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Old 17th May 2021, 10:36 PM   #1
M ELEY
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Default A 19th century American boarding pike

Here we have a mid-19th century American boarding pike. This is the Pattern III type as illustrated in Gilkerson's "Boarders Away". Earlier pikes (such as the Revolutionary War pike hanging behind the one being discussed) mostly had diamond or leaf-shaped points, whereas the later (War of 1812 and onwards) had the classic spike point, which was usually 4-sided, although some I'm told were triangular.

Pikes date back over a thousand years, coming from a period when they were used by land armies to 'de-saddle' heavy cavalry charges. During the Age of Fighting Sail, the powers that be saw the worth of such a simple, but effective weapon. The poles were thus shortened down from 15' to approximately 8-9', making it managable on the crowded, confining deck of a ship. The pike was a great weapon to use for both boarding attacks and a ship's defense. Little or no training was involved with their use. They worked well in repelling boarders in that they could easily slide through gaps in the sheets of defensive netting strung over the defending ship. They were frequently stored in ranks surrounding the main and missen masts where they could be easily retrieved during a conflict.

This specimen represents one of the last patterns (often erroneously referred to as the 'm1816'). Gilkerson and others have dispelled this rumor, saying this pattern was nothing more than the 1812 verion with minor nuances to the shaft over the years. Indeed, I place mine in the mid-19th, but as the head could be reused and wood shafts be replaced, there's no exact date to put on these. Mine does have the later swollen head that finally solved the problem of thrusting too deeply into an opponent (to the point where one might lose their weapon!). The thickened head prevented excessive penetration. Another refinement was a thickening towards the mid-section of the shaft. This allowed for the two narrowest arreas to be just below the swollen top and near the bottom to serve as perfect hand holds. "Boarders Away" speaks of this last pattern and states it is pictured in post #16, but there is no picture!! Apparently, the editors forgot to include it in the final publication! So...if you need to see one, here it is!

This specimen is 8', the head (not counting the langets) measures 7" and the side straps are held by three pins. You will note the ball 'butt', which served the purpose of not gouging or scraping the deck. This ball pattern is also seen in earlier pikes and on American-pattern axes of this era. This specimen still has the original black paint with tracings of red on the iron tip. Note the weathering/wear and nice patina near the swelling. Wow, if she could only talk!!!
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Old 17th May 2021, 11:04 PM   #2
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Default More pics...

The pike was indeed an austere plain-Jane when it comes to weapons, but still had a lot of character!
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Old 17th May 2021, 11:38 PM   #3
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Arrrrr, now don't be tellin' tell me ye picked that up at a Yaaard Sale Mate.
Great find!
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Old 18th May 2021, 12:00 AM   #4
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Thanks, Rick! Likewise, your trove of pikes,spears and polearms on your recent threat is amazing! Remember me in your will, buddy!
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Old 18th May 2021, 12:06 AM   #5
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Thumbs up Nice!

I must say that I like the bulbous swelling on the end and the elegant tapering of the shaft. I acquired a pike with a very similar head, but a pole of uniform diameter with white and black paint in the early 1980s at a gun show in Georgia. The seller said that he had gotten it at Flayderman's and that it had come from a refitting of the Constitution. It seemed so expensive at the time - if I remember correctly it set me back about $300. (I'll post a picture of it in a few days.)
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Old 18th May 2021, 12:13 AM   #6
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Would that they were mine, Mark.
I picked up that image with no information included and my curiosity was piqued so I thought I'd put them up to get an idea of their age, type and origin from our membership.
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Old 18th May 2021, 12:16 AM   #7
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Thank you, Lee, for posting pics of your pike when you can! It does sound like it is War of 1812 era that pre-dated the swell at the end of the pole. I know many of the pikes from that era "came from the Constitution" as Bannermann loved to advertise in his catalog. Undoubtedly, some of them did when they de-commissioned the weapons. Now if you had paperwork to prove that provenance...

Ahh, Rick, you had me going there!!! I see some great early 19th c. pikes in that grouping! Also, some British Lancer's, etc. Whoever he is, he's a lucky bloke!
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Old 18th May 2021, 12:58 AM   #8
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Cap,n, This is amazing!! and what displays! (you know that basket hilt gets my Drambuie bubblin')
What ship is the model?

