Saturday, June 5, 2010


Sorry about the lack of posts... I've been busy with work, reading & other household projects. I plan on writing at least 3 posts this weekend & an eBay update - I recently purchased 3 nice New & Old World arrows & I'm watching some interesting auctions ending Sunday.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

A simple harpoon from the Sahel area

Here's one of the handful of primitive weapons I've purchased somewhere other than eBay, and one of my two harpoons. I will describe the other tomorrow. I bought this from a guy selling African pieces at a flea market in Albuquerque, New Mexico. This particular harpoon, said to be from Niger and certainly from the Sahel region, is probably not the greatest quality, but it's definitely made for use and shows a great deal of ingenuity and resourcefulness. I have not been able to find any similar pieces in the American Museum of Natural History or Pitt Rivers Museum archives. Compare it to the nice, darkly patinated piece below:

The harpoon is thick and sturdy-looking. I'd use it. I wonder what it was intended for...there are some pretty big fish in African rivers, as well as hippos, crocs, manatees - but I'd conservatively assume it was intended for large fish.

Overall, the point is crude but functional. The piece is reddish-colored with light rust and caked-on dirt. The large barbs are cut with a chisel (they're cut out, not lifted off) and bent outward slightly. The point is weakened by the large barbs, which leave a narrow waist that wold be prone to bending (a lot of harpoons, especially whaling harpoons, were designed to bend into pretzels, like the Roman pilum). The socket is roughly-made, with a large hole for bolting the point to a shaft or for attaching a tether. There's probably some use-wear and resharpening.

Length (overall): About 10".
Length (blades/points): About 7 1/2".
Length (other dimensions): Socket is about 2 1/2".
Width at widest point (blade/point): About 2 1/2" if bent tips were repaired.
Width (other dimensions): Socket is about 5/8" wide.

Materials: Probably scrap iron. My impression is that the piece was made from a flat piece of steel cut into shape, with the base shaped into a socket and the tip trimmed into shape.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

A spear butt from Central Africa or Madagascar

Here we have one of the last of my larger spear blades and spear components. I purchased this item via eBay (no surprises there) from a seller who believed it to be a knife or weapon of some sort. Although it superficially resembles some of the edged weapons from central Africa, the presence of a socket indicates this is a spear component of some sort. It is most likely a spear butt (a generally socketed spike or iron object serving as a counterweight to a heavy point). Where it's from, I don't know. My guess would be central Africa or Madagascar. The socket is narrow and it would only be suitable for a light spear.

The object is light, thin and somewhat flexible. It is decorated with faint lines along the middle of the blade. The blade (not really a blade, but corresponding to a blade) is not completely flat, but only faintly lens-shaped in cross section. Spear butts aren't expected to do a great deal, so I guess quality isn't paramount. The edges of the blade are roughly parallel for most of their length; in the last inch or so the edges flare out, giving the butt a spade or spatulate appearance. The socket is crude but functional, with a small hole (punched, not drilled) for a pin or rivet.

Overall, the point is crude yet functional. The blade is rusted and pitted, but the rust is not the flaky, scaly rust found on pieces made from modern steel. The point shows a great deal of use and "experience". The flared-out tips of the blade are bent (they could be straightened out, but carefully to prevent breaking them off). This is a nice, old used item that would make a nice display, but it certainly ain't the greatest piece I have.

Length (overall): About 10".
Length (blades/points): About 7 1/2".
Length (other dimensions): Socket is about 2 1/2".
Width at widest point (blade/point): About 2 1/2" if bent tips were repaired.
Width (other dimensions): Socket is about 5/8" wide.

Materials: Probably scrap iron.

