A Boys First Pocket Knife
A lot of boys first pocket knives came as gifts from grandpas or dads, sometimes uncles or brothers many times against the best wishes of mothers. In any case, the pocket knife is an indispensable tool for the growing young man and is an emblem of his burgeoning manhood, an invitation to the fraternity of man. I remember getting my first Swiss Army knife from my uncle when I was young and all the adventures it helped me through as well as all the trouble it helped me stir up. I have it still to this day, worn but, still ready for action.
Folding knives of many different designs have been around for thousands of years. The oldest found to date is nearly 2600 years old. Although it was simple, a bone handle and a single iron blade, it was the beginning of long history of innovation. The origins of the modern Swiss Army knife lay with the Romans. The old empire was renowned for its metal workers and many different versions of multi-facetted tools have been found throughout the Mediterranean including everything from knives, spikes, forks, and spoons in a handheld package. You can imagine how, for a legion on the move, a pocket knife could come in handy all the time. Sadly, the skills to develope a working multi-function pocket knife were lost in Europe during the dark ages so, although many people carried swords, daggers or other sharp edged implements very few if any pocket knifes were available.
Roman army knife from 200 AD. Made of silver with an iron blade it has a fork, knife, spoon, spatula, and a spike.
A post-n-groove knife call the Navaja has been a popular choice in Spain since the 15th century. It made a distinct clicking sounds when opened and closed which became its trademark. The only other pocket knife available until the 18th century was a heavy crude tool known as the Jack Knife. it wasn’t until the 18th century when the Sheffield knife-makers designed and built what is widely recognized as the first modern pocket knife. The Sheffield pen knife became de rigueur among the educated set who used it to, of course, cut the nibs of their quills.
the year knife, mid-1970s
In 1822 as a display of their craft, Joseph Rodgers and Sons Ltd. of Sheffield debuted their Year Knife with 1,822 blades to mark the date. It was designed to have another blade added to it every year until the end of the millennium in 2000 when the knife would finally be finished with its 2000th blade, ending, of course, far to large for anyones pocket. The firm went on to create the Norfolk Sportsman’s Knife in 1851 which took two full years in production and ended up with 75 blades. These two examples seem pretty extreme but, they show the level of innovation in the world of folding knives in the mid-19th century. By 1893 an American cutlery catalogue had over 1,500 pocket knives listed for sale showing exactly how popular they had become. but, it wasn’t until 1897 when a man by the name of Karl Elsener decided there was no good reason for the Swiss Army to be buying its knives from Germany that the most popular and recognizable knife in the world today got its start. The red body and silver crossed shield have become the standard for modern pocket knives.
1891 Swiss Army soldier knife
Pocket knives have also been an essential tool for soldiers throughout American history. New York and new Hampshire required their militias to carry pocket knives during the American Revolution. Even George Washington toted one around as he led his troops. The U.S. Navy began issuing them to sailors during the Civil War and they became standard issue for all American GIs during WWII.
Although in the first half of the 20th century pocket knives were popular among young boys and many carried them around in their pockets or ruck sacks always prepared for the occasional whittle or game of mumblypeg (a knife game that involves throwing a knife into the ground as close to your opponents foot as possible without hitting them), public concern quickly arose over children’s safety and knives were deemed unsuitable. As the century continued adolescents who still did carry knives gained a progressively more negative reputation especially with the rise of gang violence in the urban areas.
Boy Scouts playing mumbly peg
Today, it seems that we have hit a fork in the road you could say. One side lead to more and more authoritarian control and heavy security measures such as the Bureau of Homeland Security or any international airport and the other leads to peoples interest to become more self sufficient and seeing things like pocket knives as tools as opposed to weapons. In my humble opinion, if a boy is old enough to be in Cub Scouts, he’s old enough to get his first knife but, with great power comes great responsibility so, with these young’n’s there must be a few ground rules and it has to be approached delicately.
Rule #1: Make it the first gift. Of course a boy is going to be excited when he gets his first knife so, make it the first gift and wrap the snot out of subsequent gifts so that he can demonstrate his instant manliness by allowing him to test out his new prize.
Rule #2: Casually have an old black of wood or a stick conveniently lying in the room. “What’s that stick doing mom?” “Oh, that stick? Oh, i was just rearranging a few things, and… who wants another piece of cake?” Let the whittling commence.
Rule #3: Have a special place. The problem isn’t cutting off a finger, it’s finding the knife. This is an excellent time to start the “it’s your personal belonging-don’t ask me where it is!” rule.
and of course…
Rule #4: Only use it with Mom & Dad around… at least for now. One day, there will be independence with this great gift but, that time is not now.
a boy whittling a boat
All that being said, a nice pocket knife can be a great gift for anyone no matter the age but, how do you decide what to get. Pocket knives can be broken down into three major types. The jack knife is simple and sturdy with just a single hinge where as a pen knife has two hinges one on either end. The term pen knife is also used to describe a very small two hinge knife that could be worn without ruining the line of your suit but, for our purposes two hinges is the important thing and finally the multipurpose knife is more or less the standard today, it boasts many different tools not simply just knives and it’s what made the Swiss Army knife famous. Within each category there are many different varieties some of which I have displayed below.
the Trapper, a type of jack knife generally with two blades. A clip and a spey blade
L-R Whittler, Stockman, and Congress, all types of pen knives. The Whittler is characterized by its three blades. The Stockman is generally distinguished by its sowbelly shape (kind of like an S) and a clip, sheep’s foot, and spey blade. The Congress is marked by its convex front and four blades. *the above knives are all from CRKT classics
Swiss Army Fieldmaster knife
As with most things the more personal the better. Vintage and heirloom knives are fantastic. I am personally a big fan of engravings and hand made things. With a little effort its not all that more expensive to have something made custom as opposed to buying from a store. Finally one of the greatest things about pocket knives is that if you take care of them they will last a lot longer then you and somebody else will see that engraving one day and wonder about the story behind it. You become a part of the legend of that knife.