Most of us who are interested in the history of knives are probably somewhat familiar with the traditional Sailor’s Folding Knife, which generally has a sheepsfoot blade and a folding marlin spike. I seem to remember seeing a photograph of a civil war sailor’s knife that incorporated the marlin spike. I have also seen photographs of fixed blade sailor’s sheath knives with a marlin spike that folded into the handle. The U.S. Navy contract for the style of Sailor’s Marlin Spike Folding Knife most familiar to me dates from 1910.
Early examples seem to have been made by many of the well-known Sheffield cutlers, including Joseph Rodgers and Wostonenholm IXL. H.M. Slater of Sheffield made a Boy Scout Sailor’s or Rigger’s Knife of typical pattern. Whittingslowe of Australia made a popular version of the sailor’s knife that incorporated a bottle/can opener blade as well as the sheepsfoot cutting blade and marlin spike. Other makers seem to have included a second blade as well.
Virtually all of the well-known U.S. makers of folding knives seem to have offered a sailor’s knife at some point in their history. In some cases the knives were supplied to the U.S. Navy or Coast Guard. A lot of members of the Navy seem to remember a sailor’s knife from Camillus, while ex-Coastguardsmen remember Buck sailor’s knives. Case and Schrade also made sailor’s knives, the former for the Canadian Navy. I’m sure there were others. For example, I have seen references to Ka-Bar sailor’s knives as U.S. Navy issue. Ka-Bar has made a Sailor’s/Rigger’s folder, so this is entirely possible. Most ex-sailors from the World War II era I’ve talked to, however, don’t remember the sailor’s knife as being issued. Instead, it was available for private purchase from ship’s stores or from Navy Exchanges. Since two of these veterans were ship’s storekeepers, they should know. I would assume it was quite possible that there were some issued to personnel who still worked with sails and ropes.
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by Michael Janich / Mar 21, 2010