CNJ Knife Trivia- A Writer Who Helped Make a Knife Famous

Knife History Trivia

Today’s CNJ Knife Trivia focuses on the identity of an early American writer and the knife he helped make famous. There are two books, in particular, in which he mentioned this knife and more than likely you have read them both too.

This writer wasn’t hired for product placement (intentional mention or use of a product in a book or movie) of this particular knife, instead, he only mentioned it, almost in passing, and yet, as minor as it was at the time, these slight references helped promote this knife to generations of young boys making it one of the most popular knives in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Can you name this writer and the knife involved?

Hint: He is also known for writing “Gimme a Case-Knife.”

The writer is Samuel Clemens who wrote under the pen name Mark Twain (November 30, 1835 – April 21, 1910).

The knife is the Barlow.

Mary gave him a bran-new “Barlow” knife worth twelve and a half cents; and the convulsion of delight that swept his system shook him to his foundations. True, the knife would not cut anything, but it was a “sure-enough” Barlow, and there was inconceivable grandeur in that – though where the Western boys ever got the idea that such a weapon could possibly be counterfeited to its injury, is an imposing mystery and will always remain so, perhaps.
– The Adventures of Tom Sawyer published in 1876

All the stores was along one street. They had white domestic awnings in front, and the country-people hitched their horses to the awning-posts. There was empty dry-goods boxes under the awnings, and loafers roosting on them all day long, whittling them with their Barlow knives; and chawing tobacco, and gaping and yawning and stretching – a mighty ornery lot.
– Adventures of Huckleberry Finn published in 1885

Additionally, although the inventor of the Barlow, as well as the first American firm that made them, is debated, John Russell may have been the first American to manufacture Barlow knives. It is speculated the John Russell Company first made Barlow knives at their Greenfield Massachusetts factory and in 1785 sometime before or around 1875. They were called the Russell Barlow knife and instead of the word BARLOW on the bolster, they were stamped with Russell’s mark, an R with an arrow through it.

Early Russell Barlow: Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association, Deerfield MA.

Source: http://twainquotes.com/Barlow.html

History of the Barlow Knife: http://www.barlowgenealogy.com/Edson/barlowknife.html ; http://www.barlow-knives.com/history.htm

Clemens Photo by Mathew Brady, Feb. 7, 1871

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Published in: on November 29, 2009 at 3:41 pm  Comments (2)  
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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Barlow Knife
    Traditional Old-Time Breakdown and Song – Virginia, West Virginia.

    I’ve been a livin’ here all my life and all I’ve got is a Barlow knife.
    Buckhorn handle and a Barlow blade. Best durn knife that ever was made.
    Buckhorn handle and a Barlow blade. Best durn knife that ever was made.

  2. When I was a lad coming up in the late 1930’s and 1940’s when you asked to borrow someone’s knife (you said let me borry yore Barlow) that was perfectly acceptable at that time in History


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