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Old 5th July 2020, 03:17 PM   #1
colin henshaw
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Default Knife for I.D. - U.S. ?

Hi

I don't really collect European Arms & Armour and know little on the subject, but decided to go for this piece (came with a couple of French bayonets), as it has that "primitive" look that I like, also a good old patina. At first I thought it might be Anglo-Indian (south Asian) in origin, but after looking over the internet, wonder if it could be in fact North American perhaps Civil War period ??

The blade looks a bit as if it was made from a cut down cutlass or similar and has these unusual markings on either side. It has a thick spine to one side with a sharp edge for the last 2-3 inches, the other side is fully edged.

Its a large heavy knife and no doubt would be effective in combat. Length of the knife itself is 17.5 inches or 44cm.

Any information, references etc would be appreciated, thanks in advance.
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Old 5th July 2020, 10:54 PM   #2
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Default Wow!!!

Holy crap, Colin!!! That is a beautiful bowie knife!! Judging from the style of the blade and hilt (I am NO expert, but have handled a few over the years), I'd say it could range from 1830's (based on no clipped point, like the early types) up to the 1860's perhaps? The marking on the blade looks to me like (wait for it!) colonial Spanish versus early Mexican pieces (I, like Jim McD., love these types). The 'star pattern' with the dots at the end of the points resembles many of the American S Western espadas, Cuban swords, Central American types, etc. If my time frame is right, it could be a Mexican War piece or Mexican Revolution piece or used for the Cinco de Mio battle.

On the other hand, if we assume the colonial Spanish blade was used by an enterprising American soldier (more than likely one south of the Mason-Dixon!), it could certainly be a nice Confederate piece (I doubt a Union solider would have carried it). The 'S' guard is indeed a pattern seen both before and during the American Civil War.

In either circumstance, to a collector of bowie knives, this is a VERY nice and valuable piece!! Congrats!!
P.S. Where on earth did you find it??
Mark
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Old 5th July 2020, 11:15 PM   #3
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Looking back at the base of the blade near the guard, you'll note the separate distinctive forte that says to me this isn't a cut-down espada sword, but always a dagger-style blade. I am unaware of any espada swords that had a forte like this, but let's see what others have to say-
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Old 6th July 2020, 02:38 AM   #4
Jim McDougall
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This is a very attractive frontier knife and as Mark has well described, there are a number of elements which may help in discerning where this blade might be from. There is no doubt it is a repurposed and refitted blade, and likely from mid 19th c. as Mark suggests.

As he notes, the distinct forte is not typically seen on blades of Spanish colonial espada anchas, however, these geometric markings are of almost exact style I have seen on numbers of them, usually late 18th into early 19th c.
The ones I have seen were from New Mexico regions, but trade and activity from there traveled into the mid US plains states.

The spear point type blade is consistent with many 19th c. trade/frontier knives found with not only frontiersmen, but American Indians and blades were always at a premium, so could be re profiled as required from many host blades.
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Old 6th July 2020, 12:02 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by M ELEY
Holy crap, Colin!!! That is a beautiful bowie knife!! Judging from the style of the blade and hilt (I am NO expert, but have handled a few over the years), I'd say it could range from 1830's (based on no clipped point, like the early types) up to the 1860's perhaps? The marking on the blade looks to me like (wait for it!) colonial Spanish versus early Mexican pieces (I, like Jim McD., love these types). The 'star pattern' with the dots at the end of the points resembles many of the American S Western espadas, Cuban swords, Central American types, etc. If my time frame is right, it could be a Mexican War piece or Mexican Revolution piece or used for the Cinco de Mio battle.

On the other hand, if we assume the colonial Spanish blade was used by an enterprising American soldier (more than likely one south of the Mason-Dixon!), it could certainly be a nice Confederate piece (I doubt a Union solider would have carried it). The 'S' guard is indeed a pattern seen both before and during the American Civil War.

In either circumstance, to a collector of bowie knives, this is a VERY nice and valuable piece!! Congrats!!
P.S. Where on earth did you find it??
Mark


Many thanks Mark, you've certainly made my day ! I had not heard of that battle you mention, I shall have to do some study about early Mexican and US history...

Can you recommend any literature about the knives and other weapons of the area and period ?

I have sent you a pm.

