U.S. Bowie Knife & Letter: Dated 1848, U.S. Secretary of State Henry Clay

Item Description

Original Item: One only. A huge, historically significant Classic Bowie knife with a 14-inch blade, 2.5-inches wide at its widest point and overall about 19". The blade is engraved or etched on one side with intricate designs including "American Spread Eagle" and "America" with a ribbon slogan "The Patriots Self Defender." The blade is also marked "Graveley & Wreaks, New York." It has ivory grip panels with what appear to be German Silver mounts. The left ivory grip is inlaid with a small silver plaque engraved as follows:- "A token of esteem from Henry Clay to Thomas Allibone 1848"

Along with this knife comes an 8 x 2.5-inch handwritten note, which simply says,

"With the warm regards of H. Clay, Wash. Jan 1848."

with the name of "Thomas Allibone Esq" in the bottom left hand corner and another reference in very small writing "Per --- Allibone, Phila" in the top right hand corner.

Also is included is what appears to be the front of an envelope clearly written in the same hand saying " Thomas Allibone Esq., Philadelphia, Penna." with a letter cover franking or stamp showing a circled "WASHINGTON CITY DC" around "JAN" and now some unreadable date. There is also a "5" stamped on the this cover, possibly representing 5 cents.

This magnificent knife came out of an English collection whose family claimed some relationship to the Allibones although their name was different.

Henry Clay, a significant Washington politician, was born in Virginia on April 12th 1777, the son of a needy clergyman. He studied law, then moved to Kentucky, from where in 1806 he was elected to the U.S. Congress at the age of 29. His political career skyrocketed, and he was one of the most ardent supporters of the 1812 War against Britain, after which, when congratulated with the outcome of the war, President Madison replied,

"To the right arm of the administration, to Clay, all is due."

Clay became Secretary of State under John Quincy Adams and was expected to be elected the next President, representing the Whig Party. He ran FIVE times but never got the office, and in 1848 he failed to get his Party's nomination in favor of Thackeray Taylor. This was his last hope and although an extremely influential politician for nearly 50 years serving in Congress, the Senate and numerous administrations, he never gained the ultimate office.

He died in 1852 aged 75 years, one of the great elder statesmen of the American pre-Civil-War era.

Of Thomas Allibone much less is known. A lawyer and influential banker from Philadelphia, he was apparently well connected in nearby Washington D.C. It appears that he heavily supported Clay in his 1848 bid for his Party's nomination for the Presidency. In 1858, as President of the Bank of Pennsylvania, Allibone and some others, were charged with fraud and fell from grace.

One can only speculate about the purpose of this gift. This Bowie Knife, sold by a well-known New York cutler, was presented by a Presidential hopeful to Thomas Allibone, who was apparently an influential financier and possibly an influence peddler of the period.

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