"I don't make hell for nobody. I'm only the instrument of a laughing providence. Sometimes I don't like it myself, but I couldn't help it if I was born smart."

1st Sgt. Milton Anthony Warden.
"From here to Eternity"

New Info

Yahoo, in their infinite wisdom, has made itself unusable for reliable e-mail.
New e-mail:
plowshareforge@gmail.com
Of course I still check the Yahoo account. They just suck for the day-to-day stuff.

The Wisdom of the Ages

"When a young man, I read somewhere the following: God the Almighty said, 'All that is too complex is unnecessary, and it is simple that is needed',"

Mikhail Kalashnikov

Wooden training MG's

Wooden training MG's
Maxim MG 08/15
"Here lies the bravest soldier I've seen since my mirror got grease on it."

Zapp Brannigan

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Robbins of Dudley

If the title of this post won't get me listed first on Google searches, nothing will. Actually, I'm right up along the top of any such searches already, which I find ironic in the extreme.
But, lately I've been asked to provide "expert" opinion on the value and provenance of the knife pictured at left.
Being that, in the past, I've only touched on the subject of this rather enigmatic manufacturer, I'm now going to endeavor to enlighten ya'll so you too can be experts on this company that almost no one knows anything about.
Here is the rundown of almost all that's known about the metalworking concern of Robbins of Dudley:
They were founded in 1880 in Fountain Street, Dudley, Worchestershire where they originally manufactured baths and ironwork. They were later listed as "grate and fender makers" (fireplace fixtures) until 1906 when they began to produce art metalwork. In 1910 they began focusing exclusively on this aspect of the business.
I've previously explored the rather ugly business of trench raiding and the perceived (by the guys on the ground - who should therefore know) need for specialized weaponry.
One of my sources, "Dominating the Enemy" by Anthony Saunders, speculates that the knuckleduster was incorporated into the trench knives because of an inborn Brit "problem" with the knife. They viewed it as an "assassins weapon". The knucks would have made the whole idea more palatable...somehow.
Odd to me is that this is the reverse of the Yank outlook. As a lad I recall my older brother mentioning that one of his classmates, one of the "bad kids" possessed a set of brass knuckles. At this my mother visibly shuddered. Now, had he said that the boy had acquired a machete, battle-axe or some other, more horrific, edged weapon, she wouldn't have batted an eye. Cultural mores. Go figure.
In any case, being that the guys in the rear remained obsessed with the grand cavalry charge, they never got around to thinking about what may actually have been useful to the boys in the shit. However, the "invisible hand" of the market (see, libertarians. I do get it - just not all of it) filled the void. A land-office business was done in private-purchase, ugly, brutal knives, with and without knuckledusters and, had they not been effective - even psychologically - they would have simply stayed on the shelf.
We "Yankee-come-latelys" did, at least in this regard, manage to learn from our predecessors and so produced the M1917/18 trench knife and the McNary-pattern, Mk 1, 1918 trench knife. Good knives and I'm sure quite capable of ruining someone's day but, in my opinion, rather "produced" and lacking the cachet of the private-purchase, Brit knives.
Speaking of which, Robbins produced at least ten different models, all of which shared the same characteristics: They were all very curvilinear and obviously designed with an eye toward aesthetics. The "art knives" of the day if you will. Again, see the top photo.
Of these available models, the most popular - at least from examining what's available on the collector market nowadays, as well as the obvious imitators of the period, was the one I refer to as the "punch dagger".
Looking like a Hurst shifter with a knife blade and knuckle bow, it really went out on the design limb. Other Robbins knives seem to have some historic and stylistic precedents but this thing came out of
nowhere.
Robbin's other push dagger was fairly conventional and, with the exception of one straight knuckle-knife that used the same hilt as the punch dagger, all the others pretty-much "looked" like knives ought to look.
But, as I said, the punch dagger was widely imitated.
Below, a series of photos from Ron Flook's most excellent book, "British and Commonwealth Military knives" showing period knockoffs:
From left to right, an unmarked example that, but for the fact that the knuckle bow is cast integrally with the handle and is therefore aluminum, and that the sheath has a snap rather than a Sam Brown button, would pass for a R of D.
Next, a cast-iron example. Flook calls it "cast steel" but I'm going to jump in and say cast iron. Steel doesn't cast easily, it would be overkill in this application and, besides, cast iron is nothing but a very high-carbon steel.
And on the right, a real charmer. One piece brass handle with leather-wrapped knuckle bow. Despite its home workshop appearance, several of these exist and are generally thought to be associated with the Royal Welch Fusiliers (Siegfried Sassoon's outfit - and the folks who rated the "Welsh sword").
Now, from a militaria site where I lurk regularly to high-grade their inventory for knife designs and to just look at this cool shit, Snyder's Treasures.
I scored the above photo of the knuckle-knife with the punch dagger hilt there but there are also others.
These are some photos of examples that, Snyder's God love 'em, calls "prototypes". To my eye, they're obviously period knockoffs. Nothing wrong or even uninteresting about that. They're from the period. They're cool - maybe even more so than one with a pedigree.
In any case, Snyder's are just trying to make a buck off them and good on 'em for it.
These knives are obviously from the period and that alone makes them well worth the price of admission - besides, if you're looking for the genuine article, caveat emptor.
This first: Check how weinie and tentative the double-fullers are compared with those on the above knuckle knife. BTW: I know how knife-makers think. If you put in the double-fuller; presto, no worries about a straight median ridge.
Next: Same meat - different gravy. A very nicely shaped knuckle bow and really pronounced finger grooves. It may even be prettier than the Robbins examples. So why pretend that it's a "prototype". This thing kicks ass on its own.
Finally, a knockoff labeled as such: A certain "C. Spencer" used another nice casting pattern. Certainly easier to produce than that for the Robbins in that it was obviously cut from wood and then rounded over (pattern-making can be a bitch. The pattern for my Clement's knife had to be glued back together three times before it was finished enough to cast an aluminum pattern that I could file to shape.)
Both the knuckle bows on these last two also are worthy of attention. They're both deeply curved and roomy. I wonder if the thought was to allow more room for gloves in the wintertime.In any case, the Robbins oeuvre (like that word?) provides a nice window into our past even if the knife "connoisseurs" may try to over-complicate things. It was once even suggested to me that Robbin's knives were lost-wax-cast.
No, sorry, that's a technique meant to capture fine detail - a labor-intensive, "art" process". These were workmanlike products and should be respected as such.
How do I know? Look below. Again taken from Snyder's, a shot of the maker's mark of a genuine Robbins.Can you say "double strike"?
If this was artsy-fartsy, this one wouldn't have left the shop. Nope it was a product - and glad for that.
To close, some information from the diary of the Granddad of the correspondent, a man who went from Mons to Passchendael, was wounded five times, gassed twice and died in 1972:

"He carried the bayonet as he said he couldn;t be bothered taking it off his webbing but he also had a trench knife (no details or name) with knuckle duster grip and also a cosh or small mace made from 11inches of lead pipe with the handle wrapped in cloth. He used the latter two items on prisoner snatching raids but confessed sometimes he hit them too hard and they were useless as sources of info and had to be left in the German trenches. Even with a helmet on, a hefty hit from behind often did the poor sods in. He was also a Regimental boxer so he liked to knock them out with a right cross with the trench knife. He prefered to hit below the ear from behind, over their shoulder but if they turned he would smack them in the face. He said the trench knife never failed but he cut himself a couple of times with it!"

At last report the knife at top was going for around two grand.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"Worchestershire"
Comedy gold!!
Up there with Mark'n'Lard.

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