Laddering and chagrinage

Two distinctive ornamental techniques characterize some of the Swiss swords and scabbards: laddering and chagrinage. Laddering is known on less than a dozen sword blades or scabbards. It comprises a series of horizontal grooves disposed invariably on either side of a central midrib, and extending for the full length of the blade or scabbard. Laddering appears on early La Tene scabbards, continuing into the earlier stages of middle La Tene. In Britain even it occurs on the early La Tene scabbard from Orton Meadows as well as on somewhat later pieces like Walthamstow and Little Wittenham, suggesting a currency marching in step with the Continental sequence. The scabbard from Sutton Reach shows a variation on the theme (Figure 5.7, 1). Its purpose remains obscure. De Navarro (1966) believed that it was to enhance 'optical contrast', which is doubtless true, though in doing so it necessarily precludes other forms of ornament, unless adopted selectively as at Sutton Reach.

Chagrinage (Figure 5.8) is broadly associated with middle La Tene scabbards in Switzerland. The term was first used by Ferdinand Keller (1858) to describe the technique of punched ornament, generally down the full length of the scabbard, and hence conventionally assumed to be in imitation of leather. The ornament itself can be stamped individually, or with compound or multiple punches, which presumably simplified a repetitive task for the artificer. Mid-ribs do not occur when chagrinage is applied. The use of chagrinage serves as a reminder that the bronze and iron sheaths that are the medium for so much scabbard ornament doubtless represented only a very small proportion of the total number of scabbards, which would have been made principally of less durable materials, though even these would have required some metal components for binding and suspension. Whether leather scabbards also bore ornament can only be surmised.

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