Category Archive 'Arms and Armor'
19 Sep 2017

Royal Assyrian Sickle Sword

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Sickle sword

Period:
Middle Assyrian

Date:
ca. 1307–1275 B.C.

Geography:
Northern Mesopotamia

Culture:
Assyrian

Medium:
Bronze

Dimensions:
L. 54.3 cm

Classification:
Metalwork-Implements-Inscribed

Credit Line:
Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1911

Accession Number:
11.166.1

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 406

This curved sword bears the cuneiform inscription “Palace of Adad-nirari, king of the universe, son of Arik-den-ili, king of Assyria, son of Enlil-nirari, king of Assyria,” indicating that it was the property of the Middle Assyrian king Adad-nirari I (r. 1307–1275 B.C.). The inscription appears in three places on the sword: on both sides of the blade and along its (noncutting) edge. Also on both sides of the blade is an engraving of an antelope reclining on some sort of platform.

Curved swords appear frequently in Mesopotamian art as symbols of authority, often in the hands of gods and kings. It is therefore likely that this sword was used by Adad-nirari, not necessarily in battle, but in ceremonies as an emblem of his royal power.

25 May 2017

Making Bronze Swords

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At Sarah Hoyt’s site, J.M. Ney-Grimm wondered exactly how the ancients manufactured swords in the Bronze Age.

Making a sword was resource intensive, both because of the valuable metals required and because of the labor from many skilled individuals that went into it. …

Bronze is made by mixing a small part of tin with a larger portion of copper. The ancients didn’t have modern strip mines or deep underground mines. Nor did they have sophisticated machinery run by deisel engines. How did they get copper and tin out of the ground?

Copper mines bore some resemblance to my expectations. The copper deposits needed to be relatively near the surface, but the ancients actually did tunnel down to a vein of ore. There, at the working face, they built a fire to heat the ore-containing rock. Once the rock reached a high enough temperature, they doused it with cold water. This process increased the brittleness of the rock and induced a preliminary degree of cracking. Blows from a hammer or pick could then break it into rubble, which could be heated in a smelting furnace to extract the copper.

Tin was another matter, one entirely new to me.

Tin was found in alluvial deposits in stream beds, usually as a very pure tin gravel well stirred with gravels of quartz, mica, and feldspar (gangue). So the trick was to separate out the tin gravel from the others.

The method of the ancients, as far back as 2,000 BC, was this:

• Dig a trench at the lowest end of the deposit.
• Dig a channel from the nearest water source to pour water over that part of the deposit
• Allow the stream of water to wash the lighter gangue into the trench
• Pick up the heavier tin gravel that remained
• When the lower portion of the deposit had yielded all its tin, dig another trench a bit higher and redirect the water channel, to allow the next section of the deposit to be harvested

The tin gravel thus obtained would be roughly smelted on site, simply roasting the gravel in a fire. The pebbles resulting from this rough smelt would then be transported to a dedicated furnace for a second smelting that yielded the purer tin needed by bladesmiths.

Modern ingots are rectangular blocks, but those of the ancients took several different forms. The earliest were so-called “biscuit” ingots, round on the bottom like a muffin, gently concave on the top. They took the shape of the earthen pit into which the molten metal dripped from the smelting furnace.

But metal is heavy, and the biscuit shape awkward to carry. Around our own Mediterranean, an “oxhide” form was developed. It weighed about 80 pounds and possessed four “legs,” one at each corner, that allowed it to be tied between pack animals or gripped and carried by men.

I became fascinated with an ingot form used much later by the Chinese in the Malay Penninsula. These were hat shaped, much smaller (weighing only a pound), and actually used as currency.

Bronze has one very peculiar property in the smithy.

Most metals, such as iron or even copper, when heated and cooled slowly to room temperature, become more ductile and more workable. They are less prone to internal stresses.

Bronze does not behave like this. When slow cooled, it becomes brittle and difficult to work. Thus it must be heated to cherry-red and then quenched in water. This quick cooling makes it so soft that it can then be hammered. The hammering condenses the metal, giving it more rigidity.

A bladesmith will hammer near the edge of a blade to harden it and help it keep its sharpness, while allowing the center rib to retain more of its resilience.

