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Old 29th December 2020, 11:33 AM   #1
colin henshaw
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Default European blade in an African context

I am posting this recently acquired weapon in this section, as the blade is of European origin. I believe however the knife/short sword was used by tribal peoples in the Cameroon Grasslands area of Western Africa.

After posting in the Ethnographic section of the forum, suggestions are regarding the blade ... that it is/was a very large cake knife, with the hilt scales possibly made from "gutta-percha". The knife on its own is 50cm long and the point has been rounded off I think. I can see no markings to the blade. The maximum blade spine width close to the hilt is approx. 4mm and the blade is only slightly flexible.

Can anyone provide more information on the knife blade and its origin ?

Thanks in advance.
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Old 31st December 2020, 02:16 AM   #2
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Hello Colin. Just wanted to say what a cool piece this is! Very strange that the knife wouldn't be maker-marked, as most 19th c. cutlery and such usually was...unless this was truly made for export to the continent?? Some chap had great ingenuity to come up with this 'chopper', I suppose? Is the skin crocodile? Savannah monitor? Neat piece!!
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Old 31st December 2020, 10:53 AM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by M ELEY
Hello Colin. Just wanted to say what a cool piece this is! Very strange that the knife wouldn't be maker-marked, as most 19th c. cutlery and such usually was...unless this was truly made for export to the continent?? Some chap had great ingenuity to come up with this 'chopper', I suppose? Is the skin crocodile? Savannah monitor? Neat piece!!
Thanks Mark, glad you like it. As you say, strange there is no maker's mark to the blade, unless after removing the rust something will be revealed.. Given the size of the reptile scales, I am reasonably sure the skin is from the belly of a crocodile.

Presumably, the knife was a trade item that found its way into the interior of the African continent. Coastal West Africa of course had continued contact with Europeans and their manufactured goods early in African history.
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Old 3rd June 2021, 04:23 PM   #4
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Finally got round to cleaning the blade on this piece and it has uncovered the remains of a mark to the blade... looks like a horse ? running wolf ? Does it ring a bell with anyone ?
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Old 3rd June 2021, 05:33 PM   #5
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This is most interesting! and I hope the solution might be found in discussion here before concerns over the subject matter defrays same.
It would seem that the assessment of a cake knife or similar domestic cutlery would be right, and that it has European origin ending up repurposed in African context.

While the 'running wolf' is of course well known on German blades, in the 17th century German bladesmiths were brought to England first at Hounslow in early years of the century, later opening a factory at Shotley Bridge in northern England.

It has been held that the German smiths in England used the running wolf defiantly toward their former overlords in Solingen. However, it is now believed that the running wolf marks were actually blades from Solingen but mounted with the German makers in England.

At some point, believed in Shotley Bridge, makers were developing their own mark, and eventually the 'bushy tailed fox' became a kind of English version of the German running wolf. However it became well known in Birmingham with Samuel Harvey nearly 50 years after the possible beginnings of it in Shotley.

What I'm getting to is that in one reference (which I must find but do not recall at the moment) there is a notation to the 'RUNNING HORSE' of Shotley Bridge. Whether this was a reference to an assumption of the identity of the 'bushy tail fox' I cannot say.

However, a running horse is mentioned in what I believe was reputable context, and Shotley with all the intrigue and troubles it encountered, like many blade making centers, also produced cutlery through the 18th c.and somewhat into 19th.

I would say that this might be a clue on this, and the English were of course well known in western Africa, in the early 18th century on, with the ports engaged in trade including slaving.....Whydah comes to mind.

I would note here that the spatulate blade resembles 'serving knives' used in tableware trousse from 16th-17th c. (Wallace Coll. , Mann, 1962, Pl. 145,147 , p.430 A884). and these were typically made in Germany. The use continued well through the 17th c. (examples found in English context one dated 1618). As German makers were in England, as noted, and as their work expanded into cutlery, the plausibility suggested seems reasonable.

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Old 3rd June 2021, 11:12 PM   #6
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I found an entry on in "History of Manufacture of British Swords" by Harvey Withers, where he states that the Shotley Bridge makers '..impressed a running horse mark" in imitation of the running wolf.
The attached image is from a Revolutionary war period infantry sword found online, which is contemporary for the 'bushy tail fox' swords by Samuel Harvey.

It is interesting to see that the horse mark is really not the same, and suggests that at some point Shotley may well have been making cutlery in the 18th c.
At the same time, this marking, which seems similar even if not the same, and may be misinterpreted as a horse rather than BTF.

