Posted: 18/10/18 (9:46am)
Something has been weighing on my mind for some time now. I have thought about commenting on it, but each time I am about to, I decide not to for fear of alienating people.
Today I have decided that it is time I said something. I don't want to come across as unhelpful and my comments are certainly not a criticism of anyone in particular.
Every week I receive requests for identifications and valuations of swords, knives and bayonets and I am always happy to help. I know a bit about edged weaponry and am learning more every day. Over the years I have spent countless hours reading, studying and researching the patterns, origins, periods and values of edged weaponry and I continue to do so. I have acquired an extensive library of research materials at some considerable cost.
The volume of requests has risen over the years, and about a year ago it got to the point that I was having to spend quite a few hours every week responding to people's requests. Even when I know instantly what an item is, it still takes time to write to the person and give them the information. Invariably they write back with more questions.
When I am asked to identify an item that I am unfamiliar with, it can take hours of research to pin it down. Even when my identification is instant, it is only because of the hours I have put in over the years and the money I have spent on reference books.
Because of this I decided that, like most dealers, I would have to make a charge for the service. I looked at what my competitors were charging and decided to ask the same fee of £10. But, unlike other websites, I offer to give up to three identifications/valuations for this amount.
I amended my contact page to advise people of this change, making it very clear that I was now having to charge for this service. Despite this, only one person has ever paid. Everyone else chooses to ignore this when contacting me asking for items to be identified. Knowing that there is a fee, they still expect me to identify their sword or bayonet for free. In many cases they don't even ask politely. Many emails begin without a greeting, just a demand, "I want to know..." Similarly, once answered, at least half of the people don't even have the courtesy to say "Thank you."
I have tried respectfully pointing out that there is a fee for this service and each time that I have done so, have received a reply refusing to pay. Why is it that people consider their own time too valuable to spend on research but expect me to give my time for free?
Having a Facebook page is also a double edged sword - if you'll excuse the pun. People seem to expect their items to be identified and often they have several items. They somehow feel I owe them my time and knowledge.
Everyone works, and whether they are on an hourly rate or yearly salary they get paid for their time and skills. Isn't my time just as valuable? Don't I deserve to be paid for my work?
I have never refused a request for help identifying an item, nor will I, but I hope that after writing this blog, people might consider that the fee I ask is reasonable and they might agree that expecting me to work for free is unfair. Failing that, I hope that they will at least ask nicely, greet me at the start of their email and say please and thank you.
Posted: 10/10/18 (9:38am)
Still no response from the community pastor that I wrote to trying to get in touch with a relative of Colonel Hugh Finlayson. Rather disappointing and a little surprising that a man of the cloth hasn't acknowledged my email or been willing to assist. Oh well, at least I know that I tried to do the decent thing and reunite the sword with the family of the original owner.
This isn't the first time something like this has happened and it won't be the last. It gives me a warm and fuzzy feeling when I can send a sword home and I try to do it whenever possible. But sometimes it doesnt work out.
In 2016, I bought a late Victorian Royal Navy Officer's sword and as it was made by the Wilkinson Sword Company, with a bespoke order serial number, I bought a copy of the original ledger entry and discovered that the sword had belonged to Victor Lindsey Arbuthnot Campbell.
Campbell was First Officer on board the Arctic exploration ship, the "Terra Nova" and was leader of the Northern Party on Robert Falcon Scott's (Scott of the Antarctic) I'll fated Antarctic expedition (1910-1913). While Scott lead his party to their deaths, Campbell, after surviving months of the Arctic winter in a snow cave, brought most of his men safely home. After the death of Scott, Campbell was Britain's foremost Antarctic explorer and went on to have an illustrious naval career winning a DSO in 1915 while commanding the forward battery at Gallipoli and adding a bar to it in 1916 as commander of "Drake" battery. Campbell also served in World War ll.
Having discovered the sword's pedigree, I contacted a number of museums including that of the Royal Naval College and the British Antarctic Survey and offered them the sword for exactly what I had paid for it, with all provenance and receipts. I felt strongly that the sword should stay in the UK and be on display for all to see. It was a national treasure and should be treated as such.
None of the museums or organisations that I contacted were interested in the sword. I felt rather let down, but again, I knew I had done all that I could to keep the sword in the UK and make it available to all.
I listed the sword for sale and it sold two days later. It sold for over six times what I had paid for it. A four figure sum.
The sword now resides in a private collection in America. I am sure that its new owner cherishes it and shows it proudly to all his friends and acquaintances and I made very good money on it. But few if any people from the UK will ever see it and be awed by the courage, resolve and resourcefulness of the man who owned it and the men he led.
Other attempts to rehome family swords have had much happier results and in some cases the swords are now on public display, such as the sword belonging to William Home-Robertson, which is now on display below his life size portrait in Paxton House, Berwickshire.
Posted: 01/10/18 (15:56pm)
It has been a busy week. I was at an auction in Carlisle on Friday, and came home with seven lots that I am really pleased with. They're all quite scarce and one or two are rare.
My favourites are:
German S98/05 saw back by a rare double maker, Gebruder Hartkopf of Solingen & Walter & Co. Of Muhlhausen.
