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Old 22nd December 2020, 02:22 PM   #1
colin henshaw
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Default Unusual African knife or short sword

Here is a recently acquired unusual African knife which has a cross-cultural element to it ... making it of extra interest (to me at least). At first I thought it could be Sudanese, given the crocodile covered sheath, but after a bit of research, take the view it's more likely to be from the Cameroon grasslands area. (Refer : "Panga na visu" by Zirngible & Kubetz).

The blade seems to be an adapted European very large kitchen type knife; length is 50cm the knife by itself. The knife scales are made of dark horn with pressed ? decoration.

Can anyone shed more light on this item, and perhaps the European knife rings a bell with someone ? I can see no markings on the blade, (needs a bit of cleaning).

Thanks in advance for any information, similar examples etc.
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Old 22nd December 2020, 04:09 PM   #2
Tim Simmons
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This looks like good 19th/early 20th century steel. I am guessing that is has a good degree of flex. Judging by the pretty and fairly lightweight handle also the shape of the blade, it appears to me to be a reused cake knife. I do not mean a dainty thing, no something much more substantial. A tool for large special cake work, try spreading a couple of pounds of icing on a huge cake with something dainty, would be hopeless. Very interesting.
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Old 22nd December 2020, 05:16 PM   #3
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The grip scales look like they could be cast/moulded in Gutta-percha, a tree resin frequently used for such and made impressing designs like that possible. I doubt you could do that in horn. It was used extensively from the 1840's thru the early 20th Century. It is still used for human dentistry, as an inert and safe filler for the void left by a root canal procedure.

See Antique Gutta Percha Handles

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Old 22nd December 2020, 08:50 PM   #4
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Interesting piece. Excellent suggestion Wayne. Gutta percha originally came from Malaya and was introduced into Britain in the early 1840s. Sudan was also linked to Britain in the mid-19th C, so there may be a connection there for introduction of a British domestic knife with gutta percha scales into the region. There is a possibility that the scales might also be bakelite (a later synthetic resin/plastic), but they look unusually dark for bakelite.
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The grip scales look like they could be cast/moulded in Gutta-percha, a tree resin frequently used for such and made impressing designs like that possible. I doubt you could do that in horn. It was used extensively from the 1840's thru the early 20th Century. It is still used for human dentistry, as an inert and safe filler for the void left by a root canal procedure.

See Antique Gutta Percha Handles
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Old 23rd December 2020, 12:05 AM   #5
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Gutta-percha can vary in colour from yellow through brown so dark as to appear black. It can also have other colourants added. It can also be given a wood grain streaky look. It is thermoplastic. Hardeners like zinc oxide can be added, but it can crumble with age in the harder forms. The natural forms like hard leather are quite stable and somewhat flexible...

It was the start of the plastics age we tend to associate with the 2nd half of the 20th c. -but actually started 100 odd years before that. One of its first heavy commercial uses was to insulate transatlantic cable wires in the 1870's. It came ashore in Porthcurno, Cornwall, 224miles south-south-west of where I live.
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Old 29th December 2020, 11:19 AM   #6
colin henshaw
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Helpful input from Tim, Wayne and Ian, thanks. The suggestion of the hilt scales being made of "gutta-percha" is interesting and may well be correct.

The reasons for my thinking this knife is from the Cameroon Grasslands are ... there is an example in the "Panga na Visu" book where the sheath has a similar style of belt loop, in addition the African tribes in that area seemed to favour knives/swords with blade points either squared or rounded off. Note: I have not attached extracts from the book because of copyright.

I am also posting this item on the European section of the forum to see what response it brings.

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Old 29th December 2020, 01:05 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by colin henshaw

I am also posting this item on the European section of the forum to see what response it brings.


Exactly!

To me, only the sheath looks African while the knife looks European all the way.
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Old 29th December 2020, 03:14 PM   #8
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Colin, Marius: the Blade may have been repointed, possibly after the tip was damaged or broken, and the scabbard of course may have been made for it after that. I, too, think the knife looks more like a European chef's knife.
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Old 29th December 2020, 04:24 PM   #9
colin henshaw
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To me, only the sheath looks African while the knife looks European all the way.


Certainly, of course the actual knife part was made in Europe (or US ?)
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