Saturday, June 23, 2007
These are rather poor photographs of an Italian cavalry sword from the era of the First World War, the last war where gentlemen enlisted, believing they could fight as gentlemen... and were confronted then by a mechanised army.
The 'Blackfoot Dag', otherwise known as 'Blackfoot Dagger' is a type of knife that always fascinated me. Although named for the Blackfoot tribe, the knife could be found among many of the Plains tribes. Often the blade would be European, either purchased new from a trapper or taken from an existing European weapon. The handle could be made from any material, but the most well-known Blackfoot daggers feature animal jaw handles. The Blackfoot Dag shown here was made entirely by hand by a very talented American knifemaker named Jim Miller. The handle is a bear jaw, and the sheath was made according to an old Native American design, using genuine antique beads and fittings. This was my first Blackfoot Dag and is a right-handed weapon, although ultimately Jim Miller made a pair of matched Wolf Jaw Daggers for me.
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
This is a handmade Sgian Dubh or Skean Dheu, a traditional Scottish design for a knife worn in the stocking. In other cultures, it would be called a boot knife. This particular knife has a stag antler sheath and handle, as well as a leather scabbard fitted with an antler toggle. The design was intended to honour the strength and beauty of the stag as the traditional king of the forest. Every detail of this knife was carefully chosen, from the spacers to the heavy decorative brass pins. Unfortunately, it is incredibly heavy, thus rendering it impractical in terms of being held against the leg by a stocking! Nonetheless, it is a wicked little blade, crafted from 440 steel by an expert knifemaker who put his heart and soul into its making.
I love camels, although I haven't had as much opportunity as I would have liked to ride them. There is a tremendous difference between riding a camel and a horse. Camels really are 'ships of the desert' and the motion a camel makes is very similar to that of a small boat riding the waves. I always found it at once extremely exhilarating and relaxing.
Despite the fact that I have no camels of my own, hope springs eternal and I have a few camel saddles and whips.
This camel whip caught my fancy for a number of reasons. It dates from the period of the First World War, and purportedly was made from Italian military ordnance. Without recalling the precise terminology of the 'ramrod' piece, it was used to prepare artillery weapons for firing.
An enterprising artist (and/or camel driver) used the ramrod as a basis for a camel whip. The copper rod itself is concealed within a flexible woven metal sheath. To the end of this, a Tunisian silver coin was sautered. A short hand-braided copper wire 'tail' was welded to the ensemble, creating a very effective whip.
Friday, June 15, 2007
Although this swordstick is precisely the sort of weapon I dreamed of owning in childhood, it is in rather sorry condition. It dates from the 17th century and was intended as a woman's weapon of self-defence. The short steel blade is concealed within a longer cane of black lacquer. Sadly, at the time of acquisition, the lacquered cane was split almost completely from top to bottom and I never have been able to have it restored. I still hope one day to be able to do so.
A gift from a very good friend, this Kris is one of the most magical embodiments of the art of metallurgy. The blade is far older than the hilt and sheath. It is quite usual for the blade of a fine kris to be the oldest element. With each new owner, the hilt and sheath often are replaced. The blade probably contains metal from a meteorite, as indeed do many of the old wootz or watered steel swords and knives.
The shape of the blade reminds one of 'the path of the serpent', an old Norse kenning for sword, although it is from the other side of the world.
Special oil containing sandalwood permeates this kris... unfortunately, I do not own this oil, which is traditionally used to keep the blades free from threat of rust. Even after more than a decade, however, the scent of sandalwood clings to blade and sheath.
Two 19th century swords are pictured here. Photographs of the hilts were included to show artistic details, although the photography is poor. The longer flat sword actually has the date of its manufacture, '1867' engraved near the hilt.
One was made in Toledo. The other is Italian. Both are fashioned of good, flexible steel. Unfortunately, both blades show some pitting from neglect. The entire hilt of the longer sword is solid brass. The grip on the other is wood, with a guard and pommel of solid brass. Swords of this type always remind me of my childhood. Most people would refer to them both as rapiers at this point in history, although there is a wealth of difference between the various swords now described as rapiers. Both swords have sharp tips, but the edge on each is different. The longer sword was designed as 'cut and thrust' blade, but the shorter really was designed only for thrusting. The longer flat sword has a double edge along three-quarters of the entire length of the blade. If sharpened properly, it would be a formidable slashing weapon. At present, only the tip remains truly sharp. The smaller sword, which could in fact be called a 'small sword' has a double edge that extends only for about six inches to the tip of the blade. There are two reasons to sharpen the edges of a piercing sword near the tip. It would discourage an opponent from grasping the sword in order to deflect the attack, and it would allow the blade to slide into flesh easily.
Regrettably, both swords were designed for right-handed fighters.
