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Saturday, April 23, 2011

A Corset Knife

 An antique gilt bronze sculpture of a nude dancer with knife.

Revelations of Spain in 1845, by T. M. Hughes, contains a description of a corset knife carried by a Spanish woman:
It was a perfect model, that, of a dangerous cuchillo, a blade six inches long, worn in the bosom of a high dress, standing longitudinally like a whalebone, or its steel substitute. In this sultry climate stays are very little worn, and not at all by the common people. Jacinta never wore such a thing, and would have despised the encumbrance. It was for no coquettish purpose that she wore this steel support, but for needful protection; and, if required, to strike in revenge. A strong shagreen [leather] case was sewn into the bosom of her dress, where the poniard rested as in a sheath; and at the point, to prevent any accidental puncturing of the skin, was strongly stitched a small plate, likewise of steel. The handle was of ebony, bound round with brass wire to impart firmness to the grasp; and on the end was a plate of hollowed brass, to give purchase to the ball of the thumb, and assist its muscular energy, in the act familiar to all Spaniards of striking with the little finger towards the antagonist, and striking upwards.

The blade was from Toledo, which still retains its "trusty" reputation, neither inlaid nor damasked, but of the purest steel and finest temper; it was as sharp at both edges as at the point, and transpierced a dollar without bending. Such was the familiar plaything of Jacinta of San Salvador's — the dangerous toy which dwelt habitually in her bosom, and whose presence there no one would have ever suspected — so uniformly erect was her figure, so firm her aplomb, so shapely her contour, and so sustained her movements. The perfect elasticity of the steel which composed the blade made it bend to the slightest pressure when she stooped; and thus, while it would protect her in case of need, it served the graceful uses of a corset. To think that death should repose so near the source of life! That so rigid and terrible a weapon should be enshrined on that charming wave — those throbbing pulses of delight!

Except amongst the higher classes, many women are as regularly provided with a knife as a rosario [rosary beads], and prepared to stab (if needful) as well as pray. The knives of the men here are of a peculiar make. When shut they are of great length, and open they are like a sabre. The name of this weapon is navaja; and the aim, when used, is invariably to rip up the entrails. I have already described Jacinta's cuchillo, which was worn in a peculiar manner. The Triana women and lower classes of Sevillians carry their knives, for the most part, like the Manolas of Madrid, in their garter. So attached do they become to this mode, that even Lola Montés, the dancer, was found to carry a knife thus the other day at Warsaw.

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