This website consists of a series of Collector Notes related to the broad topic of “Collectable Antique Sheffield Knifes” (CASK), with each focusing on a specific theme – using mostly examples from my various collections to elaborate the main features of the knives relevant to each theme.
The purpose of these Collector Notes is to establish an information base for each of the “collectable antique Sheffield knifes” themes explored in each Collector Note, in a format that can be regularly updated, elaborated, and corrected as additional information becomes available – via collaborations and contribution from fellow collectors and experts, so that in-reality there is no final version – it is in-fact a ‘never-ending story’.
Updates, amendments, News, & musings
Update 8 – December 24, 2023: Kevin Coleman, the author of the recently released and self-published book: “MILITARY CLASP KNIVES OF AUSTRALIA, BRITAIN, CANADA, AND INDIA – SECOND BOER WAR TO THE PRESENT” has also written a research paper/monograph “History of the Barlow Knife“, and he has agreed that, in the first instance, it should be published here as a CASK Collector Note. As with all Collector Notes, Kevin has agreed that it be presented “in a format that can be regularly updated, elaborated, and corrected as additional information becomes available – via collaborations and contribution from fellow collectors and experts, so that in-reality there is no final version – it is in-fact a never-ending story“.
Update 5 – Januari 24, 2023: the Collector Note “Antique Sheffield Pruning Knives – a collector’s handbook” is now finally online and can be accessed from the dropdown menu under the “Collector Notes” heading above. As always, any suggestions/contributions that fellow collectors may have that will improve the content of this Collector Note and thus expand the knowledge base will be most welcome. This Note was previously circulated to some collector colleagues and commentators in a hard-copy A4 format in May 2021, and again in June 2021, and has since been updated and reformatted to produce this first online edition.
Collector Note Summaries
The evolution of the OSS/SOE Escape Knife – a contrarian history
The purpose of this Collector Note is to review readily available sources in-order to document the process of evolution of the OSS/SOE Escape Knife (the “escape knife”) from its original form in the early 20th Century to its final form as an “all purpose” knife (commonly described as an “escape and evasion”) tool, produced for the UK Ministry of Supply and supplied to the UK Special Operations Executive (SOE), and to the US Office of Strategic Services (OSS), between 1942 and 1945.
For the collector, these are what the four principal versions of the “OSS/SOE Escape knife” should looks like. Any differentiation from these images (perhaps apart from the “Ibberson” version detailed later in this Collector Note) indicates that the knife is less than complete (e.g. broken sawblades, missing saw blades, etc.) or has been re-assembled from parts. Any suggestion that a non-conforming example is a “prototype”, “rare version”, etc. is often an intention to mis-lead.
British Private Purchase Military Clasp Knives – from the Boer War to First World War
The purpose of this Collector Note is to explore the broad range of (primarily) ‘sportsman’s knives’ that were produced in Sheffield during the late 19th century and early 20th century to identify those that may be regarded as ‘private purchase’ knives suitable for wartime use by military personnel, predominantly military officers.
There is no formal definition as to what constitutes a ‘private purchase’ knife used by British military personnel in wartime. There are some general indicators that distinguish a ‘private purchase’ knife from a military ‘issue’ knife, such as:
• It was purchased by (or for) an individual,
• It is not required to conform with any official specification or standard,
• It was not included in any military supply contract.
Historically, perhaps from the mid-19th century, any knife, but particularly one that was advertised by a manufacturer as a ‘Sportsman’s Knife,’ could have been privately purchased and included in the kit of a soldier.
British Military Clasp Knives of the Boer War
The Second Boer War (also known as the ‘Anglo-Boer War’ and the ‘War in South Africa’) saw the introduction of a range of clasp knives as part of the kit issued to military personal below officer level. Officers were still expected to provide their own kit. In simple terms, such knives were modelled on the English ‘jack knife’ – a large usually single sheepfoot bladed knife of sturdy construction that was produced as a hand-tool for workers in various trades, activity, or service. On the current evidence available, there were four distinct groupings of clasp knife issued to British military personnel serving in the Boer War
For collectors of British and Commonwealth military clasp knives, the Boer War is an appropriate starting point for their collection. It is also of particular interest to collectors in the former British colonies as little is known about the kit that was supplied to the volunteers either prior to their departure for South Africa or upon their arrival.
British Military Clasp Knives 1905 – 1939
The purpose of this Collector Note is to identify and document the range of clasp knife available to British and Commonwealth military servicemen from 1905 to 1939, and in particular their prominence in WW1. On the currently evidence available, there were three apparently distinct groupings of clasp knife available to British military personnel over this period.
British Military Clasp Knives 1939 – 1945
The purpose of this Collector Note is to identify and document the range of clasp knives issued to British military servicemen (including RAF personnel) during World War 2 (1939 to 1945). Clasp knives issued to naval personnel will be covered in a later Collector Note. In general terms, there were three distinct styles of common-use clasp knives issued to British military servicemen during World War 2:
In reality however, this Collector Note describes eight different “common-use” styles of clasp knives, and it is probable that further styles (or variants of known styles) will be identified by collectors – which can then be added to this list when further editions are prepared to replace this Edition 1. The term “common-use” is used here to distinguish such knives from the “Special-Purpose” knives detailed in Section 5 of this Collector Note.
