Between 2001 and 2014 a collection of weapons and exhibits associated with hunting and shooting held by the Bielsko-Biała Museum of History already formed part of the permanent exhibition. It was then sited on the Castle’s first floor. Due to this location being used for alternative purposes, the exhibition of military items was transferred to one of the rooms on the ground floor known as the ‘Embrasure’ Room. The name references the remains of a large keyhole-shaped shooting slit discovered, along with fragments of the walls, on the south-east side of the fortified tower.
Despite the considerably limited space, the new exhibition continues to feature an impressive array of European cutting weapons, i.e. all manner of sabres, half-sabres, backswords and shashkas (Austrian, French, Polish, Prussian and Russian). Of particular interest are the blade of a Polish sabre, the basket-hilted rapier, Dragoon and Cossack shashkas, Polish officers’ sabres, sabres belonging to the civil servants and professors of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and the Prussian field artillery sabre. Many items were made by well-known European sword manufacturers: V. Hussor in Warsaw, J.E. Beeckmann in Austria, A. Brast in Aurau (Switzerland); the factories of G. Borowski in Warsaw, Jung & Zeitler in Vienna, Zlatoust in Russia, Châtellerault in France, the multi-branch company of Weyersberg Kirschbaum & Co. in Solingen (Germany) and others.
Another group of cutting weapons are the dusacks, an indispensable component of combat equipment used by military engineers, sappers and artillery. In addition to those used by the Austrian artillery troops and pionierzy (sappers), the collection also contains the dusacks of French grenadiers (used by the infantry of the Duchy of Warsaw and the Kingdom of Poland) and the Russian ‘pulemyotchiks’ (machine gunners).
Piercing weapons are displayed separately. These are all kinds of bayonets mounted on rifles, mainly of the Mauser Gras, Gras-Kropatschek and Mannlicher type, produced between 1869 and 1943 by European weapons factories in Austria, Czechoslovakia, France, Germany and Poland.
The collection of firearms features mainly handguns, i.e. pistols with one or two gun-barrels and simple, flintlock or piston lock mechanisms. The only example of a shotgun is a French infantry rifle with its lock converted into a caplock mechanism. The pistols on display include holster pistols, cavalry pistols dating from the 1770s, an Austrian cavalry pistol with a caplock mechanism, a French cavalry pistol produced in the Royal Weapons Factory in Mutzig near Strasburg. Duelling pistols are to be found here - regrettably, single pieces rather than sets - made by F. Morgenroth in Gernrode or J. Haberda in Litomieřice, and others. An interesting additional feature in this collection are the brass primer punches.
Another noteworthy group of exhibits includes several examples of the 16th to 17th century iron-made spearheads of pole weapons. These are simple spears, halberds and partizans (spear-like weapons). Some of them are stamped. A backplate, a complete cuirass and a Persian silver inlay shield dating from the first half of the 18th century represent examples of protective equipment.
Far and Middle Eastern weapons reflect the Oriental love of ostentation and ornateness. The coverings and decorations were made of the highest quality materials. The display cases with Oriental weaponry contain a Persian khula-khud helmet, a tabar axe, Janissary rifles, yathagans, a Japanese dagger, Bosnian knives, a Nepalese kukri knife, a Lezgian khanjali (kama), and a Javanese kris.
The hunting section showcases a cutlass with a handle shaped in the form of a deer’s head, a decoy, a hunting horn, all manner of accoutrements associated with hunting, and a collection of antlers. These are from the legacy of Aleksander Edward Sułkowski, Duke of Bielsko.
The exhibition is completed by items associated with military history, battles, types of military formations, their weapons and uniforms, items containing motifs inspired by hunting and the more broadly defined culture of hunting. These include sculptures, prints, drawings, and paintings by Hans Müller, Piotr Michałowski, Jerzy and Wojciech Kossak, Alexander von Bensa, among others.
[compiled by TDB]