Once upon a time, there were no one-hand opening studs or holes, spine mounted flippers, assisted opening blades or pocket carry clips on “tactical” folding knives. While the average knife was a non-locking slip-joint, there were other choices for those looking for something a little more heavy-duty. Granddaddy barlows, folding hunters of several styles, and “Texas Tickler” folders were all common. Cutlery catalogs of the past were also not above marketing certain models differently, depending on their target market. What was a common hunter’s “lock knife” in a sporting catalog became a more sinister “folding dirk ” for the urban trade.

Modern references seem to have difficulty understanding the term “dirk” as it was used in 19th century legal codes and cutlery listings. Most want to mix it up with the traditional Scottish dagger or the sidearms carried by midshipmen during the age of sail. Study late 19th century and early 20th century knife catalogs and you will find it actually referred to a wide variety of knives being sold as a weapons rather than a tools. What was a “hunter’s Bowie” from a sportsman’s outfitter became a dangerous “dirk knife” when sold to the self-defense market. This same practice was followed for many large folding knives, but one in particular seems to have been favored, the so-called “English Jack” pattern.

English Jacks

As the name implies, the English Jack was a standard pattern among many 19th century Sheffield cutlery makers. Normally, it featured a straight handle with a 3- to 6-inch locking blade with either a clip or spear point. Somewhere along the line, American cutlery companies seem to have pretty much standardized on 4.5-inches closed for this variation. Clip-points were more common than spear but both were made, as were folding guards on some models. One interesting point about all of these knives is that they normally came with a mid-frame rocker-bar lock. More than once over the years I’ve noticed modern makers trying to take credit for this innovation despite the fact it has been around at least 150 years.

For more on this pick up the May 2013 issue of Tactical Knives!

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