Regards, Colin
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Old 6th July 2020, 12:09 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jim McDougall
This is a very attractive frontier knife and as Mark has well described, there are a number of elements which may help in discerning where this blade might be from. There is no doubt it is a repurposed and refitted blade, and likely from mid 19th c. as Mark suggests.

As he notes, the distinct forte is not typically seen on blades of Spanish colonial espada anchas, however, these geometric markings are of almost exact style I have seen on numbers of them, usually late 18th into early 19th c.
The ones I have seen were from New Mexico regions, but trade and activity from there traveled into the mid US plains states.

The spear point type blade is consistent with many 19th c. trade/frontier knives found with not only frontiersmen, but American Indians and blades were always at a premium, so could be re profiled as required from many host blades.


Thanks Jim, can you recommend any literature or museum websites etc., for the study of such knives ?
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Old 6th July 2020, 12:28 PM   #7
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Could that first engraving represent a turtle? I have no idea what it might mean if it did, other than perhaps indicating a warm, coastal association.
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Old 6th July 2020, 05:09 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by colin henshaw
Thanks Jim, can you recommend any literature or museum websites etc., for the study of such knives ?


You bet Colin,
Best place is Museum of the Fur Trade
6321 Highway 20
Chadron, Nebraska 69337
http://www.furtrade.org
This is one of the most comprehensive resources on plains, midwest, Spanish colonial etc etc. I have ever encountered.
They publish a journal which has proven one of the most key resources ever!
I've never been there, but they are always most helpful.

In "Swords and Blades of the American Revolution" George Nuemann, 1973 there is great section on knives which attends to the many forms of belt knives, which these are.
In Mexican they are termed 'belduque' and these are touched on in "Spanish Military Arms in Colonial America, 1700-1821", Brinckerhoff & Chamberlain, 1972.

There are misc. mentions in references on Native American weapons, as blades were either acquired from settlers in trade etc. and often the blades from lances, swords etc. were repurposed. The American Indians were not much into metal work so relied on blades already in required profile as a rule.

The term 'Bowie' became mostly a collective term for any large bladed knife or with clipped back (partially sharpened on back), a fighting feature.
Large frontier knives for utility and field dressing game etc. became the standard, which led to the obsolescence of swords in the US. The espada ancha was basically a 'machete' and these and large frontier knives sort of met in the middle, becoming the large guarded examples often deemed 'Confederate knives' of Civil War period.

Richard, very astute observation! and I can recall some years ago with similar motif found on some South and Central American swords, basically in a Spanish colonial context. A guy I was researching with made the 'turtle' connection, and in the lore of Indian tribes in the New World there are some references to turtles it seems. The asterisk looking star is also apparent on many of these themes.
I recall the four leaf floral pattern on an espada ancha blade from New Mexico, and have seen them on others.
Basically, these motif engravings seem well aligned with Mexican or Spanish colonial metalwork decoration.

The Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862 was "Cinco de Mayo" and it is impossible having grown up in Southern California not to be aware of it! It is every bit as much celebration as the 4th of July as it was the day of Mexico's independence.

The history of the early US and Mexico is probably the richest and most intriguing ever!! which is why Mark and I have been so addicted to it!!
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Old 8th July 2020, 03:40 PM   #9
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First class information thanks, the Museum of the Fur Trade quarterly journal looks to have many informative articles, I will contact them and send off for some. Any other appropriate museums or sources of information to mention, perhaps in southern US or even Mexico, that could shed further light on the weapons of this area and period ?

I was intrigued to read on the internet about the "Sandbar Fight" which took place in Louisiana in 1827. Started out as a duel and ended in a mass brawl. The famous Jim Bowie took part and despite being severely wounded, survived.
Seemingly his knife fighting prowess on the sandbar became widely known and stimulated the production and wearing of large knives in the US. Many knives in fact being imported from Sheffield, England. Image of the fight shown below.

Good to learn about new subjects, so any further information or expansions on these topics would be excellent.
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Old 9th July 2020, 02:31 PM   #10
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One of the most phenomenal authorities on Americana was Norm Flayderman (1928-2013), and his book "The Bowie Knife", unearthing a legend (2004) is probably the most amazing source on American knives, which seem to sort of revolve around this form in many ways.

In my early collecting days, he was always a source I trusted, and over the years he became not only a dealer, but a friend. In my many quests on arms research he was always generously helpful, and I recall when he was compiling material for his book, we sort of crossed paths with a Texas collector who had a huge collection.
Ironically, I was researching the Spanish colonial 'espada ancha' , while he was of course keyed on 'Bowie's'. This is a kind of indicator of the close alignment of these frontier edged arms in many cases.

