In the true sense of the word, cutlery ‘cuts’ and the term encompasses a much wider range of products than is often realised. The Sheffield cutlery trades were traditionally split into six main sections:
Table knives. The design, materials and manufacturing techniques used to produce table cutlery has changed over time and items in the collection illustrate many of the developments. For example, the collection includes some of the earliest stainless steel knives made by R.F. Mosley. The importance and size of the trade in Sheffield is also reflected in the fact that the names and/or marks of over 600 firms are recorded on the knives in the Hawley Collection. There are also complementary collections of flatware – spoon and forks – and other domestic knives such as bread knives, meat carvers and various special purpose knives.
Pen and pocket knives. Pen knives, as the name suggests, were originally knives with a small fixed blade made to sharpen quill pens. They were later developed as a folding spring knife, usually with a blade at each end, and manufacturers sometimes used more costly materials for the scales such as mother of pearl and tortoiseshell. A pocket knife, usually with one or two larger, stronger blades at the same end of the knife, is a general purpose knife used by many workmen. They were often designed with specific uses in mind and may incorporate implements other than blades, known as ‘articles’.
Razors. The collection has many examples of Sheffield’s famous open or ‘cut throat’ razor. Some are of a basic design but razors could be a prized personal possession and may have decoration on the blade or scales made of expensive materials. By the beginning of the 20th century the open razor was being replaced by a variety of safety razors and some early examples can be seen in the collection. Gillette’s double-edged safety razor created a demand for the 3-hole wafer blade and countless millions were produced in Sheffield from the 1920s until the introduction of the disposable razor.
Scissors. Like other items of cutlery, scissors were designed and produced for particular purposes. They range in size from small, highly decorated embroidery scissors to large tailor’s shears and different lengths of blade and shapes of shanks and bows results in a huge variety of scissors.
Trade knives. Knives were made to meet the special requirements of many different trades such as butchers, leather workers, farriers, sailors and gardeners. Others were produced primarily for the export market, including plantation knives and machetes and the famous Bowie Knife and other hunting knives. The demand for specialist trade knives has declined but there is a market for new tools such as the trimming knife with disposable blades, the ‘Stanley knife’ first developed in the early 1930s. Many of the early designs are in the Hawley Collection.
Surgical instruments. Sheffield craftsmen adapted their skills to produce instruments for the surgical and veterinary professions. The production of some surgical knives, scissors and shears would not have been very different from other similar items of cutlery but manufacturers also had to respond to developments in surgical techniques. Sheffield continues to be an important centre for the manufacture of surgical instruments, particularly scalpels.