19th Century British Sportsmen’s Knives – a collector’s compendium
There is no clear definition as to what constitutes a British “sportsman’s knife”; so to answer the question it is necessary to examine the range of styles of multiblade clasp knives that were produced by predominantly Sheffield cutlery manufacturers in the 19th century in an attempt to provide both a chronology and a typology of their development.
The 19th Century English Sportsman’s knife was almost a uniquely British phenomenon; other cutlery centres in Europe and the USA certainly made multiblade knifes, but the UK dominated the market in the 19th century for high-quality knives for “sportsmen” (who were generally acknowledged as being ‘gentlemen of leisure’); such knives were to a large extent a status symbol that differentiated the gentleman owner from the working class whose association with a knife was normally as a hand-tool: that is, a “jack knife” such as a pruning knife or other knife used in a service, trade or industry.
This Collector Note is now presented in three separate parts, as follows:
- PART 1 : Late-Georgian period (c.1790 – c.1830) through to the Mid-Victorian period (c.1860 – c.1880)
- PART 2: Late-Victorian & Early 20th Century period (c.1880 – c.1920) through to the Post-World War 1 period (1920s and 1930s)
- PART 3: “Odds & Ends”.
Antique Sheffield Pruning Knives – A Collector’s Handbook
Blades designed for horticultural activities have been an important part of the process of domestication of civilizations for millennia. Along with blades for butchering and skinning, the ‘pruning knife’ is perhaps the most easily recognised – together with grafting and budding knives, billhooks, sickles, and scythes. It is known that pruning knives were manufactured in Sheffield at least from the 14th century and are still manufactured there today. An interesting characteristic of pruning knives, especially in the 19th century is the great variety of styles (i.e. patterns) of pruners – both in terms of handles and blade profiles.
Given that pruners were produced as a hand-tool they are commonly found with heavily worn blades, however in most cases the handles are still in good to excellent condition, as they were constructed to be robust.
All-metal Champagne Pattern clasp knives and multi-blade variants
The perception of the champagne pattern knife among collectors in this second decade of the 21st century is that it is has an all-metal frame of distinctive shape and an array of three or more blades/tools – which of course includes a corkscrew and usually a champagne foil/wire cutter. Their common closed length is 4 inches (10.2cm) however variations having a closed length of between 3 ½ – 4 ½ inches (8.9cm – 11.5cm) were also produced. What is clear is that they were, in all their myriad variations, specifically designed to meet the needs of “sportsmen” – as opposed to a knife that was designed as a hand-tool for manual workers. They are therefore correctly defined as “Sportsmen’s knives” as commonly perceived in 19th century England.
A timeframe for specific styles of all-metal ‘champagne pattern’ style sportsmen’s knives is difficult to define as it appears that some patterns were available, with minor variation in the blades/tools included, over a lengthy period of time – possibly extending from the style’s inception in the early 1870s to its probable demise in the late-1920s and 1930s. Therefore, this Collector Note places a greater emphasis on typology rather than chronology – although a general timeframe is used as a base.
Many of the knives displayed in this Collector Note do not in-fact precisely fit the traditional Sheffield definition of a “Champagne pattern” knife, as they commonly lack the necessary champagne wire cutting tool and therefore should not strictly be described as being “champagne pattern” knives. Their common (but not exclusive) elements are: a closed length of 4 inches (10.2cm), their overall distinctive shape, the absolute inclusion of a corkscrew, and nickel silver scales. Variations are common however – especially regarding handle material, however the vast majority incorporate these common elements.`
Kevin Coleman’s History of the Barlow Knife
This monograph, “History of the Barlow Knife 1670-2023”, is written as a research paper, laying the foundation stones for those collectors with a passion for Barlow pocket knives.
Folding knives have been part of our history since Roman Times. The characteristics of knives have changed over the years but one knife which has stood the test of time over the last 340 years is the Barlow knife.
The late 17th century England, and the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, saw pocket knives mass-produced, and Sheffield cutler Obadiah Barlow is considered by most historians to be the first to mass-produce pocket knives. Many collectors consider America to be where the Barlow knife really gained popularity. In the early colonial days of America, wood was the predominant material used to produce many household items and farm implements.
The First American to ‘mass produce’ the Barlow style knife seems to be acknowledged as Cutler John Russell in his Greenfield factory, Massachusetts around 1875. John Russell commenced his cutlery business in 1834 and marked his knives with an R dissected with an arrow on the bolster. In the 20th century, a Barlow would have a spear point blade and bone scales and steel pins. This pattern appears to date from the 1920s to the 1930s based on early catalogues.
However, research suggests they may have been produced up to the 1950s. Whilst the original knives, as stated, were very basic, over recent years they have become better finished with 440 Stainless Steel blades (compared to carbon steel), which are highly polished, and the scale materials have become more varied and better finished.