The knife is a “dirk” designed to the specifications of Major Henry Shakespear, an Indian Army officer and well-known hunter. In his book, The Wild Sports of India, Shakespear states:
Each of us is armed with a shikar or hunting knife, the sheath of which fits into the breast of the shooting coat. Thus the knife is ready to hand, and can be used in a moment—this moment is time sufficient to save or lose a life. My hunting knives are some 7-inches long and 1-1/2-inches broad in the blade, partly double-edged, fluted, coming to a keen point, and kept as sharp as possible. There is a spring in the sheath; when required for use, this spring is pressed open with the little finger, at the same time that the hilt is grasped. It requires no buckle, or other fastening; the steel button in the side of the sheath fitting into the buttonhole in the pocket of the hunting-coat. I think, after much experience in knives, that this is the best weapon that can be made; consequently, I have left the pattern with Messrs. Wilkinson and Co., Pall-Mall.
The Shakespear Shakeup
Shakespear’s book, which originally appeared in 1860, influenced others to have Wilkinson make them a Shakespear Knife. The unnamed author of a 1904 article titled Old Sporting Tools, states that he purchased a Shakespear Knife and found it handy for giving the “coup de grace” to soft-skinned animals and useful for skinning. However, he did not find it heavy enough to serve as a utility knife in the field, particularly in building a hide. He also states that he never had to rely on a knife when in a struggle with an animal but he felt that if he did, “a biggish knife with a small cross guard to the handle would be a more reliable weapon than the Shakespear knife.” Just as a note, Robert Wilkinson-Latham sent me a photo of an example that does have a cross guard, so at least one Shakespear Knife was made with one.