A Brief History of Klingenthal Swords Manufacturing

By Jean Binck


Regulation French swords of the 19th century were primarily issued by two major government manufacturers: Klingenthal, in the east of France near Strasbourg (Alsace) and, later, Châtellerault in the centre of the country near Poitier.

During the Napoleonic period, regulation swords were also produced by the smaller manufacturer of Versaille, near Paris, which assembled weapons with blades from Klingenthal. Swords bearing the stamp "BOUTET", Directeur Artiste from Versailles, on the hilt and are very desirable to collectors.


History of Klingenthal

At the beginning of the 18th century, king Louis XV decided to create a state-controlled sword manufacturing company in order to limit the imports of Solingen blades to France. In 1733, the Manufacture d'Armes Blanches d' Alsace commenced operation with the help of 25 skilled workers from Solingen, Germany. The Alsace province, in East of France, was chosen for the availability of iron mines, forges and woods for charcoal, but also because the local language was similar to German.

In 1768, accommodation for the Director and his staff (artillery officers) was built in a place called Klingenthal (Klingen=blades, thal= valley), the factory became Manufacture de Klingenthal . Under this name, thousands of blades were produced until the end of the 19th century.


Organization

The Manufacture de Klingenthal belonged to the government, but its general management was entrusted to a government-appointed entrepreneur. The entrepreneur operated in a purely fiscal role. His task was to buy the source material (iron ingots, charcoal etc.), pay with his own money the salaries of the workers, and organise the company in order to comply with the contracts of the government. The government then bought the finished products from him, leaving him a profit of about 20%. The plant Director controlled the production for the military contracts. He was an artillery senior officer, appointed for only a few years (2-4 usually), and helped by a staff of around four artillery officers. It was his responsibility to maintain quality control and control of speed of production etc. to fulfil the government contracts. He reported immediately to the army, and earned no more than his officer's salary.

The Revisers and Controllers were highly skilled workers in charge of the training of the other workers and the quality control of blades and swords for the military contracts. From 1808 onwards, they were considered members of the artillery corps.

There is no doubt that COULAUX was the best-known entrepreneur of Klingenthal. The Coulaux brothers applied for the job of entrepreneur in February 1801 and the family remained in charge of the management of the Manufacture de Klingenthal until the firm ceased business in 1962.


Markings of Klingenthal

This chapter gives a quick view of the style of markings of Klingenthal through different period. These are the most common markings, it is not an exhaustive list. The company's name marking is usually found on the back of the blade when present.

The ricasso bore the stamps of the Director, the Controller and the Reviser. On trooper swords these marks stood also on the guard.

Example of regulation stamps on the ricasso and main branch of the guard of a Light Cavalry sword Model 1822 dated May 1824 on the spine of the blade.


The following abbreviations are commonly found on French swords:

For the months (referring to the Latin sound of the figures):

7 bre = Septembre

8 bre = Octobre

9 bre = Novembre

X bre = Décembre

The other months being written in full: Janvier, Février, Mars, Avril, Mai, Juin, Juillet, Août.

Manuf e = Manufacture = Manufactory

M re

Manuf re

Manuf.

Mf ture

M ture

R le = Royale = of the King

Rl e

R ale

Natl e = Nationale = National

Nl e

N le

Impal e = Impériale = of the Emperor

Impe ale

Impa le

Imp ale

Imp le

Imp.

