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Old 27th July 2008, 11:36 AM   #1
Lee
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Default A "gaucho" knife for your perusal

This is a follow-on to Chevalier's thread about "gaucho" knives. While I must concede that some of these really do look like 'overgrown ornate silverware,' there are others which I would contend escape this description and I submit this example for your consideration.

This is the very first "gaucho" knife I collected, very early in my collecting in the front end of the 1970s and it remains my favorite even though I now have several showing 'finer' workmanship and in better condition.

The quality blade is quite worn from repeated sharpening with a remaining 'GEN' inscription suggesting a German origin. The back of the blade is adorned with file work.

I interpret this as a fairly rustic creation from a platero in the countryside, rather than from a fine shop in the city. I will have to ask for help as to dating it, though I will argue for the 19th century. An Argentinian origin appears unambiguous.

The hilt is adorned with a large serpent (anaconda?) and the Argentinian crest. The scabbard includes two men in 19th century military dress and, I presume, Lady Liberty with an Argentinian flag. The stamped inscription "Napoleon III" is more mechanical and with sharper edges, so I interpret this as a later 'enhancement.' This scene also features an Argentinian flag.

I will now let the artist's own work speak for itself through the haze of my again failed photographic attempts...
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Old 27th July 2008, 02:17 PM   #2
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While I freely admit that South American history is not my strong point, a bit of Googling around yielded some interesting results. The figure labelled "Napolean III" is not a bad likeness. (I agree that the sans serif font of the stamp appears modern, but the letters appear to be well aligned, not individually stamped as is often the case with post hoc "embellishments"). The other male figure bears more than a passing resemblance to Orelie-Antoine de Tounens, a French adventurer who styled himself "King of Auraucania and Patagonia" during the same period when Napoleon III was supporting the Emperor Maximillian in Mexico.
The figures could be simply generic military men as you suggest, but there is at least some resemblance to actual historical figures relating to a common theme of French intervention in 19th Century New World politics.
Edited to add:Further research indicates that sans serif or grotesque type was in use at a much earlier date than I realized. Note its use in a French publication c. 1898. And the Phrygian cap worn on Liberty's head is associated with both the French Revolution and the Argentinian coat of arms (among others).

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Old 28th July 2008, 01:41 PM   #3
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Hi Lee,

I don't know if I can add all that much to Berkley's meticulous detective work, but here it goes, though it would be nice if we could have a full pic of the blade.

1. It looks like a `puñal'

2. the brand `...GEN' suggests SOLINGEN, There were a number of Creole blades ending in SOLINGEN, though I looked through Dagas de Plata but couldn't see a brand that resembled it. German blades were and are still highly valued in Sth America.

3. The style of the silver-work does look like dating back to the 1860s and does not look like a high end ornamental dress accessory, rather a knife that was used, but probably belonging to someone reasonably well paid.

4. The script of `NAPOLEON III'is a bit of a teaser. Napoleon III's excursion into Mexico overlapped with the US civil war, and unfolded during the years 1862-67. I don't know how the region reacted to it, Perhaps Gonzalo could add something as he is an expert on Mexican affairs.

5. Lee's suggetion of linking this piece with Orelie is a fascinating idea because he was around at about the same time and he was french.

6. The other great regional upheaval around that time was the war of the triple alliance against Paraguay by Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil in 1864-70 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/War_of_Triple_Alliance. There was not so indirect British intervention, but am not aware of any involvement by France.

7. If we can't clear this mystery, this is one instance where I would be tempted to drop a line to Abel Domenech.

Cheers
Chris
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Old 28th July 2008, 11:17 PM   #4
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I do not have much to add, also. Yes, it looks like a slender puñal criollo. In those times the most expensive part of a silver mount was the handworking of silver, or silversmithing, as silver itself was not much expensive and Argentina was a producer of this metal (the name of this country comes from the latin word "argentum", or silver, so it means "silvery"). Seeing the work on this knife, it doest looks expensive, although it´s historic value is important. So, it could be carried by a soldier or other person involved in military matters, related to the wars and other civil conflicts which Argentina, as many of the old colonies in the world, had in the 19th Century. Berkeley´s pointings are very valuable. The ornamentation is very "militant".

