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Jacknola 03-25-2014 09:28 PM

Vintage Randall Bowie, Coolie Caps
These pictures are not very good, but? they will serve to illustrate ?Dating a Bowie knife.?

All the RMKs I have are Vietnam era and I pretty much stick to that time period, usually asking myself, "could this have been carried and used?"

For quite a while now I?ve thought about getting a Randall Bowie from the middle of the Viet era, preferably one that had seen some use. I particularly liked the old 12-9 shape and size, more likely to have actually been used, but for some reason I don't much favor stag handles or leather, preferring wood or micata. But for whatever reason, I just couldn?t find the right one for the right price.

Enter this knife?.advertised as being 1970s vintage. "1970s" is pushing the limits of Viet era in my opinion. However, after closely examining this 12-9, I pulled the trigger. I liked the unique wood handle... looks ebony with a cream flaw or something.... but most important, I?m reasonably sure it is more then likely to be of a 1963-64 provenance.

Arriving at that conclusion is an example of the use of some of the recent information about dating using features of the blade stamp and the sheath. Why is it 1963-64? Three reasons?and maybe a fourth.

1. Blade stamp ? a ?type 2? blade stamp that pretty much stopped being used in ?64 or ?65.

2. Sheath stamp ? the Randall made stamp on the back of the sheath has no model or length markings. When Johnson began making sheaths, he initially did not mark them with model or length numbers. He began adding the model and length number in ?63 or perhaps early ?64. Assuming this is the original sheath, it s date fits with the blade stamp.

3. The stone seems to fit the era though it may be a replacement.

4. Back to the sheath. I have noticed that early Johnson sheaths had an interesting feature in the stitching of the ?butterfly? ? some of the early ones had two lines of stitching extending into the heart of the butterfly. This sheath has that feature.

There may be some other good stuff. For instance this knife has no traditional spacers that we often rely on to help date the knife. Instead, this one has the fancy brass collar and matching coolie cap. The fluting on this vintage seems to look substantially different than those on obviously later knives with these features. It seems more hand-made, even crude and worn and has an external brass tang nut. That could be an interesting subject to review.

Also, the silver escutcheon plate ... after about '65, it would more likely have been brass given the hardware on the knife. I admit this is a "negative indicator," but it is a marker.

Anyway, it isn't a big deal... I mean, who cares if a bowie is 1963 or 1970s? Well, it only matters if it matters, and for me, having a knife from Viet-era ?early or mid ?60s? rather than possibly post-Vietnam ?70s,? matters.


Jacknola 03-29-2014 05:29 PM

Ebony nas a tang...
I was trying to study the fluted collars and coolie caps of old RMKs, and getting about no-where because there aren't many pictures of those features? Anyway, one thing that stood out immediately is that these fluted features are handmade, each quite different. I had thought they were a supply item subject to mass production. I wonder who made them?

Apparently the use of the brass tang nut, even for coolie capped pommels, ceased about late 1970-71 or so, following adoption of the inverted tang nut. It looks as if the exposed Bowie tang nuts used for the old coolie caps were of similar size as other brass ones of the time period (apparently, all stainless tang nuts were domed) though the one used on my 12-9 coolie cap has been contoured.

But I found an interesting anomaly. In the picture below, left is the coolie cap and tang nut from my presumably circa 1963-4 12-9 bowie. On the right is the tang nut from another 12-9 bowie for sale on E-bay, slightly younger than mine, probably about 1968-70. It might be an illusion, but it looks as if that tang nut is not a ?nut? at all, being round. I guess it could be brazed to the cap and the whole cap tightened? If so, this method of securing the handle would be pretty similar to the inverted tang nut adopted a short time later. Anyone have any ideas or seen something similar?

I was curious about the odd vanilla swirl at the end of one side of the handle of my knife. Doing research, I found that Ebony is an increasingly rare wood, now a protected species in most parts of the world. However, most Ebony is not jet black but rather has vanilla streaks. Vanilla streaked ebony was sold as a cheaper material or was just left in the forest, yet it has all the same dense, rot-proof properties as black ebony. After consulting with my wood expert friend, he said that this is what is used in this handle. I thought others would be interested in the factoid.

Today, almost all the legal ebony in the world is controlled by the Martin Guitar Company through their concessions in Gabon. They have eliminated the practice of cutting ten trees to find one with solid black ebony and now will sell variegated ebony only and use the variegated ebony in their guitars.

