The Company’s Collection of Cutlery and Paintings

The Cutlery Collection

Cutlery, in Sheffield manufacturing terms, means ‘things that cut’. This includes, knives, scissors, shears, edge tools, etc. and the Company has a varied collection of knives, scissors and razors. Many of the knives have been given to the Company and survive from the 19th century, mainly because they are impressive with large blades and decorative handles. Typical of these are the ‘Bowie knives’.

Around 1914, Harry Brearley was a Sheffield metallurgist, endeavouring to produce a usable stainless steel for table knife blades. A framed group of knives, which shows his early experimental blades, was presented to the Company in 1936 by Harry Brearley.

In the 1990s, the Company received a collection of over 1,400 open razors, commonly called ‘cut-throat’ razors. These show a wide range of styles and materials, from the everyday razors to highly decorative items, which might have gilded blades and carved ivory handles.

The Paintings

The Company’s collection of paintings are mainly portraits of Masters Cutler and of men associated with Sheffield’s history. This is a portrait of Sir William Wood, by Dennis Fildes.

William was born in 1878, his mother came from the Bassett family (of Liquorice Allsorts fame). He began his career in a Sunderland marine engineering works. He was Master Cutler in 1924 and, at the outbreak of the Second World War, he was elected to serve again, from 1940-45.

His grandfather founded the Wardsend Steel Company in 1860 and William held a controlling interest, going on to become a director of Darwin’s Steel and Andrews Toledo Ltd. He was knighted in 1959 and died in 1963.

The Norfolk Knife

The Norfolk Knife, which is named for the Duke of Norfolk, has 74 different blades and implements. One man, William Bamforth, made most of the blades, while Charles Levesley carved the mother-of-pearl scales, depicting a deer hunt on side and a boar hunt on the other.

Acid-etched images on the blades include the Capitol, Washington; Arundel Castle; Chatsworth House and Windsor Castle. There are also a number of heads – including Queen Victoria, Prince Albert, the Duke of Wellington and Shakespeare.

The knife cost £900 to make – approximately £40,000 at today’s prices. It was displayed at exhibitions all over the world and some of the medals that it was awarded are around the base. These include Gold Medals from the Exhibitions in Paris (1878), New Orleans (1885), Newcastle (1887) and Melbourne (1888).

Brett Payne Candelabra

Stunning photo of candelabra designed by Sheffield silversmith, Brett Payne. The design is deceptively simple but the orientation can be altered. This is a photograph of ten pairs.

Domestic Knives

A variety of cooking knives – mainly carving and bread knives. Some have been sharpened so much that the blades are now very narrow. When stainless steel was introduced, people didn’t sharpen their knives and said they weren’t sharp anymore. So blades had serrations on the edge. The handles are cheap material, wood and early plastic. The yellow celluloid-type plastic tended to shrink and leave a gap next to the blade.

Stag Epergne

The ‘stag epergne’ is an ornamental silver centrepiece for the dinner table. It could hold flowers, sweets, candles, etc. It stands half a metre high and is modelled as an oak tree with clusters of acorns and leaves. It is inscribed “Presented to William Anthony Matthews Esq., Mayor and Master Cutler of Sheffield. By a few friends in testimony of Private worth and Public spirit 1853.”

Straight Razors

The boxed pair of straight razors has an interesting advert on the inside of the box. Boxed razors were often given as gifts and could be very elaborate. The grip is carved ivory.