What have you on this amazing pike so far?
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Old 18th May 2021, 03:20 AM   #9
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Hello Jim! ha, snagged you with the Scottish basket! Actually, I just forgot to move it out of the way when I was snapping pics. That ship model is the HMS Surprise, one of my favs from reading. Unfortunately, I don't have any of the history for this pike. I know firmly that it is American and mid-century. It came from an elderly woman's collection of art, antiques, ephemera, erc on sale at a high end antique shop I frequent on occasion. This beast was in a back room not even open to the public, but when i mentioned to the curator my interests, he showed me. That was years ago and I finally decided to add it to the collection. That's my story!
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Old 18th May 2021, 11:43 AM   #10
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Great display Mark. I like pikes almost as much as axes.

It must have been a lot of work to shave/turn that whole length of shaft from a diameter large enough to get all the nuances of tapering and swelling. Does that suggest that it was made in one of the naval yards? A big difference between it and the diameter of the one behind it.

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Old 18th May 2021, 04:39 PM   #11
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Hello, CC. Yes, these later model pikes had very hefty shafts indeed! Excellent question regarding who made the poles. One that I don't have a clue! I know you've asked this same question before in regards to boarding ax hafts. Were they made in a lathing shop on the compounds of naval yards or subletted out? If they were made by a local lathing or furnature factory, there must have been specifications to how thick, how long, etc. It would seem that they were definitely painted by the navymen using the classic paint colors of the day.
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Old 18th May 2021, 05:03 PM   #12
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Just a question regarding the colors on these pikes, it seems there was a range of colors, black, red, white , green, ochre etc.

Is it possible that these had to do with positioning in the arms stores aboard, with colors to key areas?

I know that cannon were marked in accord with position aboard the ship, sort of a weight and balance matter, and that was one reason for the weight being marked on each gun.

While on the topic of colors, I recall reading years ago, of gun decks being painted red. Was this a genuine situation, or naval lore?
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Old 18th May 2021, 05:23 PM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jim McDougall View Post
While on the topic of colors, I recall reading years ago, of gun decks being painted red. Was this a genuine situation, or naval lore?
Yes, that's true.
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Old 18th May 2021, 05:45 PM   #14
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Quote:
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Yes, that's true.

Was the reason actually the obvious? Sounds pretty grim.
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Old 18th May 2021, 06:01 PM   #15
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It was a bit of psychology in action.
Say you painted the gun decks white; can you imagine what the effects of seeing those walls covered in your mess mates' gore would have on you?
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Old 18th May 2021, 07:02 PM   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Rick View Post
It was a bit of psychology in action.
Say you painted the gun decks white; can you imagine what the effects of seeing those walls covered in your mess mates' gore would have on you?
Yup! not a good effect!
Its odd though, psychologically to paint rooms red in homes, offices etc. is thought to effect the senses aggressively causing anxiety, tension etc.
But surely that is an entirely different context and atmosphere.
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Old 18th May 2021, 07:36 PM   #17
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They used to refer to the lower gun deck as the Slaughterhouse, and with good reason. It really must have been a hellish place during battle.
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Old 18th May 2021, 08:45 PM   #18
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Wow, Rick! I didn't know about the red color scheme! As Jim pointed out, quite grim, yet isn't the color red supposed to fire up the senses as well? Good for battle, perhaps?
I remember reading about the assortment of paints used not only for ships, but houses of the colonial era. There were really only about eight or ten primary colors. I had gotten interestd when i saw a Prussian coehorn cannon late 18th that was painted a garish powder blue. After doing research, I found out it was the real color for that regiment!! White paint back in the day quickly faded to a yellow, including on ships. The 'red' color of the day was typically a barn red and not the cherry red we think of. Ships were trypically only painted perhaps two colors (white and black, black and yellow, etc) unless a grand ship-of-the-line, such as the Vasa (pictured in all of it's excesses!). I'm thinking perhps the pikes might have been painted to match the surrounding vessel, but I am only guessing at that!
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Old 18th May 2021, 10:50 PM   #19
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I saw her after she had been raised at the Vasa museum back in 63-64; to see her in the flesh so to speak was fascinating.
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Old 19th May 2021, 12:13 AM   #20
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That is incredible, Rick! I'd love to see her in real life and green with envy you were there. Of course, the pic I posted was a painted model with the real ship in the background, but still, to see the intricate carving even over the gun ports. Incredible! Most of the fighting ships had but a few primary colors and not as flashy as the Vasa.
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Old 19th May 2021, 12:39 AM   #21
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Doubtless you've all heard the story about the naval captain and his red shirt?
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Old 19th May 2021, 03:15 AM   #22
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Doubtless you've all heard the story about the naval captain and his red shirt?
Arrhh, a tale from the poop deck I'll warrant.
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Old 19th May 2021, 03:26 AM   #23
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jim McDougall View Post
Yup! not a good effect!
Its odd though, psychologically to paint rooms red in homes, offices etc. is thought to effect the senses aggressively causing anxiety, tension etc.
But surely that is an entirely different context and atmosphere.
Is it possible the color was simply a result of using red lead to paint the surfaces? A good coating of red lead on the timbers of the gun deck could have rendered them more fire retardant. Additionally, given the wear and tear of that deck with powder residue and heavy pieces of iron rolling around, some thick coats of red lead would have made the whole area hold up better. If this be the case, the color wasn't intentional - It is simply the color of the oxidized lead.
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Old 19th May 2021, 04:12 AM   #24
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The deck surface was bare wood which was kept bright with holy stones. Going into combat they were wetted and sanded for traction.
The bulwarks and port lids often were painted red.

