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When I was growing up, June and Ward Cleaver of “Leave it to Beaver” fame were America’s model family, westerns, gangster movies, and WWII movies were the macho form of television entertainment, and every American male who considered himself a man carried a traditional pattern pocket knife. In fact, I remember the old men gathering together in the small park in the center of town to trade pocket knives on sunny Saturday mornings during the Spring and Summer months. But, most of all, I remember walking into a real hardware store or sporting goods store and seeing those glowing display cases full of Boker, Hen & Rooster, Queen Steel, Case, Buck, Gerber, Uncle Henry and Old Timer pocket knives which I could literally spend hours at time gazing at in total fascination as I absorbed every line of every knife and imprinted it on my memory. Unfortunately, the local, small town, hardware store has given way to giant Lowes Hardware warehouses and local sporting good stores have given way to stores like The Outdoor Provision Company and Bass Pro Shops. Alas, like those other icons of my childhood, so too do the days of the traditional pattern pocket knife seem to be numbered as they are slowly supplanted by more modern tactical folding knife designs that have been cleverly dubbed as “every day carry” knives to make them more politically palatable and, I suspect that this represents a profound shift in our society.
You see, unlike most people, I have lived all over the U.S. ranging from North Carolina, to Tennessee, to Texas, to Alaska, to Wyoming, to the Florida Keys and the one universal axiom that I have observed is that the more people you have concentrated in one location, the more competition there is for resources and status and thus, the more contentious people are. On the other hand, I have also noted that the harsher the environment is, the nicer people are to each other and the more willing to help each other they are. In fact, according to the 1960 U.S. Census, the total U.S. population was 197,323,175 but, according to the 2010 census, the population had increased to 308,745,538. Therefore, as our cities grow and more and more rural areas are developed in to sub-urban satellites, people seem to be becoming more fractious and, as evidence of this, I point to the plethora of unwarranted acts of domestic terrorism in recent years that have lead to distrust and a cry for increased security among many Americans. Consequently, I can’t help but wonder if this is what is either consciously or unconsciously driving our move away from traditional pocket knife patterns to modern tactical folders. After all, I strongly suspect that many people who are not trained in the use of a knife for self defense manage to convince themselves that they can more easily inflict a non-lethal wound with a knife than they can a handgun. Also, knives are lighter, less bulky, and more easily concealed than firearms and thus, they are far more convenient to carry. Plus, they are significantly cheaper to purchase!
However, regardless of the reason why the traditional pocket knife pattern is on the endangered species list here in America, the sad fact of the matter is that of the huge number of traditional pocket knife manufacturers has dwindled to just a few in the last fifty years or so and the numerous new manufacturers that enter the market each year seem to be focused on producing either tactical knives and combat knives for military, police, and security personnel, or modern, civilian, tactical folders which they tout as being every day carry knives. But, when I was growing up a man carried a traditional, slip joint, pocket knife as his every day carry knife and the particular pattern he chose often depended on the type work he did. For instance, executives, bankers, and clerks would often choose a Pen Knife or perhaps a small Muskrat or Trapper pattern whereas, a rancher would undoubtedly choose a Stockman’s knife. In fact, there are so many different types of traditional pocket knife designs that it tends to boggle one’s mind but, the fact of the matter is that many patterns were designed to perform specific tasks. For instance, Doctor’s Knives were often used as tongue suppressors, Electricians Knives were used strip wires and turn screws, Hawkbill Knives were used by orchard owners and gardeners, and Fruit Testers Knives and Cotton Samplers Knives were used by melon farmers and cotton farmers respectively while Pen Knives and Jack Knives were very popular among the general population. However, the Barlow knife was quite possibly the single most popular pattern of all. Of course with such a large demand for traditional pocket knife patterns, the law of supply and demand dictates that manufactures will arise to fill that demand and thus, at one time, there were so many companies in America (not to mention importers such as Boker and Hen & Rooster) that manufactured traditional pocket knife patterns that I simply don’t have room to list them all here. However, these days, I can count the number of quality traditional pocket knife manufacturers on one hand and don’t have high hopes of those surviving too many more years if they fail to follow the modern trend toward tactical folders. Now personally, I find this new, modern, attitude a bit strange because I have carried a Stockman, a Barlow, a Texas Toothpick, and a Trapper over the years and I found all of them to be far better suited for the day-to-day tasks I normally perform such as opening envelops, opening plastic packages and boxes, cutting out coupons, cutting string, ect., than my Benchmade Torrent, my Ontario Knife Company RAT Model 1A, or my Gerber Covert F.A.S.T. So, while I have to admit that there are some situations where a large folding knife with a locking mechanism is better suited to the job than my large Stockman’s knife, I find that I reach for my traditional pocket knife far more often than I do my folding knife when I have need of a knife in my day-to-day activities. Thus, I reserve my folding knife for self defense purposes.
But, as I mentioned, the law of supply and demand dictates that manufacturers will only produce the products that people are willing to spend their hard earned money on and the decline of the number of traditional pocket knife manufactures in America today combined with the increase in the number of tactical folding knife manufacturers indicates to me that the traditional pocket is an endangered species fast headed for extinction. So, get yours while you still can!