Drawing of 6 Norfolk Street (taken from “Under 5 Sovereigns – Joseph Rodgers & Sons Ltd, Sheffield, Cutlers to Their Majesties”)
Joseph Rodgers is perhaps rivalled only by George Wostenholm in terms of its importance to Sheffield cutlery and its fame around the world.
We have recently acquired a rare book produced by Rodgers in the early 1900’s entitled “Under 5 Sovereigns – Joseph Rodgers & Sons Ltd, Sheffield, Cutlers to Their Majesties.” This is available to view in its entirety online at this link.
Like many of Sheffield cutlery firms, the early history of Joseph Rodgers is a little unclear. It is claimed that a cutler called Joseph or John Rodgers operated out of a building in Hawley Croft close to location of Sheffield’s present day cathedral. In 1730 what are claimed to be his two sons Maurice and Joseph took over.
The mark of The Star and Maltese Cross was originally registered in March 1682 by a Benjamin Rich. However, it is with Rodgers that this mark will forever by associated and they registered it in 1764.
With increasing business in what is thought to have been exclusively Pocket Knives, in around 1780, the firm moved to larger premises at No. 6 Norfolk Street. Eventually, as Rodgers expanded, it would acquire surrounding property until the famous Norfolk Street Works occupied the entire plot. (The property was sold in 1929, and the site, which is now a Bingo Hall, is marked with a plaque.)
Joseph Rodgers showroom at 6 Norfolk Street (taken from “Under 5 Sovereigns – Joseph Rodgers & Sons Ltd, Sheffield, Cutlers to Their Majesties”)
Around 1800, Rodgers’ product range broadened into razors, table cutlery and scissors and in 1821 the firm was appointed cutlers to The Royal Family for the first time. Around this period and inspired this prestigious title, Rodgers opened their first celebrated showroom in which they proudly exhibited their wares, including later on, arguably Rodgers two most famous knives, The Year Knife and The Norfolk Knife. The Year Knife was commenced in 1822 with a new blade being added for each year of the Christian era (the knife now contains two thousand blades). The Norfolk Knife, made for The Great Exhibition of 1851, took two years to complete and features blades with etchings of Queen Victoria, Chatsworth House and The White House amongst others. Both of these are now on proudly on display in Sheffield – The Year Knife is in The Kelham Island Industrial Museum and The Norfolk Knife is in The Cutlers Hall in the city center.
Around 1860, new, even more spectacular showrooms were built and people came from as far and as wide as America and China to marvel at superb examples of Rodger’s craftsmanship. Visitors of the late 1800’s included King Edward VII and The Shah of Persia.
Further expansions were required in the late 1800’s and more property was acquired in the area around Norfolk Street until ultimately it would become Sheffield’s largest cutlery factory. Rodgers products were now being exported to growing export markets – Asia, Africa, the Americas virtually the whole world. America would become Rodgers largest export market and it is claimed that it was a Rodgers’ hunting knife, given to Buffalo Bill by General Custer, which Bill used in his duel with Sitting Bull.
Rodgers focused on producing the finest quality knives and looked for the best in every aspect of knife production from materials to workmanship. Each knife was branded with the Star and Cross as a guarantee of its superb quality. It has been claimed that so great was Rodgers reputation for producing only the finest products that the word “Rujjus”, a variation on “Rodgers” entered into the Sinhalese dialect as a general expression of superlative quality.
In 1897 a Rodgers, Maurice George, became Master Cutler. He suffers the dubious honour of being one of only a handful of Masters to die in office.
Joseph Rodgers’ success is evident in the firm’s appointment to five successive sovereigns - George IV, William IV, Queen Victoria, Edward II and George V.
Despite Royal recognition and overseas trade, the company could not escape the decline of Sheffield's cutlery industry. In the late 1900’s the firm endured a tumultuous time. There were a number of changes in ownership, one of which in 1971 even brought it together with its once fierce competitor, George Wostenholm. The Egginton Group bought the rights to the name and trademarks in 1986 which meant that fine Joseph Rodgers knives would continue to be produced in Sheffield, the home of cutlery.