Ethical considerations with antique swords, part 3: storage

A typical 19th century Indian tulwar, from the Triquetra Collection.
A typical 19th century Indian tulwar, from the Triquetra Collection.

This is going to be a short article, presenting an ethical consideration. Previous articles in this series discussed the problem of people sparring with antique swords, or using antique swords for cutting; in this article, the focus will be on storing antique swords.

Storing antique swords does not sound like it would pose much of an ethical consideration, but it is worth thinking about. If you have a good storage solution, it will help to prevent damage to the items, and should also protect the items from the environment to prevent rust and other deteriorations. A poor storage solution, however, will leave items vulnerable to damage and to the mercy of the environment.

As with both of the previous articles in this series, the focus here is preventing damage to antiques. There are only so many items of any given pattern in existence, and even so, many examples are unique for one reason or another. If items are stored negligently, so that they become damaged in some fashion, then this reduces our ability (and the ability of future generations) to study these items and learn something from them.

Of course, not every private collector with just one or two antiques should need to install an atmosphere control system or hermetically-sealed display cases that could be found in a museum. Simply keeping items in a box lined with foam to prevent damage would be sufficient, and taking them out for inspection and oiling every so often will keep them in good condition. Not only will this preserve the items for posterity, but it will help the items hold their value (or even increase in value), and therefore will be a worthwhile investment for the future.

Without a good storage solution, antiques are liable to damage, and this will not only lower the value of these items as objects for study, but it will lower their value as investments and items of monetary worth; it makes no sense to pay money for something and then let it go to ruin, if just a little forethought and effort will preserve it. Think about, for example, a new car, or a new house. There is no good reason to run them into the ground and let them go to ruin, and at the end of such treatment they will be worth much less to the next buyer. Instead, it is best to take care of them, keep them in good condition, and get more enjoyment and value out of them while they are in your possession, and then receive a higher price when you sell them at a later date.

A similar consideration could be made for antique books. Books are subject to all kinds of damage from their environment, and while it can be relatively easy to remove surface rust or a blemish from a steel blade, it can be a major issue to deal with mould, discolouration, or rips and tears when talking about books. Storage is just as important for antique books (and for non-antique, modern books!), and it is something worthy of consideration.

At the end of the day, even if you have the means to acquire some antique swords (or books), do you have the means to store them safely so that they do not come to harm under your care? If you cannot store them safely, and you know that they are likely to pick up damage in your possession, is it still ethical to make the purchase in the first place and then let these items come to ruin through this form of neglect?

Keith Farrell teaches HEMA professionally, often at international events (why not hire me to teach at your event?), and has an interest in coaching instructors to become better teachers.

I have authored Scottish Broadsword and British Singlestick and the award-winning AHA German Longsword Study Guide, and maintain a blog at www.keithfarrell.net where I post regularly.