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Help with re-enactment


SAD

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Hello all,

I am going to make some knives for a reenactment park to use in the kitchen. The setting is 1860(pre civil war) in GA. You may have heard of Red Top Mtn, named so because of the iron ore in the area. One of the first bloomery furnaces in GA is part of the attraction of the park, Cooper's Furnace. Anyway, I want to see some examples of kitchen cutlery from that time period so that the cooks can look more authentic and we can eat better while we're working. :P Any help would be MUCH appreciated as we have an event coming up in a few weeks. THANKS

“If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquillity of servitude than the animating contest of freedom, — go from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains sit lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen!”

a better man than me first said that, but I say it today.

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Kitchen cutlery hasn't changed much in the last 500 years or so. Find a few good old French chef's knives, the older ones with integral bolsters, and you're all set. Originals of the period would be full tang with wood or bone scales.

 

For table cutlery, again the integral bolstered knife with full tang and bone or wooden scales and a rounded point served as the butterknife/eating knife, the fork would also be integral-bolstered and have two or three prongs and usually a rat-tailed tang inserted into wood, bone, or ivory, although I have found one with stag and I've seen them with flat tangs. Spoons haven't changed much, and were usually pewter, silver, or silver plated brass/nickel silver. You don't see steel spoons much back then.

 

Note that all parts of the blade, bolster, and tang are finished bright, no rough forgings, no hammer marks, no file marks. And think thin. A 12-inch chef's knife would be maybe 3/32" thick just ahead of the bolster, with a full distal taper down to nothing at the point.

 

For the backcountry and up in the hills, a lot of the wooden-handled Chicago Cutlery or Old Hickory patterns are fine too. Just a thin, flat-ground blade with simple wooden slab handles. Depends on what economic class you're portraying. Rich folk would have the fancy French pattern with integral bolsters, and us poor folk would have the simple slab-handled type, possible made from a saw blade.

 

 

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Thanks, Alan. It would be us poor folk, living in a dogtrot cabin on a farmstead. I might possibly be able to dig up an Old Hickory set somewhere but saw blades I've a-plenty!

“If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquillity of servitude than the animating contest of freedom, — go from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains sit lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen!”

a better man than me first said that, but I say it today.

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Here's a few small pics of archaeologically recovered table cutlery from the middle south. The first picture is a few table knives dating between about 1818 to 1837 found along the Tennessee River in Eastern Tennessee. The bone handle is octagonal and is carved with little hatch marks.

 

RE192color.jpg

 

The next set includes a silver plated nickel-silver spoon bowl, another bone-handled knife, a brass spoon handle, and a fork with an antler tip added as the handle. These came from a cellar under a cabin that was filled in between about 1840 and 1856, about 20 miles south of the first picture.

 

RH156color.jpg

 

Finally, some more tableware. These are all from a tavern in southern Illinois and date to that same 1830-1860 period.

 

landmarktavern.jpg

 

None of this is the cutlery of rich people. It's all factory-made, though, most likely in England. The carvings on the bone handles were done by the later users. One thing I've found in my 20 years of doing archaeology, is that before the American Civil War even the poor folks had some nice stuff. Everyone seems to have had decent cutlery, even if they only had a few pieces and those didn't match. They also all had at least a few parts of a tea set. Keep in mind also that I only find the broken stuff they threw out, which means they had a lot more stuff than we know. ;)

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One thing I've found in my 20 years of doing archaeology, is that before the American Civil War even the poor folks had some nice stuff.

 

Do you notice a decline in the quality of such items after the War, particularly in the Appalachian regions?

 

I have seen a lot of 18th century stuff, and it is usually very nice. But it does seem like the mountain folks were making do with some pretty rough implements on up into the 19th. I'm sure a lot of this depends on their location (isolation) and social standing.

 

Some of the old pieces I have come across do look a lot like recycled saw blades (uniform thickness, edge bevel only). One thing I have noticed about those that are apparently forged is that they really believed in distal taper. I've got an old full tang butcher knife that goes down to paper thin at the butt end. I've got a couple that have been whetted down to where the blade is less than third of its original width. I guess they would use them until they broke.

 

Don

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Do you notice a decline in the quality of such items after the War, particularly in the Appalachian regions?

 

Oh, yeah!

 

The war really ruined the economy of the upland south, to such an extent the effects were still noticeable into the 1940s or later depending on where one was.

 

This is one of the main reasons some of us were well into adulthood before we realized "damnyankee" was actually two words... :lol:

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Wow guys, Thanks! You've provided me with enough information to forge a whole set for the cabin kitchen. :ph34r: I'm not surprised at how thorough and interesting the information is, but I am surprised at how fast it showed up. :o

If you find yourself in North GA the first weekend of Autumn this year, swing by Red Top Mtn. State Park and come and tell us(MJDForge, ISaiah Lake) what we're doing wrong! :P I may even get to fire up the mini-furnace and try and get a bloom going. B)

“If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquillity of servitude than the animating contest of freedom, — go from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains sit lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that ye were our countrymen!”

a better man than me first said that, but I say it today.

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Oh, yeah!

 

The war really ruined the economy of the upland south, to such an extent the effects were still noticeable into the 1940s or later depending on where one was.

 

This is one of the main reasons some of us were well into adulthood before we realized "damnyankee" was actually two words... :lol:

 

Well I've been in my adulthood for a few decades and still call some of them a "damnyankee" ;)

 

Now you tell me it's actually two words??? I guess that's why they were mumbling about that stupid old redneck. :P

Mike

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