7 Types of Rapiers & Hilts Throughout History [Updated]

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List of Types of Rapiers & Rapier Hilts in History [Updated]

The history of swords and sword making is a huge topic. Every culture in the world history used unique weapons for defense and power, and many utilized a version of the sword. 

European history in particular cannot be told without an understanding of the sword. Its importance to armies and individuals is seen in every century from the early middle ages to the industrial revolution. 

One type of sword in particular stands out for its use as an everyday sidearm and its beauty. 

The rapier became popular in Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries. It was the first true sidearm made available to civilians. This quintessential Renaissance weapon featured a long double-edged and pointed blade. 

Swordsmiths crafted the rapier with cut and thrust maneuvers in mind. Toledo, Spain and Solingen, Germany were two centers of sword making during the Renaissance. Some rapiers were crafted by both a swordsmith and a specialized hilt maker. 

While the blades of rapiers all appeared quite similar, several highly decorative styles of hilt were introduced during the height of the sword’s popularity. Hilt styles changed as sword fighting techniques evolved. 

The following are some of the most popular and unique styles of rapier hilts produced and used in the 16th and 17th centuries.  

1) Early Rapier

early rapier
Rapiers became popular in Europe in the 16th century and are the most recognizable weapon of the Renaissance. Metropolitan Museum of Art

Early versions of the Renaissance rapier existed as far back as the 1400s. However, the characteristics that define a rapier of the 16th and 17th centuries can be seen in swords dating to as early as around 1570. 

The sword shown above dates to between 1570 and 1580. It shares the same features as other swords listed here: an intricate hilt design, a large pommel, and a long, sharp blade. 

Early rapiers like this one had a relatively simple cross-hilt design similar to their medieval predecessors. An open hand guard would have provided some protection from both cutting and thrusting maneuvers. 

This rapier is made from steel, gold, and silver. Its entire length is 123 cm. The length of the blade is 108 cm. The sword weighs 2 lb, 13 oz.  

2) Swept-Hilt Rapier

swept hilt rapier
The swept-hilt rapier was one of the most popular styles of the early 1600s. Metropolitan Museum of Art

The swept-hilt rapier is one of the most common types of rapier used in the early 16oos. The swept-hilt design was both beautiful and functional, as it provided better protection than earlier versions. 

The swept-hilt swords pictured here both date to 1610-20. Both measure approximately 120 cm in total length, with blade lengths of 105 and 104 cm respectively.

The above sword was made by two craftsmen. A hilt maker by the name of Bouqueton created its swept design. The blade of the sword is German and is attributed to Johannes Wundes. 

swept hilt rapier
Another example of a swept-hilt style. Metropolitan Museum of Art

This sword is also German and was crafted by Meves Berns. He lived and worked in the bladesmithing hub of Solingen, Germany. 

Many Renaissance rapiers and other sword types originate from this region. 

Wundes and Berns crafted these examples of swept-hilt rapiers using steel and silver. 

3) Swept-Hilt/Ringed Rapier

swept hilt ringed rapier
This unique rapier combines the style of a swept-hilt and ringed-hilt weapon. Metropolitan Museum of Art

A unique hybrid of two hilt types, the above sword features a hilt with both swept and ringed qualities. 

Made of steel, gold, iron, and wood, this rapier may have been transitional in its design. The sword clearly has a similar swept construction as the swords listed above, but it also has three rings serving as a hand guard. 

Ringed hand guards were crafted during the 16th and 17th centuries, but many possessed up to seven rings. Three rings and a swept design make this rapier example extra special. 

The sword is estimated to have been made between 1620-30 by sword maker Andreas Munsten. The sword has similar measurements to a typical rapier: 120 cm total length. 

Because of the thinner metal details used, this sword is one of the lightest on the list, weighing in at 2 lbs, 6 oz. 

4) Basket-Hilt Rapier

basket hilted rapier
The unique basket hilted rapier protected the hand from all sides was highly decorated. Metropolitan Museum of Art, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Truly a unique looking sword, the basket-hilted rapier provided more hand protection than ever before. Dating to around 1600-1625, this sword served as an alternative to the more common swept-hilt design. 

Those who used their sword for fencing or combat would have preferred the increased hand protection of a basket-hilt. This sword is slightly shorter than other rapiers listed. 

It measures 100 total centimeters. The blade measures approximately 84 cm. Because of the intricate basket design of the hilt, this rapier is also much heavier than other types. Its users would have traded maneuverability for protection, as this sword weighs 3 lb, 13 oz. 

5) Pappenheimer

pappenheimer sword hilt
Although incomplete, this Pappenheimer hilt still has its signature guard plate. Museum of London, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The Pappenheimer was a popular rapier design in Germany during the 17th century. It was a primary weapon in the 30 Years’ War and the top generals favored it. 

Unlike the intricate rapiers of the day, the makers of the Pappenheimer prioritized practicality. Both maneuverable and protective, the Pappenheimer featured a delicate hilt with a lattice guard plate. 

The guard plate was designed using lattice patterns and other motifs. The example above is damaged, and obviously missing its blade. Still, it allows us to see the guard plate and construction of the Pappenheimer’s hilt. 

6) Dish-Hilt Rapier

dish hilt rapier
This is one of the more ornate takes on a dish-hilt. Metropolitan Museum of Art

By the mid 1600s sword fighting styles had evolved to favor thrusting maneuvers over cutting. This led to a demand for a more protective and solid hilt that would cover the hand from the front, rather than the sides. 

The first rendition of a highly protective rapier hilt was the dish-hilt. The dish shape prevented a thrusted sword from stabbing the hand. It was also a surface that could be decorated with extremely intricate embossing. 

The ornate dish-hilt pictured here also features a very large pommel. This worked to balance the heavy dish at the end of the hilt and would have made the entire rapier more comfortable to maneuver.  

This specific rapier was crafted in Brescia, Italy and is a longer rapier measuring 145 total centimeters. 

7) Cup-Hilt Rapier

cup-hilt rapier spanish
The distinct cup shaped hand guard protected against forward thrusting maneuvers. Rama, CC BY-SA 2.0 FR, via Wikimedia Commons

Perhaps the most recognizable rapier style is the cup-hilted rapier. This sword was popular in the 1600s in Spain and other countries. 

Unlike the ornate sword hilts of Germany and other northern countries, Spanish cup-hilt rapiers were crafted for practical use above all else. 

As rapiers continued to become longer and thinner, thrusting techniques dominated sword fighting. The front protection offered by a cup-hilt made this style of sword extremely popular among everyday civilians and soldiers.

This sword was used in a variety of settings, from fencing to expeditions in the New World. 

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