The Ultimate Swiss Army Knife: 1880 version

I’ve always loved Swiss Army knives. I inherited two small ones from my father, and for the longest time carried a SwissCard in my wallet which contained a number of useful tools for a traveler, as well as a Swiss Champ on my belt (at least until 2001, when carrying anything of this nature became more of a hassle than anything else.)

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Swiss Card

SwissChamp-Tools

Swiss Champ

But 12 years before the official Swiss Army Knife was born, a cutler named J.S. Holler from Solingen, Germany, produced a monstrous 100-function knife as an advertisement for their services.

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In ancient and medieval times, shop signs were developed when tradesmen devised recognizable icons to represent their trades when dealing with a largely illiterate public. This massive knife hung in the window of Holler’s store to advertise their craft in a powerfully visual way.

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Closeup of one end, showing the .22 caliber five-shot pinfire revolver. This is a knife you could bring to a gunfight.

The knife is currently owned by the Smithsonian Institution – from their website,

This knife wasn’t really meant to be carried. Knives like this were made exclusively for exhibition to highlight the cutlers’ art. They were so difficult to make they were only attempted by the most notable firms with the most talented artisans. They could be seen at various fairs and industrial expositions during the nineteenth century. This particular knife was made in Solingen, Germany about 1880 for J. S. Holler & Co.’s cutlery store in New York City. It was used it to display the fine craftsmanship available to their customers. At the time, German cutlery firms were attempting to establish themselves in the American market, which was dominated by the firms of Sheffield, England. The workmanship and complexity of this knife make it one of the finest examples of the cutlers’ art in America.

closeup

Closeup of the center, showing the panels of one side open – each of four panels contained an assortment of mini-tools, including scissors and a straightedge razor. The knife itself was about 10″ long, the straightedge just over 1 inch when closed.

With over 100 functions, this knife includes (not counting the mini-tools) a serrated blade, dagger blades, shears, scissors, an auger, a corkscrew, saws, a lancet, button hook, cigar cutter, pens and pencils, mirror, a straight razor. a tuning fork, and a butter knife, among many others.

Not to be outdone, Wenger produced what is now called:

The Only Complete Swiss Army Knife.

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As advertised by Hammacher Schlemmer, their price was $799.00 but is no longer available through their website. However, it is available through Amazon for a mere $1305.00

This is the largest Swiss Army knife in the world, holder of the Guinness World Record for “The Most Multifunctional Penknife,” with 87 precision-engineered tools (for the complete list of tools please see below) spanning 112 functions. Made by Wenger, crafters of genuine Swiss Army knives since 1893, it uses stainless steel for all parts and is hand-assembled by just two cutlery specialists in Delmont, Switzerland, ensuring that every knife meets exacting standards. It has seven blades, three types of pliers, three golf tools (club face cleaner, shoe spike wrench, and divot repair tool), 25 flat- and Phillips-head screwdrivers and bits, saws, wrenches, and more. It also has a bicycle chain rivet setter, signal whistle, 12/20-gauge shotgun choke tube tool, combination fish scaler, hook disgorger, and line guide tool, cigar-cutting scissors, laser pointer, tire-tread gauge, toothpick, tweezers, and key ring. 3 1/4″ L x 8 3/4″ W. (2 3/4 lbs.)

The knife contains:

