The ever controversial Musso Bowie knife

Joined
Jan 8, 2014
Messages
5
The Musso bowie is one of the most controversial knives for knife collectors and historians. Joseph Musso claims to have purchased the knife during the early 1970s at an antique store and later to have discovered the initials JB marked on the knife. He then has the metallurgy examined and receives a lab report, which he claims, dates the knife to the 1830s. So it must have been Jim Bowie's knife from the Alamo. :D

It is quite a story. But, however we feel about it, the knife has sold for very large figures and was last purchased by Phil Collins (of the band Genesis) and donated to the Alamo Museum in San Antonio Texas.

I do not intend to drag up all of the usual controversy over the knife and its questionable provenance. My question is simply this:

Question: Has anyone checked to see whether the Musso bowie is an exact match with any of the known fake bowie knives circulating during the 1960s and 70s? Can we rule out that it wasn't just another example produced at one of the same underground factories, shortly before Joseph Musso acquired the knife?

bowie022.JPG


For example:

Here is a similar, but offensively marked knife, that is believed to have been massed produced and circulating at the time that Musso acquired his famous knife.

I am only linking the old thread because we do not need this thread unnecessarily closed for offensive content. The take away for me is that there were other very similar knives in circulation around 1970, and that there appears to have been some branding confusion since it is questionable whether a knife associated with KKK would have been more desirable then one associated with the Alamo Jim Bowie knife.

Link:
https://bladeforums.com/threads/it-has-a-dark-history-but-i-want-to-learn-more-about-it.1634911/

We are not discussing the nefarious organization. We are only examining whether the Musso Bowie could have been just one of these same knives before the superfluous markings were applied? Since the Musso knife was only rediscovered and popularized during the 1980s, it would be very unlikely that other knives would have been made in homage to it during the 1960s.

n2s
The knife shown in the above photo is NOT the Musso knife, but a copy owned by Chris Nolen base on Musso's knife. I think Blasingame may have been the smith but Chris would know for sure.
 
Joined
Jan 8, 2014
Messages
5
The Musso blade is almost an exact copy of the "Jessie Robinson Bowie", yet Joe calls the Robinson bowie a fake. Joe certainly had me convinced with his documentation, till new info came out. Radiocarbon dating is only accurate on artifacts older than 500 years because that is the approx time needed for isotopes traces to form and be seen on a scan. Even then, it can't pinpoint an exact time the artifact was created more than plus or minus about 100 years. The big question is whether Phil Collins will ask for his money back. I have HEARD, but do not know if it is true that Mr Collins paid close to a cool near million dollars for it. Mr Musso never had the wood on the grip examined but believes it is "red oak" that is native to the area where James Black had his forge.
 
Joined
Jan 8, 2014
Messages
5
"Dirc" is correct regarding dating steel to a specific time period. it is not that exact of a science.
 
Joined
Jun 29, 1999
Messages
8,468
I saw that at the Alamo Museum a few years back. Cool knife, just the thing for combating mastodons or slicing bagels. However, I have the original Jim Bowie knife, right down to the bloodstains, that he used in the (in)famous sandbar duel, which I inherited through a chain of ancestors too complicated to relate here. Sorry, no photos available, but interested persons are welcome to make offersšŸ˜œ.
 

not2sharp

Platinum Member
Joined
Jun 29, 1999
Messages
19,310
The Musso blade is almost an exact copy of the "Jessie Robinson Bowie", yet Joe calls the Robinson bowie a fake. Joe certainly had me convinced with his documentation, till new info came out. Radiocarbon dating is only accurate on artifacts older than 500 years because that is the approx time needed for isotopes traces to form and be seen on a scan. Even then, it can't pinpoint an exact time the artifact was created more than plus or minus about 100 years. The big question is whether Phil Collins will ask for his money back. I have HEARD, but do not know if it is true that Mr Collins paid close to a cool near million dollars for it. Mr Musso never had the wood on the grip examined but believes it is "red oak" that is native to the area where James Black had his forge.
Radioactive testing might still be interesting. Ever since the advent of the nuclear age the steel making processes have created steel with trace elements of radiation. This is one of the reasons that old "battleship steel" is in high demand for precision scientific and medical testing equipment. The pre-WWII steel lacks the low level contamination. So testing for that can tell us whether the steel used in the knife was made before or after the war.

