"Arms And The Man"
Joe Kindig, Who Collects Armor, Says the Knights Who Wore It Were Not Romantic But Stupid
Piled up in a vast old house less than 50 miles from Baltimore are enough swords, pistols, crossbows, lances, pikes, halberds, arquebuses, battle axes, bludgeons, muskets and helmets to equip half a county for armed, if obsolete, insurrection.
There are barrels full of claymores and cutlasses, dirks and daggers, falchions, sabers, rapiers, broadswords and poniards.
Eight complete suits of gleaming armor stand in one room. On the floor are ranked dozens of breastplates and backplates, helmets with visors and helmets without visors: great jousting helmets, and steel gauntlets.
Leaning against a wall are several gigantic two-handed swords, capable of slicing through steel armor and crushing a helmet like an eggshell.
This imposing and deadly array is the property of Joe Kindig, Jr., of York, Pa., and constitutes one of the finest private collections of arms and armor in the United States.
Mr. Kindig, however, contemplates no insurrection. His collection, he is fond of saying, simply indicates that man hasn't managed to change one little bit over the centuries, but he has, nevertheless, managed to survive.
Mr. Kindig, who is an antiquarian of national reputation, feels that his collection of armor and weapons points up the absurdity of war. Given a few moments, he can produce a shirt of fine chain mail, and with it the oddly shaped dagger which was developed to pierce it. Hoisting a thick, once-impregnable helmet with one hand, he will point out a musket of the type which made armor of any sort extinct.
At this point, Mr. Kindig, who is the possessor of the most astounding beard in York or its surrounding townships, is likely to pause and stroke that.
When he is not thus engaged, Mr. Kindig operates an extensive antique business. Between deals, he studies history.
Of all his possessions, he has found armor the most difficult to deal with. No two nations, or even provinces of the same nation, seem to have called any single piece of armor by the same name. Even the design of armor varied from town to town.
Despite these difficulties, Mr. Kindig can still tell a chamfron from a gorget, or a pauldron from a greave.
When people ask him if his isn't the largest or most expensive collection of antique weapons in the United States, Mr. Kindig tells them it is not. His collection, he says, just happens to consist of things he likes.
“Collecting things over the years has led me to quite a beautiful philosophy,” Mr. Kindig admits. “When you collect you cannot help but learn something of man's thoughts. At first you may collect only for numbers, or for value. But eventually you collect things which are works of art.
“A real work of art seems to me to be the artist's insight into eternity, and just possibly you get such a glimpse when you see his work.”
Mr. Kindig rubs his fingers over a piece of horse armor, brilliantly chased and embossed with figures of the hunt. “This piece,” he says, “is a work of art. It is only one segment of what must have been a magnificent piece. Complete, it would be a museum piece. Even incomplete, it's lovely.”
Armor collecting is at best a tricky business, he has often warned would-be collectors. It reached it's peak in this country back around 1927, when wealthy Americans bought tons of the stuff.
“Nobody knows how much fake armor came into this country during these years between 1890 and 1927,” Mr. Kindig says. To show the difference between fake armor and he real thing, he keeps a steel gauntlet, complete to the hinged and jointed fingers, lying on his desk.
Fake armor of the first quality, he says, will generally be fashioned from old armor, to begin with. Armor increases in value as it ages, and a man who has a gauntlet of the period around 1650 can make a good profit by changing it's design to the period around 1420.
“But,” says Mr. Kindig, “armor, for some reason, rusts in a pattern of its own. In swirls. Do you see this ridge here? Typical of Gothic armor. Observe the rust pits. Note that they disappear at the crest of the ridge. Obviously hammered out; or, in other words, the ridge has been hammered in after the gauntlet has undergone centuries of rusting and pitting.
“See these spiked knuckles? Observe the slight difference in the shades of the metal. The spikes have been welded on. The gauntlet is a fake.”
The difference in price between a gauntlet of the Gothic period and a gauntlet of two centuries later can be measured in thousands of dollars. Mr. Kindig knows of many occasions when a Gothic helmet in good condition has brought as much as $10,000. A complete suit of Gothic armor, of which only a few are known, might cost several hundred thousand dollars.
“But,” Mr. Kindig declares, “people go right on thinking there is some sort of keynote-some sure way you can tell the real thing. It is an utter fallacy, that idea. If there were a keynote, fakes would be impossible.”
Despite all the obstacles and deceptions, the present time is a wonderful time for anybody with the cash to go in for armor collecting, Mr. Kindig says. The market is at just about an all-time low.
“So, as a hedge against the future, armor is a good buy today when you consider that a piece which brought, say $20,000, in 1927, can be had today for at least 75 per cent less.
“Sooner or later, somebody will start the vogue again.”
At the moment, in the weapon field, firearms are the rage, and it is with some regret that Mr. Kindig recalls the scores of Civil War Colt's revolvers he has sold for less then $5. Today one in good condition will bring $75.
Pottering about his third-floor armory, Kindig looks like an Arthurian War Minister checking equipment. His comments, however, are hardly in the tradition of Camelot and his opinion of those noblemen-at-arms is not especially high.
Some of the armor in his collection is so heavy that if a man wearing it happened to fall he would be unable to rise, and would be easy prey. This, Mr. Kindig says, was silly.
The knights in shining armor weren't as romantic as they were stupid, in his opinion. They wore so much protection that it finally killed them.
At least one of the complete suits of late-period armor indicates that the makers gave good measure for their price. A round dent just where the breastplate covers the heart is the armorer's warranty that the suit has been bullet proofed.
It was armor of that period, after the development of gunpowder, which eventually led to the disappearance of the plumed knight. Heavy enough to withstand a solid shot, it was simply too heavy to wear.
Surprisingly enough, one element of medieval armor, in addition to the steel helmet, survived to modern times. This was the gorget, originally designed to fit between the helmet and the breastplate as protection for the throat. It gradually degenerated into a crescent-shaped piece of metal worn on a cord around the neck as an insigne of rank.
There is an early portrait of George Washington wearing this abbreviated gorget.
Mr. Kindig disposed of a sizable batch of Eighteenth Century gorgets some years ago to what he considered at the time an extremely unlikely buyer. Sure enough, the gorget turned up some months later decorating the sides of a line of ultra expensive ladies' handbags.
The old house on West Market street even contains several batteries of early cannon-smallscale models of antique guns and caissons which were made by various cannon founders to show customers what they would get.
There are other fascinating objects, too, like medieval sword on the blade of which is etched a calendar of Saints' Days, for the use of knights who wished to keep abreast of their religious duties in the field.
There are rapiers equipped with small pistols fastened along the blade just under the hilt, for use of swordsmen who were not too confident of their swordsmanship. And there is a fearsome German weapon which combines a battle ax with a pistol, for the use of anybody who wanted to win a point anywhere.
Mr. Kindig's passion for weapons began with the not unusual parental refusal to let him own a .22-caliber rifle as a boy. He did get permission to buy an ancient long rifle which was too rusted to do any damage. Then, once started, he never stopped.
Mr. Kindig feels that he has now reached the most pleasant stage in a collector's life, surrounded by works of art, contented with a philosophy which holds that everybody is more or less right and that nobody is entirely wrong.
J O EK I N D I GR I F L E S
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