Walter & Co. Were machinists, so presumably made the blade, which was then finished and assembled into the completed bayonet by Gebruder Hartkopf. This makes the already scarce saw back version of the S98/05 quite rare indeed.
British first pattern P1907 hooked quillon by Mole of Birmingham. The bayonet is unit marked to the "Devil's Own" Connaught Rangers.
German early production Demag, crank handle bayonet/trench knife and last but certainly not least, an Royal Yugoslavian Army M1939 officer's dagger.
All will be available on the website in due course, along with the other items I bought. The first of which is a Lee Metford P1888 Mk1 Type II bayonet in fantastic condition.
Rather disappointingly, I have not received a response to the emails I sent trying to make contact with a relative of Col. Finlayson. It had been my hope that I could return the sword to his family but as I have drawn a blank, I will be offering the sword for sale on the website. I'll wait a few more weeks before I do so.
Posted: 24/09/18 (18:44pm)
I was going to list a sword today, a sword that at first I thought was just a run-of-the-mill American P1902 army officer's sword; and the sword itself is just that. Nothing special and really only of limited interest to most collectors. In fact, I nearly didn't buy it for just that reason. Now I am glad that I did.
The sword has the name of Colonel Hugh S. Finlayson Jr engraved on it, and after a couple of hours of research I learned that the Colonel had an impressive military career.
Col. Finlayson retired from the Army in 1974 with over 31 years of service, which included tours of duty in Belgium and France where he fought in the Battle of the Bulge during World War II. After WW2, he saw action in Korea and Vietnam before serving at the American Embassy in Belgium, and numerous stateside assignments, ending as Professor of Military Science at Loyola University in New Orleans.
Before enlisting for WW2, Hugh S. Finlayson was a pitcher with the Brooklyn Dodgers baseball team.
Colonel Finlayson's decorations include The Legion of Merit, Bronze Star, Air Medal with Oak Leaf Cluster, Joint Services Commendation Medal, Army Commendation Medal, Combat Infantryman Badge, and the Republic of Vietnam Cross of Gallantry. He was also inducted into the Field Artillery Hall of Fame.
The Colonel was a legend. He passed away in 2005.
Having learned this, I decided that the sword really belonged with his family and I spent another hour trying to track them down. I have found a family member who lives in Diamondhead, Mississippi and have sent an email to the pastor of her church, asking him to forward my email to her. I hope that she will get in touch. It would please me to be able to return the sword to its family, if they want it. I'll keep you posted...
Posted: 19/09/18 (11:49am)
I'm back! I got home last night after 4 days and nearly 1000 miles on the road. I had a very enjoyable and successful trip. I bought eleven swords in total, my favourite being an English 17th Century small sword with a Solingen blade. I will add it to the website in the next week or so.
I also collected an 18th Century, George III naval fighting sword which I have been asked to do some restoration work on.
I managed to combine the working road trip with catching up with family and friends which was a real pleasure. I really could not have hoped for a better trip.
Now I have my work cut out for me! Having just had two weeks of holiday, followed by 4 days on the road, I need to get back into the workshop and begin/complete the various projects and restorations that I have taken on. I also have two full size naval cannon trucks to build to accommodate a pair of cannons that I bought at the start of the year. I have had the oak sitting in the work shop for the last six or seven months but have not yet had the time to begin work on the trucks. It will take me about a week to hand build the trucks. I'll post some photos of them once completed, but first, I have to do all the customer commissions, and that will keep me busy for the next couple of weeks.
Posted: 13/09/18 (12:53pm)
I'm back. We got home early yesterday morning and both had to hit the ground running. After just 4 hours of restless sleep we were both up and working, Sue off to meetings and me off to the workshop.
I spent a few hours at the workshop putting the finishing touches to a restoration project and the rest of yesterday was spent packaging and arranging the delivery of the items that sold while I was away. It is surprising how long it takes to properly package, book delivery, print off labels and complete customs forms in triplicate before finally delivering the packages to the depot for collection by the courier. It was after 5pm when I finally finished and (as everyone who has had to work after returning from holiday in the small hours will know), by then I was stumbling around like the Walking Dead with about the same conversational ability.
I have just added a lovely little George III blue and gilt Royal Navy dirk to the website and already it is reserved. That was quick! And that was also the last piece of new stock that I have. I am awaiting the arrival of two swords from Canada and also an auction delivery from here in the UK but I will have to get out and about to source more items. To that end, I am off on a road trip tomorrow and will be away for at least the next 3-4 days. My first stop will be about 300 miles down south in Northampton, where I will view and may buy what remains of the sword collection that I mentioned in an earlier blog. Whether or not that sale goes ahead I will be attending an auction on Saturday in the Cambridge area and may stay down south for another auction on Monday - it really all depends on how well I do on Friday and Saturday.
Finding new and interesting stock for the website is time consuming and can be expensive too. Fuel alone for this 700-800 mile round trip will be over £100 and so will a few nights B&B accommodation. Not to mention the hours on the road and spent sitting in auction rooms. Even calculated at minimum wage, the hours will add up to a few hundred pounds.
Basically this stock buying road trip will cost me about £500-£600 all in, not including the cost of any items I buy. As long as I come home with good stock items it will all be worth it...