Were These Swords Any Good?If you compare a bronze sword to a steel sword, the steel is always going to win. But when the Bronze Age gave way to the Iron Age, bronze metallurgy was at its peak. Several thousand years had gone into the development of the most superb techniques. Iron metallurgy was in its infancy, and getting the iron swords to be rigid enough was a problem. The iron swords just weren’t as good as the bronze ones, which were light, strong, just rigid enough, and held an edge well.

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18 May 2017

Moving in Armor

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Arms of Jean le Maingre, known as Boucicaut. Blazoned: Argent à l’aigle éployée de gueules becquée et membrée d’azur.

25 Jan 2017

Viking Ax Found in Danish Tomb

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Vintage News:

Inside an ancient Viking “death house,” a type of large tomb, Danish archaeologists recently made several important discoveries. The tomb, measuring 13 feet by 42 feet, was first unearthed in 2012 during a construction project in Denmark’s southwestern Hårup region.

Archaeologists have been studying the tomb ever since – burial sites are currently the only way archaeologists can study Viking history since remains of Viking settlements have yet to be excavated.

Constructed circa 950 AD, the “death house” contains three separate graves. Inside two of the graves, researchers found the remains of a male and female “power couple” likely of high birth or strong community influence. However, lead archaeologist Kirsten Nellemann Nielsen of the Silkeborg Museum in Denmark, cannot say for sure whether the “power couple” is a brother and sister or husband and wife. Clothing items found with the remains show that the man and woman were nobility.

The female’s clothing had silver threads in it, and she was buried with a key, which was a Viking status symbol.

The male remains found in the main tomb yielded an amazing discovery – one of the largest Viking axes found to date. The extremely heavy, giant ax could have been used in combat, but it would have taken two hands to fight with it. Experts believe it was probably used to terrify Viking enemies. As Nielsen explains, “People across Europe feared this type of ax, which at the time was known as the Dane Axe – something like the ‘machine gun’ of the Viking Age.” The ax did not have many decorative markings, which also suggests it was used in battle. The man it was buried with was probably quite strong to wield the ax successfully. The fact that he was buried with the ax and nothing else leads researchers to conclude that he identified himself solely as a strong and competent warrior.

18 Oct 2016

Spartan Helmet (Detail)

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spartanhelmet
Spartan helmet on display in the Olympia Archaeological Museum, Peloponnese – Greece.

One can almost make out the inscription. Almost.

UPDATE: Commenter Rick Hamilton offers the correct reading: “‘Sparta’, along the eye opening, and, ‘Miltiades dedicates to Zeus’ along the bottom.”

And he’s dead right. This is the helmet of Miltiades, the same Miltiades who devised the strategy that won the Battle of Marathon.

04 Oct 2016

India’s Urumi Whip Sword

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urumi

Atlas Obscura profiles another really strange non-European weapon.

The urumi hasn’t regularly been used as an actual weapon for generations, but even as a demonstration weapon, it is still incredibly dangerous. Especially to the user.

The urumi (which can be translated as “curving sword,” and is also known as a “chuttuval”), hails from southern India. The historic weapon was saved from the erasure of time when it was incorporated into Kalaripayattu martial arts, an Indian fighting style that is considered one of the oldest in the world. Incorporating elements of yoga and performative dance, Kalaripayattu movements look like violent but graceful choreography. Urumi fighting is no different, it is just far more dangerous to those who would attempt to learn the skill.

Like any sword, the urumi comes in a number of varieties, with a variable length, and even a variable number of blades, but they all follow the same basic construction. Usually simpler than more elaborately decorated sword weapons, at its simplest, the urumi consists of a hilt connected to a thin, flexible steel blade. The handle is usually protected by a crossguard and knuckle-guard. The long blades extend somewhere between four and six feet in length (or even longer in some cases), and around an inch in width, but the aspect that makes the weapon unique is that the steel is always thin enough to flop around. Almost like a cartoon-version of a rubber sword.

Given the urumi’s unique construction, wielding it is also an art unto itself. Since the flexible blade is no good for stabbing, it is slung around similarly to a traditional leather whip. In order to make continuous strikes with the weapon, it must stay continually in motion so that the momentum which gives the blade its slashing power is not lost. This usually requires the user to swing it over and around their head and shoulders in furious arcs.

