French Folding Knives, a.k.a., “Clasp Knives” in the Fur Trade

The French folding knife, a.k.a., “clasp knife” imported into the North American Fur Trade was one of the earliest known type of knife to be introduced to the New World – dating back to the 1600’s, possibly earlier. These blades have been recovered from French influenced sites throughout the territory of New France, which extended from Louisiana to Canada.

With the advent of the profitable North American fur trade, many French “coureur des bois” (independent French-Canadian traders) traded these knives with Native Americans in exchange for furs or simply as gifts, or “presents.” These folding knives are among the first types of knives imported into the French territory of the New World.

“Shooting the Rapids” by Frances Anne Hopkins, 1879, Quebec.

NOTE: The source for much of this material was an extremely large collection of writings, photographs, thoughts and documentation, from an unknown source. Clearly much of it was compiled by someone who spoke French. Much of the information I had to re-word, re-write, translate, or clarify. Whoever compiled much of this information clearly spent a long time doing so. And I hate to see it unavailable. So I’ve done my best to scan much of the documentation, OCR it to make it searchable. Some of it I’ve organized into this post, which will hopefully be ongoing in nature, as I find time to add to it.

Who used them? For what purpose?

Coureur des bois, Native Americans, Voyageurs (French Canadian fur trade transporters), New France inhabitants, soldiers, etc., all used French folding knives imported from the old country. They were a part of daily life, used both as tools and as tableware. Philippe Aubert de Gaspe in the “Anciens Canadiens,” published in 1863, stated that these knives were still being used in the first part of the 19th century Canada:

The habitants used, up until 50 years ago, their pocket knives during meals; the men, with “leaded” knives. A blacksmith would make the blade; the wooded handles would be decorated with pewter inlays, and because it wasn’t equipped with a spring, the user would have to constantly be holding down the blade with his thumb. The habitants would use these knives with great skill, but novices would often pinch their thumb in the process; some practice was necessary.

Coureur de bois

Frederic Remington spent quite a bit of time in Canada during his lifetime, and actually grew up in upstate New York, along the St. Lawrence River. He provided some good depictions of the inhabitants of New France.

A color copy of Frederic Remington’s “Portrait of a French Canadian Voyageur”

According to Sidney Breeze (1814: 197-198), French inhabitants in the Illinois Country did not have what we would consider to be “table knives.” Contrast that with what we common find in the English settlements of Virginia, where table knives may be one of the most commonly found items on colonial era sites.

An assortment of English table knives found at the site of Byrnside’s Fort, ranging in date from the French and Indian War era through the Civil War era.

Frontier life was one of constant danger. “Each man and woman carried a large, dagger-like clasp knife for protection, usually dangling on a little chain fastened to the ceinture or belt. This knife doubled for table use. Peter Kalm (1716-1779), a Finnish clergyman and botanist who traveled to North America in 1748-51, kept a journal as he travelled throughout the wilds of French North America:

“The most popular custom here (in New-France), as a guest or at home, consists of placing on the table, beside the plate, spoon and fork; everyone must however use their own knife. As soon as they are seated, each person takes out their knife from their pants or skirt pockets.”

Another interesting tidbit, which possibly explains why some versions of the clasp knife have a rounded and blunted point:

“Cardinal Richelieu, then Prime Minister of France under Louis XIII, was entertaining one evening when a nobleman used a sharp knife to pick his teeth after a meal. Disgusted, Richelieu ordered the tips of all knives in inventory to be ground down.”

The Type 6 style blade of French folding knives (to be discussed below) is most likely the result of this description:

Characteristics of the French clasp knife found in French 17th and 18th century North America.

Here’s an example of a typical 18th century French folding knife, or “clasp knife,” the blade of which was dug near Fort Michilimackinac, Michigan and stamped (IEAN B. TIVET). This particular blade was given a contemporary horn handle using another folding knife found at Fort Louisbourg.

 Most of these knives have similarities and common traits with each other. Charles A. Hulse (Department of Anthropology, University of Michigan) gives some of the basic characteristics:

[A]ll have a horizontal transverse flange at the top of the butt of the blade and a hole through the blade at the base end. All of these blades originally had impressed upon them thenames of their makers (see “Known markings” in the table below) but in most cases pitting from rust has obliterated the manufacturer’s name for most of them. Although various forms of iron butcher knives were present in the Early and Middle French colonial periods they are not particularly useful in dating these temporal segments because they have notbeen carefully studied. Moreover, the French clasp-knife blade characteristic of these two periods is at present a better indicator of these early times. Butcher knives of the Middle French colonial period can be recognized because they have French Names stamped on the blade.”

