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Old 2nd June 2018, 07:07 AM   #1
F. de Luzon
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Default Ilocano Knives (Santa, Ilocos Sur, Philippines)

I visited the Ilocos Region recently. One of the places known for producing knives there is the town of Santa in the Province of Ilocos Sur. The trademark pommel of Santa knives is the soldier's head but they also make the more common pommel designs. I found these knives from Santa in the public market of the City of Vigan (around 10 km from Santa). Vigan is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and I included a photo to give an idea what it's like to be there.

These knives are farm tools but they can still be effective weapons. I was told that they are made of recycled leaf spring but manufactured through the traditional process. The hilt is made of carabao horn and the sheath is of thick carabao hide.

Dimensions:
Bolo: Blade length- 15.5 inches/39.37 cm Total length- 21 inches/ 53.34 cm
Knife: Blade length- 5.2 inches/13.3 cm Total length- 8.75 inches/22.22 cm
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Old 2nd June 2018, 07:10 AM   #2
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More photos.
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Old 2nd June 2018, 08:05 PM   #3
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Thanks for posting these interesting recent examples of southern Ilocano knives for everyday use. Very useful pictures.


Ian.
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Old 3rd June 2018, 10:41 AM   #4
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You're welcome Ian. I found it interesting that each blade is distinct from the others. Although they appear the same, they are different in weight and balance. Some are light and flimsy, others are bulky and heavy. The variations in blade shape, thickness and grind account for this. The hilt size and weight is also not consistent. Each knife thus has its own personality and one has to find the one that feels right in the hand or one that suits one's specific needs.

These examples do not compare to antique Ilocano knives that I've handled. In general they are still well made but these are unrefined. The attention to detail is not the same. The bolsters are not as nice and the carving in the handles are very rough. I've seen older examples of the Santa pommel that are well detailed. Where human features are carefully carved unlike the examples shown here. I'll try to post pictures of those better examples. Anyway, I guess these are not made to impress aesthetically. They are everyday working tools that are meant to last but not to be displayed. They may not be refined but they will certainly get the job done. Nonetheless, I wish that the traditional quality was retained. Like I said, these new ones do not compare to the antiques.

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Old 4th June 2018, 05:21 AM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by F. de Luzon
You're welcome Ian. I found it interesting that each blade is distinct from the others. Although they appear the same, they are different in weight and balance. Some are light and flimsy, others are bulky and heavy. The variations in blade shape, thickness and grind account for this. The hilt size and weight is also not consistent. Each knife thus has its own personality and one has to find the one that feels right in the hand or one that suits one's specific needs.

These examples do not compare to antique Ilocano knives that I've handled. In general they are still well made but these are unrefined. The attention to detail is not the same. The bolsters are not as nice and the carving in the handles are very rough. I've seen older examples of the Santa pommel that are well detailed. Where human features are carefully carved unlike the examples shown here. I'll try to post pictures of those better examples. Anyway, I guess these are not made to impress aesthetically. They are everyday working tools that are meant to last but not to be displayed. They may not be refined but they will certainly get the job done. Nonetheless, I wish that the traditional quality was retained. Like I said, these new ones do not compare to the antiques.
Thanks again for your comments F. de L. The depiction of Antonio Luna on these hilts is a tradition that seems to have been around since before WWII. Luna was an interesting man and there are a number of online sources detailing his history. I agree that many of the depictions here are cruder than on older, better quality examples.


I think the "individuality" of Filipino knives is common--no two being exactly alike unless machine made--and the need to find the right "fit" for a buyer is important. I have a friend in Negros who must have examined 50 different bolos of similar design before deciding on the right one for him to cut brush in his yard. Since he planned to do a lot of chopping with it over a long time he wanted one that would last and feel right.

Ian.

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Old 4th June 2018, 02:15 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ian
Thanks again for your comments F. de L. The depiction of Antonio Luna on these hilts is a tradition that seems to have been around since before WWII. Luna was an interesting man and there are a number of online sources detailiong his history. I agree that many of the depictions here are cruder than on older, better quality examples.


