Decorated billhooks

From the alpine regions of France and Italy and eastwards through Hungary into Romania, also north into parts of Germany, and south into the Balkans, billhooks with decorated blades are often found. For the most part they are simple incised  patterns punched into the soft wrought iron back of the blade. The practice survived well into the 20th century in some areas.

A French 'cochoir' from the Mâcon (Burgundy) region.

Detail from a German billhook, probably from the Black Forest region.

Another German billhook - the decoration on both includes a 'Tree of Life'

A horn handled Italian billhook from the Piemonte area, with a simple stamped decoration to the back of the blade.

Three decorated billhooks from Austria (in a private collection in Canada).

Sketch of two Hungarian sickles used for harvesting corn (maize) - strictly not billhooks, they show the typical decorations found on Hungarian edge tools, and being thicker than sickles used to cut wheat or grass, they can be used to cut thin brushwood.

Detail from a Hungarian tool - neither a billhook nor a sickle - the French would call it a 'faucille à bois' (sickle for wood) - used to harvest maize (corn) - see above.

The use of straight and curved chisels, together with a centre punch, can create both patterns and letters as on this blade from Colle di Val d'Elsa  in Tuscany, Italy.

This decorative serpette and the two below are in the collection of the Musée le Seq des Tournelles in Rouen in France - it is probably late 17th or early 18th century in origin. The handles are of boxwood.

More common on knives than billhooks, known as 'guilloching', the back of the blade can also be decorated by filing, as on this 19th century roncola from the Piemonte in north west Italy.

Another form of decoration is seen on the shoulder between the blade and the handle on this roncola stamped ALCIATE.

Found an Italian antique arms auction site in 2010, this engraved blade is from an 18th century Italian 'roncoletta' or small roncola, probably made for a gentleman gardener. The handle (not shown) was from turned brass and was probably a later replacement (it would be cold and uncomfortable to use and incorrectly balanced). The original handle was probably turned wood, leather rings or possibly even ivory as on the French example below.

This engraved and partially guilded serpette in the collection of the Musée National de la Renaissance et Ecouen, north of Paris, was presented to the Charles Duret, the President of Chevry when he was appointed 'Controleur' of the Treasury of France at the beginning of the 17th century (during the reign of Henri IV).

This decorative German hippe from the 16th century is more decorative than functional. From the V&A collection in London, it is typical of the type of tool used by the aristocracy in their private gardens or on hunting trips in the forest. They are usually found as part of a set gardening tools, including loppers, pruning saw or a hammer, or sometimes with a matching knife and fork. Those below, made in Moulins in France and from a set of 7 tools, are in the Metropolitan Museum in New York. Engraved Faictamolyns (fecit à Moulins) & Alapalme they are also 16th century (Moulins was a renowned centre of cutlery making in the 16th century - 'at the sign of the palmtree' most likely refers to the name of the workshop).

The one above and the two below are from the Musée le Seq de Tournelles, in Rouen (France) see above.


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