The team behind the world’s largest collection of historic table knives and kitchen knives is planning to launch the Sheffield Knife Project – and is looking for involvement from anyone in the housewares industry who has an interest in the history of knives.
The Hawley Collection, built up over 50 years by the late Ken Hawley, holds an estimated 100,000-plus items – nearly all of them Sheffield-made tools, cutlery and silverware. It’s housed alongside the Kelham Island industrial museum in the heart of the city, and although it’s impossible to display the entire collection, themed displays are on show and are changed at intervals. As an example, there are more than 1,000 bread knives alone.
The Hawley Collection volunteer Nick Duggan (pictured) said: “We have thousands of loose knives, and I started sorting them out. Lots have the maker’s name stamped or engraved on the blade – there are at least 800 companies – and we came up with the idea of trying to locate descendants of the family companies that made the knives, and people who worked for those companies and for those retailers who sold the products.
“The challenge for us as a museum is always how to get people to engage with us, and we want to get recollections and memories from visitors. We’re hoping that people will come up with things to add to the collection as well.”
The Ken Hawley Collection Trust is applying for lottery funding to cover the cost of a part-time co-ordinator for the project, with the aim of creating a series of six-week displays, starting with knife makers beginning with A.
“I liked the idea of a ‘knife wall’ – like a war memorial – but people would have to come here to see it,” said Nick. “So the next step would be to create an online knife wall as well. We are planning to photograph all the knives we have, and use the text from Geoffrey Tweedale’s directory of Sheffield knife makers to explain them.”
Initially, the project plans to cover table knives, kitchen knives and trade knives, but could expand to cover razors too. Subject to funding, it is planned to start next summer.
“We would like people to bring their ‘mystery knives’ along – we may be able to identify their makers, and their original purpose,” said Nick. “And we’re also hoping to recruit some new volunteers. We have about 25 currently, and we’re looking for another 10 or so.”
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The Hawley Collection volunteer Nick Duggan