The sword in the... scabbard.
May 30, 2011 11:09 AM   Subscribe

A (Scottish?) sword that can't be drawn; help make my cousin King?

My cousin's family have a mystery:

Kristin and Sam went down to Portland this weekend, and one of the things they brought back was an old short sword/dagger, presumably Scottish, that one of Kristin's relations used to wear on ceremonial occasions with his kilt.

No one still alive knows how to take the sword out though. It looks easy enough - there is a leather loop around both the sword and a smaller knife that sits on top of the sword. A little brass acorn sticks through the leather, and I'm sure there is a way to slip the acorn through, which would let you take out the knife and then you would have the sword and its scabbard. There seems to be another catch to getting the sword out of the scabbard though, since it doesn't move when you pull on the handle. One more clue - the back of the leather belt loop is stamped 'Breseau 1916'. So I'm thinking it might actually be French, especially since none of the Scottish daggers I've found on the internet look like this one. Anyways, maybe someone in your wide circle of Scottish and generally medieval friends can show us how to work it without damaging the leather or the scabbard.


(hope I did that right...)
posted by The otter lady to Grab Bag (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Is it a Sgian_dubh? Knowing the name may help. Many of them are purely ornamental so they may not exactly function in the way you are imagining.
posted by cushie at 11:12 AM on May 30, 2011

Good point, I was thinking it was way too big to be a s.d. but now that I re-look at her question and pics I don't know how big it is. I'll ask.
posted by The otter lady at 11:17 AM on May 30, 2011

My friend is a fabulous knifemaker and he could probably help you. His link.
posted by Vaike at 11:52 AM on May 30, 2011

Can you see any seam or mark in the brass, indicating where the sword / knife actually separates from the scabbard?

If not, it may be entirely ceremonial, and not actually contain a sword.

Looking at the hilt, I'd imagine if it were a full sword in the scabbard, the blade would start under the shell, and so either the shell is the very top of the scabbard, or the bottom of the hilt (ie, the shell is around the point where the seam between hilt and scabbard would be).

I believe the acorn on the front is a decorative piece meant to hold the scabbard in the leather, and was probably attached to the leather prior to it being rivetted to the back piece of leather with the belt loop.
posted by mrzarquon at 12:09 PM on May 30, 2011

If it was Scottish it would likely be a dirk than a Sgian dubh looking judging by size, and their sheath often had smaller by-knives mounted too. But this isn't Scottish. Looks like a Hirschfänger (Deer Catcher), a traditional German hunting knife. Example. Can't help you with unsheathing, perhaps it's been "fixed" to remain closed for safety and ceremonial purposes.
posted by R.Stornoway at 12:19 PM on May 30, 2011 [3 favorites]

It looks to me like a sgian-dubh. Can you give us the measurements?

As an aside, I very much like seeing AskMe questions phrased in iambic tetrameter. It is like having Kit Marlowe ask if he can eat this sandwich he left out overnight.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 12:37 PM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

You may also want to ask the folks over at the Ethnographic Arms and Armour Forum. The Ethnographic Weapons section is more active than the European Armoury section, so maybe post the question on both.
posted by gudrun at 1:16 PM on May 30, 2011

Looks like it is far too big to be a sgian dubh, they go in your sock. They're also usually considerably plainer than this, usually a black leather or sometimes ivory/horn handle, occasionally a ruby or other stone set on top of the hilt. I think R.Stornoway has it, given the unusual size and shape of the handle. A Scottish dirk would be straight-handled.
posted by Happy Dave at 3:41 AM on May 31, 2011

Also, on googling, Breseau seems to be a French family name rather than a place. Could this have been given to a Doughboy ancestor of yours fighting in France?
posted by Happy Dave at 3:44 AM on May 31, 2011

My first thought is to look for a release - a button or lever that will allow the blade to be drawn. It would probably be on the back (boring side) of the cross guard or on the sheath.

As for what the thing is - I am strong with the Google-fu today, and can say that it's most like a hirschfänger, or forestry dagger - an apparently common style Germanic hunting blade. The smaller companion knife is apparently for skinning the things you've already stabbed.

WKC is a 200+ year old German manufacturer of poky things - They have this listed for sale, which seems like a close reproduction of yours. Some very brief additional googling turned up this site (Warning- the site has a WWII-era collectors focus), which lists many older forestry daggers.

I'd maybe use some of this info for further googling, or contact someone at that site or a similar one for assistance.
posted by unsound at 3:23 PM on May 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

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