up photos would be needed to evaluate it better.

 

There is a ton of fakes on the market. A ton. They keep flooding auction sites and Internet sales rooms. Be very wary and always start assuming that any sword with anything other than really well documented provenance might very well be a fake.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Did I miss something? The tag from the museum says right on it that the single edge sword is a fake Ulfbehrt. It's not made from crucible steel. Vintage of the fake is another question entirely...

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My point was that I always understood the single edge variant to be simple in form and decoration. While this is a fake Ulfberht it is highly decorated. That and the fact that if you are going to counterfeit an Ulfberht why do a single edge sword? It got me wondering if there are any legit single edge Ulfberht examples or other single edge swords that are similarly decorated.

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The label suggests that the single edged sword is a fake VLFBERHT, but a fake that was made in the viking period.
I think it is a fake that is quite modern and I base this opinion on several factors.
Swords were made during the viking period that copied the label of VLFBERHT. This is evident in surviving originals that show mis-spelling of the name or even the inability to form latin letters in any recognisable form. The other week I documented a sword that may belong to this group of swords: the back had the typical lattice pattern, but the front was marked with a row of signs that had some likeness to letters or runes, but were neither runes or letters. It may have been an attempt by an illiterate smith to copy an VLFBERHT sword. It may fool customers who were also illiterate. OR perhaps the faking aspect was beside the point. Perhaps the signs implied quality just by being there. Perhaps they signalled some kind of superior or even magical quality? We cannot know today.

 

The use of crucible steel for the "real" VLFBERHT swords is debated quite actively and the evidence is not deemed conclusive by many scholars. It is a fact that some swords with the marking +VLFBERH+T are made of a steel that is very clean and of very high carbon content, but scholars are not in agreement that it must be crucible steel. At least one sword that has been identified as being made from crucible steel show a clear strandy structure in the corrosion, just like that of a bloomery stel that has been consolidated by welding and folding many times. Until more research is made, we should not jump to conclusions as to the origin of these blades (-forged by vikings and marked with latin letters? Hmmm?) or being made from a foreign material imported from far away lands (when they may be made from locally produced material that has been processed to a high degree of purity). Personally I keep my mind open and am curious to see what further practical experiments and examination of more originals might reveal. The ULFBERHT and INGELRII swords are highly interesting as they were made during a period of change from pattern welding to un-patterned blades, that coincide with fundamental changes in the shape of the sword.

 

The sword in question here is most likely a contemporary fake. There are clues to this in its shape and decorative style.
-The pommel is very unusual in style. Its form and decorative style is reminiscent of some eastern swords from the viking period. It is nothing like any scandinavian hilts. I guess that the sword was made by a smith who comes from the eastern side of the Baltic sea, Poland, Belarus, Ukraine, Hungary or Bulgaria. Top curators I have spoken to suggest these are the areas where most modern fakes that currently flood the market are made. The style of his sword fits pretty well with this picture. It seems to have been made by a smith who is very familiar with the eastern styles of viking period swords. But the blade is of a type that is *norwegian*. This does not add together. Add an inscription that is completely unique in the context and you have a sword that is not just unusual, but really a very odd duck.

-The combination of the silver triangles on the upper and lower guards together with the thin tracing of inlayed lines on the pommel cap is very unusual and actually pretty unlikely.

-The shape of the blade is not that good: it does not look like original blades (even considering they are not all alike, they do have some functional consistency among them that this sword lacks). The style of the hilt together with the single edged blade is completely unique: no other single edged sword that I have ever seen looks anything like this. Not really an argument by itself, but in combination with other things it further reinforces the impression that this is made by a contemporary smith.

 

Some other oddities are:

-Shape of the tang is too narrow and too straight: if you think about it, this is just what tangs tend to look like when you shape them with a power hammer. Original sword tangs tend to taper and to show more traces of the hand hammer.

-Proportions of the hilt are very odd: the guard is too wide and too skinny in proportion to the rest of the hilt. The upper and lower guards do not have good proportions to each other. The tang is too long in proportion to the shape and size of the upper and lower guards. Again, original swords are never exactly alike, but never the less share some common sense of proportion and style. This sword breaks these unwritten laws of style and proportion.

-The placing and spacing of the inscription is very odd. It is too close to the edge of the blade. It is also too wide and wandering compared to what authentic inscriptions look like. It is strange to me that a norwegian smith of the viking age should have nailed the letter forms and the spelling of the inscription so well (with letters that he most probably could not read or write) and yet miss the typical form of these inscriptions. If he was illiterate, or were used to runes, and copied a foreign style from its looks, he would have been closer to the typical form of these inscriptions and perhaps missed a letter or the individual form of a letter or two, not the other way around.
This sword seems to be made by a person who can read latin letters and who knows the word and its meaning, but is not so familiar with the typical style of these inscriptions. To me that does not speak of a viking period smith, but a contemporary maker who wants to make a fake sword more interesting by adding an inscription.

