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Old 30th May 2012, 04:34 AM   #1
M ELEY
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Default Navajas of the Galleons

Here's an awesome article supporting the use of these magnificent knives at sea-

http://www.melfisher.org/pdf/Navajas...2_Galleons.pdf

Gilkerson has mentioned the use of jack knives of this sort used at sea. It's great to find confirmation like this, though. Once again, like the Spanish/Portuguese cup-hilts, these little boogers were probably the side-arms of soldier/sailors guarding the Treasure Galleons. Some of the examples in Neuman's book and online are truly vicious weapons (one I just saw had an overall length with blade extended of 24" (a 13" blade!!), more than your typical jack-knife.
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Old 1st June 2012, 07:48 PM   #2
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Nice paper on navajas, Mark.
Although these knives had their golden period (in Spain) by the XVII-XVIII century, Rafael Forton reminds us that the first navajas, as they may be so called, appeared by the end of the XVI century. There are (doubtful) records of artisanal cuttlery activities befora that date, but among the variety of short white weapons that were then produced, none would be considered as navaja, in its conventional attribution.
Now playing by ear ...
It is well known that these knives derived from ancient razors. Evolution must have been at first stage, the folding handle and, later, the locking method, which might have brought (greatest?) charisma to these knives. Such locking features, of several variations, culminate (for me) with the ratchet, with its various connotations, being the most amazing one, that of giving the unwary a chance to "hear" the noise of the knife being unfolded by its owner.
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Old 2nd June 2012, 04:36 AM   #3
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Awesome information on these knives, Fernando. Now that you mention it, I see where the earliest 'razors' had a similar form. From what I've read (I'm still a novice in this area), there are some distinctions that can somewhat help date them. Simple grips lacking rachets with only a simple pin holding the blade in place are some of the earliest, as are spear-point double edged blades. Rachets started appearing around the mid-18th century, as did expanded bolsters. It wasn't until the mid-19th c. that we see the pull ring release for the blade. Likewise, the more decorated examples with MOP grips, inlay designs and shaped hilts were later affictations. I can't wait to add one of the plainer, early examples to my naval collection...
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Old 2nd June 2012, 10:41 PM   #4
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Great paper. Thanks. I once had a horn and bronze navaja with Afikaans inscription on it.
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Old 3rd June 2012, 12:25 AM   #5
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Hello Battara,
Do you still have the piece? Pics? When you mention afikaans inscription, are you referring to the Moraccan style markings? Sorry for my novice question.
It is fascinating how many of these are made in the so-called Moorish style, with the same type of "star" designs and line patterns one sees on Spanish colonial pieces. Hopefully I'll get an old one some day.
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Old 3rd June 2012, 12:50 AM   #6
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Actually it was not Morrocan but Afrikaans and said, "Van a boor in varin (spelling)" which a friend who could speak Afikaans translated as "From a true Boar". The horn handle was white horn and it had a ratchet locking mechanism.

I which I had internet pictures of it but alas they were lost and I sold the piece long ago.
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Old 3rd June 2012, 03:27 AM   #7
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My money is on the razors, not knives. Iron discipline was required on board ships, especially the treasure ships and naval vessels. Sailors did not carry knives as a matter of fact, all the repairs of the tackle and sails were done by the sail-makers and their crews, who had their own tools.
As we can see from numerous period paintings, most people were clean-shaven, even the lower classes [and sailors were the lowest of the low], to combat lice and infections. Author writes about scars on faces of some of the crew members. It could have been pox, acne, who knows.
The lone knife that he pictures with a plastic mould done after the original blade looks like a fruit knife. In regard to Newman's pictures of the folding knives, many of them have been identified as provincial Italian shabby jobs, not 18th c., but mid-19th or even early 20th c.
All in all I find the topic interesting, but the supplied article not convincing in the least. I can be wrong, of course.
Just my $ .02
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Old 3rd June 2012, 12:42 PM   #8
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Interesting. As I said, I'm a novice when it comes to these, so I welcome the feedback and opinion. It is troubling that the powers that be would allow sailors, many of them possibly mutinous, access to such tools while at sea. Hmm, perhaps you are onto something, Dmitri. I do wish there were some period paintings or inventory lists that might shed light on the subject better. If these were carried by sailors or pirates, I'd love to add them to the collection. If not, I'd pass...
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Old 3rd June 2012, 04:26 PM   #9
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Default The egg of Colombus

Say, Mark,
Have yout tried the search button ?
... Many threads on navajas there, including pictures of Battara's example, as well as others.
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Old 4th June 2012, 12:06 AM   #10
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Oh no, Fernando! Not the egg of Columbus quip again!! That one is becoming my "Shaver Cool" shocker these days!

