Article by John Moxly
A Barlow knife is a style of folding pocket knife known for its tough bolster and tear-shaped handle. The Barlow knife was invented in England, but became popular in the United States in the 18th and 19th century.
History of the Barlow knife
According to an article at the Barlowgenealogy website, there is a great deal of dispute as to the inventor of the Barlow knife. Although a number of American families have claimed to have invented the Barlow knife, it is generally agreed upon that the Barlow knife was invented in or around Sheffield, England in approximately 1670. Obadiah Barlow is the most likely inventor, although a number of other Barlows--including his son--have been mentioned as possible inventors.
Original design of Barlow knife
The Barlow knife was known as a burly knife made to be affordable. The handle was usually made of bone and the bolster was large and distinct. Original Barlow knives were designed with one blade, however today most have two or more.
Introduction into America
The Barlow knife was likely first produced in America by the John Russell Company, which still exists today as the Russell Harrington Cutlery Company. The knives were first produced in 1785 and called the Russell Barlow knife. They had a "R" with an arrow through it on the bolster. Today, remaining Barlow knives from this era are expensive antiques.
Barrow knives became extremely popular with young men and the knife was immortalized by author Mark Twain in the book "Tom Sawyer." Despite its British origin, the Barlow knife rooted itself as an iconic American tool, whose simple ruggedness was in line with the frontier spirit of the American revolution. In the Midwest and the South, a large proportion of working men carried a Barlow knife and young men were also fans of the blade. In the Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Twain wrote about Tom receiving a Barlow knife, saying, "Mary gave him a brand new "Barlow" knife worth twelve and a half cents; and the convulsion of delight that swept his system shook him to his foundations"
The Barlow knife today
Today Barlow knives are a popular pocket knife among collectors, as well as outdoorsman. Knife Depot offers a number of Barlow knives in our 2-blade pocket knife collection. Originally invented in Sheffield, England in approximately 1670, they are used throughout the world today thanks to marketing in America by the John Russell Company, which still exists today as the Russell Harrington Cutlery Company.
About the Author
John Moxley has spent more than 30 years working as a writer in various facets of the sports and outdoors industries. He is an avid collector of knives, and is especially fond of the Barlow Knives found at Knife Depot.
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