Carl P. Russell gives some documentary evidence to work off of:

One of the early documentary evidences of their use in America  is  found in the records of the French Fox War expenses for the years 1715 and 1716 – “horn handled clasp knives, 6 livres a dozen.” Setzler and Jennings write of one fromthe Cherokee site, Peachtree Mound and Village, near Murphy, North Carolina. In the small museum at Tadoussac (now the Canadian Museum of Civilization), Quebec, is a specimen of French lineage in “fresh” condition, and Maxwell reports numerous disintegrated specimens recovered at Fort Michilimackinac, most of which are “indigenous to the earliest  French  features” (early 1700’s).  The French clasp knife almost always has a one-piece horn.”.

The early 18th century French painting below shows a “hawk bill” type blade on a folding knife. In this painting, the knife belongs to a set of accoutrements to cut and prepare tobacco  (tabac en carotte). This painting, along with others, indicates that this “hawk bill” type of clasp knife was used as a common utensil in everyday French life.

Below is a sketch of a french clasp knife featured in Buliard’s “AVICEPTOLOGIE FRANCAISE”, 1795, (Paris, Cussac, An III de la republique).

Very few examples of original French folding knives with original one-piece horn or wooden handles have survived into modern times. For the most part, our examples which can be tied to specific sites have been subjected to the ravages of burial in the ground. Therefore, we must look  back at the knife making methods used during 17th and 18th century France. 

Knife Construction

The knife industry in 18th century France was based on somewhat of an assembly line of specialists, all working together to complete the product. There was apparently a huge demand in Europe for folding knives. They were all the rage in the late 17th century, leading to the development of mass production in French factories. There were blacksmiths, sharpeners, quenchers, polishers, sleeve pressers and assemblers, all involved in the process. The sharpeners and polishers were brought together near water-powered mills in order to take advantage of their power. The other trades were generally installed in separate workshops.

The manufacture of Saint-Etienne’s jambettes, whose handle is generally comprised of sheep horn, requires the Martinist, who beats the iron to stretch it, the blacksmith, the fileer, the piercer, the grinder, the polisher, the tackler, the gunner, the bone sawyer, the whitener, who dries the horn handles and whitens the bone, the horn straightener, the assembler, the installer, the sharpener, the wiper, and finally the folder. That last job seems a little easy.

The below picture folding knife was excavated from the French fortress of Louisbourg:

Based on shape, construction and time period, knives such as these would be designated in France by the name “Eustache“. Most of the one-pin French folding (clasp knives) were called “jambettes or flatins” (because the handle looked like a leg, or jambe in French). Note the J.J Perret sketch of the “Jambette” or “Eustache” knives made in the famous St. Etiennes factory in France, below:

The print below demonstrates the different steps of common knife making of Fougeroux deBondaroy. The figures from 1 to 6 shows us the different steps in the making of a clasp-knife blade (lame a lentille d’arret en “tete de clou“) by blacksmiths. The figures 16 and 17 display the closed and open position of this type of knife. (Fougeroux de Bondaroy, L’art du coutelier, L’art du coutelier en ouvrages communs, vol. XVIII, 1772 ; Geneve : Slatkins Reprints, 1984, p.2)).

Figures 16 through 19 below show how some have one, and some have two, “nails,” or as we call them in the U.S., pins:

From Bondaroy’s L’art du coutelier en ouvrages communs, 1772, showing various 18th century French knife patterns.

To the left, figure 26 shows a French folding knife with one pin / nail:

To the left below are examples of late 19th century French “Serpette” knives with Saint-Etienne traditional butt hinge stop. To the right are 18th century “Jambette clasp knives.

From the Bernard Givernaud Collection.

A folding knife called “Eustact,” made out of wood with etching (Musee Municipal de Chateller Musee de Cluny: C.L. 22.231:)

A folding knife on exhibit at Fortress Louisbourg. It was found under the garden pool in the yard of the laundry shed on the Chief Engineer’s property:

A folding knife of the “Eustache” type, found in a flea market in Aubin Village of the Aveyron region, France. From the Bernard Givernaud Collection, France.

