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Knife (possibly France)

This is a knife. It is dated 1550–1600 and we acquired it in 1985. Its medium is steel, gilding, agate. It is a part of the Product Design and Decorative Arts department.

The design of cutlery is often governed by standards of dining etiquette and codes of social conduct. The slim blade of this knife is double sided with a single sharpened point, good for both cutting and piercing foods. It dates to a time when it was acceptable to use knives as a tool for picking and cleaning teeth, and to lift food to the mouth. With the rising popularity of forks in the seventeenth century, particularly in France, this behavior came to be seen as uncivilized as well as dangerous. New knives were wrought with a single cutting edge and unthreatening rounded tip.

The handle, inlaid with coral dots and once gilded, is decorated with a figural finial and architectural capitals in the classical manner. Elaborately carved handles were standard features of cutlery design until the mid-eighteenth century, when they began to flatten out to form a useful resting place for the thumb. A gilded crest at the bolster may have been the device the knife’s owner.

This object was donated by Eleanor L. Metzenberg. It is credited The Robert L. Metzenberg Collection, gift of Eleanor L. Metzenberg.

Our curators have highlighted 2 objects that are related to this one.

Its dimensions are

L x W: 18.1 x 1.2 cm (7 1/8 x 1/2 in.)

It has the following markings

On blade, cutler's mark: a cross

Cite this object as

Knife (possibly France); steel, gilding, agate; L x W: 18.1 x 1.2 cm (7 1/8 x 1/2 in.); The Robert L. Metzenberg Collection, gift of Eleanor L. Metzenberg; 1985-103-45

This object was previously on display as a part of the exhibition Feeding Desire: Design and the Tools of the Table, 1500-2005.

This image is in the public domain (free of copyright restrictions). You can copy, modify, and distribute this work without contacting the Smithsonian. For more information, visit the Smithsonian’s Terms of Use page.

If you would like to cite this object in a Wikipedia article please use the following template:

<ref name=CH>{{cite web |url= |title=Knife (possibly France) |author=Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum |accessdate=27 March 2023 |publisher=Smithsonian Institution}}</ref>