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I know of two Bowie Knives that have silver plated blades. Interestingly one is by a Sheffield maker and one is by an American maker. The knife shown here is marked on blade “Sheath Works” and “W. Greaves & Sons” (see figure 1 & 2). It is marked exactly the same on verso, although the stamping isn’t as heavy and easily read on verso. This is a massive Bowie. The silver plated blade I’m sure adds greatly to the weight.
You can tell that the silver has tarnished. In figure 3 please note the tip of the Bowie. The silver has worn off at the tip (maybe from rubbing on the sheath for many years?). Look close you can clearly see iron.
Speculate is all we can do, on what and for who this Bowie was made, possibly, for a Worlds fair or exhibition? W. Greaves & Sons as stated by Goins’ encyclopedia of cutlery markings says “William Greaves was in business by 1780 and that Sheath Works was finished/started in 1826. By 1850 the company was sold.” So we can date this knife to having been made between 1826 and 1850. It does not a W crown R stamp (for King William the fourth) so it was likely made after 1837. That narrows our gap to a 12-year period of manufacture.
The other known Bowie with a silver plated blade is pictured in the Butterfield and Butterfield auction catalog of the William R Williamson sale of January 28th, 1997. It is knife number 3713 on page 97. “American Bowie knife by Russel, Greenfield Mass, circa 1850-60. Silver plated 8 1/2” clip point blade with 4 ½” sharpened false edge. Stamped J. Russel & Co/Green River Works.” It also states it was a “display piece and not for sale.” Again likely showing what the manufacturer could accomplish. Interestingly the tip also has much wear and you can see iron as the silver has worn off much the same as the knife here in figure 3.
We will have to continue to speculate on why the blades were plated with silver. I believe in the Worlds Fair/Exhibition theory (as display knives), and possibly also as special order Bowies for Gentleman that have everything! Both knives display little wear or tear and neither appear to be actually used or sharpened other than what would take course in examining a knife and natural patina over a 150 years. So if anyone turns up any information on another silver plated Bowie, I would be interested to know the particulars. Enjoy.