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Thread: A Wilkinson of a different sort...

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    A Wilkinson of a different sort...

    Being quite accustomed to seeing Wilkinson swords appear on the forums with fair enough regularity, posting my latest acquisition seemed to present an interesting diversion. Along with swords and bayonets, Wilkinson was no stranger to knife making (as collectors of the Fairbairn-Sykes knife will attest). But long before the double edged dagger of WWII fame, Wilkinson was producing a large 'dirk' on the specifications of Army of India officer, big game hunter and author Major Henry Shakespear. In his book “The Wild Sports of India”, Shakespear noted:

    “Each of us is armed with a shikar or hunting knife, the sheath of which fits into the breast of the shooting-coat. Thus the knife is ready to hand, and can be used in a moment – this moment is time sufficient to save or lose life. My hunting-knives are some seven inches long, and one and a half broad in the blade, partly double-edged, fluted, coming to a keen point, and kept as sharp as possible. There is a spring in the sheath; when required for use, this spring is pressed open with the little finger, at the same time that the hilt is grasped. It requires no buckle, or other fastening; the steel button in the side of the sheath fitting into the button-hole in the pocket of the hunting-coat. I think, after much experience in knives, that this is the best weapon that can be made, consequently I have left the pattern with Messrs. Wilkinson and Co., Pall-Mall.”

    The results of this design submission were offered by Wilkinson from the 1860s to around 1909. Blade lengths varied from 6” to 9 1/4”. The blade on the example shown, a 'No 5', measures a full 9 inches. The contoured hilt is hand checkered English walnut. The recesses near the guard where the spring clip housed in the scabbard would engage are clearly visible (sadly, the sheath is absent).

    It seems only a small percentage of Shakespear knives were numbered. This example is numbered on the guard “16752”. This number proves to be a blank ledger entry, but surrounding entries indicate a February 1870 date of manufacture.

    From a purely aesthetic perspective, it's a breathtaking knife to behold and when I displayed it at a recent antique arms show, people were invariably drawn to it. In terms of physical design and ergonomics, it is quite comfortable to hold and balances very well despite its somewhat lengthy blade. Its not at all difficult to see how Major Shakespear came to settle on this design!
    Attached Images Attached Images     
    mark@swordforum.com

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    Very nice, Mark.

    "The knife was recently manufactured as a limited edition of 100 by Wilkinson Sword, UK" according to this page (albeit not exactly like the fine specimen that you have): http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb....nife/index.htm

  3. #3
    Mark

    Interesting to see a Shakespear knife - you don't see many around.

    Richie

  4. #4
    I trust a little history, and the end of the line traceable from the great dramatist's brother, won't be considered too OT.

    I believe this Henry Shakespear was the father of Captain William Henry Irving Shakespear of the Indian Army, who became the British Political Resident in Kuwait. He travelled in Arabia, became a close friend of King Abdul Aziz Al-Saud, and was instrumental in the Saudis making war on the pro-Turkish Rashid of the north, during the First World War.

    Shakespear was killed in their first battle, at Jirab, not far from where I have been for almost the last ten years. He was killed serving the Saudis' sole field-gun, because he adhered to British army standards (Don't abandon guns) rather than bedouin ones (Leg it for the horizon when you have to, and let them have that bit of desert, because they have to go home sometime.)

    I think I remember hearing somewhere that Captain Shakespear had a hunting knife, and I know the bodies were stripped and abandoned for some time. I wonder where it is now.
    Last edited by John Wallace; 05-31-2010 at 09:15 AM.

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    Mark & Richie: Thanks! Not enough emphasis is placed on Wilkinson's other edged weapons, imho. Hopefully, this will broaden the awareness...

    John: Fantastic ancillary background! What is your source?
    mark@swordforum.com

    ~ Hostem Hastarum Cuspidibus Salutemus ~

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  6. #6
    Lovely knife. Do you have the scabbard for it?

    The release mechanism was very easy to use and worked really well.

    The limited edition that Mr Cain refers to wasn't a full production run. Only a few were made as they were very expensive to produce, sold at a very high price and made to order.

    It was put back into production around the time the Dartmoor knife was launched as part of an attempt to raise awareness of WS as a bespoke knife manufacturer as well as the more mass produced dartmoor.

    We copied the shakespear knife that we had an example of in the museum, hence the reason that the reproduced version had a shorter blade and no fuller.

    Lovely knife though. Hand chequering the grip was very time consuming, as was reproducing the scabbard release mechanism.

  7. #7
    Excellent knife, Mark! You must be very proud. Do you have a copy of Robert's Mr. Wilkinson of Pall Mall?. There are several illustrations of this knife if memory serves me.

    Jonathan

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    Thanks, Jonathan. Indeed so! I have "Mr. Wilkinson of Pall Mall" (excellent books & highly recommended, btw). There are also a few superb examples pictured in Flook's "The London Knife Book".
    mark@swordforum.com

    ~ Hostem Hastarum Cuspidibus Salutemus ~

    "Those who beat their swords into plowshares usually end up plowing for those who don't."
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    Rbd ...?

