Join Date: Dec 2004
Location: Route 66
With his thread being the new repository of data on blade markings, I wanted to start off with probably one of the most familiar and often noted examples, the so called running wolf of Passau.
While the purpose of this thread is primarily to gather and discuss not only well known marks and inscriptions, it serves also, and even more so, in identifying sundry and often obscurely known types.
RUNNING WOLF OF PASSAU
These typically highly stylized chiseled renderings of what are held to be images of a running wolf began in Passau in the 14th century when the use of such a mark was awarded officially to knife makers. Soon it of course expanded to blade makers.
As the blade making industry in Solingen flourished later, it seems that in some cases they produced some blades by contract for Passau shops, and with these they added the now well established wolf mark. As this became more positively associated with quality, it was steadily purloined by other makers outside those circumstances.
These familiar images have often been perceived in earlier years as makers marks or guild marks, but clearly their placement typically was outside those parameters as they became so often used outside such definitions.
Also confounding is the fact that these are individually chiseled in far less than artistic or even distinguishable character, and almost random as none seem to even be the same. This has typically defied the notion that they were applied in the same shop, or by the same maker or worker.
One of the most commonly seen groupings of these running wolf marks is the chart which appeared in "Cut and Thrust Weapons" (Wagner, 1967).
The chart suggests that there is some chronological development of these in their style, however it is my view that these simply reflect the period of blade examples they were drawn from.
These randomly styled images depended on the skill or manner of the person applying them, and are so erratically dissimilar in so many cases, many are completely indistinguishable, often as if placement was simply a token gesture.
The use of these running wolf marks seems to have ceased in Passau and later in Solingen, by the 18th century. However with the diaspora of German makers in the 17th century during the 30 Years War, the use of the running wolf prevailed in yet another location, in England, with the advent of the famed Hounslow sword factory. Here however, it is believed that the blades were largely produced in Germany and often so marked with the more distinguishable version of the wolf. These were typically inlaid in latten (brass), but it seems that some were added with the Hounslow makers name.
With the demise of the Hounslow factory just after mid 17th century, some years later another blade making enterprise was begun, with the mysterious 'Hollow Sword Blade Co. (referring to the hollows ground into the faces of the blade). This situated in northern England in Durham in a place called Shotley Bridge. Here the makers were descendants of the German smiths of Solingen via Hounslow, and they began adding their own version of the running wolf, with a bit of British spin....becoming the 'running fox' (more discernible and with plumed tail).
The use of this fox may have been brought about years later in Birmingham England primarily by Samuel Harvey, who used his initials SH on the fox. Other examples of the fox without initials may have been used by John Dawes also of Birmingham.
The idea presumably was to draw on the reputation of Shotley Bridge as well as Hounslow and Solingen with this famed mark of imbued quality, as Birmingham blades earlier were regarded poorly for their defects.
The use of these foxes seem to have subsided by around 1770-80 period.
Aside from their many occurrences used in many cross cultural and ethnographic contexts on blades either traded or otherwise acquired in colonial and foreign regions, the 'running wolf' did appear in regularly used application in the Caucasus in about the latter 18th century (perhaps earlier). The German blades coming into these areas through Black Sea trade entrepots were highly regarded, and soon Chechen bladesmiths began to duplicate these images of the wolf imbuing their quality and power.
These blades found characteristically on the famed shashkas often bore the wolf, which they termed 'ters maymal' (which has not been adequately translated as fa as I know).
This is my overview of these running wolf (and fox) markings, and I hope for corrections or additions as I am writing from memory. I hope those reading might add examples and more comments.
My questions have always been:
Have any examples which might have been placed by the same hand or shop ever been found? I think some 'wolf' marks have some basic similarities, enough to suggest they were at least observing certain characteristic lines. The orientation always seems the same (Solingen examples always seem upside down as opposed to other marks or inscriptions on blade).
Were these, after their original purported use as 'guild' marks, later perceived as talismanic applications? Passau was noted for such things, as described by Wagner (1967) often termed "Passau Art".
1.) The 'chart' from Wagner (1967)
2.) The Samuel Harvey fox c. 1750 ('Birmingham fox')
3.) Presumed Shotley Bridge 'fox', note the upside down orientation as seen in German placed running wolf mark. It remains unclear whether or not both types were used at Shotley as examples marked SHOTLEY and BRIDG obverse side and German wolf are known. As seen in fig. (4)