When I wrote “Robert E. Howard: The Sword Collector and His Poetry” in August 2010, it was to highlight REH’s interest in swords. The article listed each type of sword mentioned in his poems along with a definition, a photo and a snippet showing REH’s usage of it in verse.
At that time, the photograph at right was not available. In fact, it is one of three that were discovered earlier this year by Howard scholar Patrice Louinet, showing Robert E. Howard (r) and his two neighbors, Leroy Butler and Leroy’s sister, Faustine, dressed as pirates.
According to Patrice, this photo was taken sometime between 1923 and 1925. That would make Howard between 17 and 19 years old. It was during this period, in November 1924, that REH received a letter from Farnsworth Wright that Weird Tales was accepting his story “Spear and Fang,” which was eventually published in July 1925.
Whether the story had been written, sold, and published by the time this photo was taken is unknown. But REH’s love of swords and the adventure they brought were definitely a part of his life even at an early age.
The other piece of information not available in August 2010 regarded the sword collection itself. The article “Robert E. Howard: The Sword Collector and His Poetry” began with a quote from a letter REH wrote to HPL:
…Long ago I started collecting them [swords], but found it a taste far too expensive for my means. I still have the things I did manage to get hold of—a few sabers, swords, bayonets and the like.
While REH mentions collecting swords, at that time there was no further information regarding its contents. That has changed. Recently I received an email from Howard sleuth Patrice that sheds more light on what swords REH owned. Patrice’s sources are the notes that L. Sprague de Camp took to document his telephone conversations with Earl Baker. Earl was one of REH’s early Cross Cut friends and someone REH kept in touch with throughout the years.
In the April 2, 1978 note, we find out what happened to the collection itself:
REH collected swords and bayonets, costing as much as $250. Baker inherited the collection which was stolen from him when he lived in Ballinger. Dr. Howard gave Baker the collection after REH’s death.
A couple of months later, in this second de Camp note, dated June 11, 1978, Earl gives some examples of the contents of the collection:
Robert E. Howard’s collection of edged weapons consisted of eight or nine pieces altogether. There were two swords, both sabers of Civil War vintage – one a battle saber, heavy and sharp; the other a handsome dress saber without an edge. There was a double-curved French bayonet of the late 19th century modeled after the Turkish yataghan. There was a World War I trench knife, with a triangular blade and an iron knuckle-guard. There was a boomerang, and there were three or four heavy knives of various kinds.
“Robert E. Howard: The Sword Collector and His Poetry” has already examined the various types of swords mentioned in his poetry. However, there are several items listed in the sword collection that do not appear in his poems.
One of these is the yataghan, a sword which is featured in several REH stories, including this excerpt from“The Road of Eagles”:
Leaving their matchlocks, twenty desperate sea-wolves drew their steel and followed their chief. Osman grinned in pure joy as he led them swiftly after the light-footed girl. Such a desperate, touch-and-go venture, in the heart of the lion’s lair, stirred his wild blood like wine. As they entered the castle, a servitor sprang up and gaped at them, frozen. Before he could cry out Arap Ali’s razor-edged yataghan sliced through his throat, and the band pushed recklessly on, into the chamber where the ten mutes sprang up, gripping their scimitars.
– Sword Woman and Other Historical Adventures, p.449
The photograph below shows one of the original Chassepot 1866 breech loading bolt action French rifles used during the Franco Prussian-War. Note that below the rifle is a French yataghan bayonet.
French Chassepot 1866 Rifle Conversion (Photo by PHGCOM from the Musée de l’Armée, Paris / WikiCommons)
(photo taken from: s400910952.websitehome.co.uk/germancolonialuniforms/militaria/rifles.html)
Yataghans were distinctly Turkish weapons characterized by a double-curved blade and a hilt without a guard. They were commonplace in Turkey and the Balkans in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and served as sidearms for the elite troops known as janissaries, an infantry that was loyal to the Ottoman emperor. In “The Shadow of the Vulture,” REH refers to them as the “real strength of the Turkish empire—the most terrible military organization in the world”:
For the Janizaries [sic] were not Turks. With a few exceptions, where Turkish parents had smuggled their offspring into the ranks to save them from the grinding life of a peasant, they were the sons of Christians – Greeks, Serbs, Hungarians – stolen in infancy and raised in the ranks of Islam, knowing but one master – the sultan; but one occupation – slaughter.