You are right, of course. I did briefly look at some of the past threads. My main concern was for possible naval use. Even given that perhaps common naval men and merchant sailors didn't carry them, there is still enormous room (and needed research) for their use on privateers and pirate vessels, who had no such rules and regulations. As Gilkerson points out, these flotilla of vessels far out-numbered the existing navies at the time. Thanks for the reminder about old threads, though. I shall partake of them when I get the chance.
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Old 4th June 2012, 01:47 AM   #11
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Not to worry Mark .
I was brought up with a round turn on my hand cannon inquiry .

You are not alone .
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Old 4th June 2012, 04:01 AM   #12
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Think about it. 500 ton galleon, loaded with millions worth of riches, with a crew of about 200-250 rough muchachos, many of them convicts. Even 20 hombres armed with navajas could easily disarm the guard of the gun-room, secure it, proceed to overtake the ship, and sail her wherever they wanted to. No captain in his right mind would allow knives to be carried by the ratings.
I don't want to repeat myself, but all the jobs requiring something to be cut were done by the specialist crews, carpenter, sail-maker, purser, etc. Sailors would have no business having a knife on board. They even ate with their hands.
Just my 2 reales..
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Old 4th June 2012, 11:49 AM   #13
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Hi Folks,

I am with Dmtry on this one. This paper has been around for a while, but I for one cannot take it seriously as it clearly was written without having given serious thought to the subject.

After having studied the work of Forton and others, I have concluded that whilst folding knives of some kind or another have been around since at least Roman times, the lockable navaja, for our purposes the only one of interest as a weapon, is an XVIII century development,


Here are some loose and abbreviated translations from Forton's La Navaja Antigua Espanola, the standard reference book on the subject:

Pg 25: In my judgement, the navaja of olden times can be defined as follows: Popular instrument used in Spain during the XVII, XVIII and XIX....with a single edge, pointed and nearly always somewhat curved, fitted with a mechanism that allows it to turn from within the handle... measuring 18-24cm when closed.

CE's Note: I consider it very significant that Forton does not include a blade fixation or locking mechanism in his definition. This omission broadens the concept of what a navaja almost to the point of meaniglessness. It is also significant that Spanish legislators recognized that it was the locking mechanism that rendered a folding knife into a weapon.

Pg48: From the beginnings of the XVI century the word navaja is used frequently but in a vague and undefined sense. It isn't the shaving razor nor the navajon (CE: A large navaja, but of what kind?) but it did refer to some kind of cutting instrument with a sharp edge.

Pg 65: It is difficult to establish when exactly the navaja appeared in Spain.... The most important reason that the use of the navaja became adopted by the populous, from the XVII century onwards, was self defence in the face of dangers attendant on prevailing conditions.... As long as the Spanish monarchs allowed the possession of the sword, the navaja did not appear....

CE's Note: Until the death of Charles I, in the mid XVI century, there were no restrictions on the ownership of swords

Pg69: ....the navaja did not appear in a generalized form until the beginnings of the XVII century

Pg 72: The earliest reliably documented navaja that I know of is dated October 23, 1699... It is nowadays kept at London's Victoria and Albert museum.

CE's Note: This folding knife does not look anything like what we would now call a navaja

Pg 77: It is from 1732 when the word "navaja" gains a definitive meaning in a legal context....

Pg 90: Quotation of first royal decree, dated 1721, against the possession cut and thrust weapons that may have included navajas by implication.

CE's Note: Curiously, Forton does not elaborate on the Spanish war of succession of 1702, which resulted in the expulsion of the Habsburgs and the ascent of the French Borbons to the Spanish throne. It was after this event that Spain became an annex of France and the government commenced the effective disarmament of the population. Why Forton glossed over this watershed event defies my comprehension.