Here is an extraordinary example of an intact French clasp knife in museum grade condition: 9 1/2″ when open. Notice the brass washer and iron pin construction. The handle is woodand is pierced at the base possibly for a leather cord or chain. (… usually dangling on a little chain fastened to the belt. This knife doubled for table use.)

The below pictured knife has a handle which houses a Siamese French clasp knife blade. It has beveled edges ; the width narrows towards the blade top end, where it is upturned. The blade and handle are fastened by a single rivet. This handle and blade were found at the Fletcher Site Cemeteryin Bay County, Michigan. This site dates from 1745-1765.

Types of blades found in French North America, circa 1680-1760

Despite considerable variation, each of these knives can be classified in one of 4 categories: Siamois, Jambette dit Flatin, Capucin and a la Dauphine.

Engraving from the “Encyclopedie de Diderot et d’Alembert” – The “Art” of making knives using files.

According to Timothy J. Kent’s book “Ft Pontchartrain at Detroit, Volumes I & II, the Siamese knives were in fact the clasp knives shaped like those found on Laguiole knives today with a sharply pointed blades. There are numerous references of these in the Montreal merchants records of the very late 17th and earlyto mid 18th. Apparently, there were 2 types of Siamese knives: one with a rounded tip and one witha pointed tip. The only rounded tip clasp knives were the ones with up-turned and rounded blade tipas found on many sites such as Ft. Michilimackinac and Fort St.Joseph. 

Trade knives dug around the Ft. Michilimackinac area. Note the two at bottom right, being the “up-turned” knives, also known as “bowl knives” commonly found in that area.

The one characteristic that links the rounded and pointed tip is the somewhat upturn of the back of the blade preceeding a slight downturn towards the tip.

Couteaux Siamois et Flatin (Siamese or Flatin Knives)

The 1758 ledger entries of the Montreal outfitters Moniere and Brouillard concerning the provision of trade goods and supplies for trader Jean Chapron, it provides for Siamese knives:

1 gross of medium-size Siamese knives, round tip, 1 gross
of medium-size Siamese knives, pointed tip.

These would in fact be labelled Siamese types. Timothy J. Kent finds mentions of these as early as 1697 and they seem to replace the flatin or jambette knives from the merchant records at that point.

Thus the flatin or jambette type clasp knife mentionned so frequently in the 17th century must then have had blades shaped like the bill of a hawk. Both Flatin and Siamese knives exhibit a flattened knob which extends from the hinge end of the blade.

This is an original French “Flatin” blade found in Michigan. The handle was restored using horn. Marked IACQVES GIRARD:

Couteau Siamois

Type 1

Mary Elizabeth Good goes on to mention that:

[T]his type is characterized by a cutting edge which curves upward toward the tip, and a back edge which slopes downward toward the tip for about two-thirds of its length. This can be further identified in modern terminology as a “long clip point”, the type frequently found on present day pocket knives.

Type 2

Jambette dit Flatin

Those with blades shaped somewhat like the bill of a hawk are called Jambette did Flatin.

Type 1

Type 2

Type 3

Type 4

Type 5

Characteristics:

Couteaux Capucin

As far as Capucin knives, Bondaroy describes their fabrication quite precisely :

The two-pin knife, which is also termed an a la capucine knife, is somewhat different from the one- pin sort. The blade is a little longer; and usually terminates, in a point. Otherwise, it is manufactured in the same manner; except for the butt of the blade.

As was explained earlier; the blade of the one-pin knife is held in a straight open position by a small knob or button on the butt of the tang, which rests against the handle. However; when this knife is folded, the knob protrudes, and sometimes hurts one’s hand or tears one’s pockets. Therefore, another model was designed, in order to eliminate the knob.

The top edge of the butt of the blade of the two-pin knife is notched, to form a type of tooth or extension [corner], which rests against the second pin to hold the blade open. This second pin is located slightly to the rear and a little higher than the one on which the blade pivots. The centre portion of the butt is rounded, so that it will not touch the second rivet while pivoting. The only difference between the two sorts of knives lies in the shape of the butt of the blade. In the case of a spring knife, the notch or extension stops against the head of the spring.

La Dauphine Knives

A la Dauphine knives are mentionned by Bondaroy and seem to differ from the Capucine, Eustache and Jambettes knife types.

