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Old 15th February 2015, 03:41 AM   #1
Marcus
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Default British or American Dirk

Anyone care to hazard an opinion whether this is British or American and what date?
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Old 16th February 2015, 10:17 AM   #2
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I claim no special expertise but that is constructed very similarly to a Sykes-Fairbairn knife, of which most of the makers I have seen were from Sheffield.

Through tang with possibly threaded nut at the pommel, ground then hammered over. Diamond section blade, straight butted to a simple and thin cross guard. The guard appears to be cast brass for decoration, not chased or engraved; whereas the S-F had an oval stamped sheet-metal guard. The handle is turned bone, and not pretty as it could have been pure white but has been left with natural colour and texture; its shape is straight taper not bellied but the cast Mazak metal handle of the S-F also had turned ribs (rather than spiral or longitudinal).

The etching is a nice feature but the object is plainly a product of fair to middling quality by industrial scale (blade and guard) but ordinary skill in design and manufacture (hand-turned bone handle), my first guess was Sheffield anywhere 1840-1914, for a wild guess.

Tableware from there/then was better finished and well-dressed handles of pure white or evenly coloured bone were the norm for better quality. To my untutored eye the aesthetic is not British or American but Spanish or South American.

Last edited by ChrisPer : 16th February 2015 at 10:31 AM.
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Old 16th February 2015, 02:27 PM   #3
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If I had to place it, I'd say American, ca. 1800-20 period.

Straight to the point, without question, it's a naval dirk, not a bowie, bootk knife, gambler's dirk, gaucho knife, etc, etc. As such, it wouldn't be Mexican, although there were many Spanish colonial pieces and later Mexican pieces with similar construction. Mexico didn't use naval dirks to my knowledge. American naval dirks followed their British contemporaries, some with equal flare, while others were of a more primitive construction. The grip is either ivory or more probably bone. As it is of a 'dainty' size, it would have been for dress only, not a fighting piece. Midshipmen and up carried these as a sign of rank and family honor. I was going to refer you to Peter Tuite's excellent online article on British naval swords/dirks, but that PDF article no longer has pictures/plates of similar items. Pity...
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Old 16th February 2015, 02:36 PM   #4
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Default Midshipman

Mark,
Thanks for your reply. It corresponds to my thoughts on the item almost exactly.
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Old 16th February 2015, 03:20 PM   #5
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And what is the blade length, by the way ?
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Old 16th February 2015, 08:58 PM   #6
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Something odd about the hammered nut on the pommel. A Sheffield, or any British, manufacturer would never have got away with such crude fixing.
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Old 16th February 2015, 10:01 PM   #7
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Default length

Quote:
Originally Posted by fernando
And what is the blade length, by the way ?


The blade is 9 inches, the handle only 3.

The pommel nut was one reason I was betting American over English.
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Old 17th February 2015, 09:25 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Richard G
Something odd about the hammered nut on the pommel. A Sheffield, or any British, manufacturer would never have got away with such crude fixing.
Regards
Richard


It could be a later repair, also.
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Old 17th February 2015, 11:34 AM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Marcus
The blade is 9 inches, the handle only 3...

A very small example indeed ... with an extremely short handle.
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Old 17th February 2015, 01:58 PM   #10
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it's the grooving of the grip that is not symmetrical that gives it a less refined appearance. The measurements suggest a Victorian era letter opener.
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Old 17th February 2015, 02:58 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Will M
... The measurements suggest a Victorian era letter opener.


Yes, why not ?
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Old 17th February 2015, 04:55 PM   #12
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saw a similar one on a google search, no dimensions tho.

