Ready for the Säbelmensur…
This early image of a German Säbelmensur fencer and his second probably dates from the 1880’s. Neither man can be identified, but Bernd-Günter Harmann has identified the fraternity as Burschenschaft Saravia Berlin. Note that the saber’s basket hilt has been made virtually impenetrable by weaving black strands of silk through the quillons. The second is not wearing a helmet, but still the specialized second’s cap, which protected his eyes and face by virtue of its wide brim.
The fencer’s vital points are protected by Bandagen: elbow, armpit and neck. The Mensur he is getting ready for therefore would be one “mit Binden und Bandagen”… also known as “cum—cum” (Latin: “with, with”), as opposed to the more dangerous “sine—sine” (“without, without”).
What’s the deal with the silk weave? Sabers were official weapons of honor. Saber Mensuren were duels proper, other than Bestimmungsmensuren fought with Schläger. Accordingly, they were used for serious altercations not only between members of “color-bearing” fraternities, but also by non-members or fraternities who rejected the Mensur. In these “Belegerpartieen,” the participants would seek “Waffenschutz” with a local fraternity that would provide weapons, training, and second. For the duration, the second would declare the colors black.
(As we will see in a little bit, later Mensursäbel would come with a basket whose tin inset was already covered in black cloth or velvet.)
Braiding the silk through the quillons had the beneficial side effect that the blade would not nick when hitting the basket.
Here is the hand-colorized version of this cabinet card, provided by B.-G. Hartmann:
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*** What is this blog all about? It’s part of FencingClassics’ fencing history program.