Join Date: Nov 2004
Location: Upstate New York, USA
Perhaps I am intoxicated with wishful thinking, but...
To recap, my first impression when I saw the axe in the Royal Ontario Museum was pretty much "What?!? ... Really???" because I too had not even thought of an Ottoman origin, let alone any dating before the 19th century, this latter restriction having been based more upon condition than anything else.
Then very quickly I recalled an early Ottoman matchlock rifle barrel (collected for a bold Damascus pattern) and I realized that there was very similar wire inlay of about the same width and color decorating the muzzle (this is not specific, I have seen Moro pieces with similar inlay too).
Then, I had what many here may regard as a crazy thought, which I have not yet succeeded in confirming or discrediting. I have been reeling this out slowly hoping someone else would replicate this thinking, but if this happened I have not heard about it.
Question: Where else had I encountered something in a 19th century militaria-like condition that was actually centuries earlier?
Answer: European medieval swords that had been in the Alexandria arsenal and later moved to the Ottoman armory at St. Irene in Istanbul, many of which were cleaned up and given new local-style rough wooden handle scales in order to be mounted on large panoplies in fashion at that time (the late 19th century), of which some ultimately showed up in the antiques market when the Republic of Turkey needed to raise some hard currency in the 1920s.
Question: Explain why two very similarly decorated axes have very plain handles that show some decent age, but not nearly enough to match the museum's dating.
Suspicion: The handles are exactly what they seem - not original - and were installed in the late 19th century in order to display the axes. Indeed the grain of the wood on a St. Irene medieval sword grip scale shows quite a similarity with the grain of the axe handle. A number of pictures of these displays at St. Irene have survived and I have gone through several that have been published, and I did not recognize any battleaxes of this style. Where axes were hung, they did have hafts. Also, many swords known to have been in the displays are not in the available pictures.
Speculation: The ROM had the foresight to acquire four of the European medieval swords coming out of St. Irene from a London dealer in 1930 and the chest armour displayed with the axe bears what I believe is the St. Irene arsenal mark. So we know that the ROM was acquiring things originating from St. Irene at the time. The accession number of the ROM's axe suggests acquisition in 1924. A dealer named Robinson in London was selling these not only to museums but to private collectors. For the little that this detail is worth, I bought my axe in London.
Ongoing Investigation: Manolo has kindly consented to note the accession numbers of the chest piece, helmet, etc. when he next visits the museum and I still hope to receive a reply from my inquiry to the museum concerning the provenance of their axe.