National Physical Laboratory

Who made this sword?

The Arms and Armour Research Institute contacted NPL Huddersfield to help identify a late 18th century French Cavalry Officer's sword. It was suspected that an extremely well-worn area of brass on the end of the scabbard, known as the 'chape', had once contained the information needed to identify the maker and ascertain the true value of the sword.

Late 18th century French Cavalry Officer's sword

The NPL Huddersfield team carried out a series of scans on the chape using a Taylor Hobson Form Talysurf PGI instrument, which is usually used for measuring the surface finish of components. Each scan took between six and 12 hours to complete and was set up to detect as much detail as possible.

During the scans, a diamond tipped stylus runs across the surface of the chape (at forces too low to cause damage) and the instrument records the position of the stylus in three dimensions (x, y and z). The 'z' parameter records the depth of any marks inscribed on the surface of the sword that could identify who made it. Following the scans, the data is processed using advanced measurement software until a suitable image is built up from the data.

The measurement data is processed and an identifiable image is built up of the maker's signature
The measurement data is processed and an identifiable image is built up of the maker's signature

Reverend Paul Wilcock, who leads the Arms and Armour Research Institute, said:

"The capabilities of the equipment and engineers at NPL have enabled us to confirm that this is indeed a high status piece made by a leading Parisian sword cutler. Numerous previous attempts to identify the name and address have proved unsuccessful. This technology provides a new dimension in the analysis of artefacts such as this sword which in turn reveals a wealth of additional and valuable historical information."

Graeme Foulds, Sales Manager from Taylor Hobson, said:

"This is an innovative use of the Form Talysurf PGI and shows the versatility of the instrument utilising its highly accurate X, Y and Z axes."

Henry VII Groat coin

NPL often uses instruments in innovative ways to solve measurement problems. Following this work, NPL Huddersfield scanned a series of additional artefacts, including a Henry VII Groat coin that dated from around 1505. This demonstrated the potential of the system for imaging items of this sort and achieved some excellent results.

Taylor Hobson is an ultra-precision technology company operating at the highest levels of accuracy within the field of surface and form metrology, providing contact and non-contact measurement solutions for the most demanding applications.

The NPL Huddersfield Laboratory (located in the University of Huddersfield's 3M Buckley Innovation Centre) specialises in precision measurement of components and assemblies and the provision of measurement advice and support to manufacturing industries.

Find out more about NPL Huddersfield

For further details, please contact Andy Morris

Last Updated: 16 Oct 2014
Created: 16 Jul 2014

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