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Author Topic: Dr Tom Stapleton: Thoughts on the Huber Bowie  (Read 22418 times)
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Ed Fowler
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« on: November 02, 2007, 09:07:08 PM »

The following is a transcript of a lecture given by Dr Tom Stapleton to the American Society of Arms Collectors, Oct 7 to 11 1992. I sincerely hope you find it interesting and Thanks the late Dr. Stapleton for permissiion to share the information.

Dr. Stapelton devoted a great deal of time and energy researching the Huber Bowie and the Sheffield works. Without his devotion and sincere desire to know more about the probability of a connection between the Bowies and English and Huber we would probably never have achieved access to the information that follows.

The photo is of a Huber from the period that Dr Stapelton's Bowie was made. This Huber is discussed my article in the Nov. 2007 issue of Blade. Photo by Shelia Williams.



   For many years the Bible for the Bowie knife collector was Miss Lucy Leigh Bowies's article entitled "The Famous Bowie Knite," which was presented to the Bucks County Historical Society in 1916.  The article was adapted for publication in the American Arms Collector by Ben Palmer in January, 1957.  However, it wasn't until the 1970's that articles about Bowie Knives began to appear in various publications.  Many articles have appeared since that time, but to my knowledge no one has examined Miss Bowie's article in an attempt to berify, refute or explain her statements regarding the knives or events otherwise related in the article.  Our purpose at this time is not to verify the history of the Bowie family but to concentrate on study on the knives featured in the article.
    As we examine Miss Bowie's original notes, she states in a letter to the Bucks County Historical Society the following. " As you probably know the Bowie K is a weapon that has made history in th S.W. Examples of the two most intersting types of that knifeare to be found in Baltimore.  I would like to submit for your acceptence an unsigned article with photographs written around these knives and about the following ground.  The events leading to the evolution and use of the Bowie knife, the Sandbar Duel, etc... The usage on the frontier-the history of these particular knives-Col.  Bowie's death at the Amamo and the use of the Bowie knife there."  These notes are located in the "Bowie Papers" at the Amamo library.  We also find four glass plate negatives, one each of Rezin Bowie and Jamws Bowie, and one each of the two knives.  These negatives are the four photographs featured in her article and these glass plate negatives are consistent with the 1916 period.  Three points should be emphasized about these original notes: first, the two knives are found in Baltimore; second, she is giving us a history and description of the two knives; and,third, she is providing a picture of the two knives.
    Miss Bowie states, "The original knife has a staight blade 9 1/4 inches long and 1 1/2 inches wide witha single edge down the guard."  THe guard had been added after a hunting accident which resulted in an injury to Rezin's hand and thumb.  She also correctly states that Rezin Bowie had several knives made by Searles of Baton Rouge which he presented to a Mr. Stafford, Gov. Ed. White and Lt. H.W. Fowler. Another knife presented to Jesse Perkins by R.P. Bowie is dated 1831 and was ade by Shively oF Philadelphia.  THe knife is now in the State HIsorical Museum, Department of Archives & history, Jackson, Mississippi. As you can redily see, all three of the knives are consistent with the description of the first knife.
    Miss Bowie states, "In 1832 the brothers went north: Rezin Wishing to conslult the celebrated Dr. Pepper of Philadelphia about his eyes." Dr. Pepper was Dr. William Pepper, born in philadelphia in 1810.  He graduated from Princeton College in October, 1828, with highest honors and became the private pupil of Thomas T. Hewson, M.D., a distinguished physician and surgeon of Philadelphia.  It is said William Pepper undertook his studies with great industry and zeal.  He entered the medical department of the University of Pennsylvania in the Autumn of 1829 and graduated March 19, 1832, having passed a most satisfactory examination.  Upon graduatin Dr. Pepper worked in the hospital at Bush Hill, a temorary hospital for the treatment of cholera patients, "where he rendered valuable service in the arduous duties appreraining to his position.:
