The Barlow knife probably originates from a Sheffield knife maker named Barlow, over 300 years ago. Harold L. Peterson, author of 'American Knives' has traced the name back to 1779 in American records. Mark Twain refers to a Barlow knife in his 1876 novel 'The Adventures of Tom Sawyer'.
The knife was originally a large, single blade, low cost work knife. For added strength, the metal handle bolster was extended to approximately one third of the length of the handle. The bolster is the part of the handle which encases the blade pivot and is the point of greatest strain in a folding knife.
The John Russell Cutlery Company, located in Massachusetts, USA, manufactured Barlow pattern pocket knives between about 1875 and 1939. Bone handle Barlow knives were also manufactured in Sheffield, England between about 1879 and 1909 by Furness and Sons.
The Platts Company, of Colorado USA advertised both single blade and two blade Barlow knives in their 1921, Western States Cutlery and Manufacturing Co. catalogue. The 6211 pattern Barlow measured 3.25 inches closed, with iron handle liners and bolsters and smooth brown bone handle scales.
Over the years the design has evolved and Barlows now often have two blades. Manufacturers may stamp the bolster with their trade mark or leave a flat area suitable for personalised engraving. High-end Barlow knives are now made using exotic handle materials, with custom file worked back-springs.
Eye Witness Sheffield 2 Blade Barlow Knife Pearl Handle
Eye Witness Sheffield, Premier Barlow Knife, Ironwood Handle
Peterson, Harold L. (1958). American Knives. Gun Room Press, NJ.
Platts, Harvey. (1978). The Knife Makers Who Went West. Longs Peak Press, CO, USA
Goins, John E. (1982). Pocketknives - Markings of Manufacturers and Dealers. Knife World Publications, TN, USA