Author Topic: question: What were red handled trade knives?  (Read 1514 times)

Offline T.C.Albert

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question: What were red handled trade knives?
« on: February 28, 2023, 01:59:58 PM »
Are there any examples of the "red handled trade knives" like those referenced as traded by the North West Company or Willian Clark when he was Indian Commissioner, or even those carried for trade by the Corps of Discovery. Thanks in advance for any information.
TC Albert
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Offline MeliusCreekTrapper

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Re: question: What were red handled trade knives?
« Reply #1 on: February 28, 2023, 03:25:04 PM »
Also known as red handled scalpers, they were quite common. Second one down in the pic is a Ken Hamilton made red handled scalper.




Offline MeliusCreekTrapper

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Re: question: What were red handled trade knives?
« Reply #2 on: February 28, 2023, 03:35:44 PM »
One of the Journal of the Early Americas issues had an article on them also. I can't remember which specific issue, it was written by Karl Koster I believe.

Online rich pierce

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Re: question: What were red handled trade knives?
« Reply #3 on: February 28, 2023, 03:52:10 PM »
There was one displayed at the Old Stone Fort Museum in Schoharie NY.
Andover, Vermont

Offline jbigley

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Re: question: What were red handled trade knives?
« Reply #4 on: February 28, 2023, 07:06:49 PM »
Hi Tim: I'm not an expert --and don't claim to be one-- so I checked some of my resources. (I knew I had just read about these knives). On page 11, Volume 23, Museum of the Fur Trade Quarterly, in an article entitled The Scalping Knife, Charles Hanson writes: "In 1776 Lawrence Ermatinger's order of goods for Michilimackinac included...2 doz [scalping knives] in camwood. Several reddish-colored tropical woods were popular for scalper handles including barwood, camwood, and rosewood. Some idea of the popularity  [of these knives] in their early period can be gained from the purchase of '132 dozen red hafted scalping knives' as Indian presents by Major Schyler dePeyster, British commandant at Detroit in April 1779. ...Phyn and Inglis of London shipped [the Northwest Company] 12 gross of red handled scalpers in 1799 alone."
So from that we may concur that at least *some* red handled knives were made with red tropical wood handles.
BTW--the article has a very good discussion on trade knives in general.
HTH --JB

Offline T.C.Albert

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Re: question: What were red handled trade knives?
« Reply #5 on: March 01, 2023, 11:18:33 AM »
Thanks much for the help everyone. I was thinking they may have been simply painted red, but documented red wood handles makes sense too. We recently acquired an odd old butcher type knife that has the handle deeply painted with some kind of thick red paint. Almost the color of catlinite stone. I'm not sure what to make of it. I will try to post up a photo asap.
Thanks again,
TC   
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Online rich pierce

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Re: question: What were red handled trade knives?
« Reply #6 on: March 01, 2023, 03:25:44 PM »
The handle on the one I saw in a museum had a sort of diamond shaped cross section. No idea if this was common. For those who have the article referred to above, did you see red-handled knives that differed from other period knives in some ways other than color of the handle? If so, how?
Andover, Vermont

Offline MeliusCreekTrapper

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Re: question: What were red handled trade knives?
« Reply #7 on: March 01, 2023, 03:39:16 PM »
The handle on the one I saw in a museum had a sort of diamond shaped cross section. No idea if this was common. For those who have the article referred to above, did you see red-handled knives that differed from other period knives in some ways other than color of the handle? If so, how?

I'll have to look for the article. The knife I have and the ones I have seen all have the diamond cross section. The blades have more of a pronounced sweep than other knives of the period. Mostly half tang.

I'll try to dig out the article in the next couple days.

Offline jrb

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Re: question: What were red handled trade knives?
« Reply #8 on: March 01, 2023, 04:56:18 PM »
As far as the handle shapes, here are a couple in the diamond shape. The first in the Rochester museum and the second in the Minnesota Historical Society. Ryan Gale's book "For Trade and Treaty" also pictures one with the diamond cross section handle. It seems like i've seen photos of originals with a flat sided wood hanle also but i can't find photos.





Offline jrb

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Re: question: What were red handled trade knives?
« Reply #9 on: March 01, 2023, 05:07:16 PM »
This 1779 account is from Jim Mullins' blog. They show red handled knives and then cam wood knives separately in the same account.




Offline mountainman

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Re: question: What were red handled trade knives?
« Reply #10 on: March 01, 2023, 05:41:25 PM »
And why were they called scalping knives? Or the use of it perhaps?