Hi Ian,

The Santa pommel (aka Kapitan or Antonio Luna) certainly resembles a Filipino revolutionary army officer wearing a peaked cap like General Antonio Luna in his portrait. Here's a link that provides info on the uniform of the Army of the First Philippine Republic: http://malacanang.gov.ph/76540-info...ppine-republic/. Also, attached is a photo of Antonio Luna wearing the cap and an example of an antique dagger from Santa, Ilocos Sur for the information of readers who may not be acquainted with what we are discussing.

The attention to detail in the older pommel is so much better compared to contemporary versions. I noticed that the stud on the forehead that you'll find in older versions is missing in the new ones. It's that stud that makes it unmistakably inspired by the officers of the 1st Republican Army. I've seen claims online that older versions like this are from the era of the First Republic (1898-1901). It makes sense because it was the only time such uniform was used. However, I've never encountered an actual dated example. I hope someone can shed more light on this.

[/QUOTE] I think the "individuality" of Filipino knives is common--no two being exactly alike unless machine made--and the need to find the right "fit" for a buyer is important. I have a friend in Negros who must have examined 50 different bolos of similar design before deciding on the right one for him to cut brush in his yard. Since he planned to do a lot of chopping with it over a long time he wanted one that would last and feel right. [/QUOTE]

This is very interesting. I did the same until I found the right one.

Kind regards,

Fernando
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Old 4th June 2018, 10:32 PM   #7
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Fernando, thank you for posting this. I see some of what Ian has been talking about on Ilokano blades.

Maraming Salamat!
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Old 6th June 2018, 01:43 AM   #8
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Walang anuman, Battara!

I found this photo described as a dated (19th century) Northern Luzon Katipunan knife (https://www.pinterest.com/pin/332703491193420071/). The scabbard is almost identical to the one in the picture I posted above. Could the one above be from the period of the 1st Philippine Republic?

Fernando
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Old 6th June 2018, 02:03 AM   #9
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Could this be Ilocano?
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Old 6th June 2018, 02:24 AM   #10
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Hi Rick.

Yes, I think so. The blade form is consistent, with a "peaked" clip to the spine and a small "bulge" on the cutting edge just in front of the guard--both highly suggestive of Ilocano work. The multifaceted brass ferrule with small brass guard is also in keeping, while the horn hilt with a groove for the little finger is typical of Ilocano work. The carved pommel is an uncommon variant IMHO, but the peined tang is very common. The thick leather sheath with a "rondel" at the throat is also a fairly common Ilocano style.

While few of these features are purely Ilocano in form, it checks all the boxes for me as Ilocano in origin.

Ian.

Addendum: In thinking about your pommel, I was reminded of a thread a while back where a similar pommel was discussed and the suggestion was made that it may represent a porobiscis monkey--see here.

Last edited by Ian : 6th June 2018 at 02:35 AM. Reason: Added link to another thread
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Old 6th June 2018, 02:29 AM   #11
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Hi Fernando:

The five-pointed star was a common military emblem of the First Republic. Whether weapons bearing this emblem are from that brief period, or were made later and are commemorative of that period, is hard to say without some provenance. That said, your example is remarkably similar to the dated one and could have been made by the same person--even the leather tooling is identical.

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Old 6th June 2018, 03:07 AM   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ian
Hi Rick.
Addendum: In thinking about your pommel, I was reminded of a thread a while back where a similar pommel was discussed and the suggestion was made that it may represent a porobiscis monkey--see here.


Well, I always wondered if it was American influenced from this character born in 1936:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eugene_the_Jeep

One never knows..

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Old 6th June 2018, 10:01 AM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by F. de Luzon
Walang anuman, Battara!

I found this photo described as a dated (19th century) Northern Luzon Katipunan knife (https://www.pinterest.com/pin/332703491193420071/). The scabbard is almost identical to the one in the picture I posted above. Could the one above be from the period of the 1st Philippine Republic?

Fernando


i don't remember having a date on that particular piece. i think whoever posted that picture is trying to say this particular dagger was made during the 19th century.
the whitish metal decorating the handle is made out of aluminum.
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Old 6th June 2018, 10:00 PM   #14
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Quote:
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... One never knows..

