Material and Medium: silver, gilt, brass, green stained ivory
Department: Decorative Art
Accession Number: 2004.609
This folding knife was hallmarked at Sheffield Assay Office in 1779. The hallmarks can be seen on the blade itself and the date letter is located on the tang. In a folding knife, this is the part of the blade that is attached to the bolster. Unfortunately there is no maker's mark.
A large number of cutlers were making a variety of knives in Sheffield at around the time this object was made. Many of them are listed in the Trade Directory for 1774, alongside images of the mark or marks they were using.
The blade is made from silver gilt and has bands of stamped and chased decoration. The shape of the blade, known as spear point, and its style of decoration show a French influence. Most knives being produced in Britain at this time were a curved shape known as scimitar, but the new French style became fashionable during the second half of the 1700s. The scales are made from green stained ivory, which has a ribbed effect known as reeding. The scales are fixed onto the haft with four pins, probably made from brass.
This folding knife was made at a time when many people still carried eating implements on their person. A folding knife like this would most likely be used by a wealthy, fashion conscious individual for eating fruit, or during al fresco meals. Some of the more expensive knives came in a set with a matching folding fork. Folding cutlery was also used more in everyday walks of life, replacing the knife in sheath of earlier times and was an essential accessory for travellers.
Silver and silver gilt would not react to acid in the fruit and spoil its taste, which is why dessert or fruit knives and forks were made of this material. Folding knives were often made using very expensive materials, such as tortoiseshell and mother of pearl. They would function as a status symbol, communicating your wealth and refined sense of taste to those around you.
This object forms part of the Bill Brown Collection. Supported by The Art Fund, Heritage Lottery Fund and the Friends of Sheffield Galleries & Museums Trust.