It does appear that Shotley, actually Oley, was providing blades to Birmingham in the 18th c. about the time of Harvey, but Harvey was known for the BTF (= bushy tail fox) with his initials SH on the body (though some are blank, some have only H).
While makers in Birmingham were producing munitions grade blades, it would seem that Shotley had become more diversified by then, and perhaps these serving knives were among their products.
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Old 6th June 2021, 11:49 AM   #7
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Thanks to Jim for his helpful and informative posts, above. So, its quite likely the mark represents a "Bushy Tail Fox" or "Running Horse", and probably of English manufacture...

Regarding dating, as the hilt scales are made of gutta-percha, this precludes a date of manufacture prior to the mid 19th century. I should also mention that looking closely at the blade, there seems a fair chance that the profile has been rounded off to form a spatulate end, rather than coming to a point, at some later period ?

I have had a good look over the internet to find a similar knife, but without success, although the impressed design to the gutta-percha is quite typical for the Victorian period. Can anyone find an image of a comparable piece ?

Any more information is of course welcome.
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Old 6th June 2021, 06:24 PM   #8
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Im glad to be of some help Colin, and most interesting dilemma here.
With the running animal mark, obviously the most common case for such a mark is the famed running wolf of Passau (later Solingen).
The fame of this mark for quality brought imitation of course, and when German makers were in England the 'bushy tail fox' evolved as sort of an English version.

In looking at the mark on the example here, there seemed to be some resemblance of a 'horse', and over the years of study on the mysterious Shotley Bridge sword making enterprise of the late 17th century, it is believed the bushy tail fox mark evolved.
This later transmitted to Birmingham, where Samuel Harvey used it, but placing his initials SH in it.
There seems to be some apocryphal notion that Shotley Bridge used a 'running horse' mark in imitation of the Passau wolf as placed by one author, but as there is no evidence to this, it seems to be a 'Rorschach' issue.
I checked with Staffan Kinman ("European Makers of Edged Weapons, Their Marks"(2015) and he is not aware of any 'running horse' mark, but noted this seems to be a 'fox'.

As previously noted, in many cases in England, much as in Germany, blade makers and cutlers often also made tableware and serving items.
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Old 6th June 2021, 08:26 PM   #9
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I found some examples of serving knives in "The Wallis Collection" (Mann, 1962) but will note that these are profoundly OLD! These are apparently 15th-16th century vintage, but it would seem the traditional form would have extended much further, given the simplicity of the form and the convention of continuing such styles fashionably for centuries.

As I have mentioned, Shotley Bridge had expanded its 'repertoire' into other cutlery and flatware (tableware) after the demand for sword blades had declined. Nearby Sheffield had also become a key producer of edged wares, and though they focused greatly on silver plate, other items were included.
I wonder if listings of Sheffield and other flatware producers in antique references might have either adopted the 'fox' or 'horse'?

Further, it would seem the most pertinent news that this scabbard is not crocodile, as appears in photos, but 'gutta percha' which is a latex type material produced from sap in Malaysian trees from 1850s+
As this is a faux crocodile hide scabbard, and clearly of Victorian context, why would we presume this item of flatware to be African?

Much of flatware produced in these times used exotic or colonial style motifs, horn, hides, staghorn etc. so is it possible this very atavistically styled serving knife might have been made recalling these early forms? and if Shotley or other northern cutler might have produced it?
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Old 7th June 2021, 01:35 PM   #10
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[QUOTE
Further, it would seem the most pertinent news that this scabbard is not crocodile, as appears in photos, but 'gutta percha' which is a latex type material produced from sap in Malaysian trees from 1850s+
As this is a faux crocodile hide scabbard, and clearly of Victorian context, why would we presume this item of flatware to be African?
[/QUOTE]

As noted in previous posts, it is the hilt scales (not the scabbard), that are probably made from gutta-percha. The scabbard is made from crocodile skin.
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Old 7th June 2021, 05:42 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by colin henshaw View Post
[QUOTE
Further, it would seem the most pertinent news that this scabbard is not crocodile, as appears in photos, but 'gutta percha' which is a latex type material produced from sap in Malaysian trees from 1850s+
As this is a faux crocodile hide scabbard, and clearly of Victorian context, why would we presume this item of flatware to be African?
As noted in previous posts, it is the hilt scales (not the scabbard), that are probably made from gutta-percha. The scabbard is made from crocodile skin.[/QUOTE]








I guess I might have approached that better. I was picturing the 'scabbard' as being made of a faux crocodile hide made of gutta percha. If it was just a composition of scales used to 'decorate' a scabbard, then that is quite different. Here I would consider the use of imported items such as cowrie shells, beads, and other material culture items imported from Europe and eslewhere, and these 'scales' used in the same manner to decorate.

