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(Above a variety of equal end penknives by Camillus, Boker, Victorinox, and Rough Rider)

Among knife collectors a pen knife normally refers to knife patterns which have blades that open from both ends of the knife.  A Jack knife normally refers to knives that have a blade or blade that open only from the top of the knife.  This means a wide variety of knives can be classified as penknives.

The equal-end penknife, however, refers to a particular type of penknife (we'll get to that in a little bit). Originally the term penknife did not even refer to a folding pocket knife! The original pen knives were small scalpel like fixed blade knives that were used to turn large feathers into writing quills or pens.

 By the 17th and 18th century, the early fixed blade  penknives had small blades, perhaps two inches long, sometimes with a slight curve similar to a hawkbill or wharncliffe blade.  The handles on these knives were simple wood dowels about 3 to 4 inches long.

At the beginning of 18th century, British cutlers began making penknives that had sliding blades that could be slid back into the handles.  By the middle of the century they began making penknives with blades that folded into the handle.  The blades on these folding knives were between 1 and 2 inches long while the handles were around 3 to 4 inches.

As people became more literate and the need for penknives exploded.  By the 19th century, cutlers were making penknives that the average person could afford but also more elaborate versions for the well to do.

The folding penknife proved to be a very popular and also very common knife.  The standard pattern we have today probably dates to the late 18th century.  It features  3 ¼ inch an equal-end slim oblong handle with a spear master blade measuring approximately 2 ½   inches and secondary pen blade that is approximately 1 ¼  inches long.  The smaller blade, the pen blade was used in preparing the large feather, typically taken from the left wing of a large goose.  The writer would use the pen blade to remove the barbs and after feather to create a barrel where they could grasp the quill or hollow shaft of the feather.  The writer would then cut the proper angle at the tip and cut the nib into the quill; which would allow the ink to flow properly.   The larger spear blade was not actually used for making or adjusting pens but was actually a fruit blade and used for general utility.  So in reality the larger blade was actually the original secondary blade!

Around the same time, the graphite pencil came of age. This added to the popularity of the penknife as it was an ideal instrument to carve the wood barrels of the new writing implements. 

Soon after the equal end penknife became standardized the new dip pen was invented and quill pens became slowly lost favor. The dip pen was a small ready-made pen tip that was dipped into a bowl of ink similar to the way the quill pen was used.  The difference of course is it did not wear out quickly nor did you need a blade to shape it as they were usually made of bone or a soft metal such as brass.

While the original purpose of the penknife is a thing of the past, the usefulness of the simple design has lived on.  In short its simplicity of design and small compact design made it a perfect companion for the pocket, especially as society switched from largely agrarian to more urban environments.  These small nimble knives were lightweight and barely noticeable in the pocket and still capable of doing the lighter cutting chores of the leisure gentleman. 

By the 19th century, reliable pocket knives became affordable and the penknife soon had a bail added  and became the perfect watch fob.  And as knife makers sought even more opportunities to increase sales, the concept of using the simple knife for advertising also kept the pattern alive. Today, equal-end penknives continue to be made primarily as novelties.  When it comes to collecting knives, equal-end penknives are a terrific option as they come in virtually every price range!  This means that even collectors on a budget can find  unique equal-end penknives they can afford.  So let’s see some equal-end penknives!

Above: The Victorinox Pocket Pal, a modern equal-end penknife with a spear master (right) and pen blade (left).

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Replies to This Discussion

Tobias, it amazes me how you come up with subjects that I have long standing questions about. I have two knives that look like what you described in your post. First, what you described as a predecessor to the "equal end pen knife", I think is one of these, what I've heard called a "Quill Pen Eraser". The handle is exactly 4" long, and the specialized blade is 2 1/4". Supposedly used to not only cut the quill, but also to scrape the thicker paper of yesteryear serving as an "eraser". This is a family knife, having belonged either to my grandfather, or his brother-in-law, my great uncle. I found it in a 100+ year old machinist tool box my father inherited, which I ended up with. Looks very similar to what you described above.

Then, here is my recently acquired New York Knife Co Walden, bone handled, Hammer Brand pen knife.  2 7/8" long, 1 5/8" master, 1 5/16" pen blade. According to a couple of people here it is a pre 1931 knife, but we weren't sure what frame or model it was other than a "pen knife". Thanks to you I can now confidently call it an "equal ended pen knife". As always Tobias, thank you!.

Pretty sure I have one or two of these in my drawer waiting to be semi-restored if I ever get time. Seems like long ago this was a very popular pattern.

And Syd I am drooling over the Hammer Brand knife you showed there. Oh the day they made those!

Thanks, I'm still drooling myself. Having old(er) eyes, I couldn't really read the tang stamps when I was looking at it at the local swap, but I could see & feel the handles, they were so nice I bought it. The blades were intact, but much grimier than now, but I knew it was in decent condition. Ended up paying $20 for six knives from the guy, so this one cost $3.33. Didn't know just how special it was until I cleaned it up and posted photos on my blog, at which time various folks with knowledge of it's origins informed me what I had. It's in my pocket right now.

Steve Hanner said:

And Syd I am drooling over the Hammer Brand knife you showed there. Oh the day they made those!

I've got more, but nned to take new pictures.   Here is an equal end penknife used as a marketing tool for Parks Dry Goods sometime between 1897-1931.   What i love about the knife is the slogan Outfitters For All Mankind!

For more info see my original post on the knife located at http://iknifecollector.com/forum/topics/when-history-meets-knife-co...

The 63 Pattern Case is said to be President Eisenhower's favorite knife.  (or at least he is known to have bought them in large quantities and handed them out to white staff and visitors while President.  The pattern is often called the Eisenhower or IKE because of this association.  The one bleow is  1976  four dot in brown Jigged bone.  Unfortunately the blade etch reads "Tested XX Razor Edge" and lack Dwight's signature.

Great article Tobias !

Really great article. Great looking pen knives also.

Get a ticket ready Tobias.

Question: Is the bone on my New York Knife Co EEPK, (Equal Ended Pen Knife), that I posted photos of earlier, possibly Rogers bone? I did some reading, and the name referred to the manufacturer, which was Rogers, not the jig pattern on the bone, (which I had wrongly assumed apparently). From what I read Rogers was in business and supplying bone to the knife industry during the time my knife was made, so, is there any way to know for sure where the bone on my knife came from?

Syd, that is a question with more knowledge than I.   I know several companies provided bone and from what i understand different companies jigged the bone differently  -- so Rodgers jigging varied from say Winterbottom' another well known bone provider.  I don't know who provided bone to New York Knife Co.

When it comes to penknives my favorites are the cast metal handle ones that feature hunting scenes.   Of those I think my favorite the Boker 414.  Both sides feature the same scene.

and my video that among other things compares the Boker to lower priced Chinese knock-off

Thanks Tobias, I just wondered. Over on Blade Forums, Rogers bone seems to be a popular subject, and the examples I've seen have widely varied jig patterns. Whatever the bone is on mine, I'm just thrilled to have it.

Any comments on the quill pen eraser knife photo I posted?

Tobias Gibson said:

Syd, that is a question with more knowledge than I.   I know several companies provided bone and from what i understand different companies jigged the bone differently  -- so Rodgers jigging varied from say Winterbottom' another well known bone provider.  I don't know who provided bone to New York Knife Co.


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