    He became a member of the Philadelphia Medical Society in 1832.  In October of 1832 Dr. Pepper went to Europe to continue his studies and upon his return in the latter part of 1834, he took charge of one of the districts under the care of the Philadelphia Despensary.  The biography of Dr. Pepper states that "He  entered with zeal upon the most thorough analysis of disease as presented in our own city.  He had a rare ability in diagnosis and more than ordinary good sense in the application of remedies.  No matter what the social condition of his patients or the adverse circumstances surrounding them, they never faliled to reieve the most carful attenion.  The character of every case was examined with the utmost care and the treatment conducted with a degree of interest that no one could doubt" Letters form Mrs. Soniat of New Orleans, Rezin Bowie's granddaughter, indicated that Rezin's eye problem was considerably inmproved with Dr. Peppre's treatment.
    Miss Bowie states 'while in Philadelphia Rezin wrote account of the San saba Siber Mine Indian fight for the Philadelphia Atkinson's Casket.' THis article does not appear in Atkinson's Casket until September, 1833, and under the accompanying picture it states that is was "from the Saturday Evening Post." It seems that Mr. Atkinson also published Atkinson's Saturday Evening Post from 1831 to 1839.  The San Saba silver Mine fight story appears in the August 17. 1833, issue of the Post, Under the article is the following: "written for the Saturday evening Post, Philadelphia, August 17, 1833.  The following interesting narrative of a fight with the Waccos and Twackanies Indians in Texas, amounting to 164 and a party of Americans, nine men and two boys, eleven in number, is related by Rezin P Bowie Esq., one of the party, now in this city." With this informatin it becomes obvious that the Bowies were in Philadelphia in 1832 and 1833.
    Miss Bowie continues, " on that same nothern tip Rezin gave into the hands of a Philadelphia cutler the model of the Bowie knife."  IT had been presumed by many that this unmamed cutlerwas Henry Shively of PHiladelphia. However, Shively was well knwn to the Bowies, as evidenced by the knife dated 1831.  It should also be remembered that Miss Bowie is descibing the two knives previously shown, neither of which is marked Shively.  The other knife featured in the article is marked "H. Huber Steel."  This may be the reason for Miss Bowie's inability to name the specific maker.
    H. Huber ws Henry Huber Jr., a carriage maker, manufacturer of wrought iron plated ware, manufatcter of plated saddlery furniture and hardware merchand.  Henry Huber, apparently his father, ws listed as an inspector of customs.  Both of these are listed in the Philadelphia directoy as far back as 1819.  but Henry Huber disappears from the Philadelphia directory in 1835.  Henry Jr. was also associated with Fredrick A. Huber, manufacturer of saddles. It is also stated thar Henry Huber Jr. carried cutlery in his inventory.  It seens from his advertisement that Huber Jr. had all the equipment necessary, including his own steel, to manufacture a quality knife.
    Dr. Pepper does not appear in the Philadelphia directory until 1835.  A  map of philadelphia at that time shows Dr. Pepper's office, Henry Shively's office, Henry Hubre Jr's office, and Henry Huber Jr's saddlery warhouse to be located within two square block of each other.  All this leads one to conclude that Hunry Huber Jr. was the unnamed Philadelphia cutler rather than Henry Shively.
  Miss Bowie continues her discription by starting, "the culter improved on it and placed Bowie knives on the market.  The blade was shortened to 8 inches, a curve was made in one side of the point and bothe edges were sometimes sharpened."  These specifications are consistent with the Huber knife and represent the first American true clip-point Bowie with a sharpened false edge know of described prior to 1832.  It should be remembered tht all other knives presented had straight blades.  Other unique features buffer in front of the guard, a bradd guard extending above and below the blade ending in scalloped finials, a brass mounted sheath and a curved, pistol grip type stag handle with a checkered pommel.  Miss Bowie had stated that "Colonel Bowie's  manner of grasping the Bowie knife was considered peculiar; he held it as one would a sword, and once beyond the opponent's guard, the thrust was deadly."  The Huber knife only be held as one holds a sword and leads one to suspect that this knife was made specifically for Col. Bowie at his direction.  This is the only knife of its kind known to collectors to my knowledge, so it's obvious Hubre did not place this knife on the market.  In the late 30s or early 40s he did collaborate with James English, a blacksmith, on Knives marded "J. English & Huber Philidelphia" and also marked "2" or "3" depending on the length of the blade, number 2 having a ten-inch blade and number 3 having an eight-inch blade.  These knives are extremely well made, have the same blade configuration as the Huber knife and are very desirable to collectors.  In his book, American Knives, Mr. Peterson States, "THe words Huber steel also appear on American made knives of the 1830s and early 40s."  The knife Miss Bowie describes, however, is the only knife known to me that is marked H. Huber Steel.
