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A fine Scottish Highland dirk dating to the middle period of the 18th century. A notable feature is the exceptional quality of the carved traditional Celtic interlace on the bog oak grip. The mounts are of iron, indicating that the dirk was manufactured as part a military commission for an early Scottish Highland regiment, such as the Black Watch, recruited from clans loyal to the House of Hanover, to police the lawless parts of the central and eastern Highland regions. Very few dirks of this type have survived. The style and form of the dirk represents an attractive a blend of mid-18th century military functionality incorporating traditional Highland craft skills.
The grip has a rich, deep, dark patina. It is cut with two bold bands of Celtic interlaced reeded ropework in the middle section, and additional panels of similar interlace are applied between the haunches front and back. The pommel cap protects the top and the edge of the circular wooden pommel top. The blade tang is secured above the cap by a circular waisted button. The ferrule at the base of the grip is of bold manufacture and decorated with bands of shallow lines. The ferrule secures two iron straps mounted to protect the wooden haunches either side of the grip. Below this an oval iron plate sits at the base of the grip.
The blade tapers to its point. It has a broad central fuller extending to the blade tip. Underneath the blunt back edge another fuller extends from the hilt for around two thirds of the blade after which it becomes double edged.
The stylistic features of this dirk are like to those present on other Scottish dirks of the period. A very similar example is illustrated in James Drummond’s series of watercolours: “Ancient Scottish Weapons”, George Waterston & Sons, 1881, fig 8, plate XIX (see the last image below) which was in the collection of the noted 19th century Scottish antiquarian Sir J Noel Paton RSA, who comments in his private catalogue: “The grip is protected by a rudimentary guard – a peculiarity which the late Alexander Glen, from whom I obtained it, told me he had never found save in dirks of Athole manufacture”.
Athole, or Atholl, is a large historical division in the Scottish Highlands, bordering Marr, Badenoch, Lochaber, Breadalbane, Strathearn, Perth, and Gowrie. This is the region traditionally policed by the Black Watch in the early 18th century. However, Glen probably was referring to the production of dirks in the tighter geographic confines of the region surrounding Blair Atholl in Perthshire, which through the last 250 years or so, has been a traditional recruiting ground for the Black Watch.
The overall length is just under 20.5 inches (52 cm). The blade is 15.25 inches (39 cm) long.