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Knives as a Measure of Culture
Wednesday, June 18, 2008 • Posted June 18, 2008

To learn what we are and where we are going, we have to delve into the lives, habits and conditions of our ancestors. When we speak of ancestors, we speak in generalities of the people of the world.

Down through out the ages one tool stands above all, the knife. A knife properly defined is a cutting edge sharpened to cut material. It probably developed from a sharp-edged rock picked up around a campfire to cut a chunk of meat to size it could be eaten.

The first recorded making of steel was by the ironmongers of Tyre. They started according to carbon dating, about 17,000 years ago by hammering pulverized charcoal into a fine powder, then layering in the iron and forging it by hand into a fair quality steel. It was sold as swords and knives in Damascus, the trade center of the world at that time, hence the name for our present day laminated steels. These men also made the hinges, locks and nails of the great temple in Jerusalem.

Pictographs in caves have given us some knowledge of size and style of knives in other cultures. The rise and fall of civilizations can be gauged by the styles and quality of the knives they produced. A country that did not produce good knives has never risen high in culture.

Major civilization have often grown and expanded in areas around the world where iron ore and the additives were found. Ancient Persia is a good example of a knife making culture that rose in cultured life. Some of the finest and most beautiful swords, daggers and working knives have hardly surpassed the knives made then, even with our modern tools.

Some other countries and areas around the world whose rise can be associated with the quality of the cutlery they produced are China, Japan, Spain, Italy, the Scandinavian Peninsula, later England, France and the United States. The United States is probably the greatest knife making producer the world has ever seen.

When we think of knives, we think of all that includes: Shear blades, scissors, razors, hoes, axes, saws of all kinds, even the plow and disc of the farmer. The simple cutting tool of yesteryear became the most important tool of civilization. Without it we would have had not food, shelter or transportation.

So let it be said loud and clear so that all those who are trying to do away with knives may understand. Where will they go when there are no more knives? Knives do not injure or kill. People do that.

A knife in ancient times had a twofold purpose: Domestic purpose and protection of man and family from beasts that roamed the world, four-legged and two-legged.

When greed came along a third use came with it, to wage war and harm a fellow man. The invention of gunpowder basically eliminated the third use.

In closing, let's say a few things about the modern knifemaker. His work has placed his knives on the list of great and beautiful knives. No other group of artistic workers has the love and care of one another as the knifemaker. His abilities to learn and then share his learning with his fellow workers is not known in many other groups. A helping hand is only a letter of a phone call away. What they have done and still do has sparked a revival or art appreciation that has no boundaries.

By Glenn Marshall

The following is an edited version of an acceptance speech given by Texas Knifemaker Glenn Marshall at his induction into the Texas Knifemakers hall of fame in 2002.

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