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Old 22nd February 2018, 08:47 PM   #1
Ian
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Default Borneo parang naibur--a mix of old and new

In a recent discussion of a Borneo mandau, mention was made of fine rattan on the hilt being more indicative of older manufacture than coarser rattan wrappings. This prompted me to look back at some of my Borneo swords and reconsider their age. In doing so, I came across the one shown below, which I acquired online in 2005 and was discussed here at that time. For present purposes I will refer to my sword as a parang naibur, although Albert van Zonneveld shows a similar sword in his book that is called langgai tinggang, and our Borneo experts may have other names they can offer too. My main point in posting this one again is to illustrate what I think is old and new about this sword.

First, I think the scabbard itself is old, possibly 19th C. The wood shows areas that had red pigment and lime decoration which have faded over time (Figures A–D). The scabbard has nice traditional carving near the throat and is bound with bands of narrow rattan that have been woven intricately into characteristic designs. These contrast with the simple wrap with wide rattan strips to which a fiber rope is attached. This rope forms a belt from which bear claws are suspended (Figures E, F), and the belt is completed with a plastic disk (Figure G) that hooks through a loop in the rope. I think this belt was likely added shortly before the sword was offered online. I am wondering whether the generalization about thin versus thick rattan for hilts may also apply here to the scabbard as well.

The hilt is also likely to be a recent feature. Carved from wood in a traditional style, it lacks the elegance and refinement of older work, and the addition of bear fur was probably another attempt to enhance the online attractiveness of the item. The rattan wrapping on the hilt would seem to be of the “wider” variety mentioned in the mandau thread.

The blade appears old, and I would date it with the scabbard as possibly 19th C. It has a dark patina with areas of stable old rust that are almost black (Figure B). The blade is well forged and straight, with a thickness of 7.5 mm just in front of the hilt and tapering smoothly to 3.0 mm where the spine turns down towards the cutting edge and the blade has a maximum width of 4.5 cm. A fuller is present on each side just below the spine of the blade—the fullers are well cut, of even width, and run parallel to the curved spine. This is a good quality blade made by a skilled craftsman.

Along the spine of the blade are groups of lines with shallow brass inlay. These lines are widest closest to the hilt and narrowest near the tip. They are present in groups of 5—7—6—7—6—5 going from the hilt towards the tip (Figure C).

Dimensions:
Overall length = 61.5 cm
Length of blade = 49.0 cm
Ian

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Old 22nd February 2018, 10:09 PM   #2
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Hello Ian,
I generally agree with your assesment but would give more credit to the hilt. Of course you have it in front of you and can see much more details but to my eyes the hilt looks only maybe a couple of decades younger than the scabbard and blade.
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Old 22nd February 2018, 11:39 PM   #3
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Marius,

Thanks for your thoughts. Much appreciated. I have attached another close up picture of the hilt. There is not much to be seen in terms of wear from handling or age. The carving is crisp with no chips, cracks, etc. Those are the things I was looking at when I said that I thought it was of recent manufacture. Does the rattan wrap help with assessing age in this case?

Ian.

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Old 23rd February 2018, 01:52 AM   #4
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Hello Ian,

Quote:
In a recent discussion of a Borneo mandau, mention was made of fine rattan on the hilt being more indicative of older manufacture than coarser rattan wrappings.

This and craftsmanship may help to estimate age. However, there are so many peoples living on Borneo that generalizations are usually off or unreliable at best. For example, braided rattan on the grip of Kayan status mandau is extremely fine (cp. the first grip posted by Ben on that other thread) while the Kutai equivalent is still skilfully done but crafted from noticeably broader splitted rattan - we really need to compare items from a single culture here. Not only that but also each part/type of braiding or other rattan work separately...


Quote:
For present purposes I will refer to my sword as a parang naibur, although Albert van Zonneveld shows a similar sword in his book that is called langgai tinggang, and our Borneo experts may have other names they can offer too.

It is neither, sorry.

It is a type of Iban parang with symmetric edge (rather than a mandau with concave and convex sides); I don't believe we ever found a genuine name for this distinct type - maybe our member Primus can help with info from the source?


