Ngombe Executioner’s Sword

Value (2005) | $600 Retail$900 Retail

GUEST:
I bought it about five years ago. I paid a hundred dollars for it.

APPRAISER:
Why'd you buy it?

GUEST:
Well, I just like oddity-type weapons.

APPRAISER:
So what do you know about it?

GUEST:
The man I got it from said it was African, late 1800s, and, uh... it's some kind of ritual sword or something.

APPRAISER:
Okay, well, we know what it is. This is some sort of a weapon, and so we have to determine whether it's old. Now, by looking at the blade up here and seeing the wear along here, and the pitting, coming down the blade, looking at this area in here. And then we see some wear on the handle here, here and here. This is all a very good indication that this is an old piece.

GUEST:
Okay.

APPRAISER:
This is from the Ngombe tribe in what used to be the Belgian Congo, then was changed to Zaire, which is now called the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

GUEST:
Ngombe.

APPRAISER:
And this was an executioner's sword.

GUEST:
Mercy. (chuckles)

APPRAISER:
Now, your dates are right. I think this is a late-19th, early-20th-century blade, and as we've said, it's definitely used. Normally in African art, we use auction comparables to establish value. Now, in this case it's a little bit different, because in the auction prices, this doesn't go for a lot of money. Even now we probably see it in the $200 to $400 range.

GUEST:
Okay.

APPRAISER:
But what the designers do is they take this-- and it has a wonderful sculptural quality-- and they mount it upright and then they sell it. Now, in the late '80s, early '90s, we were seeing these things going for as much as $1,500 to $1,800.

GUEST:
Really?

APPRAISER:
And even now, mounted and presented as a sculptural art object instead of a weapon, this piece, in a design shop, or with an... with a private dealer, it's going to be worth $600 to $900. And I think in the future you're going to see the prices go higher on these.

GUEST:
I'll put it up on my wall with my other weapons.

APPRAISER:
Terrific.

GUEST:
Yeah.

Appraisal Details

Appraiser
Dallas, Texas
Appraised value (2005)
$600 Retail$900 Retail
Event
Houston, TX (July 16, 2005)
Period
19th Century
Form
Sword
Material
Metal
February 22, 2010: After this segment aired, a viewer wrote in to take issue with appraiser John Buxton's description of the item as a weapon, writing "the real function of this item and numerous items of similar shape is not as a weapon ... new research suggests that these items that were at one time regarded as swords and throwing blades, are in fact ceremonial and/or status item(s)." In reply, Buxton writes, "I certainly should have mentioned that the sword served as a status symbol of power, but so much of what we find in Africa in the way of body adornment, regalia, staffs, weapons, currency, etc., project power and status. ... It should be noted that the power and the status derived from carrying an object that has been called both a Sacrificial Sword and an Executioner’s Sword is the fact that the owner of the weapon had the power of life and death."

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