The pock­etknife has been a part of his­tory for over 2,000 years, but its ori­gins may sur­prise you. BY DAVID JAYE

Grow­ing up in a small town that was a mix of man­u­fac­tur­ing and agri­cul­ture, I was sur­rounded by farms on three sides and a river on the fourth. It was a magic time for a boy who liked knives.

The farm­ers and older men would gather in cer­tain spots and in­vari­ably a pock­etknife or three would be un­folded, and sticks would be ren­dered to their low­est de­nom­i­na­tion. Knives were con­sid­ered a tool, not a weapon, and most men and boys car­ried one. It was at this time of my life that I be­gan my in­ter­est in the his­tory of the knife and bladed tools in gen­eral.

It is this love of, and re­search into, the his­tory of knives from which this story comes. I in­vite you to take a jour­ney with me back through time to delve into the rich his­tory of the pock­etknife.

An­cient Be­gin­nings

Fold­ing knives have been with us for count­less ages and at one time, I be­lieved they were the prod­uct of a great civ­i­liza­tion like the Ro­man Em­pire. How­ever, they are likely as old as the Iron Age—with the old­est known be­ing found in a Hall­statt Cul­ture site in Aus­tria, dat­ing to 600-500 B.C.

Ibe­rian fold­ing knives, which also pre­date the Ro­man Em­pire, have been un­earthed in Spain, as well. Ro­man fold­ing knives have been lo­cated from the first cen­tury and by 200 A.D., Ro­man troops were is­sued multi-bladed fold­ing knives, which in­cluded a blade, spoon, fork, spike, spat­ula and a pick.

Also demon­strat­ing early be­gin­nings, the Vik­ing pe­riod (around 800 A.D.) shows lim­ited use of fric­tion

fold­ing knives, but they were still ar­ti­san-made and ex­pen­sive to pur­chase.

Re­fin­ing Pro­cesses

In the 1600s, Sh­effield cut­lers were able to cut costs and pro­duce the penny knife, ul­ti­mately mak­ing

fold­ing knives more ac­ces­si­ble to, and widely car­ried by, farm­ers and com­mon folk. Opinel of France still pro­duces their ver­sion of the penny knife.

The spring back slip-joint knife was also de­vel­oped some­time in the 1600s in Sh­effield, but un­til the In­dus­trial Revo­lu­tion brought in mass pro­duc­tion, they were too ex­pen­sive for the av­er­age user.

In Spain the An­dalu­sian knife, or Navaja, with a very strong spring, was de­vel­oped in the late 1600s and man­u­fac­tured in var­i­ous sizes. The larger models—be­ing a plat­form for de­vel­op­ing a knife fight­ing style—were fa­vored by the Roma or Gypsy peo­ple of Europe. They are still pro­duced in small ar­ti­san shops, as well as fac­to­ries, to date.

The Be­gin­nings of Le­ga­cies

The 1700s saw the de­vel­op­ment of two dis­tinc­tive knives, which al­lowed the quicker open­ing of the fold­ing knife.

In France, the but­ter­fly or Bal­isong knife, now as­so­ci­ated with the Philip­pines, was de­vel­oped with two sep­a­rate han­dle halves en­cas­ing the blade un­til, with an adept flick of the wrist, the blade could be de­ployed. Mean­while, Sh­effield cut­lers de­vel­oped the first switchblade or au­to­matic knife—with both cur­rently be­ing made. Both the Bal­isong and the au­to­matic have been in­volved in le­gal scru­tiny for years, due to their sup­posed ap­pli­ca­tion as weapons, yet each has re­mained widely pop­u­lar.

The early 1800s saw the in­ven­tion of the Bowie knife, made fa­mous by James Bowie, du­elist and de­fender of the Alamo. But a more wide­spread icon of the Amer­i­can peo­ple was the hum­ble Bar­low knife, a roughly fin­ished, in­ex­pen­sive folder with a long bol­ster, which en­cased al­most half of the han­dle, pro­vid­ing en­hanced strength at the area most vul­ner­a­ble to the stress of a pock­etknife, the

pivot pin. No one re­ally knows which of the many con­tenders of the Bar­low fam­ily ac­tu­ally in­vented it, but Rus­sell Green River Works, with its “R” pierced by an ar­row logo, is most as­so­ci­ated with its pro­duc­tion and dis­tri­bu­tion to all corners of Amer­ica.

