A Brief History of Klingenthal Blade Manufacturing
By Jean Bink
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. These swords bear the stamp Versaille or Boutet 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 and forges.
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.
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 responsability to maintain quality control and control of speed of production etc. to fullfil the goverment contracts. He reported imediately 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 (example). The ricasso bore the stamps of the Director, the Controller and the Reviser. On trooper swords these marks stood also on the guard.
Manufacture d' Alsace
Manufacture Royale d' Alsace
Mture Rle d' Alsace
ca. 1768 - 1800
During the reign of Louis XVI and the French revolution, the name Klingenthal appeared.
Manufre de Klingenthal
The word nationale and the name of the entrepreneur Coulaux is often mentioned.
Mfture de Klingenthal
Mfture Nale de Klingenthal Coulaux frères Entrep rs
ca . 1806 French Empire of Napoleon I
The word impériale is mentioned (Impale)
Mfure Impale du Klingenthal Coulaux frères
Mfure Impale 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.
Mfture Impale du Klingenthal Fev 1811
1814, during during Napoleon's exile to Elba:
Klingenthal Novembre 1814
Manfre Rle du Klingenthal January 1815
Rle = Royale (of the King Louis XVIII)
1815, the return of Napoleon:
Manufre Impale du Klingenthal Juin 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
Mfture Rale de Klingenthal Mars 1818
In the new contract of 1823, the government stated 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.
After the little revolution of 1830 in Paris, King Louis-Philippe ordered the suppression of the word Royale. Apparently, Coulaux took this opportunity to introduce his name again.
Manufre de Klingenthal Coulaux frères
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 subject to the quality control of the Artillery inspectors, some of these commercial blades were of poor quality. In the 1850s the Manufacture de Klingenthal received a French government contract for bayonets.
Manufre de Klingenthal Coulaux & Cie
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.
Armes Blanches Militaires Française, by C. Aries
Armes Blanches, by Buigne/Lhoste
Magazine "Gazette des Armes"
Swords in Author's private collection