Exactly
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Old 10th June 2018, 01:06 PM   #15
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Default Aluminum on Philippine Weapons

Quote:
Originally Posted by Spunjer
i don't remember having a date on that particular piece. i think whoever posted that picture is trying to say this particular dagger was made during the 19th century.
the whitish metal decorating the handle is made out of aluminum.


Hello Spunjer,

Thank you for your insights. The whitish metal on the hilt of the dagger in post #6 seems to be of the same material as that in post #8. I haven't seen the dagger (#6) in person because it is still en route to Manila. But based on the photograph, the whitish lines and dots do look like aluminum. The similarities in the hilt and scabbard suggest that these daggers were made by the same craftsman, as said by Ian.

I am certain that the dagger with the soldier's head pommel was manufactured in Santa, Ilocos Sur. If these were made by the same craftsman, then the other one is from the same place. The question is whether or not these daggers are from the era of the Philippine Revolution/Philippine American War (1896-1902). Some would assume that it can't because of the presence of aluminum.

I've seen here and elsewhere the view that Philippine weapons (krisses, bolos, etc) with aluminum fittings are of post World War II manufacture because aluminum was salvaged from downed fighter planes. I do not agree with this broad generalization.

Aluminum (aluminio) was imported to the Philippines since the late nineteenth century. Later, the American Governor General would even set duties on aluminum. Here's a page from the Executive Orders and Proclamations of the Governor General in 1905 setting the duties on aluminum kitchen utensils, etc. See #71 .. aluminio.... (https://quod.lib.umich.edu/p/philam...age;q1=aluminio).

Therefore, while some weapons were fitted with aluminum after the war, there were others that may have already had them even before. All I am saying is that these daggers cannot be assumed to be post war just because of the presence of aluminum.

Anyway, I'm just sharing my thoughts and I would appreciate any added insights.

Kind regards,

Fernando

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Old 10th June 2018, 10:02 PM   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by F. de Luzon
Hello Spunjer,

Thank you for your insights. The whitish metal on the hilt of the dagger in post #6 seems to be of the same material as that in post #8. I haven't seen the dagger (#6) in person because it is still en route to Manila. But based on the photograph, the whitish lines and dots do look like aluminum. The similarities in the hilt and scabbard suggest that these daggers were made by the same craftsman, as said by Ian.

I am certain that the dagger with the soldier's head pommel was manufactured in Santa, Ilocos Sur. If these were made by the same craftsman, then the other one is from the same place. The question is whether or not these daggers are from the era of the Philippine Revolution/Philippine American War (1896-1902). Some would assume that it can't because of the presence of aluminum.

I've seen here and elsewhere the view that Philippine weapons (krisses, bolos, etc) with aluminum fittings are of post World War II manufacture because aluminum was salvaged from downed fighter planes. I do not agree with this broad generalization.

Aluminum (aluminio) was imported to the Philippines since the late nineteenth century. Later, the American Governor General would even set duties on aluminum. Here's a page from the Executive Orders and Proclamations of the Governor General in 1905 setting the duties on aluminum kitchen utensils, etc. See #71 .. aluminio.... (https://quod.lib.umich.edu/p/philam...age;q1=aluminio).

Therefore, while some weapons were fitted with aluminum after the war, there were others that may have already had them even before. All I am saying is that these daggers cannot be assumed to be post war just because of the presence of aluminum.

Anyway, I'm just sharing my thoughts and I would appreciate any added insights.

Kind regards,

Fernando
Hi Fernando:

Thanks for bringing up again the interesting topic of aluminum (aluminium) metal on Filipino knives.

The history of extracting aluminum metal from bauxite ore really starts in the first half of the 19th C. Early extraction methods using chemical processes produced very limited quantities of aluminum of relatively poor quality, and so rare was the metal in the mid-19th C that its price was greater than gold. With development of an electrolytic process in the late 1800s, the volume and purity of aluminum metal increased and the price came down considerably, such that by the 1890s it was starting to be used in commercial products and jewellery. Aluminum cutlery was introduced by the 1920s, but at that time aluminum metal products were still somewhat of a novelty.

The military importance of aluminum in aircraft construction was appreciated during WWI and greatly increased during the construction of high performance aircraft in the 1920s and 1930s. By the time WWII started, aluminum had been adopted widely in the manufacture of military aircraft.

