Lawrie Wilson is the proprietor of the CASK website and primary author of the Collector Notes – unless otherwise stated.
My journey as a collector of antiques Sheffield knives began in the early 1980s when I moved to a small farm and found a pocket knife that belonged to a previous owner (“SCOTIA J. McCLORY”) which piqued my interest, and I recalled that I still had the clasp knife that I purchased as a teenager when I joined the Australian Sea Cadet Corp – being a Whittingslowe pattern 15737 (in fact I still have both knives). Also, in the 1970s and early 1980s I worked frequently in Malaysia and developed an interest in the Malay Kris and other Malay knives – a small collection of which I still have.
During my early years of collecting it was difficult to find any information on antique pocket knives; and it wasn’t until the late 1980s when I obtained a copy of the first edition of Bernard Levine’s “Levine’s Guide to Knives and their values” that I was able to get an appreciation of the context within which I was collecting. Levine’s Guide was a game-changer for me, as were Geoffrey Tweedale’s “The Sheffield Knife Book” published in 1996 and Ron Flook’s “British and Commonwealth Military Knives” published in 1999, and I continue to regularly refer to these books to the present day, together with Flook’s “The London Knife Book”.
Sourcing collectable pocket knives in Melbourne AU in the pre-eBay days was a matter of regularly checking the permanent antique malls/markets and shops and attending annual arms/militaria fairs that took place both in Melbourne and regional centres throughout Victoria. I also purchased a lot of knives from Jim & Cindy Taylor’s mail catalogue from the USA – as much of their stock was sourced in the UK. That changed significantly in the early 21st century when I found eBay (or it found me) and since the start of 2006 it became my main source of collectible pocket knives, although more recently I have been buying from ETSY online stores and from 3 – 4 specific dealers in both the UK and USA.
Up until a few years ago I never consciously focussed on collecting any particular style of knife, although I made a conscious decision to limit myself to Sheffield made knives manufactured prior to the end of World War Two (1945), and not to collect fixed-blade knives. Further, I was initially attracted to large “jack knives” which I defined as being ‘a knife for jack’ – “jack” being a slang word for a manual worker such as a lumberjack, steeplejack, jacktar, or “jack of all trades”, etc., and I was also attracted to military clasp knives.
It was really only after my second attempt at retirement in 2018 that I made a conscious effort to review what had become a vast accumulation of pocket knives and clasp knives, and to address my prior lack of any categorisation or classification. My starting point was to focus on the dominant collecting themes that had become evident, and then came the realisation that it was the stories associated with such themes that was equally as interesting as the knives themselves. The need for an expandable information base within which to compile the details quickly became evident and this evolved into the preparation of Collector Notes in a hard-copy A4 format (copies of which have been circulated to collector colleagues in 2020 and 2021). Ultimately, I recognised that making the Collector Notes widely available online was the best solution and so the CASK website concept was born.
Since 1994 I spend half of every year living and occasionally working in Vietnam. Whilst this provides me with an excellent lifestyle, the downside is that for 6 months of the year I am physically separated from my knife collections, but not of course from my information base – as the CASK website is always available. This was not in itself conducive to the necessary commitment to writing that the production of detailed Collector Notes required, however the intervention of Covid 19 in March 2020, whilst I was temporarily visiting Australia for a planned 3-month stay, dramatically changed all of that; the following 24 months ensconced with my knife collections provided an unexpected stimulus for writing and resulted in the near completion of the seven Collector Notes that will finally be launched in the third quarter of 2022.
Readers of these Collector Notes will be aware of my preference to name owners of particularly impressive knives (where the owner agrees). This is part of my desire to give formal recognition to such knives as a means of establishing and maintaining a knife’s provenance (i.e. “the chronology of the ownership, custody or location of a historical object” – source: Wikipedia), given that they form part of Sheffield’s cutlery crafts heritage.
The knife depicted in the CASK logo on the opening page of the website is the Joseph Rodgers “Pilots and Engineers” knife that is fully detailed in section 6.1 of the “OSS/SOE Escape knives” Collector Note. The source of the illustration is an article by Bill Karsten: “US. MILITARY FOLDING KNIVES” originally published in KNIFE WORLD in July 1981. The style of the illustration is identical to the work of M.H. Cole, shown in his 1979 self-published book “U.S. Military Knives, Bayonets and Machetes, Book III”.