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Malcolm Wilbur




Location: US
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PostPosted: Sun 09 Jul, 2017 4:53 pm    Post subject: Seeking Help Identifying a Scottish Dirk         Reply with quote

A friend has come to own his great-grandfathers dirk, and is seeking help in learning more about its origins. The dirk blade was repaired about 15 years ago by a Scottish weapons shop in the Carolinas, which estimated the dirks age around 200 years old with the main blade much older. The family name is Davisson, but I have no idea where they were from or which regiment they may have been associated with.

Your thoughts are much appreciated - thank you!



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Richard Worthington





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PostPosted: Sun 09 Jul, 2017 7:24 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

It looks late nineteenth century to me. Possibly the same vintage as great-grand dad. It doesn't seem to be hallmarked, so it's probably got nickel alloy mounts or it's plated. Nickel alloys didn't come into common use before about 1830. Are the stones foil-backed?

Hopefully someone else with more knowledge will reply.
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Philip Melhop




Location: Wokingham, Berkshire, UK
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PostPosted: Mon 10 Jul, 2017 6:39 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Would say probably mid-19th C rather than late, the grip hasn't fully changed into a useless attachment with extremes of size, shape and decoration . The stone mount has begun to rotate but the rest of the grip looks good and useable, blade looks funtional enough too.
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Lin Robinson




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PostPosted: Mon 10 Jul, 2017 9:48 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Two hundred years old is unlikely. I agree that it could date from the mid to late 19th century but it could also be early twentieth century. It is in nice condition and has not seen a lot of wear. The leather appears supple (not dry and cracked) and 200 year old leather seldom is.

These dirks were made by many different companies in Scotland and England and frequently sold to officers in Highland regiments. They were seldom used and were an ornament and status symbol for the owner.

The dirks were nearly always marked by the maker. Have you found any hall marks or stampings any where on the sheath or the blades? That will be a big help in identifying and dating it.

Lin Robinson

"The best thing in life is to crush your enemies, see them driven before you and hear the lamentation of their women." Conan the Barbarian, 1982
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Malcolm Wilbur




Location: US
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PostPosted: Wed 12 Jul, 2017 11:22 am    Post subject: More Info...         Reply with quote

Thanks, all. Here are my friend's answers to the questions posted in your replies:

I can answer some of the questions. No the stones are not foil backed and the mounts are silver and I do not believe they are plated. There is no mark visible on the blade. The guy who repaired it thought the mark may be under the handle but didn't want to risk looking for it.

Thanks again!
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Lin Robinson




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PostPosted: Wed 12 Jul, 2017 2:02 pm    Post subject: Re: More Info...         Reply with quote

Malcolm Wilbur wrote:
Thanks, all. Here are my friend's answers to the questions posted in your replies:

I can answer some of the questions. No the stones are not foil backed and the mounts are silver and I do not believe they are plated. There is no mark visible on the blade. The guy who repaired it thought the mark may be under the handle but didn't want to risk looking for it.

Thanks again!


Hallmarks, if they were there, were always in a visible place. They are a form of advertising and it is a good idea to be sure they are seen!

Regarding the dirk blade, it does not appear to be a very early blade and certainly looks like one which might be found on a regimental dirk of the 19th century.

You mentioned repairs made on the dirk in a Scottish weapons shop in the Carolinas. As a resident of North Carolina, who used to own a company devoted to Scottish stuff, I am curious as to who or what business your friend is referring to. That sort of business is not too plentiful these days.

Lin Robinson

"The best thing in life is to crush your enemies, see them driven before you and hear the lamentation of their women." Conan the Barbarian, 1982
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Malcolm Wilbur




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PostPosted: Wed 12 Jul, 2017 2:16 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Lin, my friend had a sgian dubh custom-made to match the dirk, by the fellow in the Carolinas. His mark is "McRae". Does that name seem familiar - it was made about 15 years ago.


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David Wilson




Location: In a van down by the river
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PostPosted: Wed 12 Jul, 2017 3:08 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Mike McRae is a well-known maker of Scottish-style dirks and sgians. He is still in North Carolina, and he is still active. His website is http://www.scotiametalwork.com/index.html where you can see several other pieces by him.
David K. Wilson, Jr.
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Richard Worthington





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PostPosted: Wed 12 Jul, 2017 5:35 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The mounts have a yellowish look, which is what made me think of nickel-alloy. The copper content is what makes it look yellow.

The stones aren't orange, which is what one would expect on a 20th c. dirk with glass stones.

Silver tarnish rubs off easily, and smells like silver. Try rubbing with your thumb. Nickel silver tarnish is hard to rub off, and doesn't smell like much of anything. Plated mounts might be dull gray on high spots where the plating has worn away.
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Malcolm Wilbur




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PostPosted: Wed 12 Jul, 2017 6:02 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

"The stones actually look pink in bright light, unfortunately they appear orange in the photos because of lighting. I believe Mike McRae was the guy who made the repairs and used sterling silver to repair one of the stone retaining to match the original."
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Lin Robinson




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PostPosted: Thu 13 Jul, 2017 5:11 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Malcolm Wilbur wrote:
Lin, my friend had a sgian dubh custom-made to match the dirk, by the fellow in the Carolinas. His mark is "McRae". Does that name seem familiar - it was made about 15 years ago.