Your thesis that aluminum could have been used in decorating Filipino knives in the early 20th C before WWII is certainly plausible. US production of aluminum led the world for much of that period, which corresponded to the time the US controlled the Philippines. It seems likely that aluminum metal would have been present in the Philippines in some quantity pre-WWII, especially on military bases in Luzon. To the best of my knowledge, however, there has been no bauxite mining or aluminum production in the Philippines, and inspection of current Philippine Government web sites reveals no mention of bauxite extraction of aluminum refining. It appears that aluminum in the Philippines is derived solely from outside the country.

Which brings us to the question of when Filipino knives with aluminum decoration may have been made. The substantial majority of Filipino knives with aluminum decoration are those that have cast aluminum hilts. These were produced in fairly large quantities judging from the frequency with which they appear in online auctions (notably eBay). It is my opinion (and perhaps the subject of an entirely different thread) that these knives are of Ilokano design and construction, mostly made in the vicinity of the old Clark Air Force Base in Pampanga. These knives vary in quality, and some have dates that encompass the period 19451947. Such dates may be more commemorative rather than the date of manufacture (1945, liberation from Japanese occupation; 1947, independence from US rule), so it is possible that they were still being made in the 1950s or later. The amount of aluminum used in these knives suggests a significant supply of the metal, and downed airplanes are the most likely source. From these observations has arisen the idea that the substantial majority of Filipino knives with aluminum decoration are of post-WWII manufacture.

To address your point about pre-WWII use of aluminum, I see no reason why small amounts of aluminum would not have been used for decorative purposes in the 1920s and 1930s, or possibly earlier. It would be nice to find some provenanced pieces to support that idea.

Ian.

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Old 11th June 2018, 03:29 AM   #17
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Beautifully stated Ian!
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Old 11th June 2018, 06:00 AM   #18
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Default Aluminum on Philippine Weapons

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ian
A. Aluminum cutlery was introduced by the 1920s, but at that time aluminum metal products were still somewhat of a novelty.

B. It seems likely that aluminum metal would have been present in the Philippines in some quantity pre-WWII, especially on military bases in Luzon.

C. To the best of my knowledge, however, there has been no bauxite mining or aluminum production in the Philippines, and inspection of current Philippine Government web sites reveals no mention of bauxite extraction of aluminum refining. It appears that aluminum in the Philippines is derived solely from outside the country.

D. Which brings us to the question of when Filipino knives with aluminum decoration may have been made. The substantial majority of Filipino knives with aluminum decoration are those that have cast aluminum hilts. These were produced in fairly large quantities judging from the frequency with which they appear in online auctions (notably eBay).

E. It is my opinion (and perhaps the subject of an entirely different thread) that these knives are of Ilokano design and construction, mostly made in the vicinity of the old Clark Air Force Base in Pampanga. These knives vary in quality, and some have dates that encompass the period 19451947. Such dates may be more commemorative rather than the date of manufacture (1945, liberation from Japanese occupation; 1947, independence from US rule), so it is possible that they were still being made in the 1950s or later.
The amount of aluminum used in these knives suggests a significant supply of the metal, and downed airplanes are the most likely source. From these observations has arisen the idea that the substantial majority of Filipino knives with aluminum decoration are of post-WWII manufacture.

F. It would be nice to find some provenanced pieces to support that idea.



Hello Ian and thank you for sharing your thoughts. I would like to respond to your ideas point by point.

A. The link I attached directs to a page of a document from 1905 showing the imposition of duties on "utensilios de cocina de aluminio" (aluminum kitchen utensils) and "todos los demas articulos de aluminio" (all other aluminum articles). Below is a photo of the page. Aluminum was imported to the Philippines as kitchen utensils in 1905. I'm surprised that it was still a novelty in the US during the 1920s.

B. Aluminum was actually available in some quantity before World War II and not just "especially on military bases in Luzon." Aside from being present in Filipino kitchens, it was also used for other purposes. Attached is a page from a pre-war buyers guide in the American Chamber of Commerce Journal of May 1939 on which is listed a distributor of aluminum metal mouldings and art products. In another journal from 1940, you'll find another distributor of aluminum in the Philippines. Aluminum was also used as far as Basilan and here's an article from 1928 stating the use of aluminum separators in rubber plantations there. These examples can be accessed online. There are earlier documents on the use of aluminum foil as well as the use of aluminum to decorate horse carriages (kalesa) but I have to scan them. Safe to say that aluminum was widely distributed around the archipelago pre-war.

