AUTHORS NOTE:

On 1 June 1995, I submitted the following article to the Blade Magazine.  It was published in the September 1996 issue of the Blade Magazine under the title of Antique Bowies with a Touch of Mink. I have added more information & pictures in this presentation. Jim Batson

GRAVELEY & WREAKS

IMPORTERS & DEALERS in TABLE & FINE CUTLERY

Little is known about the lives of John Graveley or Charles Wreaks.  They lived and worked in the high rent district of New York City.  We don't know where they were born or when they died.  We do know Graveley & Wreaks ordered a variety of elegantly mounted Bowie Knives from the best cutlers of Sheffield, England.   Any of the splendid Bowie Knives that bear their name reveals all we need to know about them.  They were gentlemen of the highest order with a keen eye for beauty and quality.      

The early New York City Directories tell us the firm of Graveley & Wreaks existed for only three years, 1836 through 1838. They did business in the Astor House at the intersection of Broadway and Barclay in New York City.  I would give a month's wages to have seen their show room.

Shown here is a picture of the Astor House taken in 1890.  

John Jacob Astor made millions in the fur trade.  In 1913 the five and ten cent store magnate built the Woolworth Building where Astor House once stood. See http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/medny/buttowski/

From 1836 to 1838 the importer, John Graveley, lived at Number 1 Park Place, one street North of Barclay.  In 1833, Charles Wreaks sold goods as a Merchant at 82 William Street.  In 1834 and 1835, Charles became an importer at 7 Platt Street.  John Graveley came to New York in 1835 or 1836.  John and Charles established a partnership in 1836 and disappear from the New York City Directory in 1839.  If they were Englishmen, they may have returned to England.  

The Bank panic of 1837 and 1838 caused many a business to fold. By 1838 the deadly use of the Bowie knife in murders and duels by ruffians and gentlemen caused a popular revulsion and legal furor.  In 1838 the state of Tennessee passed an act to suppress or ban the sale and deadly use of Bowie-Knives and Arkansas Tooth-Picks.  The Alabama and Mississippi Laws passed in 1837-1838 were not as strict as in Tennessee.  These Laws curtailed the advertising and sales of the Bowie knife, Arkansas Toothpick and Dirks in the United States.   The sales of Bowie knives continued in the frontier states of Arkansas, Louisiana and the Republic of Texas.  With the arrival of Samuel Colt's multi-shot revolver, the Bowie knife lost its roll as a backup defensive weapon.  A Bowie knife valued at $20 in 1837 sold for $1.50 in 1838.

The first known G&W ad placed on May 23, 1836 begins: "NEW CUTLERY ESTABLISHMENT, No. 9 ASTOR HOUSE, NEW YORK" advertised "ELEGANT BOWIE & HUNTING KNIVES". Another G&W ad placed July 11, 1836 lists: "ARKANSAS, TEXAS and HUNTERS knives... butcher, cartouche and scalping knives". Bill Worthen, Curator of Historic Arkansas Museum, found these ads in the New York Herald newspaper.

In January 1837 Graveley & Wreaks ran an advertisement in the "Nashville Republican."  The ad informed the public that one partner now in England arranged to supply their New York Cutlery establishment with an extensive and rare assortment of goods.  These goods would arrive in time for the spring trade.   A variety of HUNTING & BOWIE KNIVES elegantly mounted entirely in a new style could be purchased.  Other types of knives were offered, along with razors, shears and pistols. These ads ran in Nashville, Louisville, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh.  The Bowie knives shown here verify the veracity of the advertisement.

Bowie knives stamped Graveley & Wreaks were made in 1835 to 1837. This advertisement hints that a previous shipment included older style knives.  In 1837 the Bowie knife was not a single style or design, but was offered, "In a great variety, elegantly mounted in entirely new style."

How did these gentlemen in New York learn about Bowie Knives?  They may have toured the Western and Southern States and saw the early Bowie knife in use.  They may have had a direct connection or association with James Bowie or his brother Rezin Pleasant Bowie.  We know James sailed to New York on February 13, 1826, and again in early 1828.  In 1832 Captain Archibald Hotchkiss saw James Bowie in Washington City.  Rezin wrote about the San Saba Indian fight in Philadelphia in July or August of 1833.  From John Seybourne Moore, Rezin's grandson, we learn that Rezin was stricken with blindness.  He went to New York and Philadelphia and received the care of Doctors Parrish and Valentine Mott with the result that one eye partially recovered its sight.  Rezin Bowie's eye glasses exist today.

