A Knife for WHAT ?!

When you walk into a kitchen supply store, sometimes the sheer variety of tools can make your head spin.  Each one designed for a particular food or purpose – a spoon to scoop out your avocado, a different one for your kiwi, a special knife to carve your pineapple and yet another one to hull your strawberries.  For me, the best (worst?) example was a peanut butter spoon I once saw in New York City!  Really, a spoon just for peanut butter.  Need I say more?

Swiss Army Knife as Icon, Schwyz, Switzerland

What I learned this past weekend in Schwyz is that this concept is not new.  With the 125 year anniversary of Victorinox, a special exhibit just began at the Forum of Swiss History in the town of Schwyz, about an hour away from Zürich by public transportation.  The Swiss Army Knife as an icon.  Not only can you trace the evolution of the famous red pocket knife with the immediately recognizable emblem, but you can also trace the history of the knife as a tool, even including some examples from the Roman era.  The collection on display is truly impressive.  When I asked the lady at the museum how many knives they had in total, her eyes grew large and she laughed, as if I had asked her how many people in the world have a Swiss Army Knife?!

Swiss Army Knife as Icon, Schwyz, SwitzerlandSwiss Army Knife as Icon, Schwyz, SwitzerlandSwiss Army Knife as Icon, Schwyz, SwitzerlandSwiss Army Knife as Icon, Schwyz, Switzerland

To each his own – and by that I mean his own knife: a knife for the architect, the mohel (to perform Jewish circumcisions), the flint-striker, the juggler, the kosher butcher, the hunter and the horseman – his knife the one with the hoof scraper, but of course.  A knife for every sized hand too – the smallest measuring just 2mm, and the largest having 314 blades, giving it a place in the 1992 Guinness Book of World Records. Overall, the exhibit spanned time periods, countries, professions and cultures too.

Swiss Army Knife as Icon, Schwyz, SwitzerlandSwiss Army Knife as Icon, Schwyz, Switzerland

Above left is the drude’s (or elves’) knife, dating back to 1867 from Germany.  These were placed in the doorway of a stable or in a baby’s crib to ward off evil drudes, the crosses and moons having protective magic effects.  The other 2 knives, above right, make quite a contrast together. First a pocket knife for today, with its glitzy exterior and USB key!  Next to it, an ostrich-feather trimmer from the 19th century.  What would women’s hats be without ostrich feathers, the ultimate fashion accessory.  Too delicate to pluck with any other knife, they had their own.

Swiss Army Knife as Icon, Schwyz, SwitzerlandSwiss Army Knife as Icon, Schwyz, SwitzerlandSwiss Army Knife as Icon, Schwyz, SwitzerlandVictorinox - 125 Years - Schwyz, Switzerland

It was a truly fascinating exhibit, and I highly recommend it.  Up next here on the blog – more on the town of Schwyz and what to do after this cultural lesson in cutlery.  Here’s a hint – grab your Swiss Army Knife and head to a nearby mountain for a hike and a picnic!  Stay tuned…

Special exhibit on the Swiss Army Knife – A Tool that’s Become an Icon
May 16 – October 18, 2009
Tuesday to Sunday, 10 am – 5 pm

Forum of Swiss History
Zeughausstrasse 5
6431 Schwyz

In celebration of the Jubilee, Victorinox has also organized a North American Road Tour, spreading the word from place to place: “125 Years, Your Companion for Life.” They were just in San Francisco, and are heading next for Vail, followed by Seattle, Chicago, Boston, Montreal and ending in NYC late August. Take a look at the website for more information:




15 Responses to “A Knife for WHAT ?!”

  1. Lani says:

    The first photograph of the display looks like it could go on and on. It looked like the exhibit would go on forever. It sounds like it could! Years of fine workmanship in producing a knife! I do have much more respect for knives now…..I do remember the Swiss Army knife you had with the little scissor. You must replace that some day…….

  2. Steve says:

    Very cool, and really interesting. Great pictures too. But helloooooo, putting a knife in the baby’s crib to ward off evil drudes? Sounds to me like the drudes are safer than the knives in the crib :).