– Sword Woman and Other Historical Adventures, p. 400
The yataghan was a fierce weapon wielded by fierce warriors. In the Ottoman period, these swords were made in all the major cities of the Ottoman Empire, In fact, one of the finest and earliest examples of the type was the weapon made for Suleyman [var. Suleiman] the Magnificent, who ruled over the Ottoman Empire from 1522 to 1566. The hilt is of ivory overlaid with gold delicately carved with cloud bands and scrolls.
Although a photo of the ivory encrusted sword was not found, the sword in the following example shows the exquisite workmanship and lavish use of precious materials that distinguish it as a princely weapon and exemplifies the opulence and refinement of Ottoman luxury arts.
Almost identical to the yataghan made in 1526–27 by the court jeweler Ahmed Tekel, for the Ottoman sultan Suleyman the Magnificent, this sword was undoubtedly made in the same imperial workshop. The gold incrustation on the blade depicts a combat between a dragon and a phoenix against a background of foliate scrolls. These figures, like the gold-inlaid cloud bands and foliate scrolls on the ivory grips, are Chinese in inspiration, and were probably introduced into Ottoman art through contacts with Persia.
A full view of the yataghan pictured above
Those of you who are REH fans will recognize Suleyman the Magnificent from Howard’s story, “The Shadow of the Vulture.” Here is his introductory description of the tenth and longest reigning emperor of the Ottoman Empire:
So they brought the envoys, pallid from months of imprisonment, before the canopied throne of Suleyman the Magnificent, Sultan of Turkey, and the mightiest monarch in an age of mighty monarchs. Under the great purple dome of the royal chamber gleamed the throne before which the world trembled—gold-panelled [sic], pearl-inlaid. An emperor’s wealth in gems was sewn into the silken canopy from which depended a shimmering string of pearls ending a frieze of emeralds which hung like a halo of glory above Suleyman’s head. Yet the splendor of the throne was paled by the glitter of the figure upon it, bedecked in jewels, the aigrette feather rising above the diamonded white turban.
– Sword Woman and Other Historical Adventures, p. 387
Suleyman the Magnificent from www.ee.bilkent.edu.tr/~history/topkapi.html
Alas, the yataghan weapon is not mentioned in the story, nor is the double curved French bayonet, which was a similarly shaped re-curved blade.
While “The Shadow of the Vulture” contains a reference to Suleyman but not the yataghan, both are mentioned in another of REH’s tales: “The Road of the Eagles.” (Sword Woman and Other Historical Adventures, p. 423.) Here, Suleyman the Magnificent’s grandson, Prince Orkhan, is a central character. He has been confined to a castle in a remote region by his half brother, Mured III. Ayesha, a dancer who has gone into exile with the Prince, pleads with Osman Pasha (1832-1900) for help in releasing the Prince and returning him to the throne:
One would not recognize him for the young eagle who led his Egyptian horsemen into the teeth of the janizaries. Imprisonment and bhang [hashish] and wine have drugged his senses…His grandfather, Suleyman the Magnificent, is reborn in him. He is a lion who but sleeps— (p. 435)
There are several other REH desert stories that mention the yataghan. In the Kirby O’Donnell adventure, “Swords of Shahrazar,” the re-curved sword, along with other weapons, is used effectively in battle, when the Turkomen, led by O’Donnell, are storming a sanger:
Then a yell of terror went up as the men along the wall caught a glimpse of glittering eyes and flickering steel rushing out of the blackness. They fired one wild, ragged volley, and then the Turkomans surged up over the wall in an irresistible wave and were slashing and hacking like madmen among the defenders…the Pathans were beaten almost before the fight began. Some of them fled over the wall without any attempt at defense, but some fought, snarling and stabbing like wolves. The blazing thatch etched the scene in a lurid glare. Kalpaks mingled with turbans and steel flickered over the seething mob. Yataghans grated against tulwars, and blood spurted.