Factoid: There is a big rumor in the stringed instrument community that Martin Guitars were a contributor to the democrats and were behind the armed swat raid on Gibson Guitars alleging use of black market ebony. Martin denies it. The issue of black-market wood from endangered trees is now a big deal with antique stringed instruments being threatened with confiscation if the wood in them cannot be documented. Be aware... if you travel overseas with a Randall with Ebony, Rosewood, etc handle, upon returning to this country you COULD be subject to having it confiscated it you cannot document the handle. Our government... keeping us save from tree-wood pirates.

Jacknola 03-30-2014 06:58 PM

I may be just writing for myself.. but maybe someone is interested...

Ok, I admit, I thought this would be easy. All we had to do was trace the evolution of fluted coolie-caps and collars, and compare them to the evolution of brass tang nuts and we would have a neat story and some new information?. It seems no one has written much about the difference between brass tang nuts and the ubiquitous stainless domed acorn variety during the Vietnam era ('61-'73).

So far so good? below is a collage of coolie caps with knife dates that are reasonably definitive, (please note, 2nd and 3rd pictures could actually be 68-71 or so), but not necessarily accurate to a single year. However, this does seem to show a logical evolution. Early on, an exposed tang nut. Then about 1969-70 or so, seemingly a round threaded nut was (probably) brazed onto the coolie cap and the whole cap tightened. Finally, later increasing sophistication sees the the round nut moved internal and/or the whole tip of the coolie cap custom finished and tapered.

And guess what? when we check that seeming progression against the general brass tang nut progression, it more or less fits? Early, regular brass tang nuts, some beveled, some not, transitioned to the internal inverted tang nut in about 1971? On these inverted tang nut pommels, you can see a round ring similar to the round connection on the coolie cap of about the same time period. The fact that there is an odd ball in the mix (no. 6), seeming round something outside of the pommel where the nut would usually go, could just be a curved filed finish to blend with the unusual rounded end of that pommel.

OK, open and shut, a nice progression, lets go to print?. 1970 pre and post for coolie cap and brass tang nut ... HOLD IT?

The only Randall publication that discusses dates, coolie caps, brass tang nuts that I've found is Sheldon?s book. He writes about the re-introduction of brass tang nuts in 1953 used mostly on bowies. He says that several sizes and varieties were used from 1953 until 1970. According to Sheldon, the end of the use of all tang nuts came about in 1970-71 with adoption of the inverted tang nut system. Re: coolie caps, he states that coolie caps were offered first in 1959, but doesn't footnote (presumably the info is from a catalog). Unfortunately, while his information is welcome, it is sketchy and footnotes documenting source would be nice.

Ah? but look at the nice sensible progression above, it all makes sense ... flat brass nuts on coolie caps and brass pommels until about 1970, when nuts are moved internal in both coolie cap and brass pommel knives. All very good...

... until one looks at the photo of the 12-11 coolie-capped Confederate bowie on p. 77 of Sheldon?s book, that he dates to mid ?60s. Yep that date seems correct, it does have the type 1 stamp on the blade which stopped being used about 1966, and the other bits and pieces fit?and in fact it seems to have the 1950s thicker guard. Unfortunately for this thesis, it also looks as if the coolie cap might have a round outside connection. If so, that would require decoupling the date of adopting the "round brazed nut" connection of the coolie cap from the adoption of the inverted tang nut for brass pommels.

this would mean that for coolie caps, you would have two break points like this: 1959/___brass nuts___\1966/___round brazed connection___\1970/___inverted internal connection___ instead of one break point at about 1970 evident in the use of brass tang nuts on plain brass pommels.

BUT... maybe the nut on this knife is actually a ... hexagonal nut? The photo is small and it is hard to know for sure. Fortunately, the picture references the owner. Maybe we'll get lucky and find a definitive picture.

Always something gums up the works.. by the way... there is a single black spacer between the fluted collar and the handle of my 12-9... for whatever its worth.

Jacknola 03-30-2014 10:06 PM

Amazing... ask and you shall be answered.

Here is a new posting on E-bay... a low S knife with a coolie cap. The pictures are terrible, out of focus ... and I've asked the seller for some good pictures... but it looks like the round brazed nut connection might be used for this knife.

If so, it pushes some dominos. First, I might be able to ask this gentleman if it looks like the round "nut" is indeed brazed to the coolie cap and get some confirmation about the genre. But most important, it could mean that coolie caps with the round brazed connection could have become the standard used by RMK by mid-60s.

Finally, the use of the brass tang nut to hold the coolie cap on my 12-9, a method it would be reasonable to assume probably pre-dates the round brazed connection, would be defined earlier.... giving more certainty that the knife is pre-1965...more likely about 1963, which has already been avowed.

mrto 04-12-2014 08:52 AM

Hi,I really enjoyed your posts and find your research interesting.This particularly so because I very nearly purchased the very same knife from ebay,but procrastinated and in the meantime bought a couple of Smithsonian's.