Although knives are produced elsewhere in the Forez region, workshops in St. Etienne and in nearby Chambon manufacture annually 500 to 600,000 livres worth of jambettes, Eustache Dubois knives, dauphine knives, and a la capucine [folding] knives.

Knives with a dauphine, Montpelliel; or France-style blade, with one or two pins, with a moulded beech wood handle, 3 to 12 livres per gross

Knives with a Montpellier or dauphine-style blade, with a moulded handle of white sheep horn, 7 to 20 livres per gross

The only other type of knives found on French sites seem to be the ones that bear a knob which extends to the rear of the knife blade. Could they be the ones refered to as “a la Dauphine”?


This knob is actually a horizontal extension of the blade back. This knob could in essence serve the same purpose as does the raised knob on the Siamese or Flatin knives acting as a stop on the back of the handle. However, it is interesting to note that Bondaroy mentions that these could be manufactured with one (Flatin, Siamese) or two pins (Capuchin). Could it be that these types of blades could be mounted on both a one pin or two pin handle and are the ones refered to as “a la Dauphine”?

Folding knife blades found at Ft. Michilimackinac.

Maker’s Names and Markings on French Folding Knives

Since 1567, (Sentences des juges et consuls de la jurisdiction des marchands) all master knife makers in France are obliged to stamp a maker’s mark on their products. This mark, stamped on the blade, is the sign of quality on all of their products. It allows the “visitors”, chosen knife makers by their pars , to visit the workshops once a month, to identify the origin of the knives and for quality assurance purposes.

All deposited marks are hallmarked on a lead tablet that dates from the year 1591 until the French Revolution, which is conserved in a safe that is secured by five locks and entrusted to the keep of the oldest “Maitre-Coutelier” ; below is portion of the silver tablet for the years 1812-1857 for the town of Thiers, France.

The examination of these two tablets, which were handed down over hundreds of years, reveals thousands of various types of marks, including animals, organic matter, tools, numbers, alphabet letters, and so on:

It’s now believed that most markings found on French clasp knives traded into French North American sites are now recorded on the St. Etienne tablet in France.

Lead table with knife maker’s marks from Saint-Etienne (1737) (Musee de’ Saint-Etienne)
Close-up of the lead table with knife maker’s marks from Saint-Etienne (1737) (Musee de’ Saint-Etienne)

Almost all French clasp knife blades found on French sites are marked with a maker’s name or marks that are legible or partially so depending on the level of damage caused by oxidation. Some are too rusted and pitted to distinguish any markings. The maker’s name or mark always appears on one side of the blade (unlike trade axes), the side where the tip of the blade faces left. I have never seen any markings or maker’s name on the other side. This could be a knife making standard established in France at the time.

Fort Pontchartrain, a.k.a., Detroit, Michigan, circa 1701. Pleased with the strategic location and bank towering some thirty feet above the river, Cadillac landed and planted the flag of France in what is now Detroit, in the name of King Louis XIV. The erection of a fort began immediately. The stockade occupied about an acre of ground, made with 15 foot oak trees set three feet in the ground. Note that I’ve heard enclosing an acre of ground takes roughly 1,000 trees. Image from Detroit Historical Society.

In his book on fur trade life at Fort Pontchartrain, Timothy J. Kent provided great insight on the French clasp knives of the area:

In some instances, cutlers, names were recorded on cargo manifests, inventories of outfitters’ merchandise, and invoices of trade goods that were sent into the interior. For example, the 1733 cargo manifest of materiel which was shipped from the King’s warehouse at Rochefort, France to his store- houses in Canada listed 2,160 dog head knives from the shop of the cutler Perrin. (N.A.C., MG 1, C11A, Microfilm F-60,f. 109f.)

Products of this manufacturer were also listed among the merchandise of the Montreal outfitters Desauniers and De Brouage in May of 1741. Their stock included 636 small sheath knives with a horn grip made by Perrin, as well as 2,412 of these same knives in medium size by the cutlers Berte (Bertet) and Chapelon, plus 72 fine sheath knives by the cutler Bizaillon. In addition, the supply of Siamese folding knives which they had on hand included 48 large versions with a sharp-pointed blade from the shop of Bizaillon, plus 96 large examples with a handle of yellow boxwood from the cutler Jolivet. (Inventory of 9 au 23 Mai, 1741, Notary Boucault, A.N.Q.-M)