– El Borak and Other Desert Adventures, p. 408
It’s easy to picture REH typing his desert adventures with his double-curved French yataghan sitting within sight on his desk.
But this sword has its American counterpart also. Many yataghans of foreign manufacture were purchased by both sides during the American Civil War when European arsenals sold off their surplus arms. Note this version below, as well as the French yataghan pictured above, do have a hilt guard.
This example is from the Model 1841 Mississippi Rifle Bayonet. It was still used in the Civil War, but mostly by Confederate NCOs, skirmishers, and sharpshooters, although occasionally by whole infantry regiments.
Photo from US Militaria Forum website.
CIVIL WAR BATTLE SABERS
Although the yataghan bayonet appeared in the War Between the States, Earl Baker also mentions two swords of Civil War vintage: one a battle saber, heavy and sharp; the other a handsome dress saber without an edge. And while REH makes several references in his poetry to the saber, he does not specifically speak of the Civil War vintage types that are in his collection.
Vince Lewis, in his article on Civil War sabers, gives more details about battle sabers:
At the start of the American Civil War in 1861, there were two types of sabers issued to the Union 7th Cavalry, the light cavalry saber and the heavy cavalry saber. The light cavalry saber became quite popular as it was well balanced and easy to wield but the heavy cavalry model was quite unwieldy and soon became known as “Ole Wrist Breaker”. However, it was a very superior weapon, with its 36 inch blade, that offered longer reach advantages over most other sabers.
Model 1860 Light Saber (from Wikipedia). This smaller and easier to use saber had a brass guard, leather-wrapped grip and steel scabbard.
Model 1840 Cavalry Saber (nicknamed the wrist-breaker) was based on the 1822 French hussar’s sabre. (photo from Wikipedia)
The Civil War pictures website gives more details about the use of these swords, noting that by the time of the Civil War the sword itself had begun its march toward obsolescence because of the advent of sophisticated firearms.
In spite of this, both Union and Confederate cavalry troops alike were armed with sabers. In battle, the sabers were used infrequently, only seeing significant use during a handful of conflicts, including Gettysburg. The saber was employed more often by Union cavalry than Confederate cavalry, who abandoned the saber early on. They chose instead to fight with revolvers and carbines, weapons that were not only more effective, but also lighter to carry into battle.
The website gives an even more compelling reason for the eventual abandonment of the saber in wartime:
The saber was a dangerous weapon to use, probably as dangerous for the aggressor as for the soldier on the receiving end. Sabers were typically only sharpened at the ends, not the entire length of the blade, making them most useful for unseating opposing forces, and for the collateral damage in broken bones that resulted. However, the saber, when used on horseback, as it most often was, unbalanced the aggressor in his seat and left him vulnerable to attack, whether it be from another saber or from a more deadly weapon.
Earl Baker doesn’t give any details regarding the dress sword in REH’s collection. The one pictured above is a Confederate States of America officers dress sword, and according to the website SwordsDirect it is 35 1/8″ overall. These officer swords have a 29 1/4″ unsharpened steel blade with ornamental CSA etching. They have an all-brass handle, hand guard and pommel, as well as a decorative metal scabbard.
What seems a little more unusual in REH’s edged weapons collection is the boomerang. Like the yataghan, there is no mention of it in the poetry, nor was one found in The Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard. It’s possible that he used it in one of his stories. Or perhaps the boomerang was something he planned for a future story. With its fascinating history, only Crom knows where the tale would have taken his readers, but we can rely on two things: it would have been filled with adventure and lots of action.
The boomerang is an interesting implement. When thrown, it can be used as a hunting tool. The returning version is designed to circle back to the thrower. And some boomerangs were not thrown at all. They were used in hand-to-hand combat by the Indigenous Australians.
But the boomerang was not limited to only Australia. Historical evidence indicates that King Tutankhamen, who died over 3,300 years ago, owned a collection of boomerangs of both the hunting and returning variety. They were also used by the Native Americans of California and Arizona and inhabitants of southern India for killing birds and rabbits. The oldest Australian Aboriginal boomerangs are ten-thousand years old, but older hunting sticks have been discovered in Europe, where they seem to have formed part of the Stone Age arsenal of weapons. One boomerang that was discovered in the Carpathian Mountains of Poland was made of mammoth’s tusk and, based on the dating of objects found with it, is believed to be about 30,000 years old.