It is a favourite trick among fakers to make swords that break the norm just a little. If it is an unusual example, it makes it more interesting for collectors and it also passes critical evaluation, since it is an unusual example anyway: oddities and irregularities in form can thus be explained away.

 

Also note how the inscription is made: it is not made by forge welding twisted rods into the blade. It is made by grinding away the letters with a ball shaped rotating burr and then treating the whole blade in a long good soak in acid. This makes the inscription look like it was formed by inlayed letters that have fallen out by corrosion. At a glance it may be convincing, but compared to inscriptions on authentic blades it does not ring true. In authentic pieces there are most often at least some traces of the inlays remaining, at least in corroded form. It is very common to see fake swords with this quick and dirty method of "inlay", however.

All this taken together convinces me that this is a fake made by a contemporary smith, not a fake made by a viking period smith.

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My point was that I always understood the single edge variant to be simple in form and decoration. While this is a fake Ulfberht it is highly decorated. That and the fact that if you are going to counterfeit an Ulfberht why do a single edge sword? It got me wondering if there are any legit single edge Ulfberht examples or other single edge swords that are similarly decorated.

There are no authentic single edged swords marked with VLFBERHT, as far as I know. I have never come across any such sword, nor have I seen it being mentioned in any literature on the subject of single edged swords or inlayed blades. I think it is highly unlikely that such a sword exist somewhere without having been mentioned at least few times by scholars of the sword.

Some single edged swords are high status weapons with inlayed hilts (type H hilts) and some cases with pattern welded blades. However, the majority seems to be rather utilitarian, just like you point out.

 

-Why you would want to make a fake with such an unusual combination of features?

There could be some good reasons, as I suggest in my post above, but it may actually also be a mistake. Not all actions by criminals are all that well thought through.

 

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Thanks for all the information and the detailed analysis of that piece! I am very interested in the single edge sword and I'm curious if you have any ideas where I could find information about some of the high status or pattern welded pieces? I know of the one pattern welded example depicted in Ian Peirce's book, but that's it. I'd love to see some of the others.

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I have been asked to authenticate several fakes over the last few years.....someone is getting better at the work as they seem to drop items on lists and ask for opinions. When someone points out the reasons why it is a fake (as Peter does above) the next round of fakes get better. I'd wager most are from former Soviet Satellite countries.

 

Ric

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Peter and Ric, thanks for the information.

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There are quite a few fakes on displays in museums from all sorts of time periods because the curators who obtained them at auction or private sale didn't know enough about what they were looking at to tell the authenticity, and then refuse to admit their mistake and put items up on display that are not what they claim to be. It's a lot more common than you'd think. This is one of the reasons provenance is so important with pieces, especially if there's no clear way to validate the authenticity by looking at the item.

 

I haven't yet seen viking or pre-viking age swords being faked with bloomery iron and steel yet, for example, the cost to make bloomery steel and then make a fake sword out of it is such that (at least thus far) it doesn't seem lucrative. Frequently when the fakes are artificially rusted / corroded it's done with acid (bleach) which leaves a fairly uniform 'even' pitting and rusting along the surface which isnt how real artifacts rust in the ground. Usually excavated artifacts will have, in the same blade, sections of high corrosion and sections of relatively little corrosion, or at least varying amounts, depending on which side was up, which side down, if it was in a sheath, if there were bronze or other copper alloy fittings near it (copper salts from decaying bronze affect the rates of corrosion, and can preserve organics better in their vacinity for example) Ancient iron and steel rusts differently than modern steels too.

 

Now I've currently only got one authentic viking sword in my collection, but I'm looking to add to my collection, and the presence of fakes scares me, in that I may make a mistake and spend a lot of money on something that is other than what it is purported to be. The best way I've found to avoid fakes is to educate myself as best I can to both the period materials and the period construction techniques. After a while of handling authentic artifacts, you start to get a feel for what's 'right' and what feels off for some reason. Likewise knowing how to look at patinas on bronze components of swords (given that a lot of viking age swords had cast bronze pommels / guards) is important. A hand microscope can let you see the patina details. Copper reacting with air will form cuprite, which in turn reacts with other compounds in the ground to form copper salts, green with carbonates and sulfates, blue with carbonates and nitrates, and black with sulphurs. Many times these form visible crystals which take a long time, hundreds of years, to form, those crystals are almost impossible to fake.

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Justin,

Yes...corrosion...........and then the item gets "brightened up" for sale. Many old objects are altered from excavated condition.

 

Ric

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the worst thing about these fakes?

 

Chances are, the makers are taking notes from discussions like this one here, myarmoury and vikingsword, though we'll never know it.

I recall a point just a year or so back I made a joke with Peter about wanting to do a single-edged Ulfberht with an almost katana-like hilt, for an april fool's joke; and yet here we are, with this bent-as-a-£3-note "archaeological" example, that's just taking the piss. And there's plenty more. I've been looking at single-edged swords where its blatantly two different blades, welded together in the middle - and any data that could've been gained from the original, lost by the people adding to it. I dont know what we can do, money talks louder than anything else, and these fakes have plenty of cash at stake.

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