The Edged Weapons Factory at Toledo
by Juan José Pérez
From the 15th to 17th centuries, the Castillian city of Toledo in central Spain, flourished with an exceptional blade making industry, surpassing other Spanish cities like Valencia, some villages in Basque Country, or even the capital, Madrid. Toledo was considered as the standard of excellence for European blade production, and there were only a few places, like Solingen or Passau in Germany, that surpassed Toledo in terms of production volume. Blade production in Toledo was the responsibility of individual smiths, associated in a guild. It was a rather disperse and personal activity, although the guild was in charge of keeping production quality at a high level.
In late 17th and the beginning of 18th century, a slow decrease of blade production took place in Toledo. It was influenced in part by the reduction of orders coming from individual customers as the sword lost importance as part of a gentleman dressing. Also, with the arrival of the French Bourbon kings, the smallsword fashion came to Spain. The imports of these light French blades damaged the production of Spanish traditional heavier rapiers.
The decreasing number of Toledo bladesmiths was a real problem for the Spanish Army. Swords and sabres were still essential for Cavalry troops, as well as the bayonet for the Infantry. The decreasing number of bladesmiths threatened the supply of quality blades for troops.
Considering all of the above, in 1761 King Charles III of Spain dedicated the foundation of a Royal Sword Factory in Toledo (Real Fábrica de Espadas de Toledo), where all the bladesmiths of the city were ordered to congregate. The first location for the Fábrica was the old Mint of Toledo, in the center of the city. Luis Calisto, a famous old master from Valencia, was called to create the workshops and organize production process. Some bladesmiths came with him to reinforce the staff.
Soon the necessity of improving production conditions was noticed, and in 1777 the construction of a new building close to Tajo River was started under the direction of Sabatini, a famous Italian architect of that time. This building would remain as the main location of the Fábrica until its end in 20th century.
In late 17th century, the control of the factory was assigned to the Artillery Corps of the Spanish army. The most famous Director of the Fábrica in that period was Lorenzo de la Plana, who improved both quality and quantity of blades produced in Toledo factory.
At the beginning of 19th century the Fabrica primarily assembled brass-hilted swords and sabres.
Until 1839 the hilts (and scabbards) for all models except infantry were bought from individual producers in northern Spain. One of those individuals was Ybarzábal, a famous arms and armour producer from Basque Country, marking hilts and scabbards with his name. Pieces dating from that period are of special interest to collectors. After 1839, all sword parts were produced at Toledo.
From 1808 to 1812, due to Napoleonic Wars, the factory was moved to Seville, and then Cadiz, in southern Spain. However, some production continued in Toledo under French administration. In the period between 1824-1868, the Fábrica enjoyed a stable situation, and the production of blades, always following traditional forging methods, reached levels in the range of 10,000-12,000 units per year. At the same location more than 5.000 swords were mounted per year. At that time the factory had workshops dedicated to forging, finishing, chiselling and etching blades.
In 1868 new machine tools were installed, taking advantage of Tajo River waters. With the addition of new machines, production reached a maximum peak of 40,000 blades per year. In next decade cast-steel blades first appeared, being produced alongside traditionally forged blades until late 19th century, when production converted entirely to machine-made blades. At this time, the Fabrica also installed machinery for production of light firearms cartridges.
At the beginning of 20th century, only cavalry trooper swords and officer models for all corps were produced. After Spanish Civil War, production was reduced to officer swords only. Because of the reduced demand for quality swords, the Fábrica closed in late 1970s. The two hundred-year history of blade forging excellence had reached an end.
About factory markings, we should mention that, unlike other Spanish factories devoted to firearm production, Toledo's blades did not bear inspection markings. Inspectors simply destroyed those blades that did not pass the though inspection process applied to them. Blades were stamped with factory marks later, so any blade from the Fábrica showing Toledo's marking had been tested.
Nearly all blades produced at Toledo factory were marked with year of production (until the 20th century) and a reference to the Fábrica (the abbreviation To, or the legend Fábrica de Toledo or Fábrica Nacional de Toledo). In late 17th and beginning of 18th c. the mark of current Spanish king usually appeared (for instance, C IV for Charles IV). Sometimes a reference to Artillery Corp, which was in charge of the factory, was added. Because of that, the appearance of Artillería or Arta does not necessarily mean that you are looking at an artillery sword! Blades were only stamped with regimental marks from 1761 to 1814. But be careful: for example, Heavy Cavalry swords were marked as CaLa, which means "Caballería de Línea", not Light Cavalry. In the same way, Dragoon swords were marked as D.
From the second part of 19th century to the Fábrica's closing, several stamps combining crossed cannons with Fábrica de Toledo legend were used along with serial numbers, and after WWI the last official mark, combining F, N & T letters under a royal crown, first appeared.
References (all in Spanish)
Barceló Rubí, Bernabé. "Armamento Portátil Español 1.764-1.939". Ed. San Martín, 1976.
González, Hilario. "La Fábrica de Armas Blancas de Toledo". Librerías París-Valencia, 1996 (1889 edition reproduction).
Ocete Rubio, Rafael. "Armas Blancas en España". Grupo Ed. Tucán, 1988.