Rezin Pleasant Bowie could have met John Graveley or Charles Wreaks in New York. Valentine Mott, a celebrated surgeon of that time, resided at 25 Park Place from 1829 through 1836.  John Graveley lived at Number 1 Park Place in 1836.  The Astor House with a show room full of Sheffield Bowie knives was just a city block away. However, the timing of the Bowie Brothers visits to New York is before G & W was established.

It is more likely that the primary purchaser of G&W’s knives was John Jacob Astor and the Bowie knife designs were provided by Auguste Pierre Chouteau.  G&W were tenants of Astor in the Astor House. Astor, the Fur Titan, provided A P Chouteau with Indian Trade Goods. Chouteau owned a Trading Post at the three Forks of the Arkansas River above Fort Gibson in Oklahoma. These goods were transported from St Louis via the Missouri and Osage Rivers and by pack trains and Wagons.  Steamboats on the Arkansas River also delivered goods to the trading post located near present day Chouteau Oklahoma.

 

This rare Sheffield made coffin hilt Bowie Knife is marked with a figure of a crown over ALPHA over GRAVELY & WREAKS over NEW-YORK. The blade is etched ‘Arkansas Toothpick’ along with elaborate floral etching. The blade is 8 1/2 inches long with a German silver bound rosewood grip. Total length of knife is 14 1/4 inches. Sanson & Harwell, Norfolk St. Sheffield, England, made this knife. Photos courtesy of Dick Ulbrich

According to W. R. Williamson the Crown over Alpha trademark belonged to Sansom & Harwood (Thomas Sansom & Sons, King's Cutlers), 45 Norfolk Street, Sheffield, England.  The Crown over Alpha, Graveley & Wreaks, and New York were stamped into the blade during the forging operation before heat treating.  The knife was made from its inception for Graveley & Wreaks.  It was a custom order.  The finished knife was not taken from the shelf and stamped.

Arkansas Toothpick and a floral design were etched in the blade. This knife was made for Gravely & Wreaks (G&W) in Sheffield, England. One may expect that it could be a copy of an early Bowie Knife that originated in the United States. William R. Williamson told me that the term Arkansas Toothpick was a frontier brag. However, there are period engravings of frontier ruffians, possibly Arkansans, picking their teeth with large Bowie knives.

Charles Bird King painted the portrait of Tahchee in Washington City during February and March of 1837. This picture is a copy of a lithograph from the History of the Indian Tribes of North America by Thomas L. McKenney and James Hall. The original portrait was destroyed in a fire at the Smithsonian in 1865. Photo courtesy of J Logan Sewell

In this old lithograph a knife similar to this G&W coffin-handled Bowie or Arkansas Tooth Pick projects from the sash of Tahchee, a Cherokee Chief.  Robert Abels pictured the rare coffin  handled Bowie knife made for G & W over the lithograph to show the likeness. 

Tahchee is the Cherokee word for Dutch.  Early in his life his father Skyugo, a Cherokee Chief, moved from Alabama to Arkansas.  Tahchee ranged along the Red and Arkansas Rivers in what is now Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas.  Dutch lived with Chief Bowles in Texas when James Bowie moved to Texas.  James Bowie visited Chief Bowles and probably knew Dutch.  This warrior fought in more than thirty battles with the Osages and other tribes and killed, with his own hand, twenty-six of the enemy.

Tahchee's Bowie knife may not have been as elegant as the Sheffield made coffin-handle Bowie Knife or Arkansas Toothpick.  A local artisan, blacksmith or gunsmith probably made Tahchee's knife.  As a Cherokee Chief, Tahchee could obtain a Bowie Knife made by cutlers in America or Sheffield. 

Thomas Gowdey advertised the sale of Bouey (sic) and Arkansas Knives in the Nashville Republican in January 1836.

This advertisement connects Bouey knives and Arkansas knives.  Tahchee's portrait and the Arkansas Tooth Pick etching on a Bowie Knife made in Sheffield for a firm in New York links the coffin-handle Bowie Knife to Arkansas.    

The January 9, 1836, date of this advertisement of Bouey knives proves the popularity of James Bowie and his knife during his short lifetime. Men made and sold Bowie knives before his untimely and heroic death at the Alamo on March 6, 1836.  The popularity of the Bowie knife soared after the fall of the Alamo.