C. Yes, aluminum was imported into the country. The strong agricultural economy back then did not require the local production of certain commodities, both raw and manufactured. The money made from agriculture (sugar, hemp, copra, tobacco, etc.) was used to purchase manufactured goods.

D. I agree that aluminum became a more common material as time went by. On weapons, they certainly would have been a much more practical alternative to brass and silver in later years, especially on souvenir items. However, one must avoid broad generalizations. Not all weapons with aluminum fittings are post war and souvenir items. As pointed out, aluminum was available in the Philippines long before the war.

E. The reason for the sale of weapons/knives with aluminum fittings around the bases was because of the presence of G.I.s looking for souvenirs and not because of the availability of aluminum there. There were downed airplanes (both US and Japanese) all over the Islands. The use of aluminum from salvaged aircraft sounds very exotic but while some may have sourced their aluminum from such, others may have simply recycled their old aluminum kettles, ladels or spoons.

The manufacturers around the bases didn't even have to be Ilocano. They could have been Kapampangan, Tagalog, even Negrito blacksmiths making Ilocano style knives. Ilocano made knives could also have been brought there conveniently.

F. While provenanced pieces would be best, in its absence one can rely on circumstantial evidence. That is until actual proof is found.

Anyway, I am trying to engage in a friendly conversation. My intention is to learn more through a healthy exchange of ideas.

Kind regards,

Fernando
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Old 11th June 2018, 07:32 AM   #19
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All good points, Fernando. You have done some sterling research on this subject. Thank you for the pictures and information.

Quote:
... The manufacturers around the bases didn't even have to be Ilocano. They could have been Kapampangan, Tagalog, even Negrito blacksmiths making Ilocano style knives. Ilocano made knives could also have been brought there conveniently. ...
Quite possible. Just because the style may have been Ilocano does not mean that these were all made by Ilocanos.
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Old 13th June 2018, 02:56 AM   #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by F. de Luzon
Hello Spunjer,

Thank you for your insights. The whitish metal on the hilt of the dagger in post #6 seems to be of the same material as that in post #8. I haven't seen the dagger (#6) in person because it is still en route to Manila. But based on the photograph, the whitish lines and dots do look like aluminum. The similarities in the hilt and scabbard suggest that these daggers were made by the same craftsman, as said by Ian.

I am certain that the dagger with the soldier's head pommel was manufactured in Santa, Ilocos Sur. If these were made by the same craftsman, then the other one is from the same place. The question is whether or not these daggers are from the era of the Philippine Revolution/Philippine American War (1896-1902). Some would assume that it can't because of the presence of aluminum.

I've seen here and elsewhere the view that Philippine weapons (krisses, bolos, etc) with aluminum fittings are of post World War II manufacture because aluminum was salvaged from downed fighter planes. I do not agree with this broad generalization.

Aluminum (aluminio) was imported to the Philippines since the late nineteenth century. Later, the American Governor General would even set duties on aluminum. Here's a page from the Executive Orders and Proclamations of the Governor General in 1905 setting the duties on aluminum kitchen utensils, etc. See #71 .. aluminio.... (https://quod.lib.umich.edu/p/philam...age;q1=aluminio).

Therefore, while some weapons were fitted with aluminum after the war, there were others that may have already had them even before. All I am saying is that these daggers cannot be assumed to be post war just because of the presence of aluminum.

Anyway, I'm just sharing my thoughts and I would appreciate any added insights.

