Multi-blade penknife

A fine multi-blade penknife for exhibition by George Wostenholm, £18,000 at Olympia Auctions’ sale of the David Hayden-Wright collection of antique knives.

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It is thought the Sheffield firm George Wostenholm & Son was founded by George Wolstenholme (1775-1833).

A cutler granted his freedom in 1799 and first listed in a Sheffield directory in 1816 as a penknife manufacturer at Rockingham Street, he apparently shortened his name to ‘Wostenholm’ so it would look better when stamped on a blade.

By the middle of the 19th century and the golden age of the cutlers’ craft in Sheffield, the firm had a workforce of 850 and a large US clientele. At the Great Exhibition in 1851 and then at the exhibitions in Paris (1855) and London (1862), Wostenholm & Son carried off medals for sheath knives of the type prized in the American frontier plus a collection of multi-blades. When George Wostenholm Jr died in 1876, aged 74, he left a fortune of nearly £250,000.

By the onset of the First World War, the firm was in commercial decline – it had shunned machine technology and its American trade was hit by the McKinley Tariff of 1890 that raised the duties on imports to an average of 49.5%. However, it was still making some very fine knives for exhibition, such as the multi-blade penknife (pictured on the front page) offered by Thomas Del Mar at Olympia Auctions in London on June 29.

Although measuring a standard 5in (12cm) across, it has over 100 folding blades and accessories, including saws, picks, spanner heads scissors, tweezers and corkscrews, some carrying the firm’s stamp George Wostenholm IXL. It is fitted at each side with highly figured mother-of-pearl scales each retained by four truly minute screws.

This was the knife that proved the most desirable of the 284 lots from the remarkable David Hayden-Wright (1936-2006) collection of antique knives. Estimated at £2500-3000, it sold to a private collector for £18,000 (plus 25% buyer’s premium).

Folding lock knife

A probably London-made exhibition folding lock knife from the third quarter of the 19th century, £13,000 at Olympia Auctions.

Hayden-Wright was born in Christchurch, Hampshire, and lived latterly in a small village in Worcestershire. A marksman in the Queen’s Royal Lancers Cavalry Regiment, he had a deep interest in antique weaponry and researched and collected antique knives for over 40 years. His timing was fortuitous.

As some of the most distinguished manufacturers in Sheffield closed, he was able to acquire stock, ledgers, and a number of early catalogues from firms such as Joseph Rodgers & Sons and Lockwood Brothers as well as George Wostenholm & Son, WH Fagan and John Petty & Sons.

The collecting ‘bible’ titled The Heritage of English Knives was posthumously published by his family in 2008. The collection was 99% sold (predominantly to private collectors) for a total of £387,381 on the second day of the Olympia sale of Fine Antique Arms, Armour & Militaria held on June 28-29.