Friday, September 19, 2014

Don't Mention Damascus

One of my hobbies is historical recreation via the SCA, a group that focuses on the Middle Ages and Renaissance. My SCA persona is a medieval muslim. I also collect antique weapons, and one of my prized pieces is a small Persian knife made of damascus steel. It's just about the right size to use as an eating knife in the SCA and would be well suited to my persona, but since it is an antique I have been reluctant to risk losing or damaging it.

Some months back, I noticed on EBay a number of sellers in India offering replicas of damascus steel knives. They were not very expensive so I ordered one to see what it was like and found it to be of surprisingly high quality. After corresponding with the maker by email, I asked if he would be willing to make a copy of my antique. He was, so I sent him detailed photos and got back a lovely little damascus steel kard very nearly identical to the one I already had, aside from using silver instead of gold for the ornamental koftgari work and camel bone instead of (I think) ivory for the handle. This year at Pennsic, a two week long SCA camping event, I wore it.

I liked it enough so that I decided to order some more as gifts for friends. I had made my previous payments by Paypal, so attempted to do the same again—only to get back a message from Paypal saying that my payment had been reversed. The message had a link for more information, but it turned out to be broken, to lead to a page that started with "Sorry—your last action could not be completed."

I called Paypal and eventually got to a human being who told me that my payment had been reversed not by Paypal but by a third party. On further inquiry, I was told that the third party was the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and given their phone number. I called them this morning and was told that they had nothing to do with reversing Paypal payments—they apparently exist to deal with complaints about problems with financial services.

So I called Paypal again and this time got through not only to a human being but a competent one. She investigated the matter, and found the explanation.

My Paypal payment included a note intended as information for my records and the recipient. It mentioned "Damascus steel." Damascus is in Syria, Syria and the U.S. do not get along very well at the moment, so the inclusion of the word "Damascus" resulted in Paypal's software flagging the transaction as a suspicious one. That resulted not in an inquiry to me or, I presume, a human being reading the note, but instead in the payment being reversed. I have now resent the payment, this time without any mention of Damascus steel.

Which, in case any of my readers are curious, is the label for two old technologies which produce similar effects, knife and sword blades that show an elaborate and attractive pattern rather like a topographic map.

The top photo shows the replica, the bottom the antique. 


At 11:39 AM, September 19, 2014, Blogger Jon Brock said...

Damascus steel is lovely stuff.

At 12:15 PM, September 19, 2014, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Maybe try bitcoin next time.

At 12:59 PM, September 19, 2014, Blogger David Friedman said...

I asked about bitcoin and the seller isn't set up to take it.

Maybe by next year.

He suggested a bank to bank transfer, which I would probably have done if I hadn't solved the Paypal problem.

At 2:21 PM, September 19, 2014, Blogger Russ Nelson said...

Interesting story, and I'm glad you have a replica that you can use freely without risking your genuine.

At 2:59 PM, September 19, 2014, OpenID henrytroup said...

I wonder if they have included damask tablecloths in their keywords.
Back in 2001, I had a conversation with a breeder of dogs about getting threats left on his answering machine - he had "Afghan" hounds.

At 3:06 PM, September 19, 2014, Anonymous Anonymous said...

No-fly list?

At 3:45 PM, September 19, 2014, Blogger Elise Fleming/Alys K. said...

PayPal wouldn't let me pay for an Ivan Day cookery course while I was at his home. Same message as you received. Ivan was kind enough to wait for payment until I got back to the US and was able to pay from here. No idea why PayPal said I couldn't pay - even from my own computer.

At 10:14 PM, September 21, 2014, Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's an interesting antique, in that it looks a lot more 'functional' than what I've come to expect of antiques. (Ie, gaudy or excessively elaborate for something that would see daily use.)

At 7:12 PM, September 22, 2014, OpenID tracyandrook said...

You've tried calling it "pattern welded", explaining this to the maker?
Too bad about it, though!! It is reminding me of modern difficulties in communication where computers are told to filter for particular words in cover letters. Some perfectly good potential employees get dumped for reasons they will never know.

At 11:21 AM, September 23, 2014, Blogger David Friedman said...

I just received another order consisting of five more of the same knife with scabbards. Still very high quality for a very low price.

It occurred to me that some readers might want to know the identity of the seller so that they can order something from him. His name is Satyanarayan Sikligar. I believe the firm name is "Traditional Damascus Crafts." There's a web page at:


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