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Old South Military Antiques

Twice Published Thomas Leech & Co. Bowie Knife
Item #: OS-7843

The beautiful clip point Bowie knife shown here is pure Confederate. The maker of this ultra-rare Bowie knife is the Memphis Novelty Works, Thomas Leech & Co. Thomas S. Leech had moved to Memphis, Tennessee in 1854 to establish a cotton dealership. It was financed by his partners: his brother John B. Leech, Thomas Harrison, Sir Arthur Forwood, and Sir William Bower Forwood of Liverpool, England. Leech opened the firm of Thomas Leech & Co., Cotton Broker, at 35 Front Row Street in Memphis. As war became imminent, Leech and his partners began to expand their business to include war material. The military items were sold under the name of "Memphis Novelty Works, Thomas Leech & Co”. Under this name Leech manufactured Swords, Side Knives, Belts and Buckles. An advertisement in the Sept 18, 1861 edition of the Memphis Daily Appeal listed Bowie knives in bold among the various swords and cutlasses made by the company.

The following March, Leech formed a partnership with Charles H. Rigdon and renamed the partnership Leech & Rigdon and opened a new manufacturing facility in Columbus, Mississippi. Afterwards, on May 1, 1862, the Appeal once again listed the company’s products in an ad, but this time it did not list Bowie knives. A few days later on May 8th, Thos. Leech & Co began closing up business at the Memphis Novelty Works storefront. During the following summer in Columbus, no knives are recorded as having been made and during the fall Messrs. Leech & Rigdon began moving out of sword production and into revolver production. Once out of the edged weapon business, there is no record of the company having returned to that particular niche of arms making. The foregoing would strongly suggest that no knives were manufactured at the Columbus facility. Only five of these rare clip point Bowie knives are known to exist. Furthermore, the only known markings are: "Memphis”, "Novelty Works” and "Thos. Leech & Co. Memphis Tenn. C.S.” These various known facts indicate to me that these large 20 inch knives were only produced in Memphis in 1861, and perhaps early fall of 1861.

Though it is sheathed in an original, period scabbard, it is not this knife’s original scabbard. The knife is in the best condition of any of the five surviving specimens, and it has been published in Confederate Bowie Knives, written by Josh Phillips, along with this scabbard, and in The Bowie Knife by Norm Flayderman, without the accompanying scabbard. The knife comes with a copy of each book. The condition is stellar; the blade remains bright, it has not been cleaned to bright, this is its original luster. The grip wrap is original and is virtually one hundred percent complete. Of special interest is the wire wrap; Leech used two strands of iron wire twisted together. With the exception of other examples of this same maker’s products, there are no known Confederate knives or swords that used twisted iron in the manufacture of edged weapons.

This is one of the truly rare known maker knives; it is in stellar condition, has been published twice and comes from the John Ashworth collection, yet it is only 17,500.00.