Speaking of decorative carvings on warships; there is the end of a Cathead from HMS Somerset 64 that was wrecked on the offshore sandbars in North Truro in 1778 in the Provincetown museum near the pilgrim monument. Every decade or two Somerset's bones get uncovered after a storm. The end of the cathead was found when the wreck was uncovered after a storm some 100 years later.
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Old 19th May 2021, 09:12 PM   #25
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How much does it weigh? What wood was the shaft made of, any guesses?

I suppose without the martial markings it could be from a merchantman, not a ship of war. I would go over the haft and the langets with a magnifying glass.
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Old 20th May 2021, 04:17 AM   #26
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Rick, that is an amazing Cathead (and I'm glad it's not a real one!). Quite incredible. Would love to own such a thing! I once had pieces of wood from the wreck of the Royal George off Spithead. Like a young nave fool, I sold it long ago.

Dmitri, good to hear from you. I carefully looked over the head after removing some of the rust and saw no markings. Likewise, none on the shaft I've been able to find. i haven't weighed it yet, but it is definitely substantial. I took for granted that this piece was naval versus private purchase, but you bring up a good point. Of course, I'm also told that many of the naval ones weren't marked either even though everything else bore inspection. I'm not so clear on what's the truth on this matter...
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Old 20th May 2021, 04:19 PM   #27
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As someone not especially well initiated in the nautical thing, what is a 'cathead'? or should I say what does it represent (other than the obvious figure).
On the markings, it seems to me that in many areas of equipage, weapons are sans markings. As far as the hafts, these seem to have been remounted with newer ones over years, or obviously if damaged.
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Old 20th May 2021, 06:16 PM   #28
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The Cathead is a beam that projects from the bow area where the stock of the anchor is secured when underway. The anchor is brought to the cathead and secured then the fluke end is 'fished' to secure that part of the anchor against the bows.
Without the cathead dropping and raising the anchor becomes problematic.
What better thing to carve on the end of the cathead than a cat's head!
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Old 20th May 2021, 07:54 PM   #29
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Here are the promised images of my boarding pike. The overall length is 94 inches, with the head straps to tip 20 inches and the square spike 11 inches. The pole is just over 1 inches in diameter and most likely oak and the head is secured by 2 pins. Weight is about 3 pounds (1687 g.)

A slightly shorter example with similar paint pattern and color sold at Morphy Auctions a couple of days ago (May 18, lot 1025) and a few others also show up on the internet
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Old 20th May 2021, 08:56 PM   #30
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Rick View Post
The Cathead is a beam that projects from the bow area where the stock of the anchor is secured when underway. The anchor is brought to the cathead and secured then the fluke end is 'fished' to secure that part of the anchor against the bows.
Without the cathead dropping and raising the anchor becomes problematic.
What better thing to carve on the end of the cathead than a cat's head!

Thank you Rick!
There is really a fascinating jargon here, and sets the mind to wonder how the etymology came about.
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