Arma Bohemia Ballock Dagger
A hands-on review by Chad Arnow
Given the variety found throughout medieval arms and armour, it should not be surprising that the ballock daggersomething as conceptually simple as a blade mounted with a phallic gripshows a fairly staggering amount of variety. Especially popular with civilians, it's sometimes easy to forget that this dagger form appears on knightly effigies and in period art depicting the warrior class.
A case can be made that the 15th century dagger in the Museum für Deutsche Geschichte is likely a knightly weapon of war. Thought to be Flemish, it shows a number of somewhat unique features and is ornate enough that is was probably the weapon of a wealthy person. While wider blades with good cutting ability seem to dominate the ballock dagger form, this dagger sports a slender, thick blade more like a stiletto; its edgeless cross-section would make it useless as an everyday sidearm and utility tool. The blade is somewhat unique with its faux-ricasso, an area of the blade where the midrib flattens out and disappears under the guard. Atop its gilt copper pommel is a fleurie cross within a rosette and a circle. The gilt copper guard has scrolled drooping quillons and another fairly unique feature: langets that extend from the guard up the grip (rather than down onto the blade). All in all, this dagger is attractive and unique and something I wanted to have replicated.
Arma Bohemia has been in existence since 1995, supplying reenactors and living history participants with a range of goods. They operate largely as a middleman between customers and a group of small shops and craftspeople in the Czech Republic. Jakub Malovany, who takes the orders, seems to be responsible for keeping everyone happy on both sides. I found Jakub to be generally pleasant. Emails were not responded to as quickly as I prefer in every case, though. In some cases, this was due to Jakub being at an event as a seller; in other cases delays may have had to do Jakub awaiting a response from one of his craftspeople. Regardless, I find having to wait two weeks or more for a response a little excessive. In the interest of fairness, a good number of email responses took less time than that.
The order took longer to complete than quoted. The details were worked out in May, with completion scheduled for August. The dagger was indeed completed in August, but without a scabbardsomething I had asked for from the beginning. The completion of the scabbard took an additional 3 months, effectively doubling the time the project took. This time delay cost me additional money as the strength of the US Dollar in relation to the Euro decreased markedly during those extra three months.
On a more positive note, Arma Bohemia was able to use its own photographs of the original dagger to supplement the single published photograph I sent them. Their photographs revealed details I had not seen before (especially about the pommel's decoration and construction), enabling them to make a much more accurate replica than I had imagined getting. The extra detail did add to the cost, but was worth it.
Measurements and Specifications:
Replica created by Arma Bohemia of the Czech Republic.
The dagger's slight weight is just a hair less than an ounce more than the original dagger's weight of 3.88 ounces. While the reproduction is far from hefty at 4.75 ounces, it still exudes a very sure and ready feeling in the hand. The slight weight is no detriment to its lethality.
Fit and Finish
The hilt is by far the most complicated feature of the dagger. The grip is of dark-stained walnut. It is well-shaped though a close inspection shows the slight asymmetries present on period pieces and handmade reproductions. The fittings are of brass which should prove to be sturdier than the gilt copper fittings of the original dagger and is a historically plausible choice. The brass parts have thankfully been given a satin finish that is more attractive to me than the mirror finish we often see when brass is used. The scrolled guard is nicely shaped and its upward-projecting langets mate nicely with the wooden grip.
Arma Bohemia's photos really paid off when viewing the replica's pommel assembly. The grip is topped by a pommel cap, over which the end of the tang is peened; its lower edge is crenellated. Atop that is another plate of brass, embossed with a cross within a rosette and circle. The cap's edges are crimped over the top edge of the pommel cap. Like the original dagger, the pommel cap is not perfectly round and the crimped edges of the top cap might look a little rough to some.
The scabbard is of wood, covered with brown leather that is stitched up the back. The middle section of the scabbard is hexagonal in section while the rest is ovoid. Two raised bands near the mouth would help secure it to a belt with a thong. The long brass chape is crenellated like the lower edge of the dagger's pommel, a nice tie-in that give the whole package a certain harmony. A simple ball finial completes the chape. The chape's finish is generally good though remnants of the solder that holds it together can be seen.
Despite the delays and communication issues, I'm very happy with this piece and the purchase. Arma Bohemia's pricing is competitive and they follow photos and published specs very well, enabling them to produce very accurate replicas that nicely capture the feel of antique weapons.
This dagger is very unique and is visually impressive, making it a nice addition to my collection. I suppose the best testament I can give regarding this purchase is to note that is not my last order from them; as I write this review, I'm eagerly awaiting another knife from the Czech Republic.
About the Author
Chad Arnow is a classical musician from the greater Cincinnati area and has had an interest in military history for many years. Though his collecting tends to focus on European weapons and armour of the High Middle Ages, he enjoys swords, knives and armour from many eras.
Europaische Hieb Und Stich Waffen (European Thrusting and Slashing Weapons), by Hartmut Kolling, Heinrich Muller
Photographer: Chad Arnow