Quote:
First, I think the scabbard itself is old, possibly 19th C. The wood shows areas that had red pigment and lime decoration which have faded over time

These scabbards are quite rare - definitely a good catch!

Regarding age, I'd guess it to be quite a bit later though. Just a hunch based on craftsmanship, materials, etc.


Quote:
bound with bands of narrow rattan that have been woven intricately into characteristic designs. These contrast with the simple wrap with wide rattan strips to which a fiber rope is attached.

The wider rattan strips under the clip are typical and not per se a sign of recent work. I'm less convinced of the knots though - these look like later work for me...


Quote:
This rope forms a belt from which bear claws are suspended (Figures E, F), and the belt is completed with a plastic disk (Figure G) that hooks through a loop in the rope. I think this belt was likely added shortly before the sword was offered online.

Genuine belts of this scabbard type seem to come in lesser qualities, too. No idea why and I'd guess they got replaced regularly during active use.

The claws are certainly added very late: the remaining tissues would start rotting in a humid climate... Dito for the 3 smaller teeth.

The larger teeth appear to be a bit older though.


Quote:
The rattan wrapping on the hilt would seem to be of the “wider” variety mentioned in the mandau thread.

I believe the Iban tend to utilize broader splitted rattan - craftsmanship is not too bad and probably consistent with a vintage origin.


Quote:
The blade appears old, and I would date it with the scabbard as possibly 19th C.

The blade may well be older. Tough call since the quality doesn't seem to be high which tends to make estimates much more difficult.


I hope others will chime in, too!

Regards,
Kai

Last edited by kai : 23rd February 2018 at 07:38 AM. Reason: correcting auto correction... ;)
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Old 23rd February 2018, 04:14 AM   #5
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Hello Kai,

Thanks for your detailed response. The information is greatly appreciated.

It is somehow refreshing to know that some things simply don't have a name! I was never happy with calling it a parang naibur, but could find nothing better in the sources I consulted. To learn that it has no recognized name is not surprising.

I agree that the blade is rather plain, but at the same time it is well made and seems to have some age to it. The sword is quite light in the hand and well balanced.

I'm planning to take this one with me to Australia, so I will likely remove the belt and the fur trim on the hilt. No sense in giving customs people things to be concerned about. I don't think that the loss of the belt and fur will detract from the item.

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Old 23rd February 2018, 07:37 AM   #6
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Hello Ian,

Quote:
Thanks for your detailed response. The information is greatly appreciated.

You're welcome! Wait for comments by the Dayak specialists before taking any conclusions as well as actions...


Quote:
I agree that the blade is rather plain, but at the same time it is well made and seems to have some age to it. The sword is quite light in the hand and well balanced.

Yes, it does't look like a toy (aka made as gift for foreigners or for sale to those who travel for pleasure). There may be a chance it was mainly made for ceremonial use.


Quote:
I don't think that the loss of the belt and fur will detract from the item.

The fur and the new additions certainly not. However, please post a pic of the reverse side of the scabbard and a close-up of the rattan attachment.

There may be a point of depositing it in a museum...

Regards,
Kai
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Old 23rd February 2018, 02:56 PM   #7
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Thanks again Kai. Here are some pictures of the back of the scabbard with close ups of the rattan fittings.

I will not do anything drastic until hearing from more folks.

Ian.
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Old 24th February 2018, 09:40 PM   #8
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It don t even come close to an parang nabur.

http://old.blades.free.fr/swords/da...dayak_intro.htm

Ben

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Old 25th February 2018, 07:18 AM   #9
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Ben:

Thank you for that succinct comment.

As I noted above, I'm not concerned about whether my sword is actually a parang naibur (or the absence of an agreed name for it)--perhaps it's closer to being a jimpul. My point in posting it was to learn more about what is considered old in style and what is new. Your earlier comment in another thread about thick and thin rattan on hilts was a starting point for my thinking about this.

Kai raised the possibility that it may have had a ceremonial function.

Ian.
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Old 25th February 2018, 02:31 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ian
Ben:

Thank you for that succinct comment.

As I noted above, I'm not concerned about whether my sword is actually a parang naibur (or the absence of an agreed name for it)--perhaps it's closer to being a jimpul. My point in posting it was to learn more about what is considered old in style and what is new. Your earlier comment in another thread about thick and thin rattan on hilts was a starting point for my thinking about this.