In his telephone conversation with de Camp, Earl Baker stated there were three or four heavy knives of various kinds. Unfortunately, he didn’t go into any more detail. This photo on the cover of Mark Finn’s Blood and Thunder: The Life and Art of Robert E. Howard shows REH with a knife in his right hand. The image is not sharp and with REH covering the hilt, it’s difficult to see what kind it is. While it’s impossible to determine if any of them were part of his personal collection, REH does mention several knife types in his poetry:
According to Wikipedia, the Afghan knife and the Khyber knife were both known as Pesh-kabz. The earliest forms of this knife featured a recurved blade, suggestive of its Persian origins, but later examples may be found with both recurved or straight blades. In all variants, the blade is invariably broad at the hilt, but tapers progressively and radically to a needle-like triangular tip. Upon striking a coat of mail, this reinforced tip spreads the chain link apart, enabling the rest of the blade to penetrate the armor. One knife authority concluded that the Pesh-kabz “as a piece of engineering design could hardly be improved upon for the purpose.” This knife was widely distributed in central Asia and what is now Afghanistan, Pakistan, and northern India.
During the First and Second Anglo-Afghan Wars, the Pesh-kabz, along with the Afghan knife, was frequently the weapon of choice for finishing off wounded British and colonial troops, as the Afghan tribesmen did not take prisoners except for use as hostages. During the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, this knife was again the weapon most often used to execute captured or wounded prisoners, only this time the wounded consisted of Soviet and Afghan army soldiers, pilots, and tank crewmen.
REH refers to the Afghan knife in his untitled poem (“Now bright, now red, the sabers sped among the racing horde”). As stated in the article “Robert E. Howard: The Sword Collector and His Poetry,” those who are fans of Howard’s El Borak will recognize his comrade-in-arms, Yar Ali Khan.
Now bright, now red, the sabers sped among the racing horde,
The Afghan knife reft Hindu life and leaped the Rajput sword.
Oh, red and blue, the keen swords flew where charged the hosts in whirls,
And as in dreams rang loud the screams of ravished Hindu girls.
And through the strife, where sword and knife clashed loud on spear and shield,
With sword in hand, Yar Ali Khan rode o’er the battle-field.
From heel to head the chief was red, the blood was not his own.
In crimson tide his sword was dyed that had so brightly shone.
THE BOWIE KNIFE
A fixed-blade fighting knife that was first popularized by Colonel James “Jim” Bowie (1796-1836) in the early 19th century. According to Wikipedia, the Bowie knife was originally designed to fill the need for a wearable, convenient close combat weapon. In other words, a sword much shorter than the saber or other swords of the day, yet still possessing a heavy blade. The cleaver-like blade of the Bowie knife had enough weight to give the blade sufficient force in a slashing attack, while permitting the use of cut-and-thrust sword-fighting tactics. Although the Bowie knife was made in a variety of sizes, the optimum blade length was similar to that of a carving knife.
In addition to being a weapon, it could also be used as a hunting knife for skinning or butchering game. The curved top clip bevel of the blade, when suitably sharpened, may be used to remove the skin from a carcass, while the straight portion of the blade edge, toward the guard, can be used for cutting meat.
The knife became famous after the 1827 Sandbar Fight that took place on the Mississippi River near Natchez. According to the legendsofamerica website blog, “Old West Gunfights,” the duelists were Samuel Levi Wells, III and Dr. Thomas Maddox. Bowie attended as Wells’ second. Supporting Maddox were Major Norris Wright, Colonel Robert Crain, and brothers Carey and Alfred Blanchard. Surrounding the duelers were several spectators, including Wells supporters, Major George McWhorter, and General Samuel Cuny, as well as other who gathered to watch the spectacle – about sixteen people in all. When the principles exchanged shots, neither hit the other, but all hell broke loose. From the crowd that surrounded the duel, Robert Crain fired upon Samuel Cuny, and when Cuny fell, Bowie stepped in and fired at Crain, but missed.
