A dear friend sent me this very unusual vintage folding knife from Germany. It comes from her elderly grandmother in Wiesbaden, and it probably dates from before WWII. The single drop-point blade is over 4.5″ long but barely 1/4″ thick. It’s made from a carbon steel with a nice patina and a few corrosion spots. It’s a style of knife that I had never encountered before, from a manufacturer I’d never heard of, and I had to discover its history.
I thought I’d seen almost everything after a year here, but dieses kleine Messer has me pretty much stumped. Fascinated by my friend’s thoughtful gift, and because I haven’t poked my head in around here much since handing the reins to Clay last month, I decided to track down its genealogy. With apologies for my German grammar (I’ve tried not to cheat with Google Translate) let’s get started…
This knife is a single-bladed slipjoint folding knife, made by Schmactenberg & Benninghoven in Solingen, Germany. Schmachtenberg & Benninghoven was a knife factory in Solingen, operating from about 1925 until 1992. They’re better known for their high-quality silver flatware and high-carbon steel straight razors, some of which have become sought-after collectibles. An S&B straight razor with its case can fetch $250 in excellent condition.
The carbon steel of this knife’s blade, as well as the style of the decorations, suggests that it was made in the 1930s
Solingen has been a center of high-quality knifemaking for centuries, and ‘real’ Bokers still call the city their home.
This knife is clearly a promotional item. One side of the faux ivory handle features a silver art-deco inlay of “Heinrich Nolke & Co. Versmold/Westfalen” and the reverse wears this inlay reading “Fleischwarenfabrik.” I’ve been spending some quality time with Duolingo recently in preparation for a trip to Europe this summer, so I know that a Fleischwarenfabrik is a meat-products factory.
And this only makes sense, since Heinrich Nolke, GmbH has been one of Germany’s larger meat processors since the 1950s. The company was founded in the town of Versmold in the German state of Nordrhein/Westfalen in 1924 and is still going strong 90 years later.
The Knife Design
I’d never seen this style of knife before, but after scrolling through a few thousand Google and Bing search images, I stumbled across this modern Schrade version and learned what to call it. The pattern is called a ‘fruit sampling knife’ or a melon knife, and it has a very long thin blade for cutting long thin samples from the inside of large fruit like melons. Greengrocers need to check the insides of these fruit for quality and ripeness, and a long thin blade is a lot easier to maneuver in there than a thicker-bladed design.
Modern examples of this unusual knife pattern aren’t particularly collectible. If you need to sample melons, this Schrade sells for $12.50 at Knife Depot. It might make an excellent pumpkin-carving knife, but I will certainly not use this antique to carve my next Jack Skellington jack-o-lantern.
Eine letzte Frage?
Why did a meat-processing company commission a fruit-sampling knife? A thin, delicate blade like this one would quickly bend or break trying to slice the dry cured meats the Nolke company specialized in, and the length of the blade would be an additional liability.
The answer to this question lies not in the realm of knifemaking, but the fine art of advertising. This knife wasn’t meant for butchers; it was meant for grocers as a promotional gift, to put the Nolke brand name on their minds (and literally in their hands) every time they sampled fruits and vegetables for quality.
And it seems to have succeeded, because the Hienrich Nolke brand is still going strong 80 years after this knife was handed to a grocer or shopkeeper.