Cheers
Chris
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Old 4th June 2012, 05:33 PM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Chris Evans
Pg 90: Quotation of first royal decree, dated 1721, against the possession cut and thrust weapons that may have included navajas by implication.
Chris, could you expand on that?
That decree wouldn't include swords, would it?
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Old 4th June 2012, 07:57 PM   #15
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No Dmitry, no swords.
May antecipate Chris?
Felipe V pragmatic (decree) of December 1721 reads:

We impose that those who are caught with puñales, giferos, rejones and other short white arms; if they are Noble, the penalty of six years in the Presidium, and if they are Peasants, six years in the galleys ...

The three specified weapons were dagger variations of the period. The expression "other short white arms" leaves no doubt to Forton that included navajas.
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Old 4th June 2012, 11:45 PM   #16
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Thanks, Fernando.
Looks like the King was not keen on the concealed weapons on dry land. I would assume that he was also not keen on the concealable weapons on board his ships.
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Old 5th June 2012, 01:11 AM   #17
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In a time when even giving your superior a wry look would buy you a flogging; I have got to agree about this form not being a Sailor's knife .
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Old 5th June 2012, 01:33 AM   #18
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Dmtry,

Fernando beat me to it (I was asleep down under!)


Fernando,

Thank you.

Cheers
Chris
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Old 5th June 2012, 03:05 PM   #19
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Thank you gents for finally clearing this issue up for me. As you know, many naval references are being updated and the older manuals still mention these as side knives. It makes sense that the cargoes of these lost ships would have been carrying knives and razors to the New World, and their discovery on the wrecks lead to the confusion. The same goes for the large groups of un-hilted sword blades often found. However, I'd bet a silver cobb or two that there were pirates/privateers that carried them-
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Old 5th June 2012, 06:39 PM   #20
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Red face Pardon me

I wouldn't digest this thing of sailors not being allowed to carry knives without some extra mastication.
The reasoning of, only crew members with an appointed craft be allowed to use them, is perhaps a bit ambiguous.
I am too lazy to browse the books looking for evidence, but in a first thought i would say that, the majority of sailors aboard had one or more crafts to perform; in a way that was the (multi) purpose of professional sailors. Maybe not mechanic jobs like carpentry, or fixing the water pumps, but mending sails, tying ropes and that sort of things. I can not imagine a sailor without a knife; not a folding knife, with a concealing intent, but a tool knife, for a zillion needs inherent from being aboard ship.
If a mutiny had to take place, it was not the knife which played the nuclear key for such decision. Lots of devices found aboard could be used as weapons. Even admiting that only selected artisans could bear knives, this would not be a secure way to prevent mutiny ... either in their own hands or grabed by other men.
Discipline aboard and contention of conflicts passed by other measures.
Besides rank sailors, ships garrison was more diverse, including soldiers and artillery men ... although firearms and gun powder were kept locked and only distributed in case of iminent combat.
Concerning the social status of crew members, ironically were the soldiers that were "drafted" in streets, taverns or prisons and not sailors, as these would have to be more qualified for the job. Soldiers were not so much required to know how to shoot a musket or handle a pike, as sailors had to undoubtedly know how to operate a ship.
In this last one (and half) paragraph i am citing the chroniclers.
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Old 6th June 2012, 12:00 AM   #21
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Hi,

I think that a key consideration here is the weapon potential of an early, that is pre XVIII century, navaja. As far as I can make it out, in the absence of reliable diagrams/paintings and surviving specimens, this has to remain a moot point.

Forton thought that the XVII century navajas had weapon potential but did not advance evidence for this and given that all extant specimens that could fill this role pertain to the post Borbon ascent, I remain unconvinced.

This is not to say that simple, non-locking friction type folders were not around before the 1700s, as they were for centuries, but rather that these would not have served as weapons of any significance. Without a lock, a folding knife is not a weapon, as evidenced by current UK legislation.

