Spectacular Swords & Blades
By Joel R. Kolander
A fine arms collection often consists of more than just firearms. Advertising materials, ammunition, cases, factory documents, and accoutrements often find their way into a collection alongside the guns one has come to admire and appreciate. They provide context, understanding, and showcase a dedication to the subject matter of choice. Swords, daggers, bayonets, and other bladed weapons are also no stranger to arms collections for many of the same reasons. However, instead of merely complimenting a firearms collection, swords and edged weapons are often rightfully found in collections of their own. And why not? Much like firearms, collectors can appreciate the craftsmanship of a good blade, the artistry in their embellishments, the history they carry, and maybe even the provenance they bring with them. This week we examine several of the collection and museum worthy blades in Rock Island Auction Company’s 2018 April Premiere Firearms Auction.
One of the top items in our 2018 April Premiere Firearms Auction is the sword shown in the above video – that of Confederate General Paul J. Semmes. Since the video does such an excellent job of conveying this blade’s artistry, historical significance, and critical acclaim we’ll not duplicate it here, with one exception. The following quote comes from Steve Sylvia, publisher of North South Trader’s Civil War Magazine.
“This sword is without question, one of the most important of all Confederate Artifacts.”
The Robert Berryman Collection of Bowie Knives and Push Daggers is much more than its title implies. Not only are there the large, imposing Bowie knives and discreet push daggers, but a wide variety of blades and swords from accomplished craftsmen across the United States. Each blade is a glimpse into a unique facet of American life during that period: riverboat gamblers, rugged frontiersmen, earnest entrepreneurs, and well-to-do businessmen living on the coasts. Here are just a few highlights from his remarkable collection, curated carefully over five decades.
From our description: “Established in the early 1800s, the firm of William and Samuel Butcher is reputed as one of the first Sheffield cutlery outfits to recognize the potential of the American market. This market, famously hungry for everything from rough tools of labor to the fanciest of sidearms, helped make the firm among the largest in their home city, by 1845 William had been elected Master Cutler of the local guild and by 1871 the firm had between 800 and 1,200 employees.”
Note the brightness in nearly every aspect of this fine knife: the well-kept, mirror-like blade, the luminous mother of pearl grip, the vivid red leather sheath, and the glistening German silver in the hilt and pommel extension with its depiction of a crocodile.
Jim Bowie allegedly took to carrying one of his namesake knives after being badly wounded in what would come to be known as the “Sandbar Fight,” a gentleman’s duel gone wrong where he attended as a supporter to one of the duelists. Shot and stabbed multiple times, Bowie’s survival earned him an instant reputation as a rough, fierce, and loyal frontiersman, a reputation he further cemented as a leader in the Texas Revolution and which followed him until his death at the Alamo. Only a knife as tough, battle-ready, and imposing as the man himself would do. To that end, Bowie knives are instantly recognizable for their large size, clip point, and a single live edge that runs all the way to their crossguard.
This particular Bowie knife bears all the hallmark characteristics as well as some fantastic “extras” that make this blade exceptional. It was made by John D. Chevalier, a New York City based maker of surgical tools, known for also marketing non-medical blades. This is clearly one of the latter, at a beefy 17 5/8-inches long and weighing in at 2 pounds, 11.4 oz. The 11.5-inch blade is over half an inch thick at the base – clearly ready for whatever rough work might await it. However its size is only one of the impressive features. Knife collectors are certain to appreciate the silver plated hilt (with its mean, pointed quillions), the antique ivory grips, the mounted German silver anchor, and the silver mounted cross. They won’t be alone in their appreciation, this knife earned sufficient admiration to be photographed in The Antique Bowie Knife Book by Adams, Voyles, and Moss.
A true student of the blade, it would be impossible for Mr. Berryman to ignore the elegance and near-immaculate craftsmanship of Japanese swords. There are numerous lots containing these revered swords in our April event. Topping the list in lot 1318 is a remarkable signed katana from the early Edo era (1603 – 1863) with a certificate from the top authority on authentic Japanese blades, the Society for the Preservation of Japanese Art Swords. If one’s collecting interests also extend into World War II, please take note of the Japanese military sword attributed as an Army Air Force pilot’s bring-back war trophy in lot 1326.
Mr. Berryman’s collection is nothing short of outstanding. Built over decades it encompasses the gritty frontier life and the finer things that 19th century America had to offer. It is home to rare models, incredible workmanship, and blades that impress even those uninitiated to the world of knife collecting – all reasons it earned its way onto the cover of Volume 2 of this auction’s catalog, seen below.
There are of course dozens of edged weapons in the 2018 April Firearms Auction, from ornate, gilded officer’s swords to rare and cruel trench knives. We invite you to view them all by clicking the button below. Aficionados of collector firearms will have no problem appreciating their craftsmanship, beauty, and history.