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August 21, 2014

Good Things Come in Pairs: Artisan Blades

By Joel R Kolander

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It’s not all guns here at Rock Island Auction Company. As many of you are already aware, RIAC also sells a great number of edged weapons and military artifacts from various eras. From Japanese swords and full samurai suits of armor to the weapons and armor of medieval Europe, RIAC has been extremely fortunate to welcome historic, fascinating, and exceedingly well preserved items from centuries past. This week in the “Good Things Come in Pairs” series will examine two bladed weapons that are as historical as they are beautiful – and that’s no easy task. Each of them is a masterpiece, exhibiting stunning craftsmanship and a wondrous attention to detail.

Lot 1488: Historic Damascus Falconry Dagger with Golden Hilt and Solid Jade Carved Eagle Head Pommel

This brilliant dagger was once a gift to Adalbert Ferdinand Berengar Viktor of Prussia by his mother Kaiserin (Empress) Auguste “Dona” Victoria, who was wed to his father, Kaiser Wilhelm II. Adalbert was the third son of the last German monarch. He was inducted into the Imperial Navy at the age of 10 by his father, mostly as a publicity/propaganda stunt. However, in the 20-year span from 1894 until the start of the Great War, the young man dedicated himself well and achieved the rank of Kapitanliutenant while serving aboard the SMS Kaiser. He made a name for himself not only as a soldier, but also as a womanizer, which Kaiser Wilhelm II frowned upon greatly. Adalbert, a married man, was banished from the house and never again saw his father alive. Following the monarchy’s destruction after World War I, he went into exile in neutral Switzerland where he would spend the rest of his life until his death in 1948, nearly seven years after his father.

The dagger is said to be a gift from Kaiserin Auguste Victoria, his mother, upon his “official” entry into the Imperial Navy (as opposed to his ceremonial entrance at age 10). Meant to be a companion piece to his naval uniform dagger, it had to have both a military feel as well as be fit for a prince to wear as a display piece. Thankfully, not being a part of the official naval uniform, the dagger was not subject to its rigorous standards.

That said, the dagger is exquisitely made in its every detail. The dagger is 18 1/2″ long in total with a 13″ Damascus blade, the manufacturer etched into the spine and a bold, interlocked “AV” gold inlaid on one side, signifying “Auguste Victoria,” the presenter. The other side holds a gold inlaid “A” for Adelbert. The hilt and grip are an impressive gold plated brass depicting a feather pattern, a clamshell languet, and two raptor’s legs serving as the quillions. The pommel (shown above) is a single piece of green jade carved to make a falcon’s head two inches in height. The detail in the feathers is incredible and the eyes are inlaid glass. Regarding the jade falcon head, our official description says it best,

Out of all the decoration of the dagger, this pommel merits the greatest amount of curiosity. A significant deviation from traditional German edged weapon design, the jade falcon head stands as a unique item among the blades auctioned by this firm; while three-dimensional animal head motifs are often seen (for instance, the traditional lion head on German martial sabers) they are traditionally rendered in a single piece with the rest of the grip hardware. Additionally, jade in this color is a scarce item which would need to be sourced overseas.

The scabbard is also of exceptional quality and craftsmanship with its handsome brown leather sheath plus gold plated throat and tip each engraved to mimic the reptilian skin of a falcon’s legs.

Lot 1057: Historic Tiffany & Co. 1852 Pattern Naval Officer Sword, Inscribed to the Executive Officer of the Union Experimental Ironclad Gunboat Naugatuck

When people think of the “ironclads” during the U.S. Civil War, their memory often turns to the indecisive yet alliterative “Monitor v. Merrimack” naval battle. While the USS Monitor is the first ironclad commissioned by the Union Navy, it was certainly not the first ironclad ever. In fact, the demand for iron-hulled ships increased dramatically after the utilization of the shell-firing cannon. Shells could penetrate any amount of wood that could be practically used on a ship, so other methods of defense were necessary. Also, plating ships in iron wasn’t feasible until steam power became available as well, since wind borne ships would struggle to move the great weight. The French, fighting in the Crimean War, were the first to develop ironclads, shells, and rifled cannons, but those innovations would soon quickly spread to Britain.

The Naugatuck was not originally designed as an ironclad warship, but merely as a “proof of concept” vehicle set to prove three things, 1) that a naval ship could be quickly lowered and raised by use of interior ballasts, 2) that turning and propulsion could be achieved by twin screw propellers, and 3) that recoil of the ship’s guns could be more easily managed by using rubber. Originally, the Naugatuck was a simple steamship that its developers bought to adapt and use as a prototype for their final design, the “Stevens Battery.”

Naugatuck could lower itself 2 feet in the water, which kept the steam machinery below deck underneath the waterline, thus protecting it from enemy shells and shot. Its hull may have been all iron, but the only true armor was a 18″ tall angled band of iron which circumnavigated the main deck. Not much, but then again, this was a proof of concept, not a fully commissioned warship. Upon the start of the Civil War, the ship was offered by its developers, Robert and Edwin Stevens, to the Navy, but the Navy declined the unproven prototype. The Naugatuck was then donated to the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service and served outside Hampton Roads, up the James River to harass Richmond, VA by sea, outside New York City to guard the city’s harbor, and later to patrol North Carolina’s inland sounds. She would eventually be sold to again be a merchant vessel in 1889. Her most famous action was the Battle of Drewry’s Bluff, when she used her 100-pound Parrott Rifle and 2 x 12-pound howitzers against the Confederate fort there. One of the only ships capable of elevating her guns high enough to hit the fort, Naugatuck performed nobly and her innovations were a success.

At sometime aboard this noted ironclad was Executive Officer J.M. Rosse, who was presented this fine and superbly decorated sword. We know this thanks to the engraving close to the throat of the scabbard which reads, “From Col M.D. Myers to his friend J.M. Rosse, Executive Officer U.S. Steamer Naugatuck, June 12, 1865,” which radiates around an engraving of the icon for a high level Royal Arch Mason and Knight Templar of the Sylvan Chapter. The sword as a whole is magnificent, measuring over 34″ long with patriotic and naval themes etched into its nearly 29″ blade. The gold plated hilt is striking in both its luminous golden color and its sculpture. It is decorated liberally with oak leaves, acorns, vines, and sea serpents. The silver plated brass grip is bound with copper wire wrap and is also capped with a gold plated pommel.

The scabbard is also remarkable with attractive engraving, bright gilded hardware, and aesthetic sculpted anchor that seems to be wrapping itself around the suspension bands. The tip is similarly adorned with a sea serpent wrapped around a trident engraved onto even more gilded metal ending in an anchor/rope motif.

Regardless of their respective countries of origin, these blades are from another time. A time when craftsmanship was journey that took a lifetime, when you could honor someone with the gift of a fine weapon, and when blades were still a viable threat on the battlefield. While tactics and arms may have changed, the appreciation for outstanding quality, stunning beauty, and the shimmer of gold have certainly not faded away.

These items and those of their kind will always have a place at Rock Island Auction Company. Search out listings today and see for yourself. Whether you seek gold plating, master engraving, shining silver, artistic etchings, precious metals, excellent condition, historic significance, or something that simply elicits a “Wow,” you’ll find it at RIAC.

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