While this makes the urumi incredibly hard and dangerous to use, it also provides it with one of its major benefits as a weapon. When the blade curves around the sword wielder in quick arcing slashes, it creates a defensive bubble of flying metal that an opponent would be reckless to get close to. In addition, it makes a terrific weapon for defending against multiple opponents, both by providing a good barrier at a number of angles at once, and for the long, wild attacking arcs the steel whip provides.

Urumi sparring incorporates small buckler shields that are used to deflect direct swings of the weapon, but when the urumi was used in actual combat, it was said to have had the added benefit of curving around the edges of enemy shields, landing cuts even when blocked.

As an added bonus of having a wildly flexible blade, the urumi could be tightly rolled up for easy travel and concealment. In fact, it has often been worn as a belt.

Of course all of this versatility comes at a price. As you can imagine, winging metal whips around your delicate face flesh at high speeds can easily result in a missing nose, or other mishap. Wielding the urumi correctly and safely takes years of training, learning techniques for everything from bringing the blade to safe stop, to altering the rotation of your swings without slicing your arm off.

12 Sep 2016

Apparent Gold-Handed Bronze Sword Found Under Scottish Soccer Field

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bronzeswordgoldhandle

Daily Mail:

A suspected Bronze Age sword with a gold hilt that may be up to 4,000-years-old has been uncovered on the site of a new community football pitch.

Diggers moved into the site in Carnoustie, Angus, in Scotland after a collection of relics were unearthed while workmen began laying foundations for the new sports field.

Work to the playing fields has now been halted while archaeologists scour the site.

The find appears to be a sword with a gold hilt, or handle, dating back to the Bronze Age.

It looks as though it could be two items – possibly a spear point or a broken sword.

Early excavations have revealed a trove of ancient artefacts, which the archaeologists believe could date back thousands of years. …

Due to the fragile nature of the find it has to be specially lifted out in order to conserve it for experts to examine in a laboratory.

30 Aug 2016

Smallsword Gifted by Benjamin Franklin

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BenFranklinSmallsword

Christie’s Sale 12186
Important American Furniture, Silver, Outsider and Folk Art

20 September 2016, New York, Rockefeller Plaza

Lot 854
THE BENJAMIN FRANKLIN SILVER-HILTED SMALL SWORD
PROBABLY SPANISH, CIRCA 1760

Estimate USD 200,000 – USD 300,000

with tapering Colichemarde blade of hollow triangular section, etched at the forte with scrollwork, and engraved inscription (a 19th century addition) in French Epée que portait Benjamin Franklin dans les combats livrés en Amérique pour la cause de la Liberté. / Il la donna depuis à son ami P.J.G. Cabania (sic) [Sword worn by Benjamin Franklin in the battles fought in America in the cause of Liberty. / He then gave it to his friend P.J.G. Cabanis], silver hilt comprising symmetrical shell-guard, quillion-block, knuckle-guard and pommel (rear-quillion missing) pierced with scrollwork and stylised trophies, and grip bound with silver wire and ribbon; with brown leather scabbard with silver locket decorated en suite with the hilt and struck on the reverse with a silversmith’s mark, and later silver chape with iron finial; and later close-fitted velvet-lined leather-covered case with brass mounts
The sword: 33 ½ in. (85 cm.) blade; 40 3/8 in. (102.5 cm.) overall
The case: 42 5/8 in. (108.3 cm.) long

The locket (upper scabbard mount) bearing a silversmith’s mark of SS in a rectangle, determined to be that of Samuel Soumaine (1718-circa 1769) of Annapolis, Maryland and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

More here.


larger version here

26 Aug 2016

Possible Crusader-Era Hand Grenade

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CrusaderGrenade
Centuries-old hand grenade found in the sea just off the coast of Northern Israel.

Fox News:

A centuries-old hand grenade that may date back to the time of the crusaders is among a host of treasures retrieved from the sea in Israel.

The metal artifacts, some of which are more than 3,500 years old, were found over a period of years by the late Marcel Mazliah, a worker at the Hadera power plant in northern Israel.

Mazliah’s family recently presented the treasures to the Israel Antiquities Authority. Experts, who were surprised by the haul, think that the objects probably fell overboard from a medieval metal merchant’s ship.