This book by Mr. Flayderman is a must, and in it there will be of course a multitude of titles and sources.

Several years ago I traveled through Wyoming and one of the most breathtaking museums EVER! on the west is the
"Buffalo Bill Center of the West" museum in Cody, Wyoming. It is literally a 'Smithsonian' of the west, and while much of it is focused on guns, there is more on virtually every related aspect of weaponry used, particularly knives used by all groups of people in America in those times in the 19th c.

They publish amazing catalog's of thier holdings and thier bookstores have staggering numbers of titles which you may find useful.

With the 'Bowie', the history is quite clouded (as with most legends) but it is believed that Bowie and his brother Rezin were both deeply influenced by Meditteranean (particularly Spanish) knives. They were both familiar with the use of these in fighting, and Rezin had one made from an old file, while Jim had been improving designs from various types.
It is unclearwhat exact knife Jim used at the 'Sandbar' in 1827, but it was substantial enough that despite his severe wounds, he nearly decapitated one of his attackers.
The most well known of the 'Bowie' makers was probably James Black of Washington, Arkansas (1800-1872) who made the example (designed by and carved in wood) for Jim in 1830. While uncertain, this may have been the one he had at the Alamo in 1836, nobody really knows. It seems these were of the open hilt 'coffin' type without the familiar guard.

In what is now 'Old Washington' Arkansas, the original blacksmith shop of James Black is still in operation, and busily fashioning knives and various items. While visiting the shop there a number of years ago, one of the smiths working told me that, "James Black always 'notched' his blades'.

This was a feature well known in the Meditteranean knives usually used aboard vessels by sailors, and well known by Jim and Rezin, so this became a kind of subtle trademark of many 'Bowie knives'.

There are numbers of museums listed in these books I have noted, and I believe online you can find details on the James Black shop in Old Washington, Ark. It is an incredible place still much as it was in antebellum days with old houses and very quiet, the old roads and trails used in the times are still pristine and non commercialized.

There is so much rich history in these old knives, and you now have a fantastic piece of it Colin!!!

Pics of the Bowie book; Flayderman and James Black
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Old 9th July 2020, 07:15 PM   #11
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Great information Jim, much appreciated ! I shall enjoy my studies...
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Old 19th July 2020, 06:53 AM   #12
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Colin Henshaw, you have found what should have been a dream for me to own!
Congratulations!!

Best,
Stefan
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Old 19th July 2020, 09:04 AM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Hombre
Colin Henshaw, you have found what should have been a dream for me to own!
Congratulations!!

Best,
Stefan


Thanks Stefan, glad you like it. Its nice to get lucky once in a while.


Regards.
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Old 20th July 2020, 12:08 PM   #14
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Old 20th July 2020, 01:15 PM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sajen


Very interesting Detlef, thank for posting.
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Old 20th July 2020, 05:42 PM   #16
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My 2nd favourite old bowie...

My first is a custom 12" blade No. One, I'm not allowed to show it here

If you don't like these I have more...
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Old 20th July 2020, 05:47 PM   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kronckew
My 2nd favourite old bowie...

My first is a custom 12" blade No. One, I'm not allowed to show it here

If you don't like these I have more...



NICE!
Note the 'Meditteranean' notch at the base of the blade. These are the early form used by the Bowie brothers. I recall there was an article on these notches in "Man At Arms" magazine(I think it was the first issue in 1979). I still have it somewhere, but I think you can an extract of it by calling the magazine headquarters. I still remember that first issue and talking with Andrew Mowbray who had just bought the magazine!

Why cant you show the other one?
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Old 20th July 2020, 06:03 PM   #18
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Default Mexican Bowie

This is a Mexican 'Bowie' found in Tucson some years ago, which has a hilt of cholla cactus, native to Sonora. It is of course hard to say when it was made but is certainly about 50 yrs old.
The blade is 8" as is the hilt, so 16" overall. Looked kinda Crocodile Dundee
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Old 20th July 2020, 07:17 PM   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jim McDougall
NICE! ...
Why can't you show the other one?


It's not an antique...

This is the one I'm not going to show:
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Old 23rd July 2020, 05:27 PM   #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kronckew
My 2nd favourite old bowie...

My first is a custom 12" blade No. One, I'm not allowed to show it here

If you don't like these I have more...