Argentina´s attitude toward napoleonic dynasty is interesting. Napoleón I was seen as the bearer of the ideas of liberty, of a new world free of the monarchy and it´s oppression over the colonies, and as the ally against the common enemy: Spain. Most of the civil codes of America´s countries are molded over the napoleonic civil code, and the same apply over the justice system as a whole, which is also the indirect legacy of the roman right. Also, it must be taken on account that the Geat Britain had many military interventions against argentineans with colonial purposes, interventions that argentineans frustrated with the use of war. And the napoleonic dynasty was a traditional enemy of the Great Britain.

It must be pointed, also, that a group of argentinean "corsairs" gave some steps to free Napoleón I from it´s confinement in british hands, but that proyect never went too far. British supremacy on the sea could not be ignored.

Though the Great Britain and France tried to breake an argentinean blockade over Paraguay, an intent frustrated by argentineans in the Battle of Obligado, it happened in 1945, before the coup of Luis Napoleon Bonaparte, latter Napoleon III, to size the power in France. Even as Napoleon III made a military alliance with the Great Britain since the Crimean War, I don´t think he never attempted any intervention,or collaborated in any intervention, agains Argentina. So, that is the situation of the napoleonic dynasty in front of argentinean eyes, as far I can see. I don´t think the French Intervention in México, ordered by Napoleon III, has any consecuence on this situation, as Argentina and México are almost as as far as Mexico from Europe, and had no political close relations or military alliances.

Maybe the reference to Napoleon III on the knife allows to locate it between 1850-1870, but there would be other opinions.
My best regards

Gonzalo
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Old 29th July 2008, 02:09 PM   #5
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Thank you all for your comments. I apologize for failing to include a full length image of the blade and correct that now.

For many years I never polished the silver mountings, but at one point I gave in to my late mother's desire to see the silver shine. As I recall, before that there was little blackening in the base of the stamped letters of the 'Napoleon III' inscription. I personally believe that the inscription is entirely spurious and added later and represents one person's somewhat indelible comment of who the picture represents. The difference of technique, the precision of the inscription, its greater sharpness and how it is forced into an existing space all signal to me that it has nothing to do with the platero who mounted this knife. Personally, I believe that these are 'folk art' representations of military leaders in Argentinean conflicts of the early and mid nineteenth century.
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Old 30th July 2008, 06:16 AM   #6
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Hi Lee,


I must admit that the `NAPOLEON III' looks a bit suspect, but one can never know for sure.

You have a nice antique Creole knife.

Something that has often puzzled me about a lot of these knifes, antique facons included, is that so many had very smooth handles, hardly able to afford a decent grip if covered in blood. One would have expected a knife that was to be used for butchering, or fighting to have a rough textured grip, as found on medieval and renaissance daggers.

Cheers
Chris

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Old 5th August 2008, 02:25 PM   #7
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There is a possibility, but I think the figure represents what the owner of the knife wanted. I don´t think the election of the figure would be decided by the silversmith. This hilt is customized to the taste of someone, it do not comes from the usual stock.

Chris, I have seen many quaddaras, kindjals or qamas with the same somewhat squared hilts, or frankly squared, and more or less terse surfaces. It is not so uncommon. Sometimes the criollos have exagonal hilts, to perform a better grip.
My best regards
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Old 5th August 2008, 05:25 PM   #8
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I have received a most generous, detailed and illuminating consideration of the features of this knife from Abel Domenech by email, including permission to reproduce same in this thread and I will do so soon!
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Old 6th August 2008, 02:33 AM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Gonzalo G
Chris, I have seen many quaddaras, kindjals or qamas with the same somewhat squared hilts, or frankly squared, and more or less terse surfaces. It is not so uncommon. Sometimes the criollos have exagonal hilts, to perform a better grip.
My best regards


Hi Gonzalo,

Thanks for your thoughts.

I suppose that this is something that cannot be easily proven, but my suspicions are that many the silver mounted 19th century Creole knives were not used for much more than dress accessories or cutting up meat at an `asado' (barbeque), as evidenced by the relatively smooth grips.

Cheers
Chris
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Old 6th August 2008, 03:53 PM   #10
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Exclamation Comments received from Abel Domenech

Comments received from Abel Domenech:

I have been studying the pictures of your knife. I find it both very interesting and most intriguing, as happens with most of the specimens of cuchillos criollos when you begin to look at them with attention to their small details. I also tried to date it, something that is an always very, very difficult task with our knives if you don´t have any silversmith markings or hallmarks, a dated inscription engraved on handle or sheath, or any mark, brand or inscription on the blade.

