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Blade Rap in Vienna

Interior view of the Rotunda

In 1873, Vienna, Austria held the fifth World's Fair. It was designed to mimic the grandiosity, the pomp, and the circumstance of the grandest of all fairs: London in 1851. The fair was open for 6 months and attracted over 7 million visitors (astonishingly, the organizers were disappointed in the attendance!) Of course, all sorts of gadgetry and art were featured there, but let's be honest - we care about the knives. There were many fine cutlery firms represented in Vienna, but let's spend our time focusing on one of my favorite Sheffield firms: Brookes & Crookes.

We living in the future are very lucky to have a book that was bound by an enterprising group of folks detailing some of the fine industries represented that year in Vienna.

In this book, a man by the name of John Wilson (I don't think it was the butcher knife maker as he states he is representing Rodgers here,) details the cutlery wares of several nations. On the topic of the state of cutlery he said:

"Sheffield is represented by the firm of Brookes and Crookes, and they worthily sustain the reputation of the place. The brief description in the Catalogue would not lead any one to suspect such a display. On the different sides of their case may be seen the RoyalArms of England and Austria, the Rose, Thistle and Shamrock, and other national emblems. By a good arrangement of various articles - razors, scissors, table, pen and pocket knives, and smaller articles for dressing -cases — a good display is made.

This firm shows an assortment of all kinds of cutlery, many of them being made to exhibit. It will be invidious to particularise among so much excellence. A solid steel hunting knife was an excellent specimen of good work . It was straight, sharp and clear ; a clearer piece of polished steel I never saw. It is seldom that large blades are so well hardened and tempered.

A large ivory sportsman's knife, containing thirty -eight or forty articles, was a piece of good workmanship. All the joints were sunk, every article would " walk and talk , " and, whether examined open or shut, the knife was a good specimen of Sheffield skill . The "smoker's friend" was here in several patterns. I made a careful examination of this case ; and, as I sat wiping the knives and scissors, and opening and shutting articles which none but an expert could find, I was often surrounded by curious visitors, and sometimes by gentlemen with the word “ Juror " on a large button . The best specimen of that useful knife, the “ Wharncliffe,” in the Exhibition, was in this case. It had shell scales and gold shield and studs. The knife had one small fault, the pocket blade slightly "rapped” on the spring in shutting. None but an experienced eye would have detected it. Notwithstanding this it was a beauty. The razors, both plain and ornamental,

In my opinion, Brookes and Crookes, for quantity and quality, including taste and utility, have the best show in the Exhibition . Their corporate mark, the bell, “ bears the bell " at Vienna, as it did in Paris in 1867. Still , there was a great defect in the show of cutlery at Vienna. Scarcely one exhibitor had a good cheap pocket knife, such as would always be useful to the peasant of all nations, either to get his dinner, cut a stick, or, in fact, answer the purpose of a tool. I did not see one hollow - ground “sheepfoot” pocket knife. Knives for show are fine, and do to admire; but manufacturers should not forget that knives are made for USE."

The fair is long gone (the local university found the land well-suited for their parking lot,) and the knives featured at the fair - well, most are in untold places. If you want to gain an expanded view of the fair - the full report can be found here. Hope you enjoyed this little glimpse into the past - and friends - don't forget that the peasants deserve a good, cheap pocket knife!

View of the 1873 Vienna World's Fair


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