- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 23, 2001

MINNEAPOLIS Ewart Oakeshott has spent a lifetime assembling one of Europe's finest collections of swords, which includes a bronze weapon circa 1800 B.C. and British military swords from the mid-1800s.
He amassed a few "very choice" medieval swords, another group from the late-16th to late-17th centuries, and a bigger group from the 17th to early-19th centuries.
"They are a very spectacular lot," decorated in silver, gold and cut steel, said Mr. Oakeshott, a British author of books on medieval arms and armor. "Every one of them is good. Not just good, but beautiful to look at. Wonderful to handle."
And so, Mr. Oakeshott wasn't at all happy to contemplate the breakup of his treasured collection.
Finding a British museum with enough space to keep the full collection on permanent display was a problem. So was satisfying Mr. Oakeshott's desire that his weapons not just be seen, but held, hefted, swung.
Mr. Oakeshott, his health failing at age 85, turned to an old friend in America, Christopher Poor, who shares his passion for antique weaponry.
Mr. Poor, president of Arms & Armor Inc. of Minneapolis, a leading maker of replica swords, armor and other weapons, said the collection includes about 70 to 75 pieces covering a span of nearly 4,000 years. They range from simpler, older weapons of the sort knights might have carried into battle to spectacularly ornate swords decorated with gold and engraving.
Mr. Poor is planning a museum with Mr. Oakeshott's collection at its core, to be named the Oakeshott Institute (www.oakeshott.org). He is negotiating for an 1880s building listed on the National Register of Historic Places on the southern edge of downtown Minneapolis, and he is lining up financial backing.
"It's a very small collection, but it's very, very good," Mr. Oakeshott said from his home in Ely, England.
Mr. Poor already has a few pieces, including a gold-hilted court sword from the early 1700s. The pitted blade comes with a story: The owner used it to kill a man in a duel, put the sword away without cleaning it, and the blood marked the steel over time.
"True or not, I can't attest to, but it's a good story," Mr. Poor said. "Even though it's sort of light and ornate, it's still a lethal weapon."
Putting a monetary value on such a collection is difficult without putting it up for auction. Mr. Oakeshott estimated his treasures are worth nearly $450,000, but Mr. Poor said the collection could be worth much, much more.
It is with some sadness that Mr. Oakeshott decided against trying to keep his collection in Britain.
One problem, he said, is that "even antique arms and armor are very, very politically incorrect" in Britain these days, so interest was lukewarm. Also, there is no museum in Britain that could permanently display the collection in its entirety, he said.
"The really good stuff would go on display somewhere and the lesser stuff would have gone into storage," said David Edge, curator and conservator of arms and armor at the Wallace Collection, a London museum that has one of Britain's most important collections.
Mr. Edge, who knows Mr. Oakeshott and his collection well, was interested but just doesn't have the space. The Tower of London now has only a fraction of the arms and armor it once did, he said. Even major museums such as the Royal Armories in Leeds and the British Museum in London couldn't display the entire collection, either.
"The vast majority would remain under wraps most of the time," Mr. Edge said.
That won't happen here, Mr. Poor said. Besides keeping the collection together and fully on display, Mr. Poor plans to supplement it with other weapons and armor. He said other collectors are already interested in contributing pieces. The museum will also include Mr. Oakeshott's books, papers, photographs and drawings.
Mr. Oakeshott said it is particularly important to him that visitors have the chance to handle his swords. While few European museums would allow that, and keep their swords locked in glass cases, the Minnesota museum will be committed to a hands-on experience.
"If you're going to understand these things and appreciate them, it's no good just looking at them as they hang up in a glass case in a museum," he said. "You've got to hold them in your hand to see what they feel like."

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