For those interested in the history of Western swords, a brief paragraph may be in order. Originally, European swords were heavy military blades, designed for armoured combat. The weight of the blade had to be sufficient to propel it through the enemy's armour. Swords at that point were heavy and hand-to-hand fighting was fairly slow.
'Cut and thrust' swords developed as a means by which faster attacks could be performed. Smaller and somewhat lighter than the older swords, they nonetheless were intended primarily as weapons of offence. Parrying was done with a buckler or 'main gauche', a shorter dagger held in the left hand. Where formerly only a few inches near the tip would be sharpened in order to discourage an opponent from grabbing the sword tip to deflect its thrust, a greater portion of the blade was given a sharp edge often on both sides, to make it suitable both for cutting and thrusting. Thus the name 'cut and thrust' sword, also known as a 'side sword'. In fact, the term 'swashbuckler' refers to this stage in weapon development. 'Swash' or 'swish' described the sound that the lighter blade made when a cutting move was performed and 'buckler' referred to the defensive shield carried in the other hand.
It was this type of sword that ultimately developed into the small sword and rapier.
The small sword or rapier was a sword favoured by civilians for its lightness and elegance. The name rapier in fact is derived from the Spanish word 'ropera' for clothing and although the rapier was a very efficient weapon of self-defence, it became part of a gentleman's accoutrements. The rapier could be used both for offence and defence, to attack and parry, making the cumbersome buckler obsolete. Although many individuals carried both sword and dagger, and sword and dagger fights were common, a rapier could be carried and used by itself.
Use of these lightweight blades inspired an art known as 'double-time fencing', which allowed a quick succession of thrusts, parries and ripostes. Rapiers provided the model for 'dueling swords', weapons with no edge at all, used exclusively in duels.
It is the small sword that is the model for the modern 'fencing sabre', although style of combat is the same as that of the cavalry sabre. Epee fencing imitates combat with dueling swords, where only the tip is used in attack.
Experts in edged weapons might quarrel with the rather simple definitions given here, but it is an attempt to describe the development of the rapier without waxing too technical in the process.
Thursday, June 14, 2007
I would classify this very elegant curved dagger as a kard in the Persian style. The handle is of solid jade. Although I always favoured the straight double-edged European dagger, curved blades probably are far more graceful and seductive, even feminine to some extent. It is no accident that the weapon fashioned for Arwen by the swordmakers for Peter Jackson's cinematic epic of the 'Lord of the Rings' was a curved sword.
My favourite edged weapons always have been swords and double-edged daggers. Although I never yet have owned the sword of my dreams, I did manage to acquire a few good daggers. This photograph shows two daggers. Ostensibly similar to some extent in shape and general design, they yet are very different.
The one on the left is one of the few made by P. Baretta, a company known primarily for its firearms. It has the Baretta signature on it, but the 440 steel blade was made by Seki of Japan. It was a very limited production. Evidently, the cost of production far outweighed the purchase price!
The dagger on the right was made by Charlton Limited, a company that specialised in Damascus steel. It cannnot quite be classified as an 'artist knife' because Charlton hired a number of specialists to make their damascus steel, but nonetheless is a handmade dagger. I believe that the handle on each of these knives is made of ebony. Originally I intended to set a moonstone or star ruby in the pommel of the Charlton dagger to conceal a small defect in the wood, but never did so.
Although evidently neither particularly rare nor valuable, the first time I saw one of these camel whips, I was entranced, as they combined two aesthetic tools or weapons: a braided leather whip and a hidden stiletto. The inlay work on the handle is executed in traditional Syrian style. The whip is a short crop made of braided leather. The handle must be twisted in order to unlock the hidden stiletto. The blade itself is fashioned from steel, probably taken from a piece of machinery. It is a thin, twisted piece of steel with a very sharp tip, a very wicked implement designed solely for emergency use in self defence! (Unfortunately, unless one lives in a place where camels are available as a means of transport, carrying a camel whip would be bound to earn one suspicious glances from the local police! As a weapon of self-defence, therefore, its usefulness definitely is limited in most cultures at this point.) It remains one of my favourite concepts, nonetheless: whip and blade in a single device.
I believe this piece dates from the early to mid-20th century.
These are photographs of two very beautiful handmade butterfly knives by Kelgin. The blades are fashioned from 440 steel and the handles are nickel silver inlaid with mother-of-pearl. They were made to order as a matched pair, although one is a tanto and the other is a double-edged dagger.
The Butterfly Knife is an unusual type of folding blade that always reminded me a little of nunchaku, in that dramatic movements are part of the style of usage. Like a magician's sleight of hand, a rapid dance with the hand that wields the blade, opening and shutting the blade a few times before lunging with it, is intended as a distraction to the target. A Butterfly Knife may not be the easiest knife to use in combat, which makes legislation against ownership in a few States absolutely absurd. Far more damage has been committed with a kitchen knife than ever done with a Butterfly knife!