Odessa Tea­gar­den once said, “Best known of the Bar­low in­ven­tions, how­ever, was the Bar­low Knife, a must in the pocket of ev­ery school­boy.” Mark Twain also gave men­tion to the Bar­low knife in his Tom and Huck nov­els.

In Europe the cut­lers of Eng­land, France and Ger­many, as well as Italy and Spain, were also pro­lific de­sign­ers of pock­etknives and pro­duced many styles still in use. The French de­vel­oped the Lagouille and Opinel knives, mar­ket­ing them as pic­nic knives, as op­posed to fight­ing knives.

The Bri­tish and the Swiss both pro­duced the mul­ti­func­tion tool knives, which Amer­i­can troops re­turn­ing from the Euro­pean the­ater anointed with the name Swiss Army Knife, even though they were not is­sued to the Swiss army. The Ger­man cut­lers also made mul­ti­func­tion knives aimed at hun­ters, as well as pro­duc­ing au­to­matic and grav­ity open­ing knives in the Rhine and Solin­gen ar­eas—puma Knives are a prime ex­am­ple.

Ad­vanc­ing In­no­va­tion

The 20th cen­tury saw ma­jor in­no­va­tions in pock­etknives.

Case pock­etknives be­came highly col­lectible and Case still proves them­selves as an innovative com­pany—bring­ing old-time de­signs with new steels and pro­cesses to the con­sumer. Buck Knives, in the early 1960s, de­vel­oped the fold­ing lock back hunt­ing knife, after which all knives of this style were re­ferred to as “my Buck knife” by users, even if they were made else­where. Michael Walker de­vel­oped the widely used liner lock, which also mor­phed into a frame lock. Sal Glesser came up with Spy­derco's Trade­mark Round Hole and pocket clip. Ernest Emer­son de­vel­oped the Wave, which al­lowed the edge of a pocket to open the blade. CRKT patented the LAWKS, which was a sec­ondary lock to the liner lock. Bob Ter­zoula coined the phrase Tac­ti­cal Folder, cre­at­ing a whole new mar­ket in this mod­ern era of po­lice ac­tions and wars. Ken Onion de­vel­oped the Speed­safe for Ker­shaw, which

as­sisted blade open­ing with­out the re­stric­tive leg­is­la­tion of switchblade laws and Harold Car­son de­vel­oped the Car­son Flip­per, which opened the blade and then be­came a fin­ger guard.

Ar­ti­san knife­mak­ers are not only cre­at­ing fold­ers of beauty and func­tion but are teaming with fac­tory pro­duc­tion de­sign­ers to bring innovative de­signs to the work­ing user.

Check Your Lo­cal Laws

Laws are com­pli­cated and a bit strict in na­ture. Coun­tries, states, prov­inces, ter­ri­to­ries and mu­nic­i­pal by­laws gov­ern where, when, how and which knives may be car­ried. These types of laws are not new to our gen­er­a­tion.

In the mid-1800s many states leg­is­lated against the sale, lend­ing, gift­ing, car­ry­ing or use of Bowie knives. But, Texas is re­peal­ing its 1800s anti-bowie laws, which might go into ef­fect by the time this ar­ti­cle goes to press. It is al­ways wise to check lo­cal laws be­fore car­ry­ing a knife to en­sure it's le­gal to do so.

Un­like the place and time of my youth, where a pock­etknife was first and fore­most a tool, a grow­ing ma­jor­ity seems to be­lieve all knives are weapons first, and tools sec­ond. As so­ci­ety changes, we as knife lovers and users must adapt to our times. But I be­lieve the pock­etknife will al­ways have a place in our fu­ture, and it's ex­cit­ing to know that we're now us­ing the knives of com­ing gen­er­a­tions' his­tory books. KI

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