n2s
 
Joined
Oct 18, 2018
Messages
2,586
Radioactive testing might still be interesting. Ever since the advent of the nuclear age the steel making processes have created steel with trace elements of radiation. This is one of the reasons that old "battleship steel" is in high demand for precision scientific and medical testing equipment. The pre-WWII steel lacks the low level contamination. So testing for that can tell us whether the steel used in the knife was made before or after the war.

n2s
This..... just about to say as well
 

CWL

Joined
Sep 15, 2002
Messages
10,279
Has the metallurgy report even been made public? I'd love to know more about how & what was tested. Steel composition, fabrication method, age-dating techniques need to be reviewed.
 

afishhunter

Gold Member
Joined
Oct 21, 2014
Messages
11,062
The the whole truth about what happened that day at the Alamo have been lost in time . As for the knife it's self I would of thought it would of be looted by a Mexican soldier who more than likely didn't have a clue who Jim Bowie was .
This ^^
If Mr. Bowie's knife still exists, it is most likley in the drawer of some peasant/poor guy's hut in some village too small for a name that no one has ever heard of anyway, or like the two original presented to Mr. Walker by Sam, Walker revolvers with serial numbers under 10 are long lost, and buried forever somewhere in the Central American sand ... unless they went to the Amazon jungle somewhere along the line with someone looking for Aztec and/or Mayan lost cities, and were lost there ...
 
Last edited:

Triton

Gold Member
Joined
Aug 8, 2000
Messages
34,810
It says something about the legend that so many people want so badly for the most ridiculous things to be the original Bowie knife. The Musso Bowie and its absurd provenance is just one example. Musso just happened to stumble across this ridiculous knife that just happened to have initials on it that just happened to be "JB" and they just happen to be THAT "JB?"

If you believe that my friend, have I got a real estate deal for you. It involves a bridge in the New York metro area that I will happily make you a deal on. I've got what you might call an invisible touch...

It's not confined to Musso though, for some entertaining reading look up some recent issues of Blade Magazine where a well known knife maker and author tries to lead us to believe that the so called "sea of mud" Bowie is the original knife. The provenance, requires just as big a leap as Musso's but without the big payday.

For my money I suspect that the Edwin Forrest Bowie is probably the most likely candidate extant and I don't think it's the original either, but that it was patterned after the original
 
Joined
Aug 6, 2021
Messages
13
For an educational read on a little known aspect of the Texas revolution, actually read the book Sea of Mud by Gregg J. Dimmick.

Now, as for the 3 part story appearing in Blade Magazine concerning the archeological find known as the Sea of Mud Bowie, the author wasn't so much leading, or suggesting, the knife was the original Bowie, as he was asking, in Part 1 of the series, if this might be the case. In Part 3 he lays out the case that the knife may have been Crockett's. Both scenarios are plausible.

The knife is almost certainly a coffin-handle James Black "Bowie", of the same style as the Carrigan Bowie. Whether these knives produced by Black may actually be called "Bowies" is another discussion.

The knife was found at an encampment site of the Mexican army, after the battles of Goliad and the Alamo; and was composed of divisions led by Gen. Urrea and Col. Juan Morales. Col. Morales' men were the soldiers who stormed the Alamo's low barracks where Bowie lay in bed in his room. The suggestion is that Bowie's knife was picked up by one of Col. Morales' soldiers and subsequently lost or discarded at the encampment, where it was found during excavation of the site in 1996.

The case for the knife being Crockett's is equally plausible. Crockett and his Tennesseans stayed overnight in Elijah Stuart's tavern, adjacent to Black's shop, in Washington, Arkansas, before continuing their trip into Texas. It's suggested that Black may have presented the knife to Crockett, or possibly Crockett may have purchased it. The price for Black's fancy knives was $20, approximately $500 today; and the knife found in the Sea of Mud had detectable amounts of silver.

How else could one of James Black's knives have found its way from Washington, Arkansas into the hands of a Mexican soldier; and subsequently been lost and then found, in the Sea of Mud?
 