Kind regards,

Fernando


good point on aluminum, Fernando! i'm not sure about the knife on post #6; i can only vouch on the knife that's shown on post #8: this particular piece was a part of mine collection a few years ago. few things told me it was a later piece: the leather scabbard seems pretty crisp. the older pieces i have that were from the 1st revolutionary era that came with leather scabbards seem to have shrunk a bit. IMHO unless it was taken care of after all these years, these scabbards tend to shrink big time. another tell tale sign is the handle if it's made out of carabao horn. the horn tend to turn into this hazy, amber type. i'm attaching some examples.
hope that helps.

on the sidenote: when i went to Baler about 4 years ago, i went to the palengke and seen some knives with a similar soldier's head and flower bud handles.
also, one of the stories i've heard on what those soldier's head is suppose to represent is a facsimile of General Douglas MacArthur.
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Old 14th June 2018, 08:50 AM   #21
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Spunjer
good point on aluminum, Fernando! i'm not sure about the knife on post #6; i can only vouch on the knife that's shown on post #8: this particular piece was a part of mine collection a few years ago. few things told me it was a later piece: the leather scabbard seems pretty crisp. the older pieces i have that were from the 1st revolutionary era that came with leather scabbards seem to have shrunk a bit. IMHO unless it was taken care of after all these years, these scabbards tend to shrink big time. another tell tale sign is the handle if it's made out of carabao horn. the horn tend to turn into this hazy, amber type. i'm attaching some examples.
hope that helps.

on the sidenote: when i went to Baler about 4 years ago, i went to the palengke and seen some knives with a similar soldier's head and flower bud handles. Also, one of the stories i've heard on what those soldier's head is suppose to represent is a facsimile of General Douglas MacArthur.


Thank you for the information Spunjer! It's very helpful. I'll inspect the fit of the scabbard and the quality of the horn when it arrives. I do not intend to insist that #6 is from the era of the revolution. I just based the assumption on the description of #8 as being from that time. I am open to any possibility and your insights are enlightening. On the origin of #6, it came from a large civil war collection in California. Unfortunately, that's all the information that could be given.

Regarding the side note, attached is a photo I found online. It's part of the collection of a former governor of Ilocos Sur. I think the hat resembles Gen. MacArthur's. Following the times, I suppose? The contemporary examples look very generic.

There's another example I saw but which I was unable to save but it had a dedication that said "from the people of Santa, Ilocos Sur." Right now, all I'm certain of is that the soldiers head pommel has been made in Santa for a long time now.

I hope to visit Baler one of these days. In case I do, I'll try to get information on their knives.

Kind regards,

Fernando
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Old 15th June 2018, 01:31 AM   #22
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A few things:

1. Thank you Fernando - very helpful.

2. I agree with Ron in that many of these knives were made by non-Ilokanos. In fact, although each group makes various types of knives (especially for different uses) I question what almost looks to me that the Ilokanos made all of these knives on the forum described as Ilokano. Ian and I have wondered about the cross fertilization of aspects of the different groups, Ilokano to Tagalog and visa versa, etc.

3. Ron I think you are on to something regarding horn (especially albino carabao horn) changing look as it ages. Mine seem to. And I will also add that I have a Katipunero scabbard that has shrunk to where I can't get the blade fulling inside. On the other hand, I have another piece of the Katipunero era with a scabbard in near perfect condition without shrinkage. Storage conditions do matter to an extent.

4. It is very likely that aluminum was used more during and after WWII. However, I wonder then if the quality and style of hilt might be an additional and better determination of age rather than just the use of the aluminum alone.
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Old 17th June 2018, 07:24 AM   #23
F. de Luzon
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Battara
A few things:

2. I agree with Ron in that many of these knives were made by non-Ilokanos. In fact, although each group makes various types of knives (especially for different uses) I question what almost looks to me that the Ilokanos made all of these knives on the forum described as Ilokano. Ian and I have wondered about the cross fertilization of aspects of the different groups, Ilokano to Tagalog and visa versa, etc.

3. Ron I think you are on to something regarding horn (especially albino carabao horn) changing look as it ages. Mine seem to. And I will also add that I have a Katipunero scabbard that has shrunk to where I can't get the blade fulling inside. On the other hand, I have another piece of the Katipunero era with a scabbard in near perfect condition without shrinkage. Storage conditions do matter to an extent.

4. It is very likely that aluminum was used more during and after WWII. However, I wonder then if the quality and style of hilt might be an additional and better determination of age rather than just the use of the aluminum alone.


You're welcome, Battara! I agree with you on all points.
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