Antique Armour (or armor) is an area of militaria collectibles encompassing the various forms of protective combat attire worn prior to the 20th century.
Armour is described by the Oxford English Dictionary as ‘defensive covering worn by one who is fighting’.
The generally accepted definition of antique is based on the US 1930 Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act, which states that antiques are items produced prior to 100 years previously.
Therefore antique armour is defensive covering for combat produced over 100 years ago.
Antique armour is a popular area of collectibles.
Collectors of antique armour often focus their collection on a particular time period or event, such as a war or battle in which armour was worn, or a particular item of armour such as a helmet.
Previous ownership has a huge bearing on the value and desirability of antique armour. Armour previously owned by a famous figure is very sought-after.
Some of the most popular items include medieval suits of armour and helmets.
Reproduction or replica armour is very common, for purposes such as historical re-enactments or film making. Anyone looking for the real deal with antique armour must be wary of replicas.
The use of armour has been recorded throughout history. From the earliest rudimentary leather protection to chainmail and plate armour, the development of protective attire has had to move with the development of the weaponry employed against it, and the economic and technological necessities of armour production.
The oldest known armour is the Mycenearn-era full body Dendra Panoply found in the Grecian village of Dendra, dating from around 1400 BC.
Chainmail, made of interlocking iron rings riveted or welded shut, is believed to have been invented by Celtic Eastern Europeans in 500 BC, who then brought their mail west with them, and it was adopted by the Romans.
In ancient East Asia, leather armour was made from rhinoceros hide, though laminated armour was also used.
In medieval Europe, well-known armour includes the mail hauberk and the later full steel plate harness worn by knights. The development of plate armour occurred during the Middle Ages, adding small additional discs of iron to mail. By the late 13th century, the knees and underarms were capped. Methods of augmenting the protection given by mail were experimented with, using hardened leather, and splinted construction. The coat of plates was developed: plates sewn inside a textile or leather coat.
By the 15th century, plate armour became cheaper than mail as it required less labour. Lance rests could also be fitted to the breast plate. Mail continued to be used to protect joints that could not be protected by plate. The helmet evolved from the small skull cap, which became first a bascinet lengthened down the sides of the head.
Plate armour therefore became associated with the knights of the European Late Middle Ages, and was used right up until the early 17th century Age of Enlightenment throughout Europe.
Small hand cannon first began to be used in the early 15th century, and crossbows were developed to be powerful enough to pierce armour. The Swiss pike square formation created problems for cavalry. The threat of small firearms intensified the development and refinement of armour – more and better metallurgically advanced steel armour was being used.
However, as armies became bigger, thickness of armour was prioritised over quality. In the early years of firearms, armour breast plates could stop bullets. This was a common test for the armour, the impact points encircled with engraving to point this out. Armour would often at this time bear a maker’s mark. The use of firearms therefore stimulated the development of armour.
However, as gunpowder weapons improved, it became more efficient to have groups of unarmed men with guns than expensive knights in armour.
Armour did remain in use by some small factors as late as World War I, when thousands of the French Cuirassiers rode out to engage German cavalry, both in helmets and armour.
World’s most expensive antique armour
A Moro suit of armour from Mindanao, Philippines, 19th century, consisting of plate and mail, sold for £51,650 ($84,086) at Christie’s in April 2011.
Types of antique armour
Main article: List of types of antique armour