From the late 1600’s until the first decade of the 20th century, the Kreußler method of thrust fencing dominated the use of the foil and “Rappier”. Here are four representative varieties of the weapons used…
(As always, just click on the image for a close-up!)
Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, the German blade factories in Solingen churned out mass quantities of blades aimed at the recreational fencer, as well as the military enduser.
And while the vast majority of the foils that were mass produced and shipped all over the world were mounted with French-style hilts, there is a rare sub-category of foils that still reflects the influence of the Kreußlerian method of fencing.
While I shall reserve a more detailed overview of that school for a later article, I thought it was time to give these strange birds of the foil world a closer look.
It’s not how long it is, it’s how you use it!
Anton Friedrich Kahn, who was the first to write up and publish his own take on the Kreußlerian school—first in 1739, then again in 1769—is strangely non-committal when he talks about the weapons. In fact, he proffers no ideal dimensions or weight for a foil (or “Rappir”, as foils were called n 18th-and 19th-century Germany), only commenting that overly large weapons were the hallmark of the “Renommist” or braggart. If you had studied according to Kreusler’s method, it just didn’t matter what kind of weapon you had at your disposal.
In 1798, Johann Wilhelm Roux (whose family was to teach the system for more than a century) also is less than rigorous in his specifications: “Man hat deshalb ungefähr fünf Spannen als das gewöhnliche Längenmaß angenommen, wovon eine Spanne für die Angel und vier zu der Klinge selbst gerechnet sind. … Ob [das Stichblatt] platt oder hochgebogen ist, macht keinen wirksamen Unterschied. … Die Parirstangen, welche seitwärts einen kleinen Zoll über das Stichblatt hervorstehen, müssen wohl an demselben angeschweißt, und nicht zu schwach seyn. Ihre Entfernung [zum Stichblatt] beträgt eines guten Daumens Breite.”
One usually assumes 5 Spans (1 Span = 20cm or 9″, depending if it is a kleine or große Spanne), of which one span is allotted to the hilt, and the other four to the blade itself. … If the [dish]hilt is flat or domed makes no real difference. … The crossbar, which sticks out “a small inch” over the guard, have to be welded to the guard and not bee too week. Its distance to the hilt is about a thumb’s width.
Even Johann Anton Wilhelm Ludwig Roux, in 1849, is somewhat lackadaisical in regard to technical specifications: “Das Rapier besteht aus einer 32 Zoll langen, gut gestählten Klinge.”
The foil consists of a 32″ long, well steeled blade.
Only at the end of the century, the association of fencing masters (dominated by Roux offspring and their former disciples, the Seemann-Kahne brothers) discovers the beauty of regulation: “Das Gefäß besteht aus einem Stichblatt, einer in flacher Glockenform gegossenen oder getriebenen Metallscheibe, auf deren inneren Seite eine, die letztere etwas überragende Parierstange, vom gleichen Metall gefertigt, ruht, einem Griff aus Holz, mit Bindfaden umwickelt oder mit Fischhaut überzogen, und einem Gefäßknopf, durch welchen die einzelnen Teile des Rapiers zusammengehalten werden. Das Stichblatt (die Glocke) soll nicht größer sein, als sur Deckung der Hand unumgänglich ist. Die Höhlung zwischen Parierstange und Stichblatt muß genügende Tiefe haben, damit der Zeigefinger zwischen Parierstange und Stichblatt (Glocke) eine bequeme Lage hat. … Der Griff muß der Hand des Fechters genau angepaßt, d.h. er soll so dick sein, daß ihn alle Finger der Hand fest und ohne besondere Anstrengung umschließen können. Bezüglich der Länge des Griffes bleibt zu bemerken, daß derselbe die geschlossene Hand nur um ein Weniges überragen und beim Beugen der Hand nach unten nicht in das Gelenk stoßen darf (die langen Griffe der französischen Fleurets sind für unser deutsches Stoßfechten nicht zu gebrauchen). Der zylindrische Knopf muß genau dieselbe Rundung wie das Ende des Griffes haben. … 84 bis 87 cm lange Klingen sind die geeignetsten.”
Or, in short, blades measuring between 84 and 87 cm are the most useful—and the long, French-style handles are totally useless for German-style thrust fencing!
4 Shades of Kreußler
From our collection, we’ve picked four distinct types of Kreußlerian foils:
Kreußler A is the oldest of the bunch. Its guard is the smallest, the blade (marked +++ SOLINGEN +++ in an early stamp) is short and flat and inserts through a quadrangular hole in the guard. Interestingly, a leather pad is mounted between the crossbar and the blade, making it impossible to have the index finger fit over the crossbar inside the guard as generally advised—but kindly preserving an imprint of how its original owner held it in his hand. If there ever was a leather or cord wrapping around the hardwood handle, it has long been lost. The handle itself is long and not entirely unlike French handles of the period.
With no shoulder on the blade that would anchor it on the guard, the sidebar’s role is to provide the resistance against which the rest of the hilt is fixed to the blade. There is no distinct ricasso to the blade, the flat blade simply goes through the aperture in the guard.
Kreußler B is perhaps a half-century older than A. Its guard is far deeper, providing ample space for the index finger to curl under the crossbar. The crossbar itself is riveted to two metal protrusions, which in turn have been affixed to the guard. Again, there is no ricasso, but the blade extends through the guard until it meets the crossbar.
The handle is long and slender, wrapped in cord that in turn is covered with smooth leather. The blade is longer than that of Kreußler A, and has some weak imprints of the standard Solingen mark near the hilt.
Kreußler C is closest to what the Fechtmeisters demanded that a proper Rappier should be in 1892. The guard is shallower than B, larger than A, and again has extensions to which the flat crossbar has been riveted. The blade bears the knight’s helmet mark of Weyersberg, Solingen. (Similar models are contained in their catalog until the 1930’s.)
Here, it becomes clear what the fencing masters had in mind regarding the handle. It is relatively shorter than a typical French handle, although I doubt it actually makes any practical difference. The handle is wood tightly wrapped in cord.
Kreußler D is export merchandize “Made in Germany” destined for J.H. Lau & Co. in New York. The metal parts (this is one of a matched pair) are covered in a silver-colored protective varnish that has smudged the fabric-wrapped cord-and-wire handle. The crossbar is elegantly tapered and rounded, and not permanently attached to the guard, merely resting against it in two cut-outs from the outer circumference.
The grip is long, with a heavy, ornate pommel that certainly has nothing over a contemporary French foil.
Have a closer look at the measures and dimensions:
… and at the comparative blade length and hilt dimensions.