English Bowie Knife, ca. 1840
Appraised Value: $25,000
IMAGE: 1 of 2
Appraisal Video: ()
Arms & Militaria
J. Christopher Mitchell American Antiques & Militaria
GUEST: The knife came down through my family. My dad gave it to me. He said it was a presentation knife to Zachary Taylor, who, I think, was in the family trade, but, unfortunately, I don't know, and the people that would know are no longer living.
GUEST: And that it's a bowie knife. And he gave it to me when I was a teenager.
APPRAISER: Okay, well, that's fun. Then you do know it's called a bowie knife.
APPRAISER: All right, well, it's absolutely possible that General Zachary Taylor was a family member of yours, but this is not necessarily a presentation knife to him.
GUEST: To him. Oh, okay. Right.
APPRAISER: What we have is, it's a large English-made bowie knife. It's made by Barnes and Sheffield.
APPRAISER: Sheffield is well known in the trade for making these large knives for exportation to the States. One of the things that tells us that this knife was intended for the American market are some of the motifs that are on the blade and that are on the hilt itself. If you notice, we have this very large alligator--
APPRAISER: --kind of moving through a swamp.
APPRAISER: That's an idea that comes from the War of 1812. General Andrew Jackson defeats the English at the Battle of New Orleans, and you have that whole idea of alligators and swamp coming from there. Another thing that we'll see is, if we look up here, it says in a little panel: the "Real Life Defender." If you look underneath it, it says, "The Hunter's Companion."
GUEST: I guess so.
APPRAISER: They're selling this knife as something to protect yourself, put food on the table. I think the thing that led to the presumption that this belonged to General Taylor is actually the biggest motif to sell this to the American market. In this wonderful etched panel, it says "Brave General Taylor Never Surrenders. Battle of Buena Vista." That helps us date this knife. So this knife was made after the Mexican War.
APPRAISER: General Zachary Taylor is the hero of the Battle of Buena Vista. If we look on the scabbard, you'll see it says "liberty."
APPRAISER: And then it has this nice little American eagle in the panel. And then on the other side, it says "Independence." These are all attributes that an American who maybe was going out West or who protects himself would be interested in. This is the kind of knife a man would wear in his belt to basically show: "I'm a man of means." Very well-made knife. It's very elegant in design and shape. It's everything that a person who collects bowie knives would love.
APPRAISER: We have a small amount of damage from bugs here on the plaque of the grip, Oh. but I will tell you, because of the condition of the blade and just the overall look in design and feel of the knife, a collector would look beyond that.
GUEST: I was going to say, I was wondering... from what I know now, as a householder, whether that's mice.
APPRAISER: It's very possible. Actually, on the scabbard itself--
APPRAISER: --there was a little German silver tip down here--
GUEST: Oh, okay.
APPRAISER: --that's gone missing over time, but again, that's really inconsequential to a collector. I just think this is wonderful. I mean, it's got every attribute you like-- it's so big. It's massive...
GUEST: I used to throw it as a teenager.
APPRAISER: Oh, I know, I noticed that the tip of the blade's got just a little nick off the end of it. And, uh, maybe something actually you did, but if I had this knife in my gallery, I'd want $25,000 for this knife.
GUEST: That much?
APPRAISER: This is a really nice knife.
GUEST: Wow. Well, don't want to sell it. (both laugh)
This website is produced for PBS Online by WGBH Boston. ©1997-2015 WGBH Educational Foundation.
ANTIQUES ROADSHOW is a trademark of the BBC and is produced for PBS by WGBH under license from BBC Worldwide.
WGBH and PBS are not responsible for the content of websites linked to or from ANTIQUES ROADSHOW Online.
PBS is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization.