The History of Pocket Knives

Folding Pocket Knives have been discovered which date back to as early as the Iron Age. The cutlery industry was born in Sheffield when the term "cutler" was used on a tax return in 1297, but it was not until the mid to late 1600s that Pocket Knife manufacture began in Sheffield. Back then, they were known then as “Spring Knives”; in other words folding knives held open and closed by a spring along the back.

Sheffield cutlers developed methods to manufacture Pocket Knives in reasonable volumes and at affordable prices and with this, they became more widely available. Their designs developed over the years such that they were useful for almost every occasion and to perform tasks typical of the era - from fine delicate knives used for cutting fruit or for sharpening quills (Pen Knives), through to more robust knives used by coachmen and soldiers.

Pocket Knives had to be strongly made with a good blade in the best steel available - spearpoint and lambsfoot were the most common blade shapes. Pocket Knives by makers like George Ibberson and others would be made with a multitude of other folding tools for various uses – spikes for removing stones form horses hooves, scissors, small saws, corkscrews, leather punches and even railway carriage door keys. Handles were made with materials appropriate for the knife’s use, everything from metals and wood through to more exotic materials like stag horn, mother of pearl and tortoiseshell.

With Britain’s industrial revolution so Pocket Knife production developed further, and firms like Joseph Rodgers and George Wostenholm became significant exporters of the era, opening up new markets in America, Africa, Australia and others.

Military Knives for soldiers and sailors were developed in the 19th century from the strong and workmanlike knives supplied to coachmen and tradesmen. The knives had strong sheepfoot blades which for sailors, story has it, were rounded off to prevent any on-board skirmishes from turning too nasty! The handles were originally made from horn, but this was later replaced by plastic materials with a non-slip diamond patterned surface. A tin opener was introduced at the end of the 19th century for troops supplied with food in tins - the accompanying tin openers were invariably lost.

Hundreds of thousands of these were produced during the wars by companies like Joseph Rodgers, a forgotten part of Sheffield's war effort, when only Army Knives could be produced with the available steel.