The Italian stiletto switchblade was a post-World War II fad that combined hand craftsmanship and the ravaged Italian economy in a frenzy that dumped many thousands of these knives on American shores until legal importation was outlawed in 1958. Generally called “picklocks” by collectors because of the way you “pick up” the lock to release the locked blade, these knives have left a lasting impression on American culture and are mostly responsible for the stigma attached to automatic knives in this country.
With the market fueled by cheap, tourist switchblades brought back by returning GIs, the Italian knife industry boomed in the decade after the war by making these attractive, stylish, but impractical knives that were available in every men’s magazine and even many hardware and department stores. The Italian cutlers themselves even considered these showy auto knives mere “novelties” and many were left in a relative state of dullness or even shipped in a non-hardened state. Not exactly tactical knives. Brands like Latama, Coricama, Edwin Jay and Mauro Mario were some of the more common tang stamps coming out of Maniago, mostly through New York-based importers.
The ban of 1958 put an end to the higher quality “picklock paradise” of the postwar years and the Italians then focused on more practical things like scissors, clippers and kitchen knives and cheaper, less robust auto knives began getting imported illicitly. Despite this, the American taste for the higher quality Italian shapes and patterns has never really been quenched. And over the years many a custom maker has tried to capture the spirit and sense of style that the old picklocks possessed, but in my opinion, no one has done it quite like Paul Panak of Burn Knives.
Modern Picklock Master
Paul is pretty much a throwback, designing and making hand-crafted Italian stilettos from scratch with the utmost precision and high grade materials. Examining a “Burn” knife is a great revelation—Italian picklocks can be effective weapons when properly crafted. Paul’s picklocks are typically made from hardened 410 stainless steel with 440-C blades and nickel silver bolsters. Most commonly, handle materials are stag, horn, or most any exotic you like; these are all made one at a time. For springs, Paul uses W-1 spring steel and you can instantly tell that they are quality; these springs fire the blades with extreme speed—they really pop to life.
Paul is very proud of the fact that his knives are 100% handmade without the aid of CNC equipment or outside vendors. He is well known for his polished hollow grinds that are the equal of anyone’s I have examined. Compared to most original Italian picklocks, Paul’s versions are absolutely massive in every respect; 13-inch open length and thick, razor-sharp blades surrounded by perfectly machined bolsters and handle scales. The polishing of a “Burn” is beyond mirror—more like a polished mirror. With these knives you get a lot of bling for the buck! Comparing these masterpieces to my Great-Grandfather Giuseppe’s old green bone-handled “MASERW” picklock, there is simply no comparison in quality, but the same rakish styling, the incredible balance and the indefinable personality that makes a picklock so memorably cool are all there.
Paul has designed and redesigned dozens of traditional and new style switchblade knives. He has recreated some very rare pieces but, in my opinion, his traditional stiletto is the most beautiful and the one that draws the most attention from collectors. When showing these knives to another collector, they couldn’t fathom the amount of hand labor involved in these creations. It is impressive to say the least. At the prices Paul charges, starting at a bit over $1,000, these edged beauties are a real bargain.
Needless to say, because of the rarity and desirability of Paul’s pieces, I didn’t test them more than a few exciting openings and a detailed inspection. They are truly the Rolex of the picklock world.
For more information on Burn Knives, visit www.burnknives.com or call 330-442-2724.
The Italian stiletto switchblade was a post-World War II fad that combined hand craftsmanship…
by Michael Janich / May 3, 2010