An Essay on Pen and Pocket Cutlery - Part V

Alexander Lyman Holley

Part V

Description of Common Knives and their Parts. Knives Classified. The Main Pocket Patterns Described. Odd and Uncommon Knives Described. Short History of Cutlery. Spring Knife Manufactories.

Published Saturday, June 22, 1850 in the American Railroad Journal

Note: I've hand-typed the below words from the original publication as the text, at times, is difficult to decipher and has proven impossible to perform OCR on.

Having Classified, and followed the knife blades from iron before it is converted into steel, thro’ the processes of forging, tempering and grinding, and left them ready for the cutler, I will describe the different kinds of knives, and look into the department called the handle-maker’s, or cutlers.

There are many hundreds of patterns of pocket cutlery extant, but those in most universal use, and of far the greatest utility, do not probably exceed 200 in number, though covered with different substances and constructed from different materials, they may exceed a thousand different kinds. Knives usually consist of blades, springs, bolsters, scales, covering, shields and rivets. Springs are strips of steel, terered with oil, by which they are enabled to take their former shape after being bent, and which, except in silver, or solid steel back knives, forms the back, and keeps the blade open or shut. Scales are thin strips of metal, forming the lining to the knife, to which the covering is riveted, and to the ends of which the bolsters are fastened.

Middle scales form the partitions in all knives having an even number of blades above four, or in all one ended knives (or those having blades but in one end) which have more than one blade. Slips are short half scales, running from the middle rivet, and dividing two or more of the blades in the pen end of all knives containing an odd number of blades. The covering is the scales of ivory, horn, etc., commonly called the handle. Bolsters are thick pieces of metal through which the blade rivet passes, and are with the thin metal scale called by the general name of scales, as they form a distinct part of the knife. The shield is a tablet or strip of silver inserted into the handle for ornament, or to receive the owner’s name. Rivets number from one to sixty in knives of different dimensions and kinds. Some knives are composed of only three pieces - the blade, rivet and handle; the latter being a solid piece of steel, comprising the spring, scales and bolsters. Some scales and boosters are a solid strip of metal sufficiently thick without covering. The sides of a knife without bolsters, but with coverings, are called shadows.

The principal patterns of knives in general use, are divided into jack, pen and pocket knives. Jacks, called by Sheffielders pockets, are of many different shapes and sizes, but always one-ended, finished in a cheaper manner than pockets or pens, and have always a large pocket, and often one or more large pen blades. Pen knives are both one and two-ended, usually smaller than pockets, and never containing any but pen blades, and are particularly adapted to quill pen making. The varieties of pocket knives in most general use may be reduced to three patterns, each of which may be of different sizes and materials, and contain different numbers of blades. They are the Norfolk, Congress, and Corboe or Wharncliffe patterns. Norfolk knives have a back irregularly concave each way from the middle rivet, blades sunk to the swages in the handle, and round ends. The inside edges of the front, which is convex, are finished with concave recesses thro’ which the nail may reach the nail marks. The pattern is considered very genteel and handsome, and was named from the Duke of Norfolk. Congress, often formerly called by the Sheffielders “Four blade” knives introduced as Congress knives in this country, are now made with from two to eight or more blades. The knife is broadest at the middle rivet, with a convex front, and concave back. The blades are generally one forward point, or “sheep foot” pocket, a square and a forward point pen, and a nail blade. The corboe, or Wharncliffe knife, was made by one John Mason, 23 years ago, for Lord Wharncliffe, who it is said made the pattern from the shape of his leg. Great quantities of this variety are now manufactured in England and America. The back and front are serpentine, or each form and OG in architecture. The ends are round, and the pen end narrowest. The pocket blades of these and of Norfolks, both of which are generally three bladed, have a round tang end, and are not kept fast by the spring, when at right angles with the handle. Many other patterns are in use, among which are the Lady Wharncliffe, the coffin and fish patterns. Knives are often shaped like the human body, shoes, legs, cannons, etc. The English Parliament knives are usually one-ended, having two blades, a “bean head” (or a round head opposite the blade end), stag or buffalo covering, and steel scales and bolsters, and are called the “steel knife.” They are made by Rogers, No. 6, or Mappin, No. 66 Norfolk Street, Sheffield.

Knives are often constructed containing a great number of blades, as the lobster, balloon and round knife, in which the springs are invisible, and the blades open on each side. In Rogers’ showroom in Sheffield is a knife containing 1850 blades. It was made in 1828, and has received an additional blade every year. George the 4th of England was once presented with a knife, one inch long, containing 400 blades. In Rogers’ showroom, and elsewhere, may be seen knives containing blades of every variety, saws, chisels, gimlets, and carpenter’s, shoemaker’s, surgeon’s and whittler’s tools of all sizes and shapes. Pistols and daggers are often inserted into knife handles, together with blades, also forks, corkscrews, whistles and blades of every sort for the use of English hunters, and sporting gents who drink porter and eat cold ham in the woods.

Tanner’s knives, containing their implements and blades, handles with blades in one end, and a machine for quill pen making on the other, and scissors knives are often made in Sheffield, but seldom in America.

Weapons called by Sheffielders ‘fly open knives,’ are constructed so that the blade will open by pressure on the shield, remain open by an apparatus called a lock, or catch back, and are shut by touching a spring connected with the latter. The Barlow knife, renowned in antiquity, had usually a long bolster, crooked handle and spear (often pewter) blade. They were once, as says the poet,

“------all the go,”

And the fever after them in some sections was very fatal among youth. Now only here and there a solitary relic remains of this celebrated “genus whittleendi,” which is but a monument of the vicissitudes of taste and fashion. Sic transit gloria mundi. According to some authorities, coarse common jack knives, called whittles, were made in Sheffield as early as 1297, and spring knives began to be manufactured in 1643, which statement, being in a Sheffield history is probably correct, although according to another author it was stated in our first chapter, that cutlery was first made in England in the year 1563. The first knives, at all events, were like show swords or daggers, having no joint or spring, but a round solid handle. Thus they were made for perhaps hundreds of years, when the better knowledge of metals and tools led to the construction of spring cutlery. This has been constantly improving, and almost perfectly supplying the wants and answering the purposes of those who use it, through its manufacture will be revolutionized by Americans, and its value consequently so much lessened, as to enable every man to carry what is now termed an expensive and fine knife. Within one hundred years, spring knives were composed entirely of steel, with the exception of the covering, and till lately all tangs were made square, like those of jack knives, the kick commencing at the neck of the blade. Those which are generally used in fine knives at present, were introduced and patented by Rogers.

There are many cutlery establishments in Sheffield, and some in other English cities, but the principal manufacturers of pocket knives in Great Britain, and at present in the world, are Rogers, Wolstenholm, (Columbia Works) Mappin, and Wragg. - Perhaps there are larger establishments than these, but these mentioned produce the best work.

There are several establishments in the United States, besides those in Connecticut, but are very small, and do comparatively a small business - Lakeville, Waterville, Naugatuck, and Plymouth, Conn., produce the best American pen and pocket knives, and those which are equal in every respect to England’s best.

To be continued...


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