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MODEL 1917 TRENCH KNIFE – RARE 7 KNUCKLE GUARD – EXCELLENT “LIKE NEW” SPECIMEN OF THE US ARMY AMERICAN EXPEDITIONARY FORCE FIGHTING KNIFE:  This is an excellent specimen of the very rare “Seven Knuckle” Model 1917 Trench Knife.

As World War One descended into the brutal character of trench warfare, all of the armies involved were driven to develop specialized weapons and equipment to meet the demands of this new form of combat.  Benefiting from the lessons learned by their allies prior to the United States entering the war, the US Army sought out an effective trench knife to issue to the American soldiers and marines of the American Expeditionary Force.   

While the details of the Ordnance Department’s adoption of the Model 1917 Trench Knife are apparently lost to history, it is fairly well accepted that the concept for the knife was based on the trench or fighting knives then in use by British and French soldiers on the Western Front.  The task of developing the design for the US Army was let out through a civilian contract to the Henry Disston & Sons Company of Philadelphia, a major manufacturer of saws and other woodworking tools, and one of the largest industrial firms in Philadelphia. 

Disston & Sons presented the army with this design featuring a blued 9" tapered triangular blade mounted with a walnut wood grip protected by a steel bow shaped hand guard.  The outer surface of the guard was forged with pyramid shaped solid “knuckles” or spikes evenly spaced along the curve, the points standing approximately ½” above the surface of the guard.    

The Model 1917 Trench Knives most frequently found on the market and in collections are those with six pyramid-shaped knuckles on the hand guard bow; however a far rarer version, such as the knife offered here, was manufactured with seven knuckles - the extra knuckle positioned on the front face of the guard bow, closest to the underside of the blade.   

These seven knuckle knives are referred to in a variety of sources as “Type II” or as “variants”.  However, there is a school of thought - and frankly, it is one that makes far more sense to me – that these seven knuckle knives were those knives first produced based on the design proffered by Disston & Sons.  While to my knowledge, the original design drawings are not known to exist, I suspect the original design featured the seven knuckles and it was only after the first production run of knives was examined that this extra knuckle was identified as a problem.  When the knife is returned to the scabbard, the extra knuckle is in position to pinch or jab the soldier’s index finger between that knuckle and the metal throat of the scabbard.  The extra knuckle was simply in the way.  Removing the knuckle would not detract from the effectiveness of the knife as it was too high on the guard bow to impact on the enemy soldier if the guard was used in a punching motion in close quarter combat.  It would have been a simple solution to alter  that particular part of the die which forged the hand guard and delete this extra knuckle.   

As these seven knuckle Model 1917 Knives have appeared in collections and on the market in such small numbers – some estimate less than 100 are known to exist - it makes more sense that the seven knuckle knives represent the first production run.  It stands to reason that upon inspection and evaluation, Ordnance ordered a change in the design and the subsequent production runs were of the more common six knuckle knives. 

The Model 1917 Trench Knife was produced in time, and in sufficient quantities, to be issued to the soldiers of the American Expeditionary Force and they were used on the front lines.     

The weapon's long, triangular blade was obviously designed to be deployed in a stabbing or thrusting motion.  Without a traditional cutting edge which could be applied to any number of utilitarian uses the soldier might encounter, this knife had a singular grim purpose.  Given that wide bladed, single edged knives had been common in the ranks of American forces since before the American Revolution, why the army decided on a triangular bladed knife with such a narrow profile raises an interesting question.  One that may be answered, if only in part, by a contemporary medical book which specifically addressed this choice.   

In their The Practice of Surgery: A Treatise on Surgery for the Use of Practitioners and Students, Henry R. Wharton, M.D., and Benjamin F. Curtis, M.D. wrote on page 178:   

“Bayonet Wounds.  These wounds vary with the shape of the bayonet with which they are inflicted - either the triangular-shaped or the sword-shaped bayonet.  Bayonet wounds are said to be especially liable to be infected and cause deep-seated suppuration.  The wound produced by the sword bayonet is of the nature of an incised wound, and heals more promptly than that produced by the triangular-shaped bayonet”.   

Initially published in 1897 with subsequent publications in 1899 and 1902, the copy of this book that I was able to access was cataloged into the Boston Medical Library, date stamped March of 1917, indicating it was a contemporary medical text book currently in use at the time of our entry into World War One.  Perhaps the type of wound created by the triangular blade, and the more prolonged period of healing those wounds required, factored into the choice of the shape of the blade.   

This rare example of a “seven knuckle” Model 1917 Trench Knife has survived in excellent condition, showing no signs of issue or use, and in as close to “like new” condition as can be reasonably expected.  The knife is full form, with no loss of the blackened subdued finish, no misshaping to the guard, and the walnut grip is in full form with only minor handling or storage marks.  The full length blade shows no evidence of sharpening, without any nicks or dings on the edges.  The “US”, the maker’s mark “L.F.C.” for Landers, Frary, & Clark, and the date, “1917” stamps are bright and fully legible on the face of the quillon.    

This knife is not accompanied by a scabbard, however correct and faithful reproductions of the original scabbards are available on the market.  In the process of researching these rare specimens, I have learned that these seven knuckle knives are seldom found with an original scabbard, perhaps because they were held back when replaced by the later six knuckle knives.  It is also possible that the Ordnance Department followed their practice instituted well before the Civil War of crating bayonets and the respective scabbards separately.  Leather scabbards, whether the earlier bayonet scabbards or these later knife scabbards, were known to suffer a high rate of heavy wear and breakage due to use in the field, and as a result would require replacement far more often than the steel blades.  Crating the scabbards separately not only protected them from damage from the blades in transit, but the separate crates of scabbards facilitated the delivery of necessary replacements to the units in the field as they were needed.  The absence of the scabbard is a small consideration in light of the rarity of these knives.   

This is a special offering of a very rare World War One fighting knife that would make an important addition to your collection.  (0256)  $1075



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