Thomas Gowdey's Fancy Store stock included gold and silver plate and silver mounted Dirks; 40 dozen Roger's superior pen and pocket knives; Dirks, deer and sportsman knives; 10 dozen gold and silver walking and spear canes; and 14 dozen Roger's superior Damascus, silver-steel and concave razors;  anything that a gentleman would need. Steamboats entering the Cumberland River from the Ohio River brought these goods to Nashville from New Orleans.  

Graveley & Wreaks of New York is a name found on many fine Bowies, but the knives were most often made for them in Sheffield, like the example here etched "THE CHASE, THE CHASE" with a forged bolster, ivory handle, German silver pommel & guard, double escutcheon, and an 8 inch blade.(James A. Klein Collection; from Bill Adams' Antique Bowie Knife Book)

The famous "Heart & Pistol" trademark of Jonathan Crookes of Sheffield is missing from this Bowie knife. Graveley & Wreaks, New York is stamped in the integral forged bolster where the "Heart & Pistol" trademark of Jonathan Crookes would be. The "Heart & Pistol" are evident on the knife in the next photograph.

The forged bolster and hilt on this Jonathan Crookes Bowie is identical to the Bowie that he made for Graveley & Wreaks in the preceding picture.  The clip pointed Spanish notched blade is 9 1/2 inches long. (Logan Sewell Collection; from Bill Adams' Antique Bowie Knife Book)These knives have the same handle and are definitely elegantly mounted in a new style.

W. W. Graham owned this large clip pointed Bowie knife at one time -that's his name on the escutcheon plate- but the maker was W & S Butcher of Sheffield and is marked "Manufactured by W & S Butcher for Graveley & Wreaks, New York".  The handle is stag with German silver fittings as are the guard and pommel.  The sheath is leather with a German silver throat and tip and is embossed "The Celebrated American Hunting Knife." (Logan Sewell Collection; from Bill Adams' Antique Bowie Knife Book)

Logan Sewell owns this magnificent W & S Butcher clip point Bowie knife with an 11 7/8 inch long Blade.  This blade is not forged but deeply ground from a large bar of steel.  In 1839, in London, Captain Marryat published his "DIARY IN AMERICA."  On page 289 Capt. Marryat writes, "The bowie-knife is, generally speaking, about a foot long in the blade, single edged, very heavy, and with a sharp point.  It is good either for cutting or stabbing; they are generally worn in the bosom under the waist coat; but latterly they have had them made so long, that they cannot be carried there, and are now very frequently worn behind the back in a sheath between the coat and the waistcoat, the handle being on a level with the coat-collar.  They are made in this country, I regret to say; the one I have in my possession is manufactured by W. and S. Butcher - no bad name for a bowie-knife maker, if it is not an assumed one."

 

The End

 

SOURCES/REFERENCES

-Abels, Robert, Classic Bowie Knives, Ft. Lauderville, Fl.: Robert Abels, 1967

-Adams, Bill, The Antique Bowie Knife Book, Conyers, Ga: Museum Publishing Co., Inc, 1990

-Atkinson's Casket, Philadelphia: Samuel C. Atkinson, 1833

-Brown, John Henry, The Encyclopedia of the New West,Marshall, Tx: Hodge & Jennings Bros. 1881

-Fontaine, W. W., Papers; Eugene C. Baker Texas History Center, University of Texas, Austin, Tx

-Hodge, Frederick Webb, Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico: Totowa, NJ, Rowman and Littlefield, 1979

-Johnston, Josiah Seth, Papers; Howard Tillson Library, Tulane University, New Orleans

-Livesey, Herbert Bailey, The American Express Pocket Guid to New York, New York: Prentice Hall press, 1988

-Longworth's New York City Directories 1829-1842: New York Public Library

-Marryat, Capt.C. B., Diary in America, London: Longman, Orme Green, & Longmans, 1839

- Nashville Republican Newspaper; January 9, 1836, and January 5, 1837 issues:Tennessee State Archives, Nashville, Tn

- National Cyclopaedia of American Biography: New York, James T. White & Co., 1893

-Thorp, Raymond W.,Bowie Knife: University of New Mexico Press, 1948

-Williamson, William R.; Tahchee, A Cherokee Chief: American Blade Magazine, Nov-Dec 1981