I went back to ebay with a view to buying the knife and it was gone!Having watched it for the best part of three weeks it felt like I had lost a friend! lol

I find the knife quite enigmatic with its swirl of tan ebony and it is far more graceful than recent production 12-9's.I'm very happy for you that you have it and have posted some information about it.If only vintage things could talk eh!

Will you be repairing the small crack in the handle by the way or leave the knife completely as is?


Jacknola 04-12-2014 01:09 PM

Hey mrto... sorry to beat you to this. I too had been watching it for quite a while.. loved the subtle shape of the blade and the swoop of the concave handle which compliments the hardware ... and when I finally came to the conclusion it was early '60s, I went for it.

I'm not afraid of wood handle cracks because of my master expert woodworking friend (see line about wood handle repair). He also can repair ivory, etc., but after doing a couple of those for others he decided it is too much work and takes away from his instrument repair.

However... the 12-9 bowie doesn't have significant or obvious handle cracks. When I bought it, I though it might from the pictures, but is wasn't very obvious in the wood. A small hairline starter crack at the butt and another hairline about an inch or so on the other side, but as soon as I applied a little furniture hydration oil, they pretty much healed. Pictures below. If they spread in the future, ebony repair is not difficult.

I'm still fooling around with dating knifes. The fluted brass spacer and coolie cap are not encountered that much, but are frequent enough on bowies to be interesting. What I need is someone to confirm the "rounded tang nut" is brazed on the coolie cap and the whole cap tightened. Then I need to narrow the date that method became the way of attaching the cap, and if it ever changed thereafter.

Above is a brass back ... presumably from early-mid '70s (?) (good braze on brass back, so probably by the original guy, Mr. White (?), beautiful handle. I had thought the round brazed tang nut was superseded early '70s and the nut was moved internal and tapered to a skull-crusher shape. However, apparently the taper is a feature, not an engineering marker. Oh well... I have a friend with a '66-'70 model-2. I'm sure he won't let me disassemble it to see how the cap was fastened to the tang ... but at some point I'll be able to look at it.

The knife I posted above with the low S would have been perfect to establishing the early date of the "round tang nut" if it indeed had one. Unfortunately, bad pictures and an asking price that was ... well ... extreme.

The other thing I'm looking for is another early coolie cap that used the open brass hex tang nut. The coolie cap on my 12-9 is obviously cruder than those that were used even a short time later... and the open brass hex tang nut is (so far) unusual. Perhaps more will surface.

But I'm very confident now that the 12-9 is circa late 1963.


PS - I've been speculating how one would tighten the coolie cap if the round nut was braised. I speculate that a clue might be in the deeper flutes of those coolie caps compared to those on my knife. One could picture a special "screwdriver-wrench" with four ridges that would fit into those flutes, over the nut, and allow tightening the cap like screwing in a Phillips head screw. But... maybe not. As an Engineer, I get distracted by such things.

mrto 04-13-2014 09:58 AM

Hi Jacknola,
Going by the evidence you have pointed out I agree with you that your knife is of early 60's rather than 70's vintage.As for the rounded nuts etc and whether they are soldered or not I have no idea,but I will ask the question on "".If no satisfactory response is forthcoming there would an email to Randall Knives not be worthwhile?

As for tightening the coolie cap and round nut, if indeed the two were soldered together your idea of a splined tool may be correct,but it would seem to over complicate a much simpler solution of just having the nut and cap seperate.

Or possibly, if the round nut is soldered to the cap and had a longer extension designed to facilitate its tightening and then when done the remainder was removed in the final finishing phase?Another question I will ask on the forum then.There must be a person or persons still alive who would have performed the assembly of these knives and will know for sure I would have thought.

I'm glad there was no significant crack in the handle by the way.


mrto 04-15-2014 09:04 AM

Hi Jacknola,
I have been told on the other forum that the coolie cap and nut are not brazed together and that the 'smooth' nut is just a standard hexagonal nut with the corners rounded off.

I hope this is of some help to you.


Jacknola 04-15-2014 09:45 PM

Thanks for your efforts Mrto. And I appreciate people who took the time to respond. However, though that is probably the right answer, I'll hold off accepting that verdict as yet.

There are some people that have been around a LOT of Randalls on that board, but have been pretty wrong about the basics in the past. And they have yet to man up and even post a single comment on recent developments in dating antique Randalls ... So now, unless someone tells me "why" or how he knows this, I remain a little skeptical, especially about historical Randalls.

