THE BOLO KNIFE A BRIEF HISTORY


THE BOLO KNIFE A BRIEF HISTORY


THE BOLO KNIFE

A BRIEF HISTORY

 

Prepared by

David L Roberts

www.davidsblades.com


August 2020

The contents of this report are the sole opinion of the writer and provided strictly for general informational purposes only.  The author makes no representations as to the completeness of the information and shall not be liable for any errors or omissions in this information.  Any references to individuals, companies, or brands contained herein shall in no way constitute or imply any personal endorsement, testimony or warranty by the author.

BRIEF HISTORY ON THE BOLO KNIFE

Throughout history man has sought to develop better tools for whatever job or task he was faced with.  Tools to farm with, tools to make other things with and even tools of defense and war.  First made of stone or bones, cutting instruments have improved over the centuries as man discovered new materials and processes by which to make them.  From crudely sharpened stones to steel and now today’s highly sophisticated Titanium and Ceramic blades.  However many of today’s cutlery products still carry the signs of its origin, the style and the intended purpose of the instrument.

This report is on the large “Bolo Knife” now found in almost every country in the world in some style or fashion.  The most accepted belief of the Bolo Knife’s origin is the Spanish Colonial occupation of the Philippines.  Other nearby islanders call the Filipinos “people of the knife.”  Even today the bolo knife is still a symbol of the Filipino people. On some of the islands in the Philippines, people “Bolo Men” walk around with their bolo knives as a symbol of pride or even just employment, signifying that they work with it in the fields or jungles.

The bolo knife stands out in Filipino culture even today.  Bolo knives made and embellished by very skillful makers are given as important gifts or honors to military officers and others.

A Bolo is a large cutting tool similar to the machete, used particularly in the jungles of Indonesia, the Philippines, and in the sugar cane fields of Cuba. The primary use for the bolo is clearing vegetation, whether for agriculture or during trail blazing.

A typical bolo knife from Luzon, the Philippines.

These knives were made of high carbon steel with a full tang and handles of wood or animal horn.  During the 1950’s & 1960’s the Filipino’s would make the Bolo blade from the leaf springs of military vehicles left behind by US and Japanese forces. The blade usually curves and widens towards the tip of the blade.  This moves the weight and center of gravity as far forward as possible, giving the knife increased momentum, resulting in more cutting power when wielded by the owner.  Also Filipino Martial Arts focuses a lot of attention on forms utilizing items such as knives, sticks, and other blades, including the Bolo knife.

Bolo knives have also been utilized as military fighting tools.  Because handguns and rifles were not common to the Filipino people and the Bolo was a readily available farm implement, it was the preferred weapon of the Filipino resistance forces and used in combat during the 1898 Philippine Revolution against Spain, and the Philippine-American War.  After their defeat in the Philippines, the Spanish introduced the bolo knife to Mexico after the Mexican Revolution began in 1910.  Many fighters carried them, the most famous of these was the rebel leader Pancho Villa. 


WORLD WAR I

By 1904, the U.S. Army was issuing bolo knives to many of the troops specifically medical corpsmen. During WWI the U.S. Military issued in limited numbers the Bolo knife to its soldiers in combat theaters. During World War I, the bolo knife became villainous to any German solider going up against U.S. troops wielding these blades.   Below is an example of the knife at that time.

The design of the knife consisted of wooden handles.  Two rivets were used to secure the handles in place. The blade is large and heavy with a wide hand guard at the base of the blade.  Identifying marks are found at the base of the blade.  In this case  "U.S. MOD, 1917, C.T."  Which stands for United States Model 1917, Commercial Tolerances, but this was in no way a commercial version.

The scabbard is of wooden construction. A Khaki canvas sheet with a leather tip is use to cover it. The leather portion has a stamp that reads "Brauer Bros, 1918", indicating the name of the manufacturer. The upper portion of the scabbard cover has a wire hook assembly which allows the knife to be attached to a belt.  American Cutlery of Chicago, the Plumb plant in St. Louis and the Plumb in Philadelphia were the primary manufactures.

             


WORLD WAR II

With the outbreak of the second world war many American knife companies sought out government contracts to make all kinds of different knives. Several companies were chosen to supply the United States Marine Corp (USMC) with a current version of the Bolo Knife. These companies included:  Briddell, Chatillion, Clyde Cutlery Co., Fayette R. Plumb, and Village Blacksmith.               

The USMC Hospital Corpsman Knife was issued by the Marine Corps during World War II. It was a Bolo knife intended for clearing brush, cutting wood for litter carriers and shelter poles.  The Knives were 16 ½  inches overall, with a blade length of 11 ¼  x 3 inches.  The wooden handle had either three or four flush rivets of steel, iron or brass. The left face of the blade was stamped with "USMC" and the manufacturing company. (Some genuine knives may not have the USMC marking or the manufacturer name).

The USMC Hospital Corpsman Knife Sheath/Scabbard is stitched leather with a brass riveted throat and a brass grommet hole at the tip. The back of the scabbard has an M1910 pistol belt hook attached by a heavy riveted and stitched loop of leather. Just below the hook, the leather was stamped with three rows of letters.  USMC, BOYT, 44.  Boyt was the only manufacturer of the scabbard, with dates from 1942 to 1945, with "44" being most common and 1942 be the least common.  This was due to the numbers made as America was entering the war and the numbers lost in battle.  The knife and the scabbard came together.

All of these Bolo knives from WWI & WWII are considered to be RARE regardless of condition with 1942 being the hardest to find of the WWII knives.  From 2016 to 2020 these knives have held an average value of around $150.00.  Most are currently being listed and sold for $140.00 to $175.00.  At certain auctions, bids could go much higher, but that is not a general price I would go by, seeing that it was artificially set by emotion, the buy it now or loose it thought and does not reflect current retail market value. 

My personal opinion is these knives have been slightly under valued in the secondary antique market. Based on the fact that their availability is rare and that the companies that manufactured them are no longer in operation or have been taken over by other cutlery companies make them even more collectable.  I would place the value on my 1942 knife (shown on cover page) more in the $250.00 to $300.00 range, because of the knife’s condition and the fact it still paired with the original scabbard.  Recently I’ve seen sales of authentic Bolo’s more in the $175.00 to $200.00 range.  If you see them listed for very much more than that be very careful of the knife and/or the seller. I’ve seen so many fakes online selling for over $300.00 and as much as $1,500.00+.  Now some of those may have been online auctions

Since the 1970’s reproduction of military items including the bolo knife have been increasing.  Be very careful and know what you’re looking at, such as material, proper tang stamps and placement, sizes of blades and handles, how many pins and their placement on the knife.  Also there are many books and online resources to help you with the knowledge and information you will need to help make sure your not buying a fake or reproduction model.

I hope this article was interesting and helpful for you.  Enjoy your knife collecting.