The hand grenade was a common weapon in Israel during the Crusader era, which began in the 11th century and lasted until the 13th century, according to the Israel Antiquities Authority. Grenades were also used 12th and 13th century Ayyubid period and the Mamluk era, which ran from the 13th to the 16th century, experts say.

Haaretz reports that early grenades were often used to disperse burning flammable liquid. However, some experts believe that so-called ancient grenades were actually used to contain perfume.

The oldest items found in the sea by Mazliah are a toggle pin and the head of a knife from the Middle Bronze, which date back more than 3,500 years. Ayala Lester, a curator at the Israel Antiquities Authority, explained that other items, such as two mortars, two pestles and candlestick fragments, date to the 11th-century Fatimid period. “The items were apparently manufactured in Syria and were brought to Israel,” she said, in a statement. “The finds are evidence of the metal trade that was conducted during this period.”

17 Aug 2016

Goujian’s Bronze Sword, Made 510 B.C.

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ChineseSword3

Vintage News:

The Sword of Goujian is an archaeological artifact of theSpring and Autumn period (771 to 403BC) found in 1965 in Hubei, China. Forged of copper and tin, it is renowned for its unusual sharpness and resistance to tarnish rarely seen in artifacts so old. …

In 1965, an archaeological survey was being performed along the second main aqueduct of the Zhang River Reservoir in Jingzhou, Hubei, more than fifty ancient tombs of the Chu State were found in Jiangling County. The dig started in the middle of October 1965 and ended in January 1966.

More than 2,000 artifacts were recovered from the sites, including a bronze sword. In December 1965, 7 kilometres (4.3 mi) from the ruins of Jinan, an ancient capital of Chu, a casket was discovered at Wangshan site #1. Inside, an ornate bronze sword was found with a human skeleton.

The sword was found sheathed in a wooden scabbard finished in black lacquer. The scabbard had an almost air-tight fit with the sword body. Unsheathing the sword revealed an untarnished blade, despite the tomb being soaked in underground water for over 2,000 years.

ChineseSword4

On one side of the blade, two columns of text are visible. Eight characters are written in an ancient script which was found to be one known as Bird-worm seal script (literally “birds and worms characters” owing to the intricate decorations of the defining strokes), a variant of seal script. Initial analysis of the text deciphered six of the characters, “King of Yue” and “made this sword for [his] personal use”. The remaining two characters were probably the name of this King of Yue.

From the sword’s origin in 510 BC to its demise at the hands of Chu in 334 BC, nine kings ruled Yue, including Goujian,Lu Cheng, Bu Shou, Zhu Gou, and others. The identity of this king sparked debate among archeologists and Chinese language scholars. …

After more than two months, the experts started to form a consensus that the original owner of the sword was Goujian, the King of Yue made famous by his perseverance in time of hardship. So the entirety of the text reads “[Belonging to] King Goujian of Yue, made for [his] personal use”. …

The Sword of Goujian still has a sharp blade and shows no signs of tarnish. … It is likely that the chemical composition, along with the almost air-tight scabbard, led to the exceptional state of preservation. The body of the blade is mainly made of copper, making it more pliant and less likely to shatter; the edges have more tin content, making them harder and capable of retaining a sharper edge; the sulfur decreases the chance of tarnish in the patterns.

Hat tip to Vanderleun.

05 Jul 2016

The Ribchester Helmet

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RibchesterHelmet
The Ribchester Helmet is a Roman bronze ceremonial helmet dating to between the late 1st and early 2nd centuries AD, … now on display at the British Museum. It was found in Ribchester, Lancashire, England in 1796, as part of the Ribchester Hoard. The model of a sphinx that was believed to attach to the helmet was lost.

Wikipedia:

The helmet was discovered, part of the Ribchester Hoard, in the summer of 1796 by the son of Joseph Walton, a clogmaker. The boy found the items buried in a hollow, about three metres below the surface, on some waste land by the side of a road leading to Ribchester church, and near a river bed. The hoard was thought to have been stored in a wooden box and consisted of the corroded remains of a number of items but the largest was this helmet. In addition to the helmet, the hoard included a number of paterae, pieces of a vase, a bust of Minerva, fragments of two basins, several plates, and some other items that the antiquarian collector Charles Townley thought had religious uses. The finds were thought to have survived so well because they were covered in sand.

