A very gratifying element of my job at Magnum is the response I get from readers. Over the decades, I have doubtless learned more from our readers than they have from me. And often, their response is not only to add to something I have written, but stems from simple generosity of spirit – the kindred spirit that bonds people who enjoy and appreciate the same things. I have been astonished by the trouble and expense readers have gone to in parcelling up and sending me all manner of items – for no reason other than knowing I will derive pleasure from such things.
Chief among these items have been knives. Over the years, I’ve written numerous articles on knives, occasionally mentioning one which I fondly remember from my boyhood. Next thing, just such a knife arrives in the post, sent by a reader of my generation who has kept his since that era. He must have been fond of it to keep it all that time, yet he will readily make a gift of it to someone whom he knows will appreciate it.
I once wrote that, as kids, my generation did not have the wide selection of marvellous knives available today, and we yearned for the medieval-looking daggers we saw in movies like Robin Hood and Ivanhoe. My older brother bought the American hunting and fishing magazines, which of course I devoured. A regular advert in these offered two German-made daggers, known as Black Forest knives. The monochrome illustrations showed both to have dagger-style blades and dual fighting quillons (handguards). The handle of one was in the form of a naked woman – full body and voluptuous – cast in metal. Apart from its exciting ‘shock value’ (this was the 1950s) it did not appeal, as its image was not that of a serious fighting dagger.
The other, however, had a compellingly ornate handle with a ball-&-claw pommel, much like the daggers worn by German military officers in full-dress uniform. The price was US $2.00, about thirteen shillings at the time, and very reasonable for a sheath-knife of that size and style, notwithstanding postage costs to SA.
I badly wanted that dagger, but it had to be ordered from America and paid for in dollars, with possible customs difficulties, all making it practically unattainable. Sixty years later, I wrote nostalgically in Magnum about it, and, lo and behold, one pitched up in the post – courtesy of Rudolph Deppe, who’d kept it yea these many years! The handle is cast of a non-ferrous metal alloy, too hard, heavy and shiny to be aluminium or pewter. It has an excellent carbon steel blade, 16cm long and 5mm thick at the spine, made by Carl Schlieper of Solingen, Germany. The slim sheath is of hard black leather with a metal-encased tip, and embossed “Black Forest”. Nostalgia is a wonderful thing, and I can still feel the romance and excitement this dagger inspired in me as a child.
I Googled Black Forest knives and found two old adverts, one from 1954 giving the regular price as $3.95 (then about £2 and 6 shillings) and another from 1955, priced at $1.95 provided you sent in the attached coupon. Google shows several photos: one or two of originals like mine, which is the Antique Korium, but then it seems the quality later slipped or copies appeared, having cheaper-looking handles and blades with plain, two-piece sheaths sans metal nose-cap. Some had black or gold coated handles.
Read the full article in the August 2019 issue of Magnum.