Been awhile since my last installment in this series One of my (many) new year's resolutions is to get the old/rare tools back on track, starting with this one:
In the late 1800’s the center of the knifemaking universe revolved around the industrial city of Sheffield England. Dozens of Sheffield firms large and small produced everything from pocket knives to kitchen utensils to military swords and bayonets, and many thousands of men earned their living in the cutlery factories. Almost lost in this din of knifemaking activity was a new British patent issued for one of the world’s first multitools, awarded to the John Watts company in November of 1896. (followed by a U.S.-issued patent in December 1897)
Just like modern day manufacturers, John Watts endeavored to increase sales of their new tool-knife by bringing out several different variations of it. In addition to the plier-jaw model sketched above, there was also a waiter’s tool with champagne wire-nipper jaws, a sportsman’s tool with cartridge extractor jaws, a gardener’s knife with pruning shears, and introduced sometime before WWI, this version made specifically for fishermen:
Expected to be used in wet conditions, the John Watts fishing tool was entirely nickel plated to resist corrosion (no stainless steel yet at the turn of the last century) and came outfitted with nickel silver scales and liners. Folding out of the frame of the tool were a whole array of useful implements, including a spear point knife blade, a combination saw/hook disgorger, scissors, a bottle opener, an awl, and a corkscrew.
Great attention to detail and top quality are evident everywhere on this tool, from the stagger-toothed saw blade that has teeth cut the same way as modern multitool saw teeth are cut….
….to the 100-year-old scissors that work even better
than many modern day scissors do.
There is even a 3-inch ruler stamped on the back, not unlike a good many multitools available on the market today.
The heart of John Robert Watts’ patent though was the spring loaded plier handle system, which is held in the closed position by sliding the small button (red circle below) into the bottle opener notch in the handle (blue circle) Depress the handle slightly and slide the pin back, and the pliers are once again ready for action. Also note that plier jaw itself has a sharp “tooth” in it for splitting lead shot for use as sinker weights.
Judging by how costly it must have been to produce, a John Watts fishing tool was probably not in the pocket of most turn of the last century anglers. But those lucky enough to have one in their vest while in the stream or on the lake must have certainly considered themselves to be well prepared.