The helmet and other items were bought from Walton by Townley, who lived nearby at Towneley Hall. Townley was a well-known collector of Roman sculpture and antiquities, who had himself and his collection recorded in an oil painting by Johann Zoffany. Townley reported the details of the find in a detailed letter to the secretary of the Society of Antiquaries, intended for publication in the Society’s Proceedings: it was his only publication. The helmet, together with the rest of Townley’s collection, was sold to the British Museum in 1814 by his cousin, Peregrine Edward Towneley, who had inherited the collection on Townley’s death in 1805.

In addition to the items purchased by Townley, there was also originally a bronze figurine of a sphinx, but it was lost after Walton gave it to the children of one of his brothers to play with. It was suggested by Thomas Dunham Whitaker, who examined the hoard soon after it had been discovered, that the sphinx would have been attached to the top of the helmet, as it has a curved base fitting the curvature of the helmet, and has traces of solder on it. This theory has become more plausible with the discovery of the Crosby Garrett Helmet in 2010, to which is attached a winged griffin.

04 Jul 2016

SAS Sergeant Kills Three Jihadis With Gurkha Knife

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Kukri

Daily Star:

AN SAS soldier killed three Islamic State fighters with a Gurkha knife with the elite trooper decapitating one with a single swipe of the kukri after he was caught in an ambush in Iraq.

The sergeant, with 15 years’ combat experience, killed a further two gunmen and injured at least three others.

The attack occurred when Iraqi troops launched a massive assault on the besieged city of Fallujah, a key IS stronghold.

The SAS were acting as military advisors and leading small groups of Iraqi special forces.

During one attack, an SAS and Iraqi team entered a bombed-out factory hunting a sniper. But the troops were ambushed by IS gunmen and several Iraqi soldiers were killed and four seriously wounded.

The SAS soldier returned fi re as he dragged injured troops to safety before he was pinned down by enemy gun-fire.

When he ran out of ammo the IS gunmen attempted to capture him alive but instead the 27-year-old sergeant began lashing out with kukri, given to him by a British Gurkha soldier.

A senior defence source said: “As soon as his ammunition was expended, the IS gunmen tried to storm him.

“As they went to grab him he unsheathed his kukri and began slashing away.

“He decapitated the first gunman, slit the throat of second and killed another with a third blow. He then sliced away at three others.

“The IS gunmen fled in panic allowing the SAS soldier to carry the injured men to safety.

“He expected to be killed but thought he’d take as many of the enemy with him.

“When he was reunited with Iraqi troops they thought the he was seriously wounded because he was covered in blood but he explained that the blood wasn’t his.

“He cleaned his knife, grabbed some more ammo and then led another Iraqi special forces team into battle.”

The sergeant is now expected to receive a gallantry award from the Iraqi Army.

The Daily Star Sunday understands that the SAS man had taken his kukri on combat missions in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya but this was the first time that it had been used in battle.

He was given the knife by a Gurkha before he joined the SAS and was told that once unsheathed the knife must draw blood.

Full story.

01 Apr 2016

A Pair of Boutet Pistols Given to Simon Bolivar by Lafayette

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BoutetPistols

Christies, New York, 13 April 2016, Sale 11898, Lot 36:

A MAGNIFICENT & IMPORTANT CASED PAIR OF FRENCH SILVER-MOUNTED RIFLED FLINTLOCK PISTOLS
BY NICOLAS-NOEL BOUTET, VERSAILLES, THE CASE DATED ‘1825’