  3. Lilliy says:

    Hello from Jeddah… great photography such amazing take? I love your blog its just want me go and buy cream filled cakes every time I see it? my weight is going to suffer..
    But the Swiss army knife? I never ever travel with out? the many many times I needed it? the one I carry I had for near 20 years now I bought it when I was a teenager at my second trip to Switzerland.. My family went there ever sto Davos during the summer and then they turned to Lugano for years now my sister takes my nephews every year to just enjoy nature and hike mountains?
    You have a very sweet blog? glad to have wondered here from a referral from another travel blogger?

  4. Romy says:

    Great post, Kerrin! I adore my little Swiss army knife and have had many confiscated at airports because I forgot to take them off my keyring! The little scissors come in handy all the time, as does the pen. And what could be more Swiss than a picnic in the mountains using your army knife to cut up bread and apples? Looking forward to hearing about it!

  5. Kerrin says:

    Steve, you make an excellent point ! 😉 Not quite sure as to how the knife was placed in the crib – not exactly your soothing lullaby !

    Hello to you in Jeddah, Lilliy! Thanks so much. I’m so glad you found MyKugelhopf – and that reading brings back great memories. I’m with you – I never travel without my Swiss army knife either, and I love that we can remember exactly when and where we bought them. Victorinox’s slogan really says it best: “your companion for life.” American Express’ slogan would work too – “never leave home without it!” 🙂

    Romy – those airport security officers must have quite a collection of Swiss army knives ! That could have been a funny exhibit in itself – Victorinox puts on display all of its confiscated knives from airports all over the world! Meanwhile, I too, sadly, have contributed to that collection!

  6. jkiel says:

    My FAVORITE thumb drive is my Swiss Army Knife USB one, although it doesn’t hold much (this is one of the first they came out with)… I would have bought more but they were still a bit… pricey at the time! It always wins for ‘coolest USB device’ though. Looks like the exhibit is great, thanks!

  7. jen laceda says:

    Swiss army knife USB? I guess Victorinox has to keep up with the times!

    Kerrin, some of those knives look really interesting. Of particular interest to me is the circumcision knife. I’ve always wondered how they look like. In the Philippine countryside / tribal villages, some boys would get circumsized at age 11 or 12–more like a rite of passage–by the village ‘doctor’. No anaesthesia. Imagine that? Great exhibition, by the way! wish I was there to see for myself!

  8. Sam says:

    Very interesting post… and a little scarey… Don’t think Ill be putting any knives in Charlie’s crib any time soon…. I totally remember you little Swiss Army knife for sure! xoxox

  9. zbjernak says:

    nice… indeed an amazing collections of knives there….
    is amazing there is even a need for that many diff knives in our daily life…

  10. Lilliy says:

    Just wanted say thanks for the email and the visit to my blog.. I have you on my blogroll to keep up with your new posts looking forward to them.

  11. Kerrin says:

    Jen, first thing’s first – aie !! That’s quite a rite of passage for 12 year old boys. To answer your question, no, I can not imagine that!! And I won’t be sharing this bit of info with Olivier. He got the chills just reading the caption at the museum!

    Now as for a mohel’s knife, there are many traditions as to what it should look like. I just had a discussion with an Orthodox Jew, who explained to me the traditional knife for Ashkenazi Jews. He said, “picture a cricket bat in mini, mini, mini size. Only difference is, 1 side is not curved, both are flat.” A circumcision knife is also double-edged, meaning it’s razor sharp on both sides, and there’s a ridge in the middle, where the metal is thicker. It’s round on top like a butter knife, with a handle on the bottom. Voila ! Hope that helps…

    And Sam, I’m glad to hear Charlie’s crib will stay knife-free !! 🙂

  12. Stéphanie says:

    Ca me rammène quelques années en arrière à … Thiers! tu te souviens?

  13. Kerrin says:

    Mais bien sûr Stéphanie, je m’en souviens !! C’était génial ce voyage que nous avons fait ensemble, à la capitale de la coutellerie en France !! Et d’ailleurs, dévine quels couverts Olivier et moi avons utilisé ce soir au diner ?! 😉 Et oui, le set que tu m’as offert ! Je pense toujours à toi… !

  14. Baron says:

    C’est formidable tout cela…wonderful post and tory…got scared from the circumcion knife…ouch!
    Superb, ma tres chere

  15. US Trip says:

    In the Swiss Army the “Swiss army knife” is not intended to be used as a weapon. It is just a practical multi-tool.

    The soldiers are equipped with bayonets as well which are a much more effective weapon than a army knife.

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