Manning Imperial Ballock Dagger
A hands-on review by Jason Elrod
The ballock dagger, also known as the kidney dagger, is one of five main types of medieval daggers. It was in general usage throughout Europe from the 14th century well in to the 17th century. During this time the form of the ballock dagger changed considerably, culminating in the dudgeon daggers and Scottish dirks of the British Isles. While there were also other regional variations along the Baltic Sea, all ballock daggers had one thing in common: their phallic shape.
This replica is based on a ballock dagger residing in, but not on display at, the The Royal Armouries, Leeds. There is very little information available about the original. Weighing in at 6.4 ounces and dated circa 1500, the place of origin of the dagger is unknown. Manning Imperial has listed a German origin on their Web site while DK Publishing, in the book Weapon: a Visual History of Arms & Armor, claims the dagger's origin to be English. While contacted to help clear things up, the Royal Armouries has unfortunately been silent about the issue. For my part, I believe an English origin is more likely as the unusual blade shape seems to herald the dudgeon daggers of the 17th century. However, this assessment is pure speculation.
Measurements and Specifications:
Replica created by Manning Imperial of Redan, Australia.
This dagger feels very stout in the hand. Definitely intended for heavy duty thrusting, the asymmetrically diamond-shaped hollow-ground blade is approximately 1/2" thick after the false ricasso. I find that most daggers that I have handled have a Point of Balance (PoB) very close to the hilt. Combined with the light weight of those daggers, I have found that they are much harder to control in the thrust. This is not the case with this Manning Imperial dagger. Its PoB is just in front of the false ricasso which gives the dagger enough heft and forward momentum to allow me to place the point of the dagger exactly where I want it. It also allows for very powerful thrusts. This is a weapon that I wouldn't hesitate to take to war with me.
Fit and Finish
Every angle on the blade is hollow-ground. It begins with what could be considered a false ricasso with a flattened triangular spine at the base of the hilt. At the end of the ricasso one side of the blade sprouts a central rib while the other side of the blade continues with a slight hollow-grind all the way to the tip. The central rib on the face of the blade after the ricasso gives most of the blade (approximately 8 3/4") an asymmetrical diamond cross-section shape. It also leaves a false edge protruding above the ricasso.
This is one of those blades that must be seen to be believed. Why someone would design such a blade remains a mystery. While the reinforced diamond section makes the blade extremely sturdy and aids in thrusting, there would seem to be easier ways to gain the same benefit without the use of such a unique design. Regardless, I have never been so impressed with the precision and execution of such a complex blade in a reproduction.
In stark contrast to the exceptionally complex blade, the hilt is very simple in design and execution. It is carved out of hawthorn wood and capped in brass at both the pommel and basal lobes. The brass pommel cap simply lies on top of the rondel-like pommel and is noticeably off-center while the brass washer between the blade and basal lobes is roughly cut and could use some additional filing on its edges.
The hawthorn wood itself feels slightly rough to the touch and could use an extra bit of sanding but isn't rough enough to be distracting during handling. Additionally, the handle is covered with a few knots which add to the rustic appearance and feel of the hilt. However, the wood does exhibit some pleasing contrasting grain patterns.
The rondel-shaped pommel is also not completely representative of the original dagger. While both daggers exhibit similar incised line patterns, the reproduction has a flat top as opposed to the original's rounded, more phallic, knob-shaped pommel.
While the blade on this ballock dagger is exceptional in every way, the hilt almost seems to be an afterthought in execution. In fact, Manning Imperial's Craig stated that his main focus was being able to reproduce the complexities of the original dagger's blade. Personally, I like the contrast between the simple rustic hilt and the complex blade and wouldn't hesitate to add this piece to my collection.
About the Author
Jason Elrod is a retail manager with Borders Books in Dulles, VA. His sword obsession is tempered only by the knowledge that no matter how large his collection becomes, he still will not be able to use it to send his son to college.
Weapon: A Visual History of Arms and Armor, by DK Publishing
Thanks to Craig at Manning Imperial for sending this dagger out for review.
Photographer: Jason Elrod