Norris then shot Bowie through the lower chest, at which time Bowie drew his long butcher knife, that he was known to wear, and began to chase down Wright. The Blanchard brothers then shot Bowie in the thigh, while Wright and Alfred Blanchard stabbed him in several places. However, Bowie still fought back, plunging his long knife into Wright’s chest and slicing Alfred Blanchard’s forearm. Carey Blanchard then fired a second shot at Bowie then he and his brother, Alfred fled. However, Carey Blanchard was shot and wounded by Major McWhorter as he ran.
Though the Battle of the Sandbar lasted less than ten minutes, it left General Samuel Cuny and Major Norris Wright dead, and Jim Bowie and Alfred Blanchard wounded. Eyewitnesses, who remembered Bowie’s “big butcher knife,” began to spread the word of Bowie’s prowess with the lethal blade, capturing public attention and starting the legend of Bowie’s reputation as the South’s most formidable knife fighter. Soon, men were asking blacksmiths and cutlers to make them a “Bowie Knife.”
From the description of the Sandbar Fight, the Bowie knife was the perfect choice for REH’s larger-than-life poetry character: “Modest Bill.”
Back in the summer of ’69
’Way out west on the frontier line,
There was a guy who was a fightin’ fool,
He could hit a blow like the kick of a mule,
He’d been a’fightin’ all o’ his life,
With fists or a gun or a club or a knife.
His name was Bill Bender, (fit name as you’ll see)
And he was a bear-cat, a bear on a spree.
Six foot tall and lean and spare,
Quick as a cougar and strong as a bear,
He packed two guns and a Bowie knife,
An’ he was forever seeking strife.
He’d jump in the air and let out a roar,
And wave his guns and stomp on the floor,
Twirl a rope and jump through the loop,
Twist his whiskers and snort and whoop,
“I’m a shootin’, hootin’, rootin’, scootin’ coot from Arkansaw,
“I’m quick as a cat, smart as a rat, and tough as a grizzly’s claw!
Sometimes referred to as the Afghani Khyber knife. However, as stated above under “Afghan Knife,” the two types are often listed under the Pesh-kabz. This knife derived its common name from its famed use against the British by the native tribes of the Khyber Pass area. It is still used in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Northern India today.
In REH’s poem, “The Tartar Raid,” the men of the Afghan hills are wielding the Khyber knife. Note the reference to Akbar Khan (1816-1845) who was an Afghan prince, a general, a tribal leader, and an Emir. He was active in the First Anglo-Afghan War, and was known for his pursuit of the retreating British army from Kabul to Gandamak.
The snow-capped peaks of Ural shone white against the sky,
The chill, clear air of morning clouded the tulwar blade,
When we rode through the Ural pass that guards the Arakzai,
And drew upon the Oxus banks to break the Tartar raid.
Men of the Afghan hills we were, from Kabul to Delhi,
Warriors who well could sit a horse or wield the Khyber knife,
From Kabul and from Kandahar, from Balkh to Ahazai,
Well skilled in border warfare, well trained in tribal strife.
Upon the Oxus’ southern bank the army took its stand,
The horse of Balkh and Ghuzni, for reserves, were in the rear,
Upon the bank, nearest the foe, the horse of Akbar Khan,
Well chose the king to guard the front, the man who knew no fear.
Pictured is a late 19th to early-mid 20th century Moro Sundang kris sword from the Maguindanao tribe of the west coast of Mindanao Philippines. The Collector’s Deck website states that the kris is the only one of the three weapons that was used by nearly all Moro peoples. Basically, kris blades are wide at the base, double-edged, and can be waved, half-waved half-straight, or straight (straight blades were more practical in combat). Over time, the waves became shallower, tighter, and more numerous and therefore required greater skill to prevent the blade bouncing off or being stuck in an enemy’s body. The higher number of waves meant the more potent the kris was in talismanic power.
According to Collector’s Deck, there are two types of kris used by the Moros of the Philippines. Kalis is the name used by the Tausugs, Samals and Yakans. In the Mindanao, it is called Sundang and is used by the Maranaos, Maguindanos, and others. The Moro kris has the most varied design and style amongst the bladed weapons found in the Philippines. It evolved from use in combat. The double edge blade is an advantage where there are numerous opponents, as the blade can be used to cut in an upward stroke. A single edge blade, in contrast, needs to be turned in the opposite direction to do the same cut.