Good looking knife, Wayne. What age would you put it at ?
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Old 23rd July 2020, 05:46 PM   #21
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Continuing on the subject of US bowie knives, I like the large knives (some like short swords really), used by the Southern Confederate forces during the Civil War, as they often have that "blacksmith-made" look and a lot of character. Some images of examples from the internet shown below.

The 1963 book by Francis A. Lord "Civil War Collectors Encyclopedia" says the Northern soldiers generally carried English made knives, whereas the Confederates normally made the knives locally, also Confederate soldiers were less well armed in general and hence the bowie knife was more popular with them. Over thirty Southern knife suppliers are listed. Seemingly Confederate knives were seldom marked with their maker's name.

If anyone can expand further on these interesting topics, please do so. Does anyone have some examples they can share ?

One wonders of course what practical use such knives would be in a conflict that employed repeating firearms etc., even early submarines
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Old 23rd July 2020, 06:02 PM   #22
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Colin, Its 200-ish years old, made by the Black Brothers in Arkansas for some guy named Jim. He left it behind at an old mission when he died for an associate named Santa of all things. Merry Xmas, Santa!

Santa left it behind at a swampy place in east Texas not long after when he lost an argument with some Texans and had to run away. Been handed down from father to son since then. How it got to Germany and back thru my family, I am not sure.

More truthfully, It's over a year old now... Maybe three. It's been tarted up, looked too shiny new when it was new. OK, I confess, I am a knife abuser.... (H2O2 & flowers of sulphur gel for the lived in look) It is razor sharp tho after a good thrashing with a diamond hone. It's not going anywhere, It's MINE! MINE I say. Mine. It's one of a pair, the smith liked it so much he made himself one just like it, and hasn't duplicated it since. I shall take his name & location in the USA to the grave as he's retired now.

On a more historic note, the CSA generally used Muskets, smooth bores at the beginning of the War between the states, when the darn Yankees started using rifled muskets, they were able to re-equip themselves with them more reliable and accurate ones, longer ranged Springfields and a few Enfields from the UK. (and a very few Witworth sniper rifles (of "They couldn't hit an elephant at this dist..." fame -Gen. John Sedgwick's last words) They couldn't afford repeating rifles to any great extent, like the Union could.,. They never engaged at distances close enough to merit a short sword. When we started losing, the bowies were used mainly then for chopping wood, preparing food, and often just discarded because the weighed too much while retreating. They were no longer needed when a lighter knife would do. Thus rare they command fairly high prices now. As noted, unmarked, caveat emptor.

p.s.- the submarine sank a Union warship. then disappeared, it sank with all hands - probably from lack of oxygen. it's engine was the crew hand cranking a prop. Found again a few years ago & recovered. He should have invented the snorkel first. It was in effect, a manned torpedo kamikaze, much like ones the Japanese resorted to more recently. The inventor went on to sell a better one to the UK after the war. It too, sank with all hands, but never sank an enemy. Ah, well. C'est la Vie!

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Old 23rd July 2020, 11:17 PM   #23
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" the submarine sank a Union warship. then disappeared, it sank with all hands - probably from lack of oxygen. it's engine was the crew hand cranking a prop. Found again a few years ago & recovered"


Regarding the Hunley submarine, they are now pretty confident that the crew died of shock from the explosion. Their weapon was a bomb on the end of a spar so the shock wave ran straight into the crew compartment and killed them outright. RIP.
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Old 25th July 2020, 05:55 AM   #24
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Other possible areas to expand one's searches...

A variant form of Jim Bowie's amazing design is the so-called "Arkansas toothpick". If I recall, they didn't have the the clipped point, but were more spear-headed, like Colin's. I always found the coffin-shaped grips on some of these types quite symbolic!

Check out Neumann's "Swords and Blades of the American Revolution" to see the predecessor of the bowie. Many of these rifleman's trade knives had elements of the later bowie.

If you are studying bowies, let's not forget that aside from their Civil War legacy, they fit prominently in the story of the Alamo and Mexican War. Without being too graphic here, it is said that when Sam Houston and his Texican army caught up with the Mexican forces under Santa Anna, the battle devolved into a bloody melee whereby the Americans cut down the enemy using only their bowie knives and tomahawk axes. The number of Mexican casualties was startling and if I recall, something like 1200 cut to pieces in less than 30 minutes!!!

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