Kai raised the possibility that it may have had a ceremonial function.

Ian.


The style is not old of the blade he come close to Jimpul style blade.

Scabbard also not the age you think.

Ben
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Old 25th February 2018, 02:54 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dajak
The style is not old of the blade he come close to Jimpul style blade.

Scabbard also not the age you think.

Ben
Ben,

Can you give me an estimate of how old you think the scabbard and blade may be? Kai has mentioned the scabbard is unusual. Do you agree?

Ian

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Old 25th February 2018, 04:30 PM   #12
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[QUOTE=Ian]Ben,

Can you give me an estimate of how old you think the scabbard and blade may be? Kai has mentioned the scabbard is unusual. Do you agree?

Ian[/QUOTE

What is unusual on the scabbard?

Ben
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Old 25th February 2018, 04:43 PM   #13
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Hello Ian,

Quote:
Kai has mentioned the scabbard is unusual.

I said it is rare that these are complete with scabbard - the lower quality blades often seem to come without them...

Regards,
Kai
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Old 25th February 2018, 04:51 PM   #14
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You're welcome, Ian!

Quote:
Here are some pictures of the back of the scabbard with close ups of the rattan fittings.

Doesn't look obviously suspect to me. The quality of the strap is low but I'd like input from any Iban specialists for the final verdict on age, etc.

Regards,
Kai
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Old 25th February 2018, 04:52 PM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kai
Hello Ian,


I said it is rare that these are complete with scabbard - the lower quality blades often seem to come without them...

Regards,
Kai



This one was in the KIT museum 1916....1956 the blade is different.
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Old 25th February 2018, 04:54 PM   #16
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Quote:
Kai raised the possibility that it may have had a ceremonial function.

IMHO the blade is not old enough to have been used in any raids; maybe as a tool in the jungle though. Assuming it's vintage, ceremonies may have been its main purpose...

Regards,
Kai
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Old 25th February 2018, 05:10 PM   #17
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Hello Ben,

Quote:
This one was in the KIT museum 1916....1956 the blade is different.

Thanks for this example - the blade and hilt seem to have better quality IMHO.

Regards,
Kai
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Old 27th February 2018, 12:58 PM   #18
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Thank you Ben and Kai. I appreciate your comments.

The points I'm taking from your input are that this an Iban parang (without a more specific name), perhaps mid-20th C or a little earlier in manufacture, with some recent additions of animal products.

While not questioning your assessment in any way, I was a little surprised by your dating this one closer to mid-20th C than earlier. Based on my experience with pieces from mainland SE Asia and the Philippines, I would have thought this one was closer to 1900 +/-. Of course appearances depend on how the sword was used and stored, and are not necessarily the best indicators of age. As Kai noted, materials and style are important indicators also.

I do have a couple of questions about maintenance of these swords and on how you assess quality of blades. As I mentioned above, the blade on this sword has quite a lot of oxidation from age and use. I'm not sure that I want to polish it back to bright metal unless that is how it would have been kept in its original culture. Would the blade be seen as "better quality" if I polished it?

Also, with regard to quality, this blade is rather plain but, as I mentioned above, it has characteristics of being well made by an experienced craftsman. In assessing quality, is the amount of file work an important consideration for these swords? It seems to me that those decorative elements are nice for show but do not necessarily reflect a better made or more functional blade. In referencing "quality" are you equating this with "prestige?"

Ian.
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Old 27th February 2018, 06:40 PM   #19
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Hello Ian,

I am wondering, from where did you buy this parang ?

Regardless of the age guesses we can make, it looks like a blade that has faced long extensive use.
Also the scabbard looks very used. lot of patina.
The original carrying strap has surely been replaced by simple rope because someone was in need to carry this parang.

The blade has decorations on the back. are these brass inlays ?

I think that cleaning the blade will give us a better idea of the quality.
However, personally I am not very much in favour of cleaning such a blade with the main purpose to convince others of the age or quality of the blade


Maybe you can give it a gentle cleaning trying to give more life to the decorations

I like this parang, regardless the age.
It has a history in Borneo, maybe much more fun to own than a jimpul with history in a museum

Best regards,
Willem
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Old 27th February 2018, 08:58 PM   #20
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Hello Willem,

Thanks for chiming in!