In the poem, “The Tiger Girl,” REH does not specify which Moro tribe the Tiger Girl comes from. He leaves to our imaginations the type of Sulu knife she would use in her revenge:
Your eyes, as scintillant as jet,
Dare my uncertain fancy rove;
And you are mine, strange girl—and yet
I almost fear that tigress love.
You would endure a thousand whips
As meek as any Moro wife —
But let me look on other lips —
And die beneath a Sulu knife.
The term “war blade” is ambiguous since each generation for thousands of years has its own preference regarding combat knives. Because the phrase appears in “Eric of Norway,” a Viking poem, this photograph of an ancient Viking iron battle knife is a fitting tribute to Howard’s epic — a poem that is eight pages long.
And now he ranged the north sea, burning with years old hate,
In search of Eric the Viking, and his vengeance should be great.
For Eric had slain his father when Harald was ten years old,
He had burned his cottage above him, his sister he had stole.
Now on the sea of the Baltic have Harald and Eric met.
Ah, blades so bright at sunrise at night will be red and wet.
More men had Eric the Viking, more ships on the dark sea’s spate,
But Harald’s men were hard warriors and Harald was wild with hate.
Ship met ship with a crashing that shook the mighty deep;
The flicker of the war blades lulled many a viking to sleep.
Ship sides and decks were shattered, like drunkards they did reel;
War-axe clashed with buckler, steel rang loud on steel.
All through the fierce battle raged Harald and Hasting the Dane;
Their keen and bloody sword blades were many a warrior’s bane.
They boarded one of Eric’s long serpents, to slay and burn and wreck;
Ten vikings closed on Hasting, he left them dead on the deck.
Harald engaged the captain, the viking Sven the Red;
He ran Sven through the body and cleft Jens Larsen’s head.
His foes went down before him like chaff before the blast;
With a rush he gained the quarterdeck and hewed down the tall main-mast.
The long ship raised her battered side and sank beneath the main,
But Harald and his vikings were on their own ship again.
THE TRENCH KNIFE
WW1 American M1918 Trench Knife
Mark One 1918 Trench Knife
Earl Baker describes the World War I trench knife as having a triangular blade and an iron knuckle-guard, but doesn’t specify which of the three possible WWI models it was. The US M1917 can probably be eliminated because of its triangular stiletto blade. It, along with its replacement, the M1918, were usable only as stabbing weapons and the blades on both of them frequently broke. The Mark One, which was designed to remedy the deficiencies of the M1917/18, was adopted in late 1918 – too late to see much service in the trenches of World War I.
Although the trench knife is not specifically mentioned in his poetry, these lines from the WWI “No Man’s Land” and the mention of “steel” could be referring to a German model trench knife.
I heard the shells that flashed and crashed, I heard the bullets’ dree
When from the gory, writhing muck, a face looked up at me.
A German face, the face of one that I had seen before,
A lad I knew in San Ferez before we went to war.
Now up he leered with ghastly grin, his blonde hair dyed with blood
Till in that face I set my heel and crushed it in the mud.
Then I was jostled far aside by clumps of battling men —
And just in time, I ducked and leaped — a shell roared midst them then.
They vanished in a crimson cloud from which things frightful sprung
Festooned about their comrades’ limbs, their gory entrails hung.
A charging ape, a sudden shape came ploughing through the muck,
His shoulders hunched, his eyes were shut, he grunted as he struck.
I did not feel the tearing steel and yet a flame of Hell
Speared through me as I raised my gun and killed him as I fell.
As in a far forgotten land, I heard the battle rout.
I seemed to ride on swaying clouds and then the world went out.
Red shapes of shadows came and went and leered and jeered at me
Ere I came back and found a world, war-spent, but calm and free.