Starting in 1733

Manufacture d' Alsace
Manufacture Royale d' Alsace
M ture R le d' Alsace


From ca. 1768 to ca.1800

During the reign of Louis XVI and the French revolution, the name Klingenthal appeared.
Manuf re de Klingenthal
Klingenthal

Note that along the years, both wording Manufacture du Klingenthal and Manufacture de Klingenthal can be found.

ca. 1801

The word nationale and the name of the entrepreneur Coulaux is often mentioned.
Mf ture de Klingenthal
Mf ture N ale de Klingenthal Coulaux frères Entrep rs

ca . 1806 French Empire of Napoleon I

The word impériale is mentioned (Impale)
Mf ure Imp ale du Klingenthal Coulaux frères
Mf ure Imp ale du Klingenthal Coulaux

In 1810, it was included in the new contract between the French government and Coulaux that the name of the entrepreneur was now replaced with the month and date of fabrication.
Mf ture Imp ale du Klingenthal Fev 1811

1814, during Napoleon's exile to Elba and the return of Louis XVIII:
Klingenthal Novembre 1814
Manf re R le du Klingenthal Janvier 1815
Rle = Royale (of the King Louis XVIII)

The Restoration of the Monarchy, July 1815

In July 1815, with the restoration of the monarchy the word Royale replaced Impériale. There were many variations in abbreviations.
Manufacture Royale de Klingenthal Mars 1818
Mf ture R ale de Klingenthal Mars 1818

Mnuf re Royale du Klingenthal Mars 1822

Manufacture's marking on the double edged blade of a regulation Model 1816 officer's sword (left side - right side)

 

Marking on the spine of the blade of a trooper Model 1822 Light Cavalry sword issued May 1824


In the new contract of 1823, the government confirmed that the marking Manufacture Royale de Klingenthal followed by month and year was only allowed for swords issued to the government. The other blades issued for other commercial purpose should bear the marking:

Coulaux frères à Klingenthal

The blades and swords for general commercial use were made by the workers of the government manufacturing company for the account of the entrepreneur. This was authorised by the Director (an artillery senior officer) when government orders were not sufficient to provide enough work for the firm. Military controllers were not allowed to stamp these weapons which, in this case, bore the stamp of an employee of the company in charge of the quality control of these commercial swords.


The revolution of 1830

After the little revolution of 1830 in Paris, King Louis-Philippe ordered the suppression of the symbols of the old monarchy. The « Fleur de Lys » present on several sword patterns were erased.

From 1836 to 1962

In 1836, the French government decided to rid itself of the Manufacture de Klingenthal. The period was the beginning of instability in Europe and the French ministry of war did not want to depend on a state manufacturing company so close to the borders of the country. Klingenthal was found to be exceedingly vulnerable. The production of regulation swords was removed to a more central geographic location: Châtellerault (near Poitier).

The Coulaux family bought the company premises and became owner of the Manufacture de Klingenthal. The company continued to produce swords and blades for private cuttlers and retailers as well as tools for agriculture (sickles etc.). No longer subjects to the quality control of the Artillery inspectors, some of these commercial blades were of poor quality.
Manuf re Klingenthal Coulaux & Cie

Marking on a non-regulation officer's sword issued second half of the 19th Century


The disastrous Franco-Prussian war of 1870 showed that the French were right to move the government manufacture to Châtellerault; on September 1870, Klingenthal was captured by the Germans. Alsace remained a German territory until 1918. The company produced some bayonets for the German Empire (bearing the mark C ) but was never able to challenge the manufacturers of Solingen (Germany). The making of tools and the few orders for blades for private swordmakers were not sufficient to stop the decline of the Manufacture de Klingenthal.

In 1815, six hundred workers were making swords in Klingenthal, in 1910 they were one hundred. In 1955 only fifteen men were employed in the tool manufacturing company of Klingenthal, which closed its doors permanently in 1962.

Late marking on a privately purchased model 1923 officer's sword : Coulaux & Cie Klingenthal France



References:

COTTY (Col.), Dictionnaire de l'Artillerie, Paris, France (1822)

C. ARIES, Armes Blanches Militaires Française, Nantes, France ( ca.1965-1990)
Buigne/Lhoste, Armes Blanches, Edition du Portail, La Tour du Pin, France (1994)
Magazine "Gazette des Armes"
Swords in Author's private collection

Text and pictures are the property of the author

Contact the author: jeanbck@hotmail.com

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