Date Made/Found: 1830-1870
Material and Medium: steel, brass, rosewood
Dimensions: Overall: 40 x 348mm (1 9/16 x 13 11/16in.)
Department: Decorative Art
Accession Number: 1981.1006
The blade of this knife is stamped with the letters 'H.B' over 'W' within a heart. This mark is not registered to the Company of Cutlers in Hallamshire and does not appear in the surviving records of the Worshipful Company of Cutlers of London. It is possible that it is a merchant's mark, rather than a maker's mark. Unfortunately, this means that we cannot identify who made the knife or where it was manufactured.
Our original documentation states that the knife was made specifically for export to South America. This could also add strength to the argument that the blade is marked with the stamp of a merchant.
The handle has been inlaid with the symbols of a flower and a hand holding a heart. These are made from brass. This decoration indicates that the knife is linked to an organisation named the Independent Order of Oddfellows. It is possible that this knife was presented to a member of the Order of Oddfellows.
The hand holding a heart symbolises charity. This image is often used on memorials in the 1800s, particularly those belonging to deceased members of the Oddfellows.
The Oddfellows was one of a large number of philanthropic 'friendly societies' founded in the late 1700s and 1800s. The period 1780-1850 saw a large increase in the number of these voluntary societies in Britain, particularly in industrial towns. They included, for example, mechanics institutes, literary societies, temperance societies, medical charities and philosophical societies.
Voluntary societies were usually made up of the middle classes and each member had to pay a subscription fee. These fees were combined to form a pool of money that could be redistributed to members in times of need, for example, during periods of sickness. The societies were often involved in charitable fundraising for good causes.
Revealing the object's Hidden History…
As part of the DCF funded Living Metal project, we visited Reg Cooper to find out more about the knife. Reg is an independent cutler specialising in the traditional manufacture of Bowie, hunting and commando knives.
Hidden History: how was it used?
Reg commented that the knife is very similar to a cook's knife. He suggested that it was made for domestic use, rather than for hunting or self defence. It would not have been used with a sheath.
Hidden History: how was it made?
The handle is made from rosewood. It is hand carved and very well made. The handle would be hollow inside to accommodate the knife tang (a rod of metal running from the blade down into the handle). Hot resin would be used to "set it in". The resin would set in seconds and give a very strong join between the knife and handle.
The bolster (the thickening where the blade meets the handle) is a pattern known as rat tail. This is similar to a Waterloo bolster (a type commonly used in Sheffield for table knives), but with a single rather than double ridge.
Hidden History: how was the blade decorated?
The back of the blade has an attractive "worked back". This was achieved using a broad grinding wheel to create wide swag shapes. A similar effect can be achieved using a hand file, but this is more time consuming. The decorative worked back on this knife could have been achieved in as little as five minutes using a wheel.
Hidden History: about Reg Cooper…
Reg Cooper began work in the cutlery industry in 1945 at the age of 14. He did his apprenticeship at John Clarke & Sons, working with various cutlers. The firm made a vast range of cutlery including tableware, pen and pocket knives. Hunting and Bowie knives were their main trade and are Reg's specialism today.
The cutlers at Clarke & Sons were encouraged to move around the different departments but tended to work mostly on one type of cutlery. Reg worked at the firm for twenty years, ending up as Production Manager. This involved buying in materials, arranging production and sorting out orders. At the firm's height, the Boy Scout's Association would commonly place orders for 30,000 Boy Scout knives at a time.
From 1970 Reg began to work for himself, making Bowies and hunting knives. He has seen this market diminish over the past 10 to 15 years. Reg focuses on making custom knives and also commando knives, for which there is still a good market. He currently receives around 20% of his orders from overseas, including America, Germany and Australia, though this tends to fluctuate. Most of his work involves making Bowie knives for the British market.
Information from the marks registry courtesy of the Company of Cutlers in Hallamshire.