Last edited:

unwisefool

Gold Member
Joined
Jan 22, 2007
Messages
9,302
For an educational read on a little known aspect of the Texas revolution, actually read the book Sea of Mud by Gregg J. Dimmick.

Now, as for the 3 part story appearing in Blade Magazine concerning the archeological find known as the Sea of Mud Bowie, the author wasn't so much leading, or suggesting, the knife was the original Bowie, as he was asking, in Part 1 of the series, if this might be the case. In Part 3 he lays out the case that the knife may have been Crockett's. Both scenarios are plausible.

The knife is almost certainly a coffin-handle James Black "Bowie", of the same style as the Carrigan Bowie. Whether these knives produced by Black may actually be called "Bowies" is another discussion.

The knife was found at an encampment site of the Mexican army, after the battles of Goliad and the Alamo; and was composed of divisions led by Gen. Urrea and Col. Juan Morales. Col. Morales' men were the soldiers who stormed the Alamo's low barracks where Bowie lay in bed in his room. The suggestion is that Bowie's knife was picked up by one of Col. Morales' soldiers and subsequently lost or discarded at the encampment, where it was found during excavation of the site in 1996.

The case for the knife being Crockett's is equally plausible. Crockett and his Tennesseans stayed overnight in Elijah Stuart's tavern, adjacent to Black's shop, in Washington, Arkansas, before continuing their trip into Texas. It's suggested that Black may have presented the knife to Crockett, or possibly Crockett may have purchased it. The price for Black's fancy knives was $20, approximately $500 today; and the knife found in the Sea of Mud had detectable amounts of silver.

How else could one of James Black's knives have found its way from Washington, Arkansas into the hands of a Mexican soldier; and subsequently been lost and then found, in the Sea of Mud?
That's a lot of supposition
 
Joined
Aug 6, 2021
Messages
13
That's a lot of supposition
What is supposition? That this knife exists and was found under the circumstances as described is archeological fact, not supposition.

Now, of course, any explanation of how a James Black knife came to be in the hands of a Mexican soldier, to be uncovered in a 1997 archeological dig in Wharton County, yes this is supposition. But so what? Both explanations are backed by historical fact and therefore are plausible but unverifiable.

How do you explain the knife? And why don't you explain your comment in more detail?
 

unwisefool

Gold Member
Joined
Jan 22, 2007
Messages
9,302
What is supposition? That this knife exists and was found under the circumstances as described is archeological fact, not supposition.

Now, of course, any explanation of how a James Black knife came to be in the hands of a Mexican soldier, to be uncovered in a 1997 archeological dig in Wharton County, yes this is supposition. But so what? Both explanations are backed by historical fact and therefore are plausible but unverifiable.

How do you explain the knife? And why don't you explain your comment in more detail?
The only fact of the matter is that knife was found. To try and attach it to a historical figure with out any proof whatsoever is supposition.
 
Joined
Aug 6, 2021
Messages
13
Has anyone been able to document a James Black knife?

n2s
Now this is a legitimate question. And I don't know. But these particular coffin-handled knives, with a distinctive attachment pattern for the handle, are beautiful works of craftsmanship. There is no other claimant, that I am aware of, for these knives. However, there is a daguerreotype, in the collection of a descendant of James Black, with Black and his friend Jacob Buzzard, and Black is holding one of the coffin-handle bowies.

 

not2sharp

Platinum Member
Joined
Jun 29, 1999
Messages
19,310
Now this is a legitimate question. And I don't know. But these particular coffin-handled knives, with a distinctive attachment pattern for the handle, are beautiful works of craftsmanship. There is no other claimant, that I am aware of, for these knives. However, there is a daguerreotype, in the collection of a descendant of James Black, with Black and his friend Jacob Buzzard, and Black is holding one of the coffin-handle bowies.