3in. grip on yours is short, as noted maybe it broke off and was field repaired at that length?


in the 1800's they went to a larger, longer standard pattern middies dirk with a back strapped rayskin grip. prior to that it would have been a private purchase item of various size and quality depending on the new officer's purse. the midshipman's ages varied from pre-teens to grey haired and bitter men who had failed their exams for promotion to lieutenant. stuck halfway between the common ratings up forward and the real ossifers aft they were truly mid ship men.

this one attached from google images was noted as 1750-1770 british naval dirk, it appears to have a similarly etched blade too. it is missing the black bands of grunge accumulated in the grooves on the one in post no. 1.
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Last edited by kronckew : 17th February 2015 at 05:13 PM.
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Old 17th February 2015, 09:34 PM   #13
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I'm not saying that this isn't a dirk but it may be a civilian dagger or letter opener. Letters were very important back in the day.
This category along with axes sellers tend to label them all as military edged weapons. How many axes have you seen that are just tools but listed as boarding axe etc.
Early magazines picture all sorts of knives, daggers, pistols for dogs in their adverts. I would look there if you have access to some.
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Old 17th February 2015, 11:02 PM   #14
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I've had 5 naval dirks over the years. No expert, but I'm betting naval dirk, whether repaired, cut down hilt or what have you. I've had one like this one in the past, with a 3 1/2" hilt and 8" blade. Mine exactly conformed to one pictured in the article by Peter Tuite (author of multiple books on naval arms). What conforms to a naval pattern is the diamond-shaped blade, simple crosshilt, along with the 'tall' ivory/bone grip. As astutely noted by Kronckew, it was the midshipmen who carried the majority of these to signify that they were very young officers (10 and up) and not 'common' seamen. These dressy types were not fighters. That being said, if one had a copy of Gilkerson's Borders Away (yes, that tired old manual I mention so freely- ), one will see Horatio Nelson's fighting dirk was...ahem...rather small. Some of the American fighting dirks were smaller, albeit with chunkier, wide blades. I still have one dirk in my collection with a (scarcely) 4" hilt and long stiletto blade of 15". Anyway, my .2 cents...

http://www.vallejogallery.com/objec...full%20view.jpg

http://landandseacollection.com/id559.html

Hurray! The pics worked this time! Spectacular article on British naval items. I recommend the download for those that value it. Please note Plate 35 for a very similar example (one like I used to own).

http://www.google.com/url?url=http:...Q9BOHhl-3xOcmHQ

Last edited by M ELEY : 17th February 2015 at 11:46 PM.
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Old 18th February 2015, 12:37 AM   #15
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The first link has good photos of dirks, the other links I cannot get the photos.
I see what you mean by it being a dirk. I thought the cross guard did not look substantial but then again it's not a large dirk.
I think the grip has been shortened as suggested.
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Old 18th February 2015, 01:46 PM   #16
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I have owned about a dozen dirks over the years and have handled over a hundred or more at shows.

They are fascinating collecting category in and of themselves.

Midshipmen were very young, and, consequently, not fully grown men. (Small grips for small hands!) The proportions can be a little odd because of this and lead one to think of Spanish or Spanish colonial work sometime.

Also, as midshipmen, they did not have full responsibility of an officer.

The dirk was a part of their uniform and an indication of their rank. A commissioned officer would wear a larger more ornate and lethal dirk.

A lot were imported as parts (blades) and as finished goods from England and used by Americans. I believe most with etched blades were British made and used by either American or British Mids.

Now, civilians had a need for small sheath knives as well, for utility and protection. This was still the age, until about the 1830's, that gentlemen could wear small swords. These tended to get in the way, so smaller sidearms could be a less cumbersome alternative.

There are a lot of cutlery hilted knives out in the collecting realm that are just such a weapon. Later examples also had pinned slab grips.

French knives, or knives made by French trained cutlers, had much different proportions and were generally finished to a higher degree. The mirror polished blades, when still in original condition, stand out from the British and American works.

Where I live, in Louisiana, they occasionally turn up in estates.

But, remember, that cutlers were in business to sell knives, and anyone could walk into a shop and buy whatever suited his fancy and whatever he could afford.

As far as letter openers go, remember, that early 19th century envelopes did not have adhesive. They were sealed by a dollop of hot wax that was easily opened without slicing.

I will try to locate a few and post images in the next week or so.
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