If it is in fact Malagasy, it's a rare and desirable piece. Similar spear butts can be seenhere, here, and here (each from the American Museum of Natural History archives). These butts are much finer, but similar to the present item. It it's from the Congo, the value would be considerably less.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

An ornate processional spear from West Africa

This is an interesting item. It's a very basic socketed spear blade, at first appearance more closely resembling a cake server than a weapon. There's no edge per se (it's either deliberately blunted or unfinished), the barbing on the shank is shallow or possibly unfinished, and the socket is rough and fairly crude. The appearance of the piece is enhanced by extensive engraving on both faces of the blade. I believe this is a legitimate ceremonial or processional item, used as a mark of authority or for ritual purposes. It's from West Africa; I imagine it's from Mali or Burkina Faso. If it's from Mali, it might be Dogon. That's just a guess. The engraving vaguely resembles the decorative markings on a couple of West African arrow points in my collection. Unfortunately, I doubt the markings will be visible in the photos.

The spear head is heavy, with a rough, unfinished appearance. It's made from a single piece of steel drawn into a wide willow-leaf shape, with a short shank and a short, crude socket. A series of shallow barbs is present on alternating edges of the square-sectioned shank. Barbs were struck into the material with a chisel. The barbs are not deep and appear to have been filed down somewhat. There's no median ridge (the blade is essentially flat), and point is either blunted, unfinished or kept blunt intentionally.

Overall, the point is crude and heavy. Several forging flaws. Some patina and minimal rust is evident. The tip is bent, but otherwise the point appears unused.

Length (overall): About 13 1/2" overall.
Length (blades/points): About 8".
Length (other dimensions): Shank is about 3". Socket is about 2 1/4".
Width at widest point (blade/point): About 2".
Width (other dimensions): Socket is 1" wide.

Materials: Probably scrap iron.

I have a few other Western Sahel pieces (mostly arrow points). Will be describing them at some point. This piece deserves more attention, so I'll probably revisit it before too long.

Monday, May 24, 2010

eBay updates

Didn't do as well as I'd hoped to...

I ended up winning three knives: A WWI era Gurkha kukri knife from Nepal, a contemporary Tuareg dagger, and an interesting handmade WWII theater knife. Prices ended up being on the lower side, which is a good thing. I may end up selling the WWII knife and possibly the kukri - I'll have to see how it compares to my other kukri.

I was outbid on these items (I am proving a link to the completed auctions; I'm not sure how long they will be available):

  1. A unique spearhead from Tanzania with an interesting socket (appears to be made from a coil of steel). Sold for $34. I lowered my bid to $25 because I wasn't terribly impressed with it.
  2. Another Central African harpoon, with a more elongated shape. Work was a little rough. Sold for $47. I was the second highest bidder on this one.
  3. A sturdy Ethiopian spear head from the Danakil Depression. Similar to this one, but more robust and less ornate. Sold for about $150, which I imagine is probably about what it's worth.
  4. A Central African Tetela spear blade. An old, used piece, but still very nice and with a striking configuration. Sold for $55.
  5. Another Yakoma spear from Central Africa. Sold for about $200.
  6. Another Mossi spear from Burkina Faso. Blade's been bent and repaired. Sold for a very high $80.
  7. A Filipino dagger from the early 20th century. Nice configuration, with a restored pommel. Sold for a reasonable $45.
  8. A Finnish puukko knife with a damaged sheath. Knife itself is in great shape. Sold for $40.
  9. A Gurkha kukri knife similar to the one I purchased. Sold for $55.
  10. Another kukri, plainer but better constructed than the first. Sold for $65.
  11. A third kukri, a British Mark 1 used in WWI. Sold for a very high $330. One of the most collectible kukris.
  12. Lastly, someone beat me to this Central African (Mongo?) arrow.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

A delicate fish spear from Thailand

Here's a description of the first of my spearheads designed explicitly for fishing. I bought it from an eBay seller who indicated it was from Vietnam. I assumed this was the case for years, but while rummaging through my collection recently I took a closer look at the object. There's definitely a couple of characters in Thai script on the upper part of the tang (may be visible in the photo below).