  • 2.5-inch 60% serrated locking blade
  • Nail file
  • Nail cleaner
  • Corkscrew
  • Adjustable pliers with wire crimper and cutter
  • Removable screwdriver bit adapter
  • 2.5-inch blade for Official World Scout Knife
  • Spring-loaded, locking needle-nose pliers with wire cutter
  • Removable screwdiver bit holder
  • Phillips head screwdriver bit 0 Phillips head screwdriver bit 1
  • Phillips head screwdriver bit 2
  • Flat head screwdriver bit 0.5mm x 3.5mm
  • Flat head screwdriver bit 0.6mm x 4.0mm
  • Flat head screwdriver bit 1.0mm x 6.5mm
  • Magnetized recessed bit holder
  • Double-cut wood saw with ruler
  • Chain rivet setter
  • Removable 5mm
  • Allen wrench
  • Screwdriver for slotted and Phillips head screws
  • Removable tool for adjusting spokes
  • 10mm Hexagonal key for nuts
  • Removable 4mm curved allen wrench with Phillips head screwdriver
  • Patented locking screwdriver
  • Universal wrench
  • 2.4-inch springless scissors with serrated self-sharpening design
  • 1.65-inch clip point utility blade
  • Phillips head screwdriver
  • 2.5-inch clip-point blade
  • Club face cleaner
  • 2.4-inch round tip blade
  • Patented locking screwdriver
  • Cap lifter
  • Can opener
  • Shoe spike wrench
  • Divot repair tool
  • 4mm Allen wrench
  • 2.5-inch blade
  • Fine metal file with precision screwdriver
  • Double-cut wood saw with ruler
  • Cupped cigar cutter with double honed edges
  • 12/20-gauge choke tube tool
  • Watch case back opening tool
  • Snap shackle
  • Mineral crystal magnifier
  • Compass
  • Straight edge, ruler (in./cm)
  • Telescopic pointer
  • Fish scaler
  • Hook dis-gorger
  • Line guide
  • Shortix laboratory key
  • Micro tool holder
  • Micro tool adapter
  • Micro scraper, straight
  • Micro scraper,curved
  • Laser pointer with 300-foot range
  • Metal file
  • Metal saw
  • Flashlight
  • Micro tool holder
  • Phillips head screwdriver 1.5mm
  • Screwdriver 1.2mm
  • Screwdriver .8mm
  • Fine fork for watch spring bars
  • Reamer
  • Pin punch 1.2mm
  • Pin pinch .8mm
  • Round needle file
  • Removable tool holder with expandable receptacle
  • Removable tool holder
  • Special self-centering screwdriver for gunsights
  • Flat Phillips head screwdriver
  • Chisel-point reamer
  • Mineral crystal magnifier
  • Small ruler
  • Extension tool
  • Sping-loaded, locking flat nose needle-nose pliers
  • Removable screwdriver bit holder
  • Phillips head screwdriver bit 0
  • Phillips head screwdriver bit 1
  • Phillips head screwdriver bit 2
  • Flat head screwdriver bit 0.5mm x 3.5mm
  • Flat head screwdriver bit 0.6mm x 4.0mm
  • Flat head screwdriver bit 1.0mm x 6.5mm
  • Magnetized recessed bit holder
  • Tire tread gauge
  • Fiber optic tool holder
  • Can opener
  • Patented locking screwdriver
  • Cap lifter
  • Wire stripper
  • Reamer
  • Awl
  • Toothpick
  • Tweezers
  • Key ring

Even the above was most likely manufactured as an advertising device – I can’t imagine anyone actually trying to carry this thing around. But Victorinox and Wenger have made some very nice and useful tools over the years – before smartphones became popular with their GPS tracking devices, I used a Victorinox knife which contained an altimeter to track my hiking progress. The number of models that have been produced is beyond counting, but there are some versions that I’m still waiting for:

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The Jedi Special

Seuss

The Seuss Army Knife

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An early prototype

And of course, the Get Smart knife, courtesy of Gizmodo (click through for all the exciting features!)

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Of all the tools ever invented, the Swiss Army knife is probably one of the most-loved and most-used, but for sheer craftsmanship and ingenuity, the Holler specimen is probably the finest of its kind in the world.

Edit: A friend pointed out to me that a similarly complex knife had been manufactured in 1851, by the John Rogers firm of Sheffield, England.

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It is called the Norfolk Knife, and is on display at the Cutler’s Hall in Sheffield.

The Old Wolf has spoken.

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2 responses to “The Ultimate Swiss Army Knife: 1880 version

  1. I’m a big fan of Swiss Army knives, and I enjoyed your great photos. Victorinox knives have been around for over a century, but the name “Swiss Army Knife” originated in WWII. US Army troops found a Victorinox on virtually every German soldier they killed or captured during the War, and at war’s end soldiers bought huge quantities of the knives for souvenirs at Army PX stores. The German name for the knives “Schweizer Offiziermessers,” was too difficult to pronounce, so they just called them “Swiss Army Knives.” The name obviously stuck. The rest is history.

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