Sharp investors choose sword collecting
Historic swords are worth big money to serious collectors
Mixing business and pleasure is often a bad idea, but investors who can afford to take a relaxed approach to the return on some of their investments may consider alternative assets.
For example, those thrilled by the glint of cold steel might consider putting some of their money into swords. The value of these historic weapons has climbed steadily in recent years and as historic assets they hold their price well. Whether you can only afford a couple of hundred pounds or are able to invest several thousands, there is a huge choice to capture the imagination.
The sword has played a key role in defining civilisation. Copper and bronze weapons with leaf-shaped blades sorted out tribal arguments for much of the past 5,000 years while straight double-edged blades helped create the Roman Empire.
The swordsmith craft developed further in the 12th century when the steel-forged Damascus sword from the Middle East began slicing a name for itself. This weapon was said to cleave through a floating silk scarf with the same ease as a knight's body ? it soon became a must-have accessory for all kings and noblemen as a major status symbol.
However, for the modern collectable market the romance of the 18th and 19th-century swords, particularly those wielded during the era of Admiral Horatio Nelson, are among the most sought after.
Michael German, who owns armoury trader Michael German Antiques of Kensington, west London, says: ''There is nothing like the Battle of Trafalgar to stir up heroic thoughts and naval swords are among the best made. An 18th-century royal naval sword with fine gilding and original bluing on the blade could be a magnificent investment for £2,000. You can also find great 19th-century examples with white-shark skin on the grip and a lion's head pommel for £800.''
Bluing refers to the process where steel is partially protected against rust with a protective oxidised coating that has a blue-black appearance.
Mr German adds: ''You bought your own sword in the Royal Navy in the 18th century. They often had an anchor engraved on the blade. Naval swords included the boarding cutlass, which often had a scabbard with brass throats. Brass was popular as it did not rust in seawater like iron steel."
The first great Royal Navy officer's sword was introduced in 1827 and has changed little from the ceremonial piece used today. It harks back to Nelson's day with a lion's head pommel. It can cost £1,200 brand new but second-hand examples may be picked up for between £300 and £600 if in top condition.
Mr German explains: ''Old and rusty swords cannot be restored to their original glory ? you can always tell if they have been renovated and re-blued.''
Military British swords did not begin to become standardised until 1796. Before this it was usually up to the regiment colonel to buy his troops' swords.
The 1796 Light Cavalry sabre with its skull-splitting curved cutting edge is credited with helping Britain win the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. However, the sibling 1796 Heavy Cavalry sabre was a straighter, more unwieldy beast ? as famously used by fictional character, Richard Sharpe, in the Bernard Cornwall novels. Both swords can be picked up for as little as £500, but top-condition examples can go for thousands.
All quality swords must be approved by the Worshipful Company of Cutlers ? an ancient guild that received a Royal Charter from Henry V in 1416.
The military swords as used by the cavalry and infantry should also have a royal cipher with a monogram of the reigning monarch on the blade. Markings, such as crests, numbers and maker's insignia are typically found at the top of the blade near the hilt.
The Army swords tend to be cheaper than naval weapons, unless from a particular notable regiment, such as the Household Cavalry or Grenadier Guards.
Although swords are often associated with warfare, there is also a huge collectable market for civilian weapons.
Mr German says: ''The sword was part of a gentleman's attire from the 16th century ? a rapier could be worn much like people show off designer labels today.''
This fashion accessory might include a dagger ? usually designed to be easily accessible for the left hand while the right wielded the sword. The 17th century saw sword get shorter and lighter. By the 18th century, small swords were more popular. These were ideal for recreational and training activities, such as fencing, rather than the old big slashing weapons.
Small swords in excellent condition can be picked up for £800, but you can spend as much as £4,000 for an elegant example with fine silver hilt. Their demise in high society came swiftly in the 1790s when the pistol became the lethal fashion statement of choice.
Toby Walne is author of 101 Extraordinary Investments ? Curious, Unusual and Bizarre Ways to Make Money. The book offers advice on investing in a wide range of modern and vintage collectables.