Offline T.C.Albert

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Re: question: What were red handled trade knives?
« Reply #11 on: March 02, 2023, 06:38:31 PM »
Hereís a few images of the knife I picked up. Iíve run on to several with handles like this.
Tim A




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Online rich pierce

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Re: question: What were red handled trade knives?
« Reply #12 on: March 02, 2023, 08:18:46 PM »
The 3-pin knives are usually post 1800.
Andover, Vermont

Offline Levy

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Re: question: What were red handled trade knives?
« Reply #13 on: March 02, 2023, 10:59:38 PM »
Maybe they painted the handles red for the same reason they painted the ship's decks red.  Just a thought.  James Levy
James Levy

Offline BOB HILL

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Re: question: What were red handled trade knives?
« Reply #14 on: March 02, 2023, 11:50:32 PM »
This was my thoughts on the red oxide paint too , James. We did some work on an ironclad boat once found in Santee River. It had wood tongue and groove paneling on the inside painted red.
Bob
South Carolina Lowcountry

Offline Notchy Bob

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Re: question: What were red handled trade knives?
« Reply #15 on: March 04, 2023, 06:21:43 AM »
That old knife in post #11 is interesting.  There are some very large old butcher knives out there with six-pin wood scale handles that are painted green.  These are frequently offered on everyone's favorite online auction site as "massive buffalo skinner mountain man Indian trade antique six-pin butcher scalping" knives.  The fact is, a lot of knives were still being hafted with pins into the early 20th century, and these massive butcher knives were used in Army field kitchens and ships' galleys through World War I, after which they were sold off as surplus.

However, the knife shown in post #11 is not of that type, and I've never seen an antique knife with red paint like that.  I'll be interested in learning more.

Regarding the "red-handled scalpers," I've read that they might have been painted, but we are pretty sure a lot of them were hafted with red tropical hardwoods.  In Firearms, Traps, and Tools of the Mountain Men, Carl Russell described and pictured a very old Furniss scalper with a diamond cross-section handle.  He stated a small sample of the wood had been tested in a lab and was found to be East Indian Rosewood.  Camwood and barrwood have been covered in the posts above.  Edwin Thompson Denig, who managed the Fort Union trading post in the mid-19th century, stated "Brazil wood" and logwood were used.  His comments about scalping knives are about in the middle of this page:



That is from Denig's article, "The Assiniboine," from the 46th Annual Report of the Bureau of American Ethnology.  The original manuscript was believed to have been written in about 1853, but was edited by John Ewers much later and printed in the BAE report.  Anyway, both of the woods he mentioned were used in the production of dye.  "Brazil wood" (pronounced "brazzlewood" back in the day) is pernambuco, which incidentally is the preferred wood for violin bows.  A buddy of mine is an archetier, a bowmaker, and gave me some of his scraps.  Pernambuco makes beautiful knife handles.  I sent pieces of it to Wick Ellerbe and to Kyle Willyard (of Old Dominion Forge) when I ordered scalping knives, and they kindly used my wood.  The top knife in this photo is by Wick Ellerbe, and the second is from Mr. Willyard:



The third knife was made by Randy Wolfe of Bethel Forge, in Indiana, and has a rosewood handle.  The bottom knife is by Ken Hamilton and sports a cocobolo handle, which is also authentic.  Both of these are much darker than the pernambuco.

Notchy Bob
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Offline RAT

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Re: question: What were red handled trade knives?
« Reply #16 on: March 04, 2023, 07:26:37 PM »
James Hanson covers this pretty well in The Encyclopedia of Trade Goods Vol 3: Tools & Utensils of the Fur Trade. "Red handled" knives had cocobolo handles. The diamond cross section is correct. The next most common wood used was boxwood... which would have been referred to as "common" scalpers. Red handled (cocobolo) "scalpers" were very popular. "Scalper" refers to the blade shape, not their use. Kyle Willard makes a great reproduction. It's not very expensive and it's based on originals. They are half tang in length and the tang is tapered. The "scalper" blade shape was first used by the French, and later copied by the English. Knives were offered in 5", 6", & 7" blade lengths. Give Kyle a call or shoot him an email. He's studied a fair number of originals.

The "butcher" style blade became popular in the early 19th century. The 6" length seems to be the most common. Boxwood was the most common wood used. I can send you a good article on "butcher" knives if you PM me with your email.
« Last Edit: March 05, 2023, 03:02:15 AM by RAT »
Bob

Offline T.C.Albert

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Re: question: What were red handled trade knives?
« Reply #17 on: March 06, 2023, 01:12:37 PM »
Thanks everyone for the replies. It looks like predominantly red woods were used, in fact the contract calling for "red wood handled" knives seems to make it pretty clear. I guess I had just assumed lighter woods had been painted red. Thanks again 
Tim A
« Last Edit: March 06, 2023, 01:31:14 PM by T.C.Albert »
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