This particular knife of yours has several other infrequently seen features, which bring us a lot of unanswered questions; to begin with, the name of the skilled silversmith who made it. As a matter of fact, in spite of the rather naive sculpting of the human figures, the overall work shows the hand of an expert artisan. Not having the benefit of the above mentioned identification marks, which could give us some close and certain idea about the real facts around your knife, all other statements regarding dates and true identities of the figures depicted, remain conjectures or theories, which I will try to express here.

To begin with, this piece is classified as a puñal or simply named cuchillo (“knife”) as this type is usually known here, and as explained in my article.

The blade:

The blade appears to have been well used and diminished by honing after honing, denoting that it was a working knife and not merely a costume accessory for the original and previous owner/owners. This reduction of blade width explains why is rather loose inside the sheath, to the point that in the first pictures shown in the initial post above, with the knife sheathed, the handle appears to be in the middle of the sheath throat, instead of at the normal “on one side” position. The rectangular, triangular shape of the blade (with a rather straight linear back) makes me think of a very old blade, perhaps of the beginning of second half of XIXth century.

I tried to identify the actual brand of this blade, without success. The visible letters “GEN”, suggest “SOLINGEN” (most probable) and I can barely see a hint of another inscription below, which I can´t identify. The file marks on the back of blade, can not identify the brand by itself, as patterns were rather similar or often copied. Anyway, please see mark # 96, page 287 of Dagas de Plata: Solingen - Marca Toro.

It is worth mentioning that German blades were highly regarded here both in the past and in our present times. The name Solingen was once commonly thought to be a trade mark from Germany, a confusing fact that both European makers and local importers took advantage of. As a matter of fact, both makers and importers used the word Solingen prominently displayed within the blade markings, sometimes, in bigger characters, even larger than the true brand. We all know that Solingen is a German City famous for its cutlery and sword industry and several of the cutlery firms base there exported thousands of items to our territories. It was (and still is) very common to hear someone bragging about owning a “Solingen blade”, the same as saying “I got a Cadillac!”, such being the pride of ownership of a knife or blade coming from Germany, and the established belief that “Solingen” is the trade mark!

Now, about the handle:

The overall silverwork looks very ancient, say, about 1860/1870´s, but this is a statement I make solely based on my feeling and experience, as I lack of supportive evidence, not having any silversmith hallmarks visible. (By the way: are you sure none are present where omitted from the photographs such as near the mouth of sheath or under the belt hook? Or in any part of handle?) One side of the handle depicts a shield. I´m enclosing a picture of our National Shield (Escudo Nacional - below top left). You can see several common features, like the crossing hands and the short pike which bears the Phrygean cap. The lack of the characteristic main feature of the rising sun, led me to believe that this shield on your knife handle, was a variation belonging to one of our Provinces (States). (Each of our Provinces have their own Provincial Seal or Shield, mostly -but not all of them- having similar features of the National Shield). Then I checked all Provincial Seals, and was very exited to notice that the Seal from the Province of Santiago del Estero, one of our northern states, more closely relates to that of the knife . As a matter of fact, is the only one of the seals lacking the sun, but displaying prominently the Phrygean cap, as you can see in the enclosed picture (below top right). This makes me speculate about a knife made in that Province, or most probably, made in Buenos Aires for some person born or active in that Northern State.

The figure of a serpent or snake on the opposite side of the handle is most intriguing, though not completely unusual, in a creole knife. But I couldn´t find its meaning and I can only remark that it seems to be swallowing another snake, whose tail protudes from the mouth. I tried to find some reference to any popular local myth around this animal with no luck.

Now, the sheath:

The sheath combining black leather and silver throat and tip is of the type known popularly as picazo. Picazo is the name given to the pinto horse, combining white hair with black hair patches. Gauchos seemed to relate the horse black & white look with the silver and black leather look. (By the way, a full picazo knife has a similar sheath and a handle made with ebony wood with silver decorations on top, middle and near the “button” or bolster, showing the black wood between.)