All the swords mentioned in REH’s poetry and those weapons named by Earl Baker have been discussed here or in “Robert E. Howard: The Sword Collector and His Poetry.” But these were not the extent of REH’s knowledge about swords, scimitars, sabers and knives. “The Iron Terror,” an El Borak adventure, details the more exotic weapons. According to Dave Hardy in the Introduction, this story was written early in REH’s writing career when he was trying out many variations on the character of Francis Xavier Gordon. In “The Iron Terror,” El Borak is plotting a revolt in Arabia in order to build a personal empire and has gone to the home of an arms dealer to buy weapons:
The room was not a large one. Several doors led from it. A few chairs, a costly Persian rug, a divan and a large mahogany table constituted the furniture. The walls were hung with weapons and the table was covered with them. Such a collection as is seldom seen outside a museum.
The stranger sat down at the table and began to examine the weapons upon it with an interest that was not feigned.
Then he looked up as a man came through one of the doors. An, old, wrinkled man, small and withered, stooped with age, wearing a dressing gown, bed-room slippers and a red Turkish fez placed at a rakish angle on his nearly bald head.
The stranger rose.
“So you have come?” the old man said, a sneering note in his voice. “I have expected you.” He came forward to the table.
“You are interested in my collection?” he said, “What do you think of it, eh?”
“One of the most perfect I ever saw.” the stranger replied, speaking for the first time.
“Ah, you think so? You are right.” he waved his hands about the room, “This is but a part of my collection yet here you will find the weapons of all lands and all ages. Do you know them?”
“Aye, a good workman should know the tools of his trade. But,” here the sneering note crept into his voice again, “do not flatter yourself.”
He picked up a short dagger with a wide, wickedly curved blade. “What is this?”
“A cheray from Afghanistan, manufactured in Ghuzni.” answered the stranger, scarcely glancing at the weapon.
One by one the old man picked up weapons from the table and one by one the stranger identified them:
“A Dyak parang-parang from Borneo.”
“An Italian miseriocorde dagger.”
“A bronze Kalmuck-Tartar peaked helmet of about the fifteenth century.”
“A French anlace [var. anelace] of the middle ages.”
“A Zulu shield from Africa.”
“A samurai sword of old Japan.”
“A claymore from Scotland. But enough of this child’s play!” he exclaimed impatiently, “‘There is no weapon here with which I am not acquainted. Few that I have not used. I know their use and their history as well as you.
That tulwar was made by Yussef Abdullah of Khabul who prides himself on his work. That bowie knife was made in Missouri by James Black. That rapier is the work of Andrea di Ferrara. Antonio Picinino of Venice made that Italian schiavone. That Maharati [var. Maratha] gauntlet-sword [pata] was made in the workshops of Delhi.
– The Early Adventures of El Borak, pp. 5-6
All the weapons mentioned in “The Iron Terror” have been researched. They do exist and have a fascinating history all their own. But these stories will have to wait for another article.
There is still one last unofficial REH sword and knife collection to be considered: those that are featured in the photo shown earlier of Bob Howard and his two neighbors dressed as pirates.
As any good buccaneer knows, swashbuckling is about treasure and steel. A pirate was only as good as his sword and his ability to wield it. And there are numerous weapons featured in the picture. Besides the gun strapped to the leg of Leroy, Bob Howard has two knives tucked in the sash that is tied around his waist. The knife on his left looks like a Bowie knife. The one shown on his right could be a yataghan. It isn’t as recurved as the French models, but matches quite well with the Suleyman yataghan pictured above – sans the encrusted gold and jewels, of course. It’s the right shape. However, it is shorter in length than the yataghan shown in the Janissary photo above. More likely it is a type of dagger.
As for the swords? Each of them is holding a different type. Referring to discussion of swords that appear in the article, “Robert E. Howard: The Sword Collector and His Poetry,” my guess is that REH’s neighbor, Leroy Butler, is holding a saber; while his sister, Faustine, is cradling a sword that could be a rapier or a small sword. And Bob Howard? Well, of course, his has to be something a little more exotic – at least in my estimation. The hilt is covered, but from the curve of the blade, it appears to be a tulwar. However, his left hand could be covering up the tip of a scimitar.
Any sword/knife people out there who would like to contribute their expertise?
(A special thanks to Patrice Louinet for his invaluable assistance in writing this article.)