Quote:
Regardless of the age guesses we can make, it looks like a blade that has faced long extensive use.

I'd guess that this piece remained in Borneo for a longer period; as usual, the blade may be older than the fittings, too.


Quote:
Also the scabbard looks very used. lot of patina.

Not so sure this is really old patina. Losses to the paint and definitely some genuine wear - it does not look antique to me though.


Quote:
I think that cleaning the blade will give us a better idea of the quality.
However, personally I am not very much in favour of cleaning such a blade with the main purpose to convince others of the age or quality of the blade

I don't think the cleaning is needed to convince others: The blade does seem to have some quality (e. g. the fuller) while the craftsmanship in shaping it (e. g. the curls at the base) is less convincing and certainly not "old-style"...

AFAIK, Dayak blades were generally kept in polish. Thus, one could argue that heavily patinated blades are non-traditional and just badly maintained!
Thus, I believe that gentle cleaning could help long-term maintenance as well as allow for a explorative fact-finding mission.


Quote:
It has a history in Borneo, maybe much more fun to own than a jimpul with history in a museum

While the jimpul is a rather late development of the Iban culture, I don't think that there is any notable number of early collected examples in musea which haven't been used in the originating culture.

Regards,
Kai
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Old 28th February 2018, 12:01 AM   #21
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Hello Ian,

Quote:
Would the blade be seen as "better quality" if I polished it?

AFAIK, the traditional taste would be to keep it polished, indeed. However, I don't think it needs to be brightly polished to a mirror shine.

Any polish is not per se a sign of quality. However, signs of quality can often be better gauged if a blade is reasonably clean (as well as not over-polished).


Quote:
In assessing quality, is the amount of file work an important consideration for these swords? It seems to me that those decorative elements are nice for show but do not necessarily reflect a better made or more functional blade. In referencing "quality" are you equating this with "prestige?"

No, some of the gift blades have all bells & whistles, at least nominally. Good quality blades always show good flow of lines and neat craftsmanship, even if not clad with any fancy features. The high-end blades are also made from superior steel quality, too.

Regards,
Kai
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Old 28th February 2018, 03:34 PM   #22
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Quote:
Originally Posted by asomotif
Hello Ian,

I am wondering, from where did you buy this parang ? ...

The blade has decorations on the back. are these brass inlays ?
Thank you for the comments Willem.

To answer your questions. I purchased this online (eBay) in 2005 from a seller in Malaysia. I don't recall the seller's name now, but at the time he was selling quite a few items from Borneo.

The decorations on the back are shallow brass inlays. Some of these are obscured a little by oxidation of the blade, but I think they would clean up a bit. Is there any significance, do you think, in the groupings of these inlays?

Quote:
... I think that cleaning the blade will give us a better idea of the quality.
However, personally I am not very much in favour of cleaning such a blade with the main purpose to convince others of the age or quality of the blade


Maybe you can give it a gentle cleaning trying to give more life to the decorations
I'm in the process of moving from the U.S. to Australia so it will be a little while before I can get to cleaning the blade. I will take your suggestion, however, and clean some of the oxidation off and see whether the decorations can be better displayed.

Quote:
... I like this parang, regardless the age.
It has a history in Borneo, maybe much more fun to own than a jimpul with history in a museum
I agree that this blade has seen some use and that the sword was carried (despite the recent additions). In particular, the tip of the blade is rounded from use and resharpening. I like it because it has "character." Obviously it has been used a lot within the culture, and its imperfections add to its charm. I am not enthused by the addition of materials from what I now know is an endangered species, and I'm inclined to remove them.

Last edited by Ian : 28th February 2018 at 04:14 PM.
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Old 28th February 2018, 08:51 PM   #23
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The real good mandau are mostly found in good condition because quality
of steel was very good and the most early taken from Borneo, the special mandau s sometimes hidden and taken 1 - 2 a year for an headhunting party...not al the mandau s are used for headhunting......
Some just like an everyday parang.

The best for dating mandau s go to the museums get in the depot and look when they get the weapon coming in and collecting time former owner.
These pics from the volkenkunde museum in Nijmegen wich one don t exist anymore.