These spears with numerous barbed tines arranged radially appear to be widespread across Southeast Asia and Oceania. Many (but not all) tribal fish spears have tines arranged in a circle around a central point, much like modern paralyzer points for underwater spearfishing. They work quite well, and are possibly easier to manufacture than some of the conventionally trident-type fishing spears from Europe and the western hemisphere. At their most rudimentary, such spears consist of a handful of stiff wires shoved into the reinforced end of a bamboo shaft (as in the omnipresent fish spears from Australia and the Pacific).

The item is very solidly constructed and vibrates like a tuning fork when struck. The spearhead is made from quality steel tines brazed (I assume it's brazed - the welding material is copper colored) to a square-sectioned steel tang. The barbs are crisp and neatly filed into the wires. The barbs aren't simply struck into the material with a chisel, as you see on contemporary pronged fish spears - they're expertly filed into the slightly flattened ends of the prongs. As you can see from the pictures, the prongs angle out from the base for about half their length, then end up roughly parallel to each other. The base is filed into a sleek, graceful shape and finished with a rounded shoulder.

The tang is long, with a mostly round cross-section. At the base, the tang tapers to a sharp, 4 sided point. The material is twisted 2 times, perhaps to aid screwing the tang into a bamboo shaft. The point includes a small, conical bronze-colored ferrule to slip over the end of the shaft to prevent splitting. This seems to be a common feature in Asian spears: Rather than reinforcing the shaft's socket with leather or wirework, many Asian spears (including southern Filipino budiaks and northern Filipino falfeg-type spears [and presumably continental Southeast Asian spears, but I'm not too familiar with them] incorporate metallic caps or ferrules to reinforce the shaft).

Overall, the point delicate and surprisingly graceful. The tines are made from very springy, resilient steel. I occasionally fish with hand-thrown spears, and bent tines are a constant issue - the tines on this spear are probably more likely to break than bend (which is not necessarily a positive quality), but if so, rarely. The item is not used and plenty of filework is still evident.

The item is in very good shape. Superficially, the object appears unused, with minimal patina from handling and loads of bare metal from manufacture. I suspect this was produced within the past 10-15 years by a fairly large-scale artisinal blacksmith for local use. I imagine these points are in demand by farmers seeking to add protein to their starch-heavy diet. Rice paddies are full of shrimps, small fishes and eels, and amphibians (all ideal quarry for such a light fish spear). These points would be ideal for opportunistic non-commercial spearfishing.

Length (overall): About 11 1/2" overall.
Length (blades/points): About 5 3/4" from tip of points to base.
Length (other dimensions): Tang is about 4 1/2".
Width at widest point (blade/point): Tines are about 2" across at the widest point.
Width (other dimensions): Base (section between base of points and beginning of tang) is about 1 1/4"

Materials: Spring steel (maybe heavy piano wire?).

My Thai collection is pretty limited (exactly one other item, a Vietnam-era daab sword). More on that later...

A word about eBay

I'm admitting I'm behind the curve here. I became familiar with eBay fairly early, but I did not become a serious eBayer until recently. I started selling books back in 2003 and have been selling progressively more in the interim. I think my first purchase was in fall 2002 - it might have been a lot of old youth bows and a workshop-made crossbow. Right now I purchase two or three items a month via eBay.

I've cut back lately. I don't pay for items with my checking account. Most of the time, I can make enough cash selling books and objects to place reasonable bids on many items. I've found it also helps to limit searching. I used to make several searches once a day (which even then would not find every item I'm interested in); I currently watch a couple of seller's items and occasionally search my saved seller's items.

My big, secret strategy for winning...I place several low bids on lots of items. I lose most of my auctions, but when I win them the price is right. If I end up winning more items than I'd expected or can afford, I sell the surplus (often for more than I paid for them). I don't bid on auctions manually (unless I'm away from my laptop and I have to bid with my phone). Instead, I use a sniping service to bid within the final 8 seconds of an auction. It pays to take advantage of best offer and buy it now options if possible.

I'm bidding on a whole bunch of knives, spears and arrows tonight and will report on the outcomes shortly.