I would like to start a thread on Traditional Pen Knife patterns similar to the Traditional Hunters thread under Knife Lore but without any date restrictions. My “perception” is that Pen Knives were produced and bought by many folks in the early days of the cutlery industry – at least as compared to today. Furthermore many modern makers appear to focus more on larger knives though some companies do make traditional Pen Knives (eg, GEC) – yet even so I believe many small patterns made today have less market potential. So though I was tempted to keep them to 1965 or older I am curious to see those Pen Knives post-1965 - of course in addition to the pre-1965 Pen knives which is my own personal favorites
It appears based on background reading that Pen Knives were actually more difficult to make based on the blades sitting on opposite ends of the spring. This required special crafting of the spring and both blades to open and particularly close into their respective positions without blade or liner rub. Not only were the blades small to grind but to make them snap open and close in their respective positions was and still is a technical skill and challenge – even more so when 4 or more blades are involved. In the old days (over 100 years ago) they were more expensive to purchase in general compared to larger Jack Knives though the market these days has changed that valuation – seems most guys prefer big ol’ Jacks or knives in general – personally I like both but have an affinity for the small knives no less and sometimes even more so than bigger knives.
No doubt Sheffield played an important early role in the development of Pen Knives starting in the 1700s or earlier but particularly in the early 1800s (see “Smith’s Key…
” from 1816 for some real beauties categorized as Pen Knives). Indeed, many cutlers emigrated from Sheffield to the Northeast US and the majority of cutlers emigrated from Sheffield to CT, MA and other states. German cutleries also made a number of quality Pen Knives and indeed Germans emigrated to the US cutleries as well but had more trouble getting work here due to the language barrier from my understanding. Nonetheless I would not restrict this thread to any geographic location of a cutlery –any cutlery that makes Pen Knives would be great to show. In fact one may start to see a pattern of styles from different parts of the world!!
Pen knives in my opinion were generally a closed length of 2 1/2” to 3 3/4” (though Levine’s notes Pen Knives as 2 15/16” to 3 3/4”). Most had fancy handle covers such as MOP, ivory, tortoise shell, abalone, engraved aluminum, sterling or gold and jigged bone. However you do see other covers such as smooth bone, horn, wood, composition material and celluloid. Thus Pen Knives were in general “fancy” or “high-end” using top notch materials. In addition high-end Pen Knives had file work on the liners or milled liners. Some blades had fancy file work along the spine. Like other knives there were a variety of bolsters used to make them including tip, crown, equal end as a few examples while others were just shadow patterns (no bolsters). The blades in general were mostly spear point with many showing a file or manicure blade in many cases - some even included scissors. Sheepsfoot, Wharncliffe and even coping blades were seen as well. All three type of blade joints were used including common, half-sunk or sunk – the latter known as sunk joints were the most elegant. Those with sunk joints generally needed cut-outs or notches in the liners/handles to access the nail nicks but there are exceptions dependent upon the pattern or design.
Pen knives probably saw much use in early days as quill knives though overtime they also become popular knives for gentleman and ladies for many uses – small but elagant in many cases and an easy pocket carry for many. I could also see how some of the fancy Pen Knives were just left on desks or tables in days of yore for multiple uses including cutting quills and even sewing for the ladies as just two examples. There was actually quite a variety of Pen Knives in terms of styles or patterns and based on Levine’s categorization of this family of knives as a basis there were the following noted:
THREE-BLADE SENATOR (not a whittler)
OVAL or CIGAR (Anglo-Saxon & Milton)
CROWN or COFFIN (barrel-shaped)
MODERN CROWN (rectangular)
SWELL-CENTER and BALLOON (including Tuxedos)
SWELL-CENTER CONGRESS or SWAY-BACK
There were other categories of Pen Knives as discussed in Levine’s separate from those listed above including Skeleton, Whittlers, Lobster knives, Quill knives, Mechanical Pen knives, Office and Letter Openers, Embossed, Color Etched & Enameled Handles, Advertising knives, & Figural and Miniature knives… Feel free to post any of these...
Though we have threads dedicated to some of these such as Whittlers, Congress and Wharncliffe knives I will leave it up to the contributor to include their knives here or in the already specialized established threads or archive them in multiple threads - to me I like to see them in any thread or multiple threads that your knife fits as it is best for research purposes and many use this site as a resource often with different search terms…. AAPK certainly comes up in internet searches near the top when searching out knife information!! To me that makes this site particularly important from that perspective and no doubt I have seen knives on other knife forums reference AAPK as the source of info
Pen Knives are no doubt sprinkled here and there under many threads so was hoping we can have one thread that pulls many of them together... Indeed unique patterns are most welcome!!
I’ll start with a few of my own and will no doubt add other examples from my collection as time goes on… Looking forward to seeing other Pen Knives from all and hope this thread draws some interest… Let’s pay some homage to the Pen Knife
Thanks to all!
Thomaston Knife Co Equal-End Pen
(3 & 1/16”) – Jigged bone with bar shield… interesting pattern in that secondary pen blade had a nail nick whereas master blade had a long pull but more so note that the secondary pen had a common joint whereas the master was essentially a half-sunk joint (close to full sunk but ever so slightly above liner) … one other note about this knife not obvious in photos is that the pattern was rather flat from the mark to pile sides.
Southington Cut Co Crown Pen
(3”) – MOP with classic crown bolsters with a taper towards the ends rather than straight barrel-shaped crown bolsters seen on some knives… both the master and file or manicure blade had long pulls with common joints on both.