With blued and gilt swamped octagonal barrels each cut with multi-groove rifling and decorated with gold-inlaid bands and finely engraved panels of foliage and Empire-style ornament, engraved and gilt breeches each struck with three maker’s marks, engraved and gilt tangs decorated en suite, silver fore-sights, blued flat bevelled locks each with roller, gold-lined rainproof priming-pan and fine gold-encrusted ornament involving foliage, a dragon and a wolf, the lower edge of each lock respectively signed ‘N.N. BOUTET A VERSAILLES’ and ‘MANUFACTURE ROYALE A VERSAILLES’ in gold, each with set trigger mounted on an engraved iron trigger-plate, exquisite silver mounts cast and chased with Classical ornament against a stippled gilt ground, comprising trigger-guards each with trophy of arms finial and winged deity with laurel wreath, rear ramrod pipes each with Medusa mask, pommels each with Hercules mask, and side-plates each depicting the mythical fight between the Centaurs and Lapiths at the wedding feast of Peirithous, original silver-mounted ramrods, and each with gold escutcheon mounted behind the barrel tang bearing the name ‘BOLIVAR’, in silver-bound close-fitted veneered case lined in green velvet, the lid with tooled and gilt red Morocco lining signed ‘MANUFACTURE ROYALE / à / VERSAILLES / 1825 / N.N. BOUTET / Le Dépôt de La Manuf.re a Paris. Rue Des Filles St. Thomas No.23’, the exterior with silver escutcheon signed ‘N.N. BOUTET A VERSAILLES’ with accessories including silver-gilt-mounted powder-flask with sprung nozzle and case-hardened bullet-mould, Paris silver marks for circa 1809-1818

Provenance

Gifted by General Gilbert Motier, Marquis de Lafayette, to Simón Bolívar, El Libertador, in 1825

Gifted (before 1830) by Simón Bolívar to Jose Ignacio Paris (d. 1848)
Enriqué Paris, son, by descent
By whom sold to Enriqué Grice (d. 1860), 7 July 1851
The collection of William Goodwin Renwick (1886-1971)
Sold Sotheby’s London, Highly Important Firearms from the collection of the late William Goodwin Renwick (European, Part III), 19 March 1973, lot 21
The collection of Clay P. Bedford (1903-1991)
A private Latin American collection
A private American collection

Estimate $1,500,000 – $2,500,000

18 Feb 2016

WWII Randall Zacharias Fighter

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RandallZ5-375

RandallZ9-375

RandallZ11

RandallZ7-375

Mitchell Harrison on Facebook recently

The Zacharias Fighter is arguably the most iconic knife Randall ever made. It was the original DNA for the Model #1 All Purpose Fighting Knife and the military models that followed. Bo Randall’s WW2 fighting knives are what started the legend.

Bob Gaddis writes in his book that Army Lt. James H. Zacharias came to Bo in mid 1942 requesting a combat knife. Bo and the Lt. penciled out a knife designed to slash and thrust, yet be tough enough to open cans, ammo boxes and handle any other field duty required.

According to Gaddis on June 15, 1942, Bo logged his order book with “1 special made Jap sticker”, then in November 1942 and January 1943 he logged a total of 3 more for Lt. Zacharias (a total of 4). There is a picture of a Zacharias style fighter on page 67. No one knows if the pictured knife is one of the original 4, but it’s obviously a very early knife. There is a lot more detail in Bob’s book and I encourage you to get it. Well worth the money. …

[The original Zacharias Randall has these features:]

-It is a double pinned stag handle
-The finger grips are on the top for an edge up fighting grip
-The choil is a double step, very similar to the pre-war hunters
-The sheath is a Clarence Moore, but it has had additional lacing added to the edges
-The blade is “fullered” (some called it a blood groove)
-The hilt is asymmetrical with a teardrop shaped lower quillon
-Lt. Zacharias’ initials are carved in the butt and filled with some sort of red material

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Based on the people I have asked, this is the only known example of the original 4 knives…… Until now. …

This knife turned up in an obscure gun auction. All I know at this point is the man recently passed and the family auctioned his guns and this knife. The auction house would not give me his name, but did verify that he was a Marine and his Initials were J.R.C. I am fairly certain he was the original owner of the knife. The auction company has forwarded my contact info to the family, so there may be more forthcoming.

Things to note:

-It is a double pinned stag handle
-The finger grips are on the top for an edge up fighting grip
-The choil is a double step, very similar to the pre-war hunters
-The sheath is a Clarence Moore which was obviously custom made to match the hilt
-The hilt is asymmetrical with a teardrop shaped lower quillon
-Initials are carved in the butt and filled with some sort of red material

I can’t prove it, but I am convinced that this is one of the first 4 knives based on the matching initials in the butts. Could these [both] knives have been together in WW2 when two servicemen personalized them with identical red block initials? Perhaps I will hear from the family and be able to tie the owner’s record with that of Lt. Zacharias. We’ll see.

Obviously I am very proud and excited to add this knife to my collection.

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