Ben
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Old 1st March 2018, 06:35 PM   #24
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Ian, how thick is the spine at the base of the blade?

Kind regards,
Maurice
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Old 2nd March 2018, 07:00 AM   #25
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Maurice
Ian, how thick is the spine at the base of the blade?

Kind regards,
Maurice
Hi Maurice,

As noted above: "The blade is well forged and straight, with a thickness of 7.5 mm just in front of the hilt and tapering smoothly to 3.0 mm where the spine turns down towards the cutting edge and the blade has a maximum width of 4.5 cm."

Ian.
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Old 2nd March 2018, 08:14 AM   #26
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ian
In a recent discussion of a Borneo mandau, mention was made of fine rattan on the hilt being more indicative of older manufacture than coarser rattan wrappings.


There is a kind of truth in this, but in mine opinion this is not an age indicator for the 100%.
Ofcourse the fine rattan work often is found on older hilts, and the plaited rattan on the more recent hilts is less intricate and coarser.

Indeed, on the more recent hilts, almost never is seen such intricate fine rattanwork. But I have seen very old hilts with coarse rattanwork on the hilts. So the other way around this works not as an indicator imho.

Kind regards,
Maurice
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Old 2nd March 2018, 08:27 AM   #27
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ian

First, I think the scabbard itself is old, possibly 19th C. I am wondering whether the generalization about thin versus thick rattan for hilts may also apply here to the scabbard as well.


IMO I'm not sure if the scabbard is from the 19th century, and the "thin versus thick rattan" has nothing to do with the age of the scabbard. :-)
I've seen very old collected Borneo swords with huge, thick, rattan bands around the scabbard! The scabbard could be older indeed, looking at the patina here and there (between the rattan knots), but probably the paint is more recent. The carving on the scabbard though has no patina at all. I would not be surprised if it is even a more recent scabbard.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ian
The hilt is also likely to be a recent feature.

I agree with this one. The patina is not right, and it looks like it is artificially aged. The cravings don't look that smoothly done also, and rather crude.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ian
The blade appears old, and I would date it with the scabbard as possibly 19th C. It has a dark patina with areas of stable old rust that are almost black (Figure B). The blade is well forged and straight, with a thickness of 7.5 mm just in front of the hilt and tapering smoothly to 3.0 mm where the spine turns down towards the cutting edge and the blade has a maximum width of 4.5 cm. A fuller is present on each side just below the spine of the blade—the fullers are well cut, of even width, and run parallel to the curved spine. This is a good quality blade made by a skilled craftsman.

Sorry, but also here I must say the blade is probably not as old as you think. Normally these kind of blades (as far as I can remember though) are at least 1 cm thick at the spine. Also the fuller looks different, as the old style fullers. This blade is not a good quality blade IMO, and very poor. You can have a look at the holes in the blade and the krowit, which shows no signs of craftsmanship to me.
And if the blade does appear to be an old one, it is poorly crafted.


These kind of parangs show up now and than in Malaysian collections nowadays. Nothing wrong with it, but not the antique parangs I would like to collect.

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Old 2nd March 2018, 08:39 AM   #28
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ian
Does the rattan wrap help with assessing age in this case?


Nope. Keep in mind that wraps can be exchanged easily from one grip to another.......
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Old 2nd March 2018, 09:01 AM   #29
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ian
Hi Maurice,

As noted above: "The blade is well forged and straight, with a thickness of 7.5 mm just in front of the hilt and tapering smoothly to 3.0 mm where the spine turns down towards the cutting edge and the blade has a maximum width of 4.5 cm."

Ian.


Hi Ian, sorry, I looked over it.

I added some photos of a similar blade of the same area, only for sure a 19th century one. Hopefully you will see the craftmanship compared with your blade.
The thickness of this blade is 10cm at the base, and the length of the blade is 53 cm (20.9 inches).

Kind regards,
Maurice
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Old 2nd March 2018, 02:49 PM   #30
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Hi Maurice,

Thanks for your detailed comments and the pictures of your 19th C example. The blade on your sword is certainly thicker at the hilt and the file work is more impressive.

Could you post a picture of the hilt also please.

Ian.

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