    Quote Originally Posted by Mark McMorrow View Post
    Mark & Richie: Thanks! Not enough emphasis is placed on Wilkinson's other edged weapons, imho. Hopefully, this will broaden the awareness...

    ....
    I'd love to see a little more on the RBD knife, I particularly like that one!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Peter Busch View Post
    I'd love to see a little more on the RBD knife, I particularly like that one!
    Agreed, Peter. Don't have one of those yet!
    mark@swordforum.com

    ~ Hostem Hastarum Cuspidibus Salutemus ~

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mark McMorrow View Post
    Agreed, Peter. Don't have one of those yet!
    Here is an aide memoir (From the 1907 Wilkinson catalogue) to help the search and there are two other interesting knives as well!!


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    Thanks Robert! Great stuff! Knife numbered 784 is interesting. It appears to have a stamped ricasso, which seems very uncharacteristic for a Wilkinson.
    mark@swordforum.com

    ~ Hostem Hastarum Cuspidibus Salutemus ~

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mark McMorrow View Post
    Thanks Robert! Great stuff! Knife numbered 784 is interesting. It appears to have a stamped ricasso, which seems very uncharacteristic for a Wilkinson.
    Bad rendition as the marks on the blade and ricasso were etched.
    Robert

  14. #14
    Quote Originally Posted by Mark McMorrow View Post
    Mark & Richie: Thanks! Not enough emphasis is placed on Wilkinson's other edged weapons, imho. Hopefully, this will broaden the awareness...

    John: Fantastic ancillary background! What is your source?
    The most detailed source is HVF Winstone's "Captain Shakespear", which is still common on www.bookfinder.com . But he is frequently mentioned elsewhere. Captain Shakespear is buried in Kuwait City, among some of the tallest skyscrapers in the Middle East, but I don't fancy anybody's chances of getting to move him.

    I've done quite a bit of checkering on firearms, and can confirm that even this flat-topped checkering on a surface with pronounced three-dimensional curves would have been fiendishly difficult to make come out even-looking. Do you notice how the angle of the lines changes slightly, towards each end of the grip, so that it is fewer diamonds around the waist than it is at the ends? It would only have to be overdone a little to look wrong.

  15. #15
    I have only the haziest memory of a large hunting knife which I saw advertised around the mid-1960s. It had a bowie-shaped blade, narrowing slightly towards the guard if I remember rightly, and some kind of composition grip, very comfortable-looking to the hand, which may have been inspired by the dermatine of the 1908 cavalry sword.

    Good as it is for its purpose, that 1908 sword grip used to feel desperately wrong to the university fencer I used to be. It was quite impossible to roll between the fingers, and yet attached to a blade which felt like it should be - a bit like riding a four-wheeled quad bike, which can't lean into a curve, to a motorcyclist.

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    Quote Originally Posted by John Wallace View Post
    I have only the haziest memory of a large hunting knife which I saw advertised around the mid-1960s. It had a bowie-shaped blade, narrowing slightly towards the guard if I remember rightly, and some kind of composition grip, very comfortable-looking to the hand, which may have been inspired by the dermatine of the 1908 cavalry sword.

    Good as it is for its purpose, that 1908 sword grip used to feel desperately wrong to the university fencer I used to be. It was quite impossible to roll between the fingers, and yet attached to a blade which felt like it should be - a bit like riding a four-wheeled quad bike, which can't lean into a curve, to a motorcyclist.
    That was the Wilkinson RJH Jungle knife. made in the mid 1960's.
    here is the 1968 US patent

    and here is the label and a photo with sheath.


    originally developed as a Survival Knife for the MOD. Mid production the MOD decided it to be too expensive and the project stopped. The stocks of the knife were sold, many being bought by servicemen.

  17. #17
    Yes indeed, that is it exactly. I wonder if our brain could stand having our memory work equally well on all the things for which people pay us a living wage?

    That virtually is the 1908 cavalry sword grip. I wonder if you know whether the grips were purpose-made or taken from old stock? Anything rubber, based, as I think dermatine is, is normally prone to perish. But I can't say that my 1908 grip has deteriorated at all in the 34 years, more than a third of its life, for which I have had it.

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    They were newly made (although the first small trial batch for trials used originals doctored) of special plastic type material which would survive in all climates.

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    And following the Wilkinson Tradition (RBD, BXH, Shakespeare etc as knife names), the R J H stood for:
    Robert - myself
    John - My Father
    Howard - Howard Evans, the Wilkinson Armourer.

    Between us we designed the knife, but the Patent was taken out in my father's name and assigned, as was the practice to Wilkinson Sword Ltd.

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    Robert, do you know if Wilkinsons took out a patent on the Shakespear knife? Reason I ask is it appears Thornhill also produced and advertised the Shakespear.
    mark@swordforum.com

    ~ Hostem Hastarum Cuspidibus Salutemus ~

    "Those who beat their swords into plowshares usually end up plowing for those who don't."
    Benjamin Franklin

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