Clearly my temporal image of something European (i.e. knife blade) using an 'exotic' material for decoration as in those flatware items made with stag horn etc. was probably far fetched It is funny how that works, natives in colonial settings use domestic items from European context to decorate their own material culture; and the Europeans used colonial cultural items to decorate their own items and curiosities.
I often think of the Sudanese helmets worn along with coats of mail, which were proudly adorned with European spoons and forks from tableware settings in the latter 19th c.

So setting that aside, it goes back to a European domestic item of flatware repurposed into a chopping knife (?) going from photos, and likely arriving there from the prevalent trade contacts.
Again, I would suggest this blade was plausibly flatware produced in northern England by the Shotley Bridge enterprise in its waning days early 19th c. and following the early traditional forms (as illustrated in the Wallace Coll. photos.
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Old 7th June 2021, 06:30 PM   #12
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Trying to find an exact match is difficult. Look at antique icing knives and spreaders. Also antique cake decorating knives. Google farrar and tanner wedding knives to see modern examples.

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Old 7th June 2021, 06:46 PM   #13
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See examples in post #9, which illustrate antique forms. These are obviously 'ancient' in comparison to Victorian antiques, however the Victorians favored notably antiquarian styles (i.e. Gothic etc.).
It would seem variations would prevail as with any form, however the 'spatulate' shape remains somewhat consistent as its purpose is to lift and serve a portion of food.
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Old 7th June 2021, 07:05 PM   #14
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A picture from a long ago auction site. The hunting scene handle is nice.
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Old 17th June 2021, 11:02 PM   #15
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well it definitely is an african sheath made of crocodile skin. but the knife i suspect is in its original form. it may not be a serving knife as im pretty sure that style was well out of favour for other narrower styles. based on those grips its 19th century.. but could it be a vetinarians knife instead, one for disction of larger animals.
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Old 18th June 2021, 03:02 AM   #16
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Great point, Ausjulius! When i first commented on this piece, I had assumed a more utilitarian use for the blade, but you bring up the point that it could have been a specialized tool (medical dissection, hunting-trouse type, etc). I'm even reminded of bolo-type machetes and specified 'gardening tools', like Japanese nata. Perhaps this was an agricultural tool??? Fascine knife??
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Old 18th June 2021, 02:00 PM   #17
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It could be a worn depiction of Pegasus, which was the trademark of Henry Rogers and Sons Ltd, Wolverhampton and Sheffield.
Apparently it was also a mark used by Unwin and Rodgers who made the infamous knife\pistol combination.
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Old 19th June 2021, 08:32 AM   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Richard G View Post
It could be a worn depiction of Pegasus, which was the trademark of Henry Rogers and Sons Ltd, Wolverhampton and Sheffield.
Apparently it was also a mark used by Unwin and Rodgers who made the infamous knife\pistol combination.
Regards
Richard
This might well be right, as there seems to be the remains of "wings" on the back of the horse ? on my blade. The suggestion of a dissection instrument also seems correct, a large autopsy or "organ" instrument possibly. This would go with the funereal black hilt and the raised decoration to the gutta-percha providing a firm grip...
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Old 24th July 2021, 04:38 PM   #19
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Try looking at this link. There are several similar running fox stamps pictured attributed to Carl Tillmann Sohne KG, Solingen-Remscheid. Hope this helps....https://www.germandaggers.com/Gallery/Makers.php
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Old 24th July 2021, 07:44 PM   #20
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Originally Posted by Redbelly52 View Post
Try looking at this link. There are several similar running fox stamps pictured attributed to Carl Tillmann Sohne KG, Solingen-Remscheid. Hope this helps....https://www.germandaggers.com/Gallery/Makers.php
Thanks very much for adding this compendium of modern markings. It is interesting to see how these long venerated markings have been used in a traditional sense in these firms.
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Old 25th July 2021, 03:16 AM   #21
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Indeed, thanks Redbelly for adding this great link!
You know, the running wolf and fox were indeed cool, but nothing is more ferocious that that frollicking Eickhorn squirrel stamp!
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