And there is another reason... it may be that the tang nut on a coolie cap was rounded as a decorative feature after being tightened. I considered that early in this thesis before I posted anything. But it might be difficult to be filed round without marking the brass fluting immediately under the nut... I have not seen any file marks there from close up pctures. Well, obviously there is a way to do it or you couldn't shape a skull crusher, but still, it would be pretty meticulous work.

What I just posted is an example of giving a reason for a statement. It may be completely wrong, I'm open to that, but the rationale itself is information, and ... it might start a conversation which could lead to pictures etc.... a conversation such as you and I are having.

I respect the expertise of the people "on the other forum." But the "conversation" there will rarely lead to discovery because most posts are just pure avowals, with little explanation or footnote. Plus there is apparently a lot of scar tissue over there. "Trust me, I know" doesn't cut it with me these days except for a few people I DO trust.

One issue is that occasionally some experts think their opinion is worth money ... part of the fallout from being "in the business" I suppose. Here is are some examples of the type of thing I wish had been posted on "the other forum":

"I called the shop, talked to Gary, and he told me they do this in three steps like this, 2.zyx 3.xzy . He said that he thought they started doing this in about 1965 and continue it to today... before that they just screwed a tang nut on and called it macaroni" ... or ...

"I took one apart years ago and found ..."

"Pete told me they found a new way in the mid '60s to do the coolie caps with a deeper more consistent flute. They began making the caps more like a cone of brass to install on top of a more flattened handle end, instead of a true "cap," hand-beaten to take the radius of a domed handle end. After that, because of the rigidity of the cap, they could flute it, round the nut, etc. after it was installed.

"So, from about 1965 on, Randall quit hand-making the brass coolie cap to fit a domed handle, and starting making the flatter handle end fit the thicker cone coolie cap "
... It was a simple engineering concept that dramatically lessened the work... it is easier to shape wood than shape brass.

Now, THAT would be some good stuff.... LOL ...good luck on that though. :doubleenf

Jacknola 04-21-2014 08:09 PM

Update on where the question stands. Gary Clinton kindly added a couple of very interesting photos. First one is possibly the first coolie cap ever made for Randall, decorating a knife documented sent to James Jones, 1955. It also has a diabolical method of attaching to the tang... the only thing I can think of is that this was a peened tang that was later ground smooth. Or perhaps it was threaded and tightened with a special socket wrench with some tabs to fit into the coolie cap groves.

Documented 1955, former James Jones collection, now Gary Clinton. See Gadis, pp. 163-164

1961 - This is a Gary Clinton model 1 that is in a Stockman sheath, presumably about 1961. Thing is, I cannot make out what the tang nut looks like. I think it is a hex nut.. but hopefully Gary will forward a picture of it. In profile it looks very similar to the 1963 bowie.

1964-66 Gary Clinton forwarded this very intriguing picture. It is an aluminum coolie cap, which is itself unusual... and the tang nut has been very crudely ground to more or less round. In the process, the flutes in the coolie cap have been partially ground down. I suspect this was a very early attempt at what became common practice within a couple of years. Cool (ie) knife hardware!

This is a knife in Sheldon's book. I've come to suspect it has a hex nut and is dated about 64-66, no later.

1963 vs 69/70

And this is the combo that started the question, probable 1963 vs 68-70.

It seems that coolie caps were a bit crude, fashioned to take the curve of the handle, individually shaped, and possibly secured by a hex tang nut (taking the Clinton James Jones creation out of the equation), until about 1966 or so. Note the swelled shape of the caps of those early coolie capped knives.

Suddenly about 1966-68 or so, the coolie caps are significantly more sophisticated, and the tang nuts smoothly rounded ... which seems to be the method adopted thereafter. And... the coolie caps seem to me more of a cone, and the handle shaped to accommodate the cap.

But all that is my impression. It may not have legs and it may be that there was no pattern at all. What I need is several early 60s coolie caps with (or without) tang nuts. It will probably take time to find these, but only then can we make a time line and start seeing if there is a pattern.

Also, I sent a message to Sheldon asking about the statement in his book that coolie caps first became available in 1959. I suspect it is from a catalog, though the 12th issue was in 1958 and the 14th was 1961 (no 13th issue). Perhaps he has some additional information he's willing to share.

Oh well ... no one has really addressed this trivia that I can find.. and I'm having fun and learning. Regards.

Jacknola 04-22-2014 10:26 PM

Below are Rocky Whitaker?s two knives, the brown-button Bowie and the 6? Ark Toothy?both pre-1963, maybe a good bit oder. The pics have been blown up and fooled with to look at the coolie caps. They both appear to have the ?older? profile and both appear to have a hex nut. This is added evidence that there was a general use of hex nuts early, then a change away from hex nuts about mid 60?s, say? 1966.

