The term "sword cutler" could refer to anyone involved in the sword trade: a blade–maker, hilt–maker, scabbard–maker, assembler, importer or retailer. The boundaries between the different aspects of the trade were often blurred and indistinct, reflecting diverse patronage and entrepreneurial links.
Nevertheless, there were important means for distinguishing accredited members of this trade in Britain. First and foremost was the trade guild known as Cutlers Company of London which was first chartered by King Henry V in 1416.
The Cutlers Company was made up of several crafts, or companies:
Company of bladesmiths (including makers of sword blades and knife blades) Company of hafters (including hilt designers and makers [goldsmiths, silversmiths and enamellers] and iron and brass hilt makers) Company of sheathers (including makers of sword and knife leather scabbards) Company of cutlers (who assembled swords and knives after purchasing component parts: blades, hilts, grips, etc.)
The noted London sword cutlers and retailers who were contemporary with John Justus Runkel (ie. Bland, Brunn, Cullum, Foster, Johnston, Loxham, Knubley, Prosser and Tatham) were located in Charing Cross, Pall Mall or the Strand. These cutlers were reliant upon their close proximity to the Horse Guards and the Admiralty, from where soldiers, sailors and others could inspect their swords. By contrast, John Justus Runkel chose a location in a small alley in Tookes Court, Holborn, where his customers were principally other cutlers. They purchased his imported blades and adapted them to their own needs for sale.
In July 1806, Runkel indentured into his business a young apprentice named Abraham Neef who was native of Solingen, Germany. The Neef family had been cutlers in Solingen since the late C16th, and the apprenticeship of Abraham Neef to Runkel suggests strong links between Runkel and the Neef family. In fact it has been suggested [see: Dellar and O'Reilly] that in fact the Neef family of Solingen were making some, if not all, of the blades imported by Runkel from Germany to Britain in the period 1780-1808.
Bezdek, Richard H. Swords and Sword Makers of England and Scotland. Boulder: Colorado: Paladin Press, 2003 p.33; Dellar, Richard and O'Reilly Rob. "John Justus Runkel - Sword Merchant of London." Classic Arms & Militaria Vol XIV, Issue 3 pp.48-49, 51.
Images reproduced courtesy of the National Museum of Australia.
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