    As we continue to examine the Bowie papers in the Alamo Library, we find a series of notes witten by Miss Bowie relating to a clandestine metting in Washington with the Bowie brothers, Sam Houston and President Andrew Jackson.  She states in these notes that Col.Bowie was in Washinton in 1832.  She also states that the Bowies had decided to place the model of the Bowie in the hands of the Philadelphia cutler. We can surmise form this information that the model of the Bowie was in Henry Huber's hands in 1832.  Excatly when the knife was delivered to the Bowies is unknown, but could have been in 1832 or 1833 on their return visit to Philadelphia.
    Our research now changes focus as we examine the picture of the Huber knife and the caption under the picture.  A retraction as to the location of the knife was prinded in July, 1957, edition of The American Arms Collector.  This stated that the knife belonged to Norton Asner of Baltimore.  Miss Bowie states that the knife belongs to Dr. Charles A.R. Campbell of San Antonio, Texas.  A newspaper article dated December 27, 1884, reveals the story of a Bowie knife given to Dr. Campbell by his grandmother.  the knife was given to Dr. Cambell's grandfather in 1832 by James Bowie.  Another article dated January 24, 1915, states that the knife was given to Dr. Campbell's grandther by James Bowie in 1835 and now the two knives were involved.  One knife was apparently lost and the other is the subject of these newspaper articles.  Dr. Campbell is pictured holding this knife.  Other pictures of a knife in the Alamo papers appear to be the same knife.  The knife pictured with Dr. Campbell is made by Broomhead & Thomas of Sheffield and makes one think the latter date of 1835 is more likely.  There is no evidence to indicate that Dr. Campbell ever owned the Huber knife.  I am unable to fully explain why Miss Bowie stated the knife belongs to Dr. Campbell since her original notes state that both knives are to be found in Baltimore.  One explanation could be that Miss Bowie was trying to conceal the true identity of the owner.  The other statement about the knife, i.e. "the type of knife Col. Bowie selected to eqip the Texas Troops," has been handed down through the Bowie family for several generations and obviously was the story told when the knife was given to the Baltimore Bowies.
    Establishing th ownership of these knives has presented a problem because of lack of documentation.  The knife made a Searles of Baton Rouge was originally owned by Rezin Bowie.  It was presented to Lt. H.W. Fowler of the U.S. Dragoons sometime between 1836 and 1841.  It was sebsequently owned by Dr. Crim of Chicago and purchased by Washington Bowie Jr. the 4th, until it was donated to the Alamo in 1951.  It is not known of another person owned the knife between Lt. Fowler and Dr. Crim, however, according to a newspaper report the knife was sold to Dr. Crim by an unnamed actor.  This accredition comes from sources listed in the bibliography.
    The Huber knife was acquired from Dr. Jim Lucie of Fruitport, Michigan, in 1986.  Dr. Lucie had purchaded the knife form Mr. Norton Asner of Baltimore in 1982.  Personal communication with Mr. Asner states he was given the knife by Richard D. Steuart in 1951, shortly before Mr. Steaurt's death.  He started that Mr. Steuart told him it was a very special important knife and maybe the most significant knife known.  It appears that the knife probably came to Richard Steuart from Berkley Bowie.  Both Mr. Steuart and Berkley Bowie were noted arms collectors as well as close friends.  Richard Steuart also dedicated one of his arms books to Berkley Bowie.  Miss Bowie finally gives us a clue to the ownership of the Huber Knife.  In a letter fron Mr. H.B. MacKoy of Cincinnati, dated 1916, thanking her for a picture of the Bowie, knife, Miss Bowie penciled in, "a copy of Berkley's."  IT is my opinon the knife could ahve been handed down through the Bowie family form Berkley Bowie's grandfather, Allen Pirrie Bowie, who would have been a contemporary of James and Rezin Bowie.
    Mr. Ben Palmer states that Miss Bowie began her research on the article in 1899 or 1900 and investigated every tale and rumor about James Bowie.  From her letters and notes she apparently also comunicatied with every living Bowie relative.  One has the impression that a great deal of personal communicaion was invoved with owners of the knives as well as the past history of these knives.  It seems obvious that Miss Bowie had other imformaion that is not found in the Bowie papers at the Alamo Library.
  Our research is still an on-going process. In an attempt to obtain documented information, every lead, no matter how casual, found in Miss Bowie's notes is still being investigated.  I am convinced, however, that this research has identified a knife which is  a very importand piece in American Bowie knife history.  It is certainly the first of its design and if we are to believe Miss bowie it is the only knife known to date made specifically for James Bowie.


