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PATTERN 1854 BRITISH NAVY BOARDING AX – WELL MARKED WITH BOARD OF ORDNANCE PROOF STAMPS – SAILOR DECORATED - EXCELLENT SPECIMEN IN VERY GOOD CONDITION:  The Pattern 1854 Boarding Ax was developed for the British Navy and was standard issue on their ships until it was supplanted by the Pattern 1859 Boarding Ax.  Both patterns of these axes were manufactured by a number of civilian contractors, so it was natural that in addition to those made to meet the obligation to the Royal Navy, they were available for sale to other nations’ navies, as well as privately owned vessels.  It is known that Pattern 1854 Axes were purchased by the US Navy and probably by the Confederate Navy as well, not surprising in light of the large numbers of sabres, swords, and other cutlery that were purchased from the British markets by both governments during the Civil War.    

This particular Pattern 1854 Boarding Ax was issued aboard one of Her Majesty’s Ships, evidenced by a Board of Ordnance “BO” stamp, each adjacent to the “Broad Arrow” proof stamp, applied to both sides of the wooden handle.  The left side face of the ax blade is stamped with a capital “N”, likely the maker’s cartouche, and an additional “Broad Arrow” stamp.   

The presence of the “BO” stamps is significant to dating this ax, as the Board of Ordnance was abolished in May of 1855 and its functions were absorbed by the War Office, resulting in a change of the proof stamp from “BO” to “WD”.  Assuming the change in the stamp took place immediately, as this pattern of ax was adopted in 1854 the presence of the “BO” stamps on this ax serve to date it to 1854 or early 1855, during the height of the Crimea War.   

Despite evidence of use aboard a ship of the line, this Pattern 1854 Boarding Ax has survived the years in very good condition.  The ax blade and clearing pike are both full form with no loss due to sharpening.  The edge of the blade has none of the commonly found nicks and the pike shows no wear at all.  The left flat of the ax blade bears a very legible stamped “N”.  This may be the maker’s stamp or an inspector’s initial, however there has been some speculation that the “N” stands for “Navy”.  I’m not sure that theory holds much water – no pun intended.  While this pattern was used by merchantmen as well as naval vessels, if the stamp was intended to identify the ax as property of the Royal Navy, I would expect the stamp to include both characters, “RN”, or continue the convention of “BO” as applied to the handle.  In any case, the “N” stamp is original to the period of use and it is quite legible.  The top of the head of the ax is also stamped “171”, an inventory control number, no doubt.  The head measures 8” from the blade to the tip of the pike and the blade measures 2 ¾” along the edge.  The iron head is overall smooth with no significant pitting and it has a very nice naturally aged color.   

Two straps integral to, and descending from, the head capture the oak wood handle or haft and are secured with two iron rivets.  The haft measures just over 14 ¾” and is full form from the eye of the head to the swell at the bottom of the grip.  Both sides of the haft are stamped “BO” with the Broad Arrow immediately below the iron straps.  Both sets of these stampings are identical and from the apparent wear and aging, were certainly applied during the period of use.  The haft is full form with the only minor wear.  The butt of the haft is full form and was drilled to install a wrist loop, and there are grooves below the hole on each side, indicating the loop was in place a long time in order to wear the grooves in the wood.   The haft retains a nice patinated finish with a surface smooth from handling and a very attractive color.    

Of special note and a true added value, the haft was decorated by the sailor to whom it was issued.  There is a classic “fouled anchor” nicely carved on the left side of the haft and the lower end of the top and bottom (as the ax would be held in use) surfaces were crosshatched with cuts which would have served to improve the grip on the wood when wet.  All of the stamps and carvings have the same deep colored patina and no doubt date back to the period of use of this ax.   

While on occasion these Pattern 1854 Boarding Axes appear on the market, it is unusual to find one with such legible, and early, Board of Ordnance proof stamps which confirm its use aboard a British ship of the line and with the added value of having the sailor applied decoration.  This is a very nice example and one that will be an attractive addition to your mid-nineteenth century naval display.  (0348)  $950

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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