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In his book “American Knives: The First History and Collector’s Guide,” author Harold L. Peterson put it best when he wrote, “In the history of American arms, three weapons stand out above all the rest: the Kentucky rifle, the Colt revolver and the Bowie knife.” Peterson went on to say, “Each was a superb weapon, but more than that, each became so much a part of the American scene that it transcended its role in history and became a part of the great American legend. Of none is this truer than the Bowie knife.”

What exactly is a Bowie knife? Opinions vary and definitions are as diverse as the knives themselves. Among arms students, there are those who feel that a Bowie can be any sheath knife with a clipped point—regardless of size—while others deem any large knife, regardless of blade shape, a Bowie. Finally, there are those who feel that virtually all of the sheath knives produced from around 1830 through the turn of the century (the knife’s greatest period of popularity) should qualify as Bowies. To the modern blade enthusiast, each of these points of view carry some justification; however, among serious collectors, vintage knives with the clip point are the most sought after, and are referred to as the classic form of the Bowie knife.

On The Frontier

As with other famous American weapons, the Bowie knife cut its way into the heart of our nation’s frontier folklore almost from its beginnings. And although the evolution of the Bowie blade is shrouded in mystery and controversy, there are a few facts that cannot be denied. While historians may argue whether it was the famed frontiersman James Bowie, his older brother Rezin or knifemaker James Black who actually produced the first true Bowie blade, there’s no denying that it was Jim Bowie who brought the edged weapon to the forefront. While no one knows for certain whether Jim Bowie’s original knife was made with a clipped point, we know that the style was developed by the early 1830s. It is clear, though, that he carried a large, single-edged knife with a sharp, false edge at the back of the point allowing for an effective, wound-inflicting backstroke. This blade was designed to serve well for defensive purposes along with fulfilling its role as a sturdy utility knife to meet the rigors of frontier living.

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