When I was into knife collecting, I put this collection together because of a historical and morphological approach- and because I NEEDED ´em so bad, of course;-). The Solingen pocket knife, the "Hippekniep" is a speciality that has influenced many types of knives around. While in the South of Germany people wore fixed knives as part of their every day attire, (1800+), the civilian fashion dictated a more discreet approach in the North of Germany. I take this to be a sign and relic of the Hanse and trader´s culture where it could be seen as an offence to wear weapons in the presence of a business partner, at least it was seen as a peasant´s custom. Fashion dictated a small and light "gentlemen´s" knife, which had a slip joint mechanism in the 1800s. A large, fixed knife was used for working on a farm or when hunting. Restrictive laws surprisingly were not as big an issue as may seem, for men of the upper classes wore rapiers and sabers, at least after the 1870´s on formal occasions. The Knigge directive that a gentleman should always walk on the right side of his lady has something to do with the fact that the rapier or saber was worn on the left. If the left hand was occupied by the arm of the lady, the right hand was free for defence purposes. In WW I there was a drastic change. The proud cavalry regiments who set out to battle with flowers on their rifles and helmets were hacked to mincemeat by artillery and machine gun fire-something to think about for every warmonger, if you ask me. In the narrow trenches sabers and rapiers often were a lethal hindrance. Theatre weapons were ground to poignards and daggers and trench knives, until the ordonnance catched up with reality. Having talked to some survivors of that war when I was a child - and I am very glad I had the opportunity- those few that dared to talk about their experiences (and most still trembled and cried at the mere thought of it), I can tell WW I, and especially the trench war must have been hell on earth. Men and horses crying, the air thick with poison gas, and comrades hacked to mincemeat hanging in the barbed wire, wounded, but impossible to tend to, people dying all over the place, from fever, rot, bullets, poison gas, grenades, bullets and insanity. I think the short story "La ferme morte" by Ernst Wiechert
transports the spirit of the situation best. Unfortunately, the link is only available in German, and I have no permission to translate it. WW I is crucial to the understanding of the Solingen pocket knife and a big part of German psychology. The proud regiments of the "Reichsgründung", and the fragile self-confidence of the new German state were hacked to mincemeat. Young people of every nation died in that war, and all just because of the death of one person! It´s always old people warmongering and talking and young people dying. However, while it was a caesura in the psychological history of nations all over the world, it was as well for the young German nation. But, if the need arises, and the need is strong enough, any individual will swallow his pride and grind down his saber and pride himself (and herself!) in carrying a knife instead. In WW I the fighting knife in its modern form was born and took the place of the saber or rapier-and even sword. Ernst Wiechert again was it who stated: "Not the sword is the symbol of our time. It is the whip and the tank." Nowadays one could add the credit card. Put it in behind the whip.;-) Were wearing a knife it a sign of being countrified at first, soldiers proudly displayed their ceremonial poignards, daggers and trench knives, and while there now actually were trench knives handed out by ordonnance, many of them were bought from private money. Privateers however, took a similar pride in their pocket knives. Students were presented with a pen knife. The word itself hints of its original use. The pen knife originally was used to trim the tips of feather pens / quills to be able to write. The pen knife for travelling had many different blades in many shapes. There were most beautiful examples, some of the most attractive being produced in Sheffield. The "Hippekniep", which originated in the North of Germany, originally meaning "sickle/ billhook knife" originally was a farming tool with a folding billhook, sickle or "Hepchen" sheepfoot blade around a palm´s width length used for pruning trees and harvesting herbs, soon evolved into a multitude of shapes, the most common being a spearpoint blade. Very common also was a straight back blade with an upswept tip in line with the spine. This was known as a "Notschlachter" (emergency butchering blade) used to butcher lifestock on a farm that could not be saved and where a bigger knife was not at hand. The blade was typically around 100 mm long and often had an à virole lockback system, but for the most part, came with a slipjoint mechanism. The form "mineur"
in France and the sodbuster in the USA and the UK have the same characteristics. Who influenced whom cannot be said. From the most eloquent pen knives and the crude farming tools evolved a species of pocket knives with a wide range of uses, known as "gentlemen knives", "tourist knives"(Solingen) or "officer´s / military knives" referring to the swiss military knife variety. There was a kind of reinfluence towards the trench knife variety, as evident e.g. in the multi-blade trench knife. In the disarmament of German populace that followed WWII most any knives were classified as lethal weapons, but slipjoint and folding knives were still socially acceptable. In the 1950´s fixed blade knives were allowed again. Interestingly, there was an amount of social control arising that prohibited people from carrying the so-called pathfinder and "Fahrtenmesser" (sheath knives) in public for a longer period of time. They were tauted as "forbidden" and socially not acceptable. Pocket knives were, and they were the pride of many male (and female) citizens still. In the 1950´s, there was a heigh time of hunting and folding knives in Solingen only paralleled by the time between the world wars. The art of the cutlers reached a peak. Now to the knives:
Many of these knives have been the companion of the individuals that carried them. They cut sticks and orange peels, paper, bacon, bread and onions, loose threads on the suit and they all tell a story. All over the world there are knives like these. Some are used hard and loved harder, some spend the life of their owner sitting in a box, being loved no less for it. And, I daresay, none of these knives have ever killed anybody. Even the trench knives will not have killed anybody most of the time. Chance is, they cut bread and cheese and rope and wood most of the time. Knives mirror the culture into which they are born, and their development has never known frontiers. To be precise, knives are a very crucial part of our culture. The socially acceptable use of knives is an essential part of being a human, and it shall be a human right to do so, in my opinion. The expressions of the art of cutlery making, and the celebration of using it in cooking, woodworking, eating, picknicking and all those many other uses one could think of should be subject to protection. A knife can be, psychologically speaking, a way to shape one´s world according to one´s wishes. It is crucial to be prepared, and gives its owner the feeling to be capable of positioning him or herself in the world. In many cultures, and first and foremostly the culture we live in, the presenting of a knife to a male individual was a sign of manhood. Modified towards modern terms, one could say, it is a symbol of taking responsibility and, in turn, being able to shape one´s path, regardless of gender.
Taking a knife from humans by restrictive weapon laws that hit the majority of socially adequate and law - abiding users, is a symptom of the barbarianism that is so common in this world.
To promote a socially acceptable use of knives, is a big goal for me, and while I understand limitations on weapons and firearms, limiting the use of working knives is more than restrictive. It is an attack on any culture. For it limits the possibility to counter- and interact with the world for the individual. It is an incapacitation.
With this post, I have tried to make clear some of the cultural aspects of pocket knives, albeit a tiny part of them. It has a lot of limitations, but I think one thing is made clear: That the cultural connections are legion, and that the knives of the European nations are an essential part of their culture, as is in any nation all over the world.
Knives are a crucial and important aspect of culture, and due to the aforementioned reasons their socially acceptable use should be protected by the law, not prohibited, as is the case to date.