The knives shown on posed daguerreotypes were usually photo studio props. The real question is where are the many dozens of knives that Black would have been expected to have produced during his career? As far as I know there are none.

n2s
 

Cobalt

Gold Member
Joined
Dec 23, 1998
Messages
16,527
Radioactive testing might still be interesting. Ever since the advent of the nuclear age the steel making processes have created steel with trace elements of radiation. This is one of the reasons that old "battleship steel" is in high demand for precision scientific and medical testing equipment. The pre-WWII steel lacks the low level contamination. So testing for that can tell us whether the steel used in the knife was made before or after the war.

n2s

Due to it's half life, radioactive carbon dating is unreliable at measuring ages that are not in the sweet spot for this system, which tends to be 10k years to 30k years. Once you go below 1000 years old, the test is so unreliable that you cannot draw any conclusions from it except to say that it may be older than 100 years. I actually discussed error deviation in testing with a scientist that was being asked to carbon date fossils from the brea tarpits in California. Maybe there are other ways today, I have no idea.
 

not2sharp

Platinum Member
Joined
Jun 29, 1999
Messages
19,310
Due to it's half life, radioactive carbon dating is unreliable at measuring ages that are not in the sweet spot for this system, which tends to be 10k years to 30k years. Once you go below 1000 years old, the test is so unreliable that you cannot draw any conclusions from it except to say that it may be older than 100 years. I actually discussed error deviation in testing with a scientist that was being asked to carbon date fossils from the brea tarpits in California. Maybe there are other ways today, I have no idea.
I wasn't suggesting traditional radio carbon dating. However, there is a phenomena which occurred at the end of WWII. The advent of the nuclear age contaminated the atmosphere with trace radioactive elements, and these elements have been a problem with global steel production ever since. The product becomes radioactive enough to impair sensitive equipment like medical MRI scanning. It is actually serious enough to have created a market for "battleship steel"; which are steel products manufactured before the nuclear age. By testing for those contaminants we can at least determine whether the Musso bowie was manufactured from steel produced during the post war years.

n2s
 

Cobalt

Gold Member
Joined
Dec 23, 1998
Messages
16,527
I wasn't suggesting traditional radio carbon dating. However, there is a phenomena which occurred at the end of WWII. The advent of the nuclear age contaminated the atmosphere with trace radioactive elements, and these elements have been a problem with global steel production ever since. The product becomes radioactive enough to impair sensitive equipment like medical MRI scanning. It is actually serious enough to have created a market for "battleship steel"; which are steel products manufactured before the nuclear age. By testing for those contaminants we can at least determine whether the Musso bowie was manufactured from steel produced during the post war years.

n2s

Gotcha, at least it confirms that it is from that general era.
 
Joined
Aug 6, 2021
Messages
13
The knives shown on posed daguerreotypes were usually photo studio props. The real question is where are the many dozens of knives that Black would have been expected to have produced during his career? As far as I know there are none.

n2s
Re daguerreotypes, I agree about props. What I find interesting are the pins in the handles are not of a pattern normally associated with a Black coffin-handle. By the time of the daguerreotype, after 1839, there were copies of Black's design being sold, but with different pin arrangements.

Black had a short career as a knife maker, opening his own shop around 1828/1829 and having health problems which led to his institutionalization sometimes around 1839/1840.

But the story goes that his skill at making knives earned him a reputation such that he had more business than he could handle, and had to take on a partner.

So where are the knives?

First we do not know what other patterns he may have made. But it is also said that he produced a low priced knife which he sold for $5, the blade of which was of the same high quality, but otherwise the knife was common. This $5 knife would have been his mass produced seller and being of common design, not likely to have survived in large numbers; and because he did not sign his work, unlikely to be recognizable as a Black made knife.

What I find of extreme interest is that the story goes that Black made Bowie's knife in early 1831.

Wellll ....... In 1831/1832, well known knife maker Joseph English of Philadelphia went into partnership with Henry and Frederick Huber, establishing the firm Sheffield Works, which lasted only until 1835/1836. During this period they produced exquisite and distinctive "Bowie" knives of the classic form.

However, there exists a beautifully made Bowie, similar in design to the Sheffield Works Bowies, signed J. English/Philadelphia, and that has strong indications "to predate 1831". 17" overall, 2" wide 11 1/2" blade with a 5" sharpened clip point and (it appears in the photo) a 4" crossguard.

This sure does throw a wrinkle into the "who made the first Bowie" discussion.

(edit) The Sheffield Bowies all had one of two model numbers marked on the blade. #2 had a 10" blade and #3 had an 8" blade. There was not a #1 model. The English Bowie was marked as model #1, leading to the speculation that it predated 1831.
 
Last edited:
Top