These photos were provided by Dr. Stapleton, and excellently worked up for this thread by our friend and photo shop expert, Phil LaBarbera













     

« Last Edit: November 15, 2007, 11:49:01 AM by Ed Fowler » Logged

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« Reply #1 on: November 15, 2007, 11:53:52 AM »

Photos of Dr Stapletons Huber just added to the above, thanks to Phil who worked poor copies into art we can all appreciate.
Thanks PhilL
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« Reply #2 on: November 15, 2007, 12:12:04 PM »

Ed, thank you for sharing this research and photos with us. it was my pleasure to help in any way I could.
This is a very important piece of history we have here, and that makes this a very important thread.
I envy you that you had the chance to hold this treasure in your hand.
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« Reply #3 on: November 15, 2007, 10:39:34 PM »

Nice work guys. Thanks for all the effort put into it.                    Clay
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Bruce Evans
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« Reply #4 on: November 24, 2007, 11:22:23 AM »

This is awesome Thanks Ed and Phil.....I am saving all the pictures to my computer to use as a pattern for The reproduction I am doing...I like the handle on this one without the crown better.I have never been one to like crowns on user knives ;DBut that is just me...

Bruce
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« Reply #5 on: December 14, 2007, 02:10:39 PM »


I envy you that you had the chance to hold this treasure in your hand.

Ditto!

Ed

 If I may ask, What kind of thoughts come to mind holding that Lady?
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« Reply #6 on: June 28, 2010, 02:40:49 AM »

A true history of human events would show that a far larger proportion of our acts are the result of sudden impulse and accident than of that reason of which we so much boast.
Peter Cooper
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« Reply #7 on: June 28, 2010, 09:27:02 PM »

Kevin: When I held her I was pretty green as to the history of the Huber. I did find her a beautiful knife and realized that she was special. I would have bought her if I could have but did not have the money to do so.
Today I can still feel her touch and am very grateful that I had the opportunity to get to know her.

My thoughts today are that I am glad that I did not buy her, had done so Dr Stapleton would not have had chance at her. When he bought her it stimulated him to do the research that is much more valuable to the entire knife community for now we all know the history of Huber.

I have learned some more information in the past few months, one knowledgeable man tells me there are only 14 Hubers known to still be in existence. Since that time I have learned of 3 more.

As opposed to the Sheffield knives, most of the Hubers were sold as a using knives and got used hard until they were no more.
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« Reply #8 on: June 20, 2012, 10:49:59 PM »

To my mind this is one of the most significant "Bowies" made in America. It is not an easy knife to make and the skill brought into the development of the Huber Knife was as good as it gets.

This month I received the American Bowie Knife Association Journal and they have a knife featured made by a maker R. Haber, a beautiful knife that has a similar clip but is not double ground as the Huber was, it does have a reverse taper, being thicker at the clip than at the ricasso. 

We do have some great knives to stimulate our creative energy if we chose to work on them.
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« Reply #9 on: June 24, 2012, 10:36:53 PM »

I have seen this one many times and do like it. Sometimes a great notion, huh..... Cool

Like I said before they knew what they were doing in The Day. In your last article you mentioned the Russell/Green River Works knives, and I sure appreciated that. This man made good stuff and deserves the mention. He was determined, too. His first factory was washed away in a flood and he rebuilt and started over with new machines and buildings. Thank again for the mention, Ed...... Wink

BK......
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