This sheath is very intriguing too, and has led to some interesting speculations from the Forum members. As background, I must explain that the main influence of France in our political Independence period is related to the philosophical principles which fed the episodes of the Revolution of Independence of May 25th, 1810 (culminating in the separation from Spain) and the Declaration of Independence of July 9th 1816. These two are the most important events in our past National history, and they were actually the result of the thoughts and philosophy learned from two other most historical milestones: the own US of America Independence of 1776, and the French Revolution of 1789. The reading of writings of French philosophers was in vogue at the turn of the XIX century, and then, the fact that Napoleon 1st had induced the abdication of the King of Spain, installing his own brother at the throne, moved our Founding Fathers to think that it was the time to stop our dependence to the Spanish Crown in 1810. Truth is that Napoleon IIIrd, of much later appearance, had little influence in our political history. On the other hand, being influenced by the French revolutionary ideas and iconography, we had historically adopted several French graphic icons, like the figure of Lady Liberty, both her face and her Phrygean cap. The lateral image of her face, crowned by the red cap, (a very “French” image indeed) appeared on some old coins, as well as in the trade mark of well known blades “Libertad” (see photos 11, 12 & 20 of my article ), as an example.

Also, the standing image of Lady Liberty, holding a shield in one hand and a staff or lance in the other, is another popular icon which appears crowning one of our most popular and well known monument: the Pyramid of May (honoring the 1810 Revolution), which stands in the Plaza de Mayo, of Buenos Aires (see enclosed photos below.) Both the Pyramid (actually a small obelysk) and the statue of the Lady Liberty, appear as the trade mark logos of several blades (“Patria” and “Gloria”) and, as you can see, also look very similar to the figure in the sheath tip of your knife. (see in my book dagas de Plata mark # 75 page 285, also # 49 page 282, and photos on page 248) This monument also appears upon our 50 pesos bill.

Regarding the two military figures, I agree with your own point of view. From time to time, silversmiths were and are required to make an special piece of work, destined to be a presentation to a certain personality. Then, the special piece is given a decorative detail more or less closely related to the recipient, his personal tastes, his professional activity, the place where he was born, or worked, etc. Sometimes, the piece commemorates a historical event, a battle, a military hero, etc. This could be the case with your knife, as suggested by the use of a Provincial Seal in handle and the military figures. We know nothing about these figures. Maybe the intention of the unknown silversmith was to render Napoleon (I personally doubt it) or any other local military. The artisan was well skilled with his techniques and tools, and demonstrated in the usual floral and scroll decoration, but as said, rather naïve and limited with human figures and sculptor's skills. Anyway, local military of the time, had their eyes upon Europe and particularly towards France when designing their uniforms, and the look, beards and moustache of several of our most famous men of the time were very “Napoleonic” indeed. Several of them could be the ones depicted upon the sheath.

I agree with your thinking that the Napoleon III inscription was added at later time, and most probably by a different artisan. Such an inscription, if original, would be likely made in old English script type of lettering. It´s very possible that some later owner of the knife, was an admirer of Napoleon III and saw fit to make put his name under the likeness of your sheath.

The sheath appears to have lost its batiente (or the winged like decoration typical of the tips of these sheaths). Note that the tip is cut squarely suggesting that this part was purposely and carefully removed. Then, the “wings” which form the batiente seem broken or cut without the same care. (at least as per my observation of your photos. A personal observation may led to a different opinion). It is very possible that the batiente of your knife was very similar to that of the knife shown in picture # 19 of article, first to the left, bearing the initials of the original owner, or may be a gold or silver coin. This would explain its removal. But then, this is another conjecture.

Well, these are the main thoughts that came to my mind while examining this really nice and important piece. I hope that they add to the enjoyment of your piece.
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Old 6th August 2008, 04:07 PM   #11
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Those who have had the privilege of examining Dagas de Plata know that it is very comprehensive in its coverage of all aspects of these knives and includes numerous photographs of the great diversity of forms and decoration. However, even with such a resource before me, this particular knife remained unusual in its features, so I am so very pleased to learn Mr. Domenech's impressions about this artifact and greatly appreciate his taking the time to prepare these comments.

Upon re-examination I continue to be unable to identify any hallmarks. I also identify no definite evidence that there was once more of a batiente on the end or the sides of the end of the scabbard, so if one was cut down or removed, this work was done very neatly.
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Old 6th August 2008, 04:20 PM   #12
Norman McCormick
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Hi,
The tail swallowing snake is probably a representation of the 'Ouroboros'. Just a thought as the symbolism is pertinent to many different cultures.
Regards,
Norman.
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