Family Reunion: The Kirchoffers, together again!

Nobody say that FencingClassics isn’t community minded!

After more than a century, we’re reuniting father and son Kirchoffer, famous French fencing masters from pre-Word War I Paris.

Or at least a small part of their correspondence…

by J. Christoph Amberger

Baltimore, MD—The postcard is stamped December 29, 1904 and addressed to Mrs W. H. Aitken, Glencairn, Norwood, Ceylon. A second set of postal stamps acknowledges arrival in Colombo on January 5, 1905. Six days from France to Ceylon (modern Sri Lanka)? Not half bad for 1905! “B.” writes: “We saw the man in white fence in the exhibition the other night. Best love & kisses from B.”

We’re unsure who the Man in White is. Possibly Rue? Luckily, the caption tells us the identity of his opponent: “Le Maitre Kirchoffer dans l’assaut pour les Marins Bretons. Un corps a corps.”

Kirch[h]offer goes by his last name, like Cher or his compatriot Capucine. (Since his full name is Berger H. Georges, we will look the other way…)

He kindly signed the card, with a tiny sword indicating his chosen profession. Since André describes him and Mérignac as “célebres gaucheurs,” we can assume that he signed with his left hand.

Kirchoffer’s claim to fame is not just his competitive, teaching, and literary legacy. (He wrote Vers l’Unification de l’Escrime (Rouen: Laval, 1907) and contributed the foil part to Jean Joseph-Renaud’s L’Escrime, Paris: Pierre Lafitte, 1911 and, not inlcuded in Henk Pardoel’s fantastic bibliography, he also authored De L’Escrime au Concours d’Admission a l’École de Saint-Cyr, Paris: Les Armes, 1905, a report presented to the French War Minister..)

He also constituted fully 25% of the participants in the famous 1902/03 Duels Franco-Italiens, where he fought against the Italian Franco Vega, while his compatriot and colleague Lucien Mérignac took on Francesco Pessina. (Egerton Castle was on the jury.)

Kirchhoffer (r.) on the offensive against Vega

The duels were covered by the press and photographed with the same gusto as Justin Bieber’s changing hairdo is today. Both Vega and Pessina ended up “blessé“. Émile André, another French fencing master and writer, managed to squeeze 247 pages of text, correspondence, caricatures and photographs from the affairs for his book Les Duels Franco-Italiens (Paris: Flammarion, 1906), from which we include a snapshot of the last action preceding the Vega’s injury.

A more warm and fuzzy touch to our main character is introduced by another postcard in the Amberger Collection. It depicts a group of young French military fencing instructors arranged handsomely in front of their tools of the trade: A mask, a glove, a foil framed by two wooden practice sabers (presumably with leather hilts) and a pair of épées.

The card is addressed to “Monsier et Madame Kirchhoffer, 18 rue Guisarde, Paris VIe” and dated Juin 29, 1909: “Souvenir de régiment. Encore 82 jours aprés l’appel, Emil.” The front is inscribed “a mes parents…” and signed. (And since our French is somewhat limited, we’d appreciate if one of our FencingClassics readers could unravel the rest of the note.)

Who exactly is Kirchhoffer fils (he writes his name the German way, with two “h”—which is the same way André occasionally represents the spelling) we can’t tell. Your guess is as good as ours

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