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The History of the Sgian Dubh


Black in name and black in purpose, the sgian dubh was a killing knife secreted in a small holster up a sleeve or near an oxter (armpit). Four to six inches in length, this close-quarter knife was for use when no other weapons were to hand and it is believed that it became more commonly used in the late 18th century between 1746 and 1782 when the Hanoverian Government banned weapons throughout Scotland.

If a Highlander felt in danger in the company he was in, he would sit with his arms folded with one hand on the sgian dubh so that he could pull it out in a flash. Dubh is the Gaelic for black and traditionally the handle and scabbard were made from dark coloured woods and leather. After the raising of the proscription (the ban) on weapons and Highland Dress, the sgian dubh came out of hiding as it were and was then worn mainly in the stocking, right or left side, depending on the individual's preference. In the 19th century when the wearing of the sgian dubh became more decorative and less functional, the hilt for daytime would be made from stag horn and the one worn in the evening from ebony and decorated with jewels.

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