Beautiful, officer-grade ‘lion’s head’ kukri

A response to an earlier post from a blog reader and old friend led to discussion of a kukri donated to that friend in the early 1950s by a former Indian Army officer. On retirement from the service, the officer was presented with the kukri which was subsequently loaned to me for investigation.

When I first saw the kukri my heart sank; on the pommel was a moulded lion’s head, and out there ‘in the wild’ are many, many so-called lion’s head kukris which have been made specifically for the tourist market and vary in quality from middling to awful. I really didn’t want to be the bearer of bad news.

Moulded lion's head butt cap

Moulded lion’s head butt cap

Nevertheless, on unsheathing the kukri I was very pleasantly surprised to see a triple-fullered blade (i.e. with three wide longitudinal grooves) of obviously good quality. The cho (‘blood notch’) was deep and nicely cut.

High-quality, triple-fullered blade

High-quality, triple-fullered blade

LH-11

The horn handle, although it appeared to be missing an inlaid plaque or shield, was well made and very comfortable, probably the most comfortable I have encountered so far on any kukri.

Well-executed buffalo horn handle

Well-executed buffalo horn handle

Missing a plaque or shield?

Missing a plaque or shield?

The sheath, clearly not tourist quality, had the rear tinder/flint pouch and what appeared to be two original kardas (knives) as opposed to the usual karda and chakmak (sharpener) combination.

Original leather and wood sheath

Original leather and wood sheath

LH-2LH-5LH-6

As ever, first port of call for information was the IKRHS website, and after only a short wait the following reply was received:

Congratulations! That’s not a standard lion head! That’s a Dehradun-made officer-quality WW2 or probably earlier silver Lions head, ‘tin chirra’ [three fuller] kukri. Bolster looks nickel silver. It’s a real one that the tourist lions heads are poor imatations of. It would have had an inlaid shield that can bear intials. Original scabbard & kardas as well! (Brit. Officers dont need chakmak…) Full house!

Relief! Not a tourist-grade lion’s head copy, but a top-notch original. I wasn’t to be the bearer of bad news after all; indeed, quite the opposite.

The original owner of this kukri was Colonel E. C. (“Tom”) Johnson. Born in about 1900, Johnson volunteered for the Army in 1915 by lying about his age, only to receive a burst of machine gun fire in Thiepval Wood during the Battle of the Somme. He finished WW1 as a lieutenant in the Middle East before joining the Indian Army where he stayed through WW2, retiring c.1947 to England.

Tom visited Jersey, where the current owner of the kukri and I both live, in the early 1980s when I had the pleasure of meeting him.

Searching through online copies of the London Gazette, I have found entries as follows:

Gazette dated 14 Aug 1916, confirmed 2nd Lt., Royal Sussex Regt. 

Gazette dated 24 June 1919, promoted Lt. w.e.f 27 October 1918, Indian Army

Gazette dated 11 October 1918, relinquished acting Captaincy, w.e.f. 4 February 1918, 35th Sikhs

Gazette dated 26 June 1942, promoted Major to Lt. Col., w.e.f. 10th August 1941, Indian Army

As usual, much useful information was provided by the friendly denizens of IKRHS.

If you own a lion’s head kukri or are just a fan of kukris in general let me know via the e-mail button below.

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About Nigel

Retired law firm project manager based in Jersey, British Channel Islands. When he isn't shooting clay pigeons, he's polishing his collection of kukris or digging his vegetable patch.
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5 Responses to Beautiful, officer-grade ‘lion’s head’ kukri

  1. donna says:

    I have a lions head kukri. however the blade has tooled desighns on the blade. it is a very old one i do have the sheath also. . Is the of any value ?

    • Nigel says:

      Donna, Sorry to be slow in replying. Most lion’s head kukris were produced as keepsakes for returning servicemen at the end of WW2 or as tourist items in more recent years. They were generally of low-medium quality and sold on a “stack ’em high, sell ’em cheap” basis. Genuine lion’s head kukris (usually made in Dehradun) are a different story and would be worth £100 or so, but run-of-the-mill lion’s heads, which I suspect yours is because of the tooled designs on the blade (and there is usually the word INDIA included), sell for £20 new and have virtually no value secondhand. Sorry not to have better news! Nigel.

  2. Nigel says:

    Hi, I’m sorry not to have replied to this earlier. Lion’s head kukris come in two distinct flavours: the original very high quality versions from the 1920s/1930s, and the later low quality copies made for the tourist market and which were brought home in their thousands after WW2. A good quality lion’s head kukri with sheath is worth £200/$300; a run-of-the-mill tourist lion’s head is worth £25/$40. I would need to see photos of your kukri to comment further. Hope this helps. Nigel.

  3. rebecca Baleisis says:

    My father passed away and going thru is items I found a lion’s head kukris wooden handle with leather cover and 2 small knifs there are no marking but has design by handle of knif as well as up the back side of knife. Which the only way i can explain raised pin priks making a design.

    • Nigel says:

      Rebecca, I’m sorry to be so slow to reply to your message. Your father’s kukri sounds like a standard lion’s head kukri, many of which were made for the ‘bring back’ market after World War II and subsequently for purchase by tourists. Most of them have a pattern on the handle made from filed pins, and many have ‘INDIA’ stamped into the blade. Monetary value is usually very low, but the value to you is that it belonged to your father. My own father brought back exactly the same type of kukri from WW2.

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