Cheers
Chris
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Old 6th June 2012, 02:18 AM   #22
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Fernando, you got my brain working again! Thank you
In multiple books and manuals on naval "tools", I've seen small knives carried by sailors for a variety of ship-board purposes. The knives were used for whittling, scrimshaw, fraying rope, sharpening fids, etc, etc. I understand that perhaps navajas were not allowed and likewise as Chris points out, not around at the early date specified, but there were definitely side knives at sea. A recent book I read concerning punishments at sea even mentioned sailors killed in knife fighting on the ship, with the transgressors being hung from the yardarm. Perhaps these knives were smuggled aboard? Come to think of it, in this circumstance, I believe it was a merchant vessel...
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Old 6th June 2012, 02:52 AM   #23
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Quote:
Originally Posted by fernando
Concerning the social status of crew members, ironically were the soldiers that were "drafted" in streets, taverns or prisons and not sailors
That is not the case. Sailors were pressed onto ships en masse, not all of course, but significant numbers. That's the main reason that most were not allowed to disembark when in port, or they would inevitably run off. Whores were brought on board instead.
Much valuable information on the life of sailors in the age of sail exists.

BTW, scrimshaw is not done with a knife, it's scratched into the ivory with a sharp needle, also called a scribe.
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Old 6th June 2012, 03:00 AM   #24
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Chris Evans
This is not to say that simple, non-locking friction type folders were not around before the 1700s, as they were for centuries, but rather that these would not have served as weapons of any significance. Without a lock, a folding knife is not a weapon, as evidenced by current UK legislation.

Cheers
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Chris, to what period would you date the earliest locking folding knives? Any extant examples of the really early stuff?
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Old 6th June 2012, 04:01 AM   #25
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Dmtry,

Quote:
Originally Posted by Dmitry
Chris, to what period would you date the earliest locking folding knives? Any extant examples of the really early stuff?
This is a very difficult question to answer with any certainty, principally, because there is not a single known and reliably dated surviving specimen that predates the XVIII century, save for one made in 1699 and which is not a weapon, nor am I aware of any paintings or other artistict depictions that show people carrying one in earlier times.

However, the technology of the lock found on later navajas, IMO, could have been easily replicated by the end of the XVI century, given the advanced state of metal working and lockworks in general. So why didn't we have locking navajas earlier on? I tend to agree with Forton that as long as better weapons were available, there was simply no need for clasp knives, which IMO even at their best are vastly inferior to fixed blades.

Where I differ with him, at least until some contrary evidence is presented, is that he ascribes the adoption of a non specific weapon grade folder to the beginnings of the XVII century, whereas on the evidence available, it was after the Borbon ascent that a credible weapon grade folder became widely used in Spain.

Of course, it is entirely possible that substantial primitive folders came gradually into use in the course of the XVII century and that these could somehow be crudely locked out for use as a weapon on the odd occasion, but why do this if better weapons were available? Here we need some proof that effective and enforced weapon bans, other than restricting swords to the nobility, were in place before the Borbons.

It is a while that I read Forton's book with due attention, but with all its faults it remains the most highly regarded work on the subject. It examines the navaja in various contexts, one being the legal and devotes quite a bit of space to it. Remembering that he graduated as a lawyer, I find it curious that all the anti C&T weapon ordenances and laws that he quotes were post 1700 and this reinforces my belief.

Cheers
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Old 6th June 2012, 07:42 PM   #26
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Chris Evans
So why didn't we have locking navajas earlier on? I tend to agree with Forton that as long as better weapons were available, there was simply no need for clasp knives, which IMO even at their best are vastly inferior to fixed blades.
That makes much sense. Gadgets like the locking knives would be relegated to the people who could afford them.
Like this Italian mid-16th c. folding spetum in the Higgins Museum.
The locking mechanism, with a button release looks similar to the weapon-grade folders.
Was it made out of necessity? Hardly. It was a one-a-kind gimmick, but a beautiful one.

