“Only the Coward Retreats”—A mid-19th century Korbschläger

The expansive basket of the Mensur-Korbschläger not only protects head and hand of the fencer. In some cases, it served as a record of Mensuren fought. Like this 1844 weapon…

by J. Christoph Amberger

Baltimore, MD—The basket of this weapon bears the traces of heavy use: The steel bars and quillons are notched. The felt in the colors of the Corps Palatia Bonn shows the impact of sharp blades. Rust-colored stains in the fabric are either dried blood or, well, rust!

The blade is highly ornate, decorated with arabesques and flowers, and etched with the slogan “Nur der Feige geht zurück”—only the coward retreats.

This is not just a decorative motto, but the core of the Mensur even at this relatively early stage: The combatant was not allowed to retreat behind a cross drawn on the tavern floor with a piece of chalk.

A roughly contemporary Mensur image, Corps Palatia (r.) v. Corps Hansea.

A roughly contemporary Mensur image, Corps Palatia (r.) v. Corps Hansea.

The leather lining the inside of the basket is marked with the Zirkel or symbol of the Corps Palatia Bonn, as well as a French-language ownership statement dating the weapon to 1844. It also identifies the former owner, Marc de Montet-Taverny, born in Lausanne and accepted as a Fuchs (pledge) of the Corps Palatia in 1843. He was received into the inner Corps in 1844. Montet-Taverny’s last professional title was Président du Tribunal at Tour de Peilz prés Vervey in Switzerland. He died on May 28, 1896.

Equally interesting is the fact that Montet used the basket to keep a written record of the Mensuren he fought: There are four entries in faded blue ink on the buff leather: The owner’s initials MdMT followed by a pair of crossed Schlägers that have the number 24 below the intersection of the blades, followed by the name of the opponent. Who are:

palatia6

*   [Dr. Josef] Peltzer (died 1874) of the Corps Saxonia Bonn

*   [Emil] Jacobi of Corps Rhenania (died 1889);

*   [Georg] Wirth of Corps Rhenania [and Corps Nassovia Würzburg], died in 1875; as well as

*   [Alfred] Graf von Nesselrode [died 1883] of the Corps Borussia (the local “white” or nobility-only corps that emperor Wilhelm II was a member of.)

Several small squiggly symbols, two below the name “Wirth”, one below “Nesselrode”, indicate that these opponents were bloodied in the fight: Wirth received a Blutiger (bloody one) or Schmiß twice, Nesselrode once. The number 24 denotes the Gänge or rounds fought.

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