But what about the incredible symmetric rounded ?nuts?, nuts reshaped to a skull crusher, etc. that began appearing in the late ?60s? How did the shop manage to round off the tang nuts so precisely without damaging the flutes below the nut?

Well, today they might have been created by using an inverted tang nut. The inverted tang nut used by many makers today is already round with a slot on top. It is tightened down with a screwdriver INTO the pommel which simply has a countersunk hole part way through the pommel material.

After installation, to make a round or pointed tip, just file off the excess top part sticking out above the pommel, including the extra tang material, shape it how you want. The excess tang ?nut? portion above the top level of the pommel is already round, it is not a hex nut with the flanges rounded off. Here is a diagram I made to try to illustrate the inverted tang nut for those who don?t know how it is done.

But is this what was done in the mid '60s? Maybe ... maybe not. Some of those "round nuts" look like they were tightened down on top to the pommel flutes, not "growing out of" the pommel. And a comment that Pete from the shop said they rounded off regular hex nuts must be taken into account.

(Note: same source quoted Pete as saying they used regular acorn nuts for reverse tang when they adopted that method... However, that is not assurred. The shop seemed to have transitioned to a "cap" or true "acorn" nut in the early '60s and the hole for the bolt does not transit the cap. Second, I don't think the shop used brass acorn nuts, ever. Third, looking at several "reverse tang nut" pommels and comparing them with late 60s acorn nuts, the "nutted" portion of the reverse tang pommel does not look the right size to have been created by a ground down acorn nut... but those observations are not definitive... they could have been used in some manner... .

But if the shop was using inverted tang nuts in the mid-late '60s, it raises some other questions. This system was not adopted for all other Randall knives until early ?70s, probably about 1971-72. It is specutlative, but possible the inverted tang nut could have been used earlier because the coolie cap was deep enough to allow a counter sunk hole. Perhaps the other pommels might have been too thin to counter sink.

But that is all just speculation ... more examples will help.

Jacknola 04-23-2014 10:42 AM

Rocky Whitaker's pics add evidence that coolie caps could have been produced in at least two separate waves, with the dividing line somewhere about '66-'68 or so. The two groups are...

(1) "cover the butt, secure with hex nut," and
(2) "pyramid pile, attack with a file" group.

The first group is cruder in appearence, but more "hand made" looking and perhaps more graceful. The second group is slick and professional looking, but a little soul-less, stamped-out looking, to me.

It remains to be seen if there was a moment in time that was a dividing line between these and when it occured, why, what exactly was the difference, and how they did it. There may have been no such division.

But, if enough examples are gathered, we may actually end up with three goupings because the more recent renditions seem definitly to have the countersunk "inverted tang" nuts. The ones shaped into a skull crusher point are an example.

Jacknola 04-23-2014 10:48 PM

While I?m pausing to look for more data, and organize what I already have, I thought I would post (again) the only new Randall knife I?ve ever had an absolute fever about. To my eye this knife has everything perfectly proportioned and the ?desert cammo? wood handle perfectly complements the coolie cap and fluted collar hardware. Yep it is new? but ? just wish I could pry it out of the owner's safe...

Moosehead 04-24-2014 04:30 PM

Hi Jack!

It definitely appears that you have caught the scalloped butt cap bug big time.

So I thought you would enjoy this seven year old thread from the heyday of our Randall forum:



P.S. I wonder what happened to old Randall Man?

Jacknola 04-24-2014 10:07 PM

He Moose... just enjoying myself. Information is flooding in now and my inbox is filling up. I'm going to post some raw data and try to make sense of this later. I've never seen the Randall community rally like this.

I received this message and the following pictures from James. The "story" is quite amazing, and what's more, believable. Gary's coolie cap may have been dethroned...

from James: "Good day here are some pic's from a Model 12 that is considered to be a very early or even one in the first Bowies that was made to test the size and balance of a big knife that they copied from the movie the iron mistress. The Bowies showed up in the catalog in 54. This bowie was purchased years ago from a well-known authorized dealer who said ( never buy the story buy the knife) when he showed it to Gary and he remembered the knife as one of the first.

"It has a huge ivory handle, over 2 inches at the cap. It also can be dated to 52-53 by the fact it was made with leather spacers. Leather spacers was an experiment that lasted a very short time on ivory and stage knives to act like a cushion to stop cracking of the material. The leather corroded and stopped being used. This bowie is also special because it has 1/4 leather spacers not the more common much thinner ones."

Sheath for James? Bowie

Part of James? collection.

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