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Pocket knives, Folders, Gentleman’s Knife, Pen knife, Fruit Knife, Utility, Boy Scout, Swiss Army…

I was at a picnic the other day. All of the food was laid out nicely, and the folks were starting to tuck in when it was discovered that while the beverage team had provided plenty of individual-size bottles of water, nobody had remembered to bring cups to accommodate the numerous 2 liter bottles of soda pop.

The Mrs. asked for soda, so I went to the table where the soda bottles were stacked, and found a bunch of kids trying to pour soda from 2 liter bottles into the smaller water bottles. They were doing a pretty neat job of it considering the circumstances, but in my opinion they were working too hard. I unthinkingly pulled out the pocket knife I always carry and lopped off the top of the empty water bottle in my hand. Then I proceeded to fill the resulting “cup” with soda. I noticed that all motion around the table had ceased, so I looked up to see a mass of shocked faces looking at me like I had just made fire by banging a couple of pyrites together.

One of the kids held out a water bottle, and asked me to cut it down as well. I obliged her, and cut a couple of more before returning to my table. Over 100 people at that event, and only 1 pocket knife in the entire group. Just shows how much society has changed since I was a kid.

I acquired the responsibility of owning a knife when I turned 8. The obligations that came with that first Swiss Army Knife were spelled out in short simple language along with the penalties for infractions of the rules. The most terrifying penalty being forfeiture of my new prized possession.

Back then a pocket knife was just one of the many items to be found in a man’s pockets along with a few coins, matches or cigarette lighter, and the occasional Derringer carried for pest control.

When I joined the Boy Scouts my Swiss Army knife was joined by the regulation Official Boy Scout Pocket Knife. Over the years many knives have come into my possession, and a good number of them are still around.

The folding knife was so ubiquitous, that many companies began producing promotional pocket knives with their company logo on the handle scales. Some of them were made in odd shapes like automobiles, farm tractors, and hunting rifles. These knives have become collector’s items in their own right. Small tokens of Americana depicting corporate logos long gone, politicians, prayers, and just about anything that could be placed on a billboard has appeared on a pocket knife.

My grandfather taught me that every job has the correct tool for that job. Thus the folding knife has taken on an amazing variety of sizes and shapes.

Gentlemen were expected to carry a small “pen” or “paper” knife for general utility chores, and often carried a slightly larger “fruit knife” for snacking with refinement. Folding knives, often with locking blades, have been used since Colonial times for skinning game animals. Small folding knives also served as watch chain fobs among the more genteel citizenry. Some of these were gold plated and occasionally sported small gemstones serving as masculine jewelry more than tools.

Today the multi-tool is the new standard that has infringed upon the place long held by Victorinox’s Swiss Army Knife. For all of its handiness, the multi-tool lacks much in the way of artistry or elegance. A rectangle block of stainless steel just does not have the warm appeal of genuine stag or bone handle scales and silver bolsters.

For the people I grew up around, not having a knife handy causes doubts about a man’s ability to cope with everyday life. Good carbon steel darkened from long use and scales worn smooth. These things imply a person who embodies the Boy Scout Motto of “Be Prepared”.