Yes...I know him and thought that might be who made the repair. He is still actively making dirks, swords and other blades. He also makes jewelry.

Lin Robinson

"The best thing in life is to crush your enemies, see them driven before you and hear the lamentation of their women." Conan the Barbarian, 1982
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Richard Worthington





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PostPosted: Thu 13 Jul, 2017 1:28 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

When I say orange stones, I mean ORANGE.

(gleaned from the web)



Not having ORANGE stones makes it more likely yours is 19th century.
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Lin Robinson




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PostPosted: Thu 13 Jul, 2017 4:26 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Richard Worthington wrote:
When I say orange stones, I mean ORANGE.

(gleaned from the web)



Not having ORANGE stones makes it more likely yours is 19th century.


That particular dirk is mostly made of plastic.

Lin Robinson

"The best thing in life is to crush your enemies, see them driven before you and hear the lamentation of their women." Conan the Barbarian, 1982
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Richard Worthington





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PostPosted: Thu 13 Jul, 2017 6:15 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Yes, and it has very orange stones, which is why I chose the image.
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Malcolm Wilbur




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PostPosted: Thu 13 Jul, 2017 7:59 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Here's more from my friend, and a photo of the distinctly NOT orange stone!

"I seem to remember McRae telling me the design on the main blade was an older style design which made him suspect my dirk was a "remake" from an older dirk utilizing the old blade which is why he thought any marks on the blade may be under the handle."

"Here is a photo that best represents the stones true color....they are not orange but pink."

Does the color of the stone offer any additional clues to the time period, maker or place of origin of this piece? As always thanks for your thoughts.



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Richard Worthington





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PostPosted: Thu 13 Jul, 2017 9:13 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Cairngorms were the stone of choice for Scottish dirks in the 19th century. They are a Scottish variant of smoky quartz with a nice orange-yellow colour.



Later imitation Cairngorms are bright orange glass. Earlier glass stones had a metallic foil underneath for colour.

Cairngorms, the real ones, became scarce due to their popularity, so other stones were sometimes used as a substitute, or just because.

The pink stone in the most recent image looks like a gemstone to me, not glass. Possibilities include pink topaz and pink tourmaline, but I'm just guessing.
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Lin Robinson




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PostPosted: Fri 14 Jul, 2017 6:58 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Malcolm Wilbur wrote:


"I seem to remember McRae telling me the design on the main blade was an older style design which made him suspect my dirk was a "remake" from an older dirk utilizing the old blade which is why he thought any marks on the blade may be under the handle."

I will have to agree to disagree with Mr. McRae. There are quite a few examples of 19th and 20th century dirks made with tapering blades like this one. The jimping (file work) on the back looks very much like that found on some of these blades. While most latter day dirks tended to have blades with parallel sides for most of their length, there are enough with the taper, which clearly are original to the rest of the knife, to indicate this was also a popular configuration. If more information comes up to indicate otherwise I will cheerfully admit my error.

Does your friend know how his great grandfather came to own this attractive dirk?

Lin Robinson

"The best thing in life is to crush your enemies, see them driven before you and hear the lamentation of their women." Conan the Barbarian, 1982
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Richard Worthington





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PostPosted: Fri 14 Jul, 2017 10:49 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Yes, I don't see anything which indicates the blade is older than the rest. I think most of us would be pleased with an heirloom like this. Happy
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Malcolm Wilbur




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PostPosted: Mon 17 Jul, 2017 4:07 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Quote:
Does your friend know how his great grandfather came to own this attractive dirk?


No, he reports that his father inherited it from HIS grandfather with no documentation or tales of the provenance of the dirk. That's why we thought this forum might provide some clues. My hope was that someone might be able to see enough of the silver engraving to tell if it was a regimental dirk or not, and if so, which regiment. From comparing it with other images I found online it's clearly not Scots Guards but I don't know enough about such things to be of much use. Would civilians have purchased such a dirk for their own non-military, use?

Are there other forums where such answers might be found? Thanks again, gentlemen.
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Richard Worthington





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PostPosted: Mon 17 Jul, 2017 9:29 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Most military dirks follow an approved pattern. Officer's dirks usually have a distinct regimental pattern using regimental numbers and regimental badge motifs. Search the web using regiment names or numbers for examples. So, for example, "Black Watch dirk," "42nd Highlanders dirk," "Royal Highland Regiment dirk," etc. should all find Black Watch dirk images.
Yours could be a generic NCO pattern, but I don't think it is.

I think your dirk is a civilian dirk. They were common for full evening wear. I think the blade is unmarked because the maker was not the retailer. The maker left it blank, giving the retailer the option of etching their name on it. Or, the maker of the blade was not the maker of the rest.
I think it's not hallmarked because it was either for export, or is coin silver, or... ? I'm not sure on all of the laws regarding hallmarking of British silver. Most likely it was made in Glasgow, Edinburgh, or Sheffield.
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