But why did the locking knives blossom later on? Tradition?
Unfortunately I don't read Spanish...
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Old 7th June 2012, 12:15 AM   #27
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Perhaps there are differences between the various (country) navies and also in time period. Pyrard de Laval (1575-1652) points out some, distinguishing determined habits aboard practiced by either Portuguese, Dutch, English French.
May also the logic of terminology be considered, aggravated by my poor english and translation difficulties.
Senior sailors and (cabin) boys would be a distinct thing, respectively in what touches their recruiting, capacities, attributions and behavior from command towards each of them.
Laval makers a thorough description of the navigation between Portugal and India, emphasizing distinctions of crew members in the diverse type of embarkations, namely carracks (Naus) for the (so called) India career, all built in Lisbon, destined to bring back spices (generally called pepper), or the galleons ready for combat, to transport big shots or other express purposes, these being also built in India ship yards and elsewhere. He states that such carracks reached much over 1000 tons, being therefore the largest ships out there, not able to navigate on less than ten braces depth. Concerning personnel, he describes a remarkable distinction between the well considered sailors of such large merchandise carracks and mid size ships, where sailors were of lower profile, those, yes (your’e right here) were caught by force … even superior rank, assuming that those ships do not come back. And if ever they return, their crew men might get a post in large ships, but no so high as in the galleons they have served; from what comes that is a higher honor be a sailor in a large carrack than counter master in a galleon.
Concerning knives aboard, i believe these were decidedly sailors gear, but naturally not that of boys, be them grumetes (aspiring to sailors) or pages which, after all, counted for a significant number of the garrison aboard. Laval mentions more than one boy per sailor; narrations from the Pedro Alvares Cabral period (1500’s) describe these boys with ages from 12, receiving a symbolic salary and, in both descriptions, performing the simplest jobs, like wetting the decks (would could not get too dry, risking the whole boat to crack), screaming the hours (live clocks) and other kind of “public” attentions, besides serving their master sailors in all services aboard.
… But i am digressing here .
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Old 7th June 2012, 02:21 AM   #28
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Dmitry,

Quote:
But why did the locking knives blossom later on? Tradition?
I have serious doubts about locking navajas having been ever normative in Spain. Much more likely is that it they represented only a fraction of the total numbers of folders in use and then only in the regions where cutlery industry was a significant part of the economy, as in Albacete.

As to why a lock was needed: For a knife to become a serious weapon, it must allow for the thrust. The wielder of a folding knife that does not have some sort of blade fixation mechanism when open, runs the risk of finger amputation should the blade close, be it whilst thrusting or if the blade is parried with a jacket, as was the practice in the Spanish fight.

Forton gives examples of post Borbon legislation that prohibit locks and then tells us on Pg 108 that the authorities did not have a problem with with folding knives per se, given their general utilitarian necessity, but rather their violent usage, for which a blade fixation mechanism was a requirement and thus legislators focused on this feature.

On the same page Forton says that since the majority of navajas in use had some sort of lock, the adverse legislation had a devastating effect on the cutlery industry. I find this assertion very hard to accept because:

a) Non locking navajas were much easier to make and thus cheaper. Hence, anybody who needed a working knife would not have exposed themselves to the wrath of the law, nor (given the prevailing poverty) spent hard earned money needlessly and would have opted for a friction folder.

b) The bulk of the large French navajas imported into Spain during the XIX century had only what I call a demi-lock, which did not prevent the blade from closing if some force was exerted on it, much like a modern so called slip joint.

c) For work, to this day cheap friction folders are still extremely popular in Spain and not the locking navaja. These are typical examples:http://www.filofiel.com/tienda/index...=22_34_112_472

In any event, since fixed blades were prohibited, cutlers still could make a living from making legal friction folders as the boutique cutlers of today do. A much more likely cause behind the decline of Spanish cutlery was its uncompetitiveness in the face of industrialization in the rest of Europe, especially France.

Cheers
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Old 7th June 2012, 02:22 AM   #29
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Fernando,

Good post. Am learning a lot about naval matters!

Cheers
Chris
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Old 7th June 2012, 04:26 AM   #30
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Very interesting material and points made-

Fernando, you bring up an excellent point and back it up concerning the class of ship and cargo, as well as nation. All of these facts would affect attitude and armament as you mention (I had hinted at it briefly concerning the merchant classes). Even apart from side-knives, we also have to take into account the use of dirks by midshipmen and officers. Unlike other boarding weapons that were accounted for, dirks were the personal property of the men coming aboard. They purchased them and often chose the style/design. If knives were banned, would it not have caused great derision to let the officers (including midshipmen as young as 10!) to carry such but ban the others? Not trying to put up a fight, but I think the jury is still out on the final answer to this one.

Chris, nice information on the evolution of clasp knives. I still am fascinated with these types and hope to obtain an earlier specimen some day. Think 'XVIII' type, which from what I can glean from this thread so far would lack the later rachet and be more of a friction type.
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