Brief History Of The Knife
It has been mentioned in discussing the spoon, that knives were first fashioned out of stone. The close resemblance of some of them to modern knives indicates that types which are familiar to us were copied from stone predecessors. (Pictured at left: Flint Knife, 3000 B.C.) Following the period when flint and other suitable stone materials were used, we find knives made of bronze, then iron, and later, steel, as knowledge progressed. Corrosion has taken a heavy toll of most of the ancient metal knives. Parts that remain from the better preserved specimens indicate that some of these earlier weapons were very fine examples of artistic handicraft.
Who knows whether some of these early knives were put into practical use by their owners when eating. It seems reasonable to suppose that they sometimes were. But there is substantial evidence that the knife was not regarded primarily as an eating utensil until the Middle Ages. It was undoubtedly used to cut meat or other foods, prior to serving them, but they were not part of an individual’s eating equipment.
When they finally began to be used that way, the same knife which served as a weapon also served for eating purposes, being carried at the belt. Persons who were not entitled to carry arms carried the knife in a scabbard fastened to the belt as an eating utensil. That was around the time of the 15th century, but very few specimens are found dating earlier than the 16th century. One of the first table knives produced had a broad or spatulate end to the blade opposite the cutting edge. It was recommended “For the eating of pease and jelleys.”
Thus it was that he who dined out during the stirring days of the15th century brought his eating utensils with him. If he observed the rules of etiquette of his day, he dined noisily in accordance with one of the cardinal principles of 15th Century table manners – “Smack thy lips resoundingly if thou wouldst show due appreciation to thine host.”Many of the 15th century knives, carried at the belt, were made up into a set of one large hunting knife and two small knives, closely resembling the kitchen paring knife. All of them fit into one scabbard. This set was designed for the cutting of game. As the knife began to be fashioned more for the table, the need for such hunting sets disappeared with the development of city life. The scabbard more often contained only a single knife, and later a set consisting of a knife and spoon, and still later – knife, fork and spoon.
It was only after knives became thoroughly identified with the table that they began to appear in silver. At that late stage of the knife’s development, it was possible to make the first silver knives in very convenient form. They practically duplicated the steel knives. Very often the blade was made of steel and the handle only of silver.
Below left to right:
- 1) 18th Century Italian knife. The blade is engraved with the arms of Medici, first Duke of Tuscany.
- 2) Italian knife, 16th century. Black wooden handle, embossed with gold and silver. Iron sheath is engraved and covered with gold leaf.
- 3) Table knife with a silver gilt handle, Germany latter 16th century.
- 4) Dagger knife, Mother of Pearl handle, Italy 1573.
Today the knife is usually made with a hollow handle – that is two separate hollowed-out sterling silver blanks soldered together to form a handle which can be held firmly and gracefully in the hand. Since about the 1920s, the blade is stainless steel which embodies the hardness of steel and the quality of being stain resistant.
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