In 1742, an inventory of the merchandise belonging to a St. Lawrence-based trading firm also noted products by two of the above-named cutlers. The stock of horn- handled Siamese dog head knives of medium size which had been produced in the shop of Perrin included 144 examples with a pointed-tip blade and 738 others with a round-tip blade; in addition, Bizaillon’s work was represented by 102 fine sheath knives. (Kidd, untitled, p.128)

Products from the shop of the latter cutler were supplied on numerous occasions by the Montreal outfitter Moniere to interior traders. For instance, 72 of his sheath knives were sent to the Rainy Lake post in 1741,461 while 24 of these with a grip of yellow wood were provided to another trader the following year. (MMR, Bibliotheque Nationale du Quebec, Moonier, Brouillard, Blotter 1739-1751, p.456)

In 1758, Moniere included 24 Siamese folding knives by Bizaillon in another consignment of trade goods.

Ft Pontchartrain at Detroit, Volumes I & II – A Guide to the Daily Lives of Fur Trade and Military Personnel, Settlers, and Missionaries at French Posts, by Timothy J. Kent.
The fort was named “Pontchartrain du Detroit in honor of Count Jerome de Pontchartrain, Minister of Marine. The city name comes from the Detroit River. In French, “I’etroit du Lac Erie.” I think…..

The name PERRIN found on many of the Siamese blades refers to the family Perrin that were manufacturers of different metal implements and hardware in St.Etienne. In New-France, many records will mention PERRIN type knives referring to the maker and his particular style of knives. It is mentionned that a “couteaux Perrin” was a type of knife
where the handle was generally decorated with the head of a dog “tete de chien ; grands, petits ou moyens“. These were imported in vast quantities to New-France and kept in the King’s stores in Quebec city. : “37 grosses Couteaux flatins flamand Siamois et perrin a teste de chien” (National Archives of Canada of Canada from 1737). See Marcei Moussette, Des chateaux pour la traits des fourrures.

The Landing of Cadillac, 1701. He had a convey of 75 canoes. I’d love to know if this is an accurate representation of the canoes, because those are pretty bad-ass. But they look more Northwestern to me. But what do I know….

Understanding “Old French”

However, the names PALLE, TIVET, PERRIN are patronymes of blacksmiths, and more particularly makers and filers of door hinges that were found in the town of Saint-Etienne during the 17th and 18th century Their stamps are found on the 1737 lead table:

…LISTE ALPHABETIQUE DES PATRONYMES DE FORGEURS, FAISEURS, LIMEURS de FICHES recenses dans les registres paroissiaux de la Ville de Saint-Etienne aux XVIIe et XVIIle siecles dont LES MARQUES NE FIGURENT PAS A CE JOUR DANS LES RECHERCHES PARISIENNES MAIS DONT LES PRODUITS ONT SUREMENT CIRCULE SUR L’ENSEMBLE DU PAYS, dans les NATIONS ETRANGERES, voire dans les COLONIES FRANCAISES DU TEMPS.

BERAUDI BLANCHETON I BORY / BOYER / CANNONIER Claude (estampille relevee sur les croisees a petits carreaux du second etage de I’ancien hotel particulier des METAYER (puis ALLEON et DELAROA), 11, rue Jose Frappa, Saint-Etienne, avec le concours de I’Architecte des Batiments de France dans la Loire) I CHEVALIER I CIZERON / COIGNETI COLLARD / DUNIERY / ESPARRON I FREY I FILLIOU (FILLIOUT) / GIDROL / GONOD-GOUNON-GONON IJOHANNY / JACQUET / JURIE (JURY) / LARDERET I MARON / MASSON / MEONS / MERIEUX / MONTAGNON (MONTAIGNON) / MONTUCLARD I MOSNIERI PALLE / PERRIN I PEYRON / PIN / REYNARD / SAGE / SANNEJARD / TIVET (avec d’autres prenoms que ceux recense a Paris : Jean-Baptiste, pere de Jacques et Pierre) / VEYRON (avec d’autres prenoms que ceux rencontres a Paris : Laurent et Claude) / VILLARS”

(Les faiseurs de “fiches”(charnieres de fenetres) stephanois des
XVIIe et XVIIIe siecles, – Catalogue des poingons, par Claude Landes et Michel Bourlier). I think that’s the site. I honestly have no idea what it says…..
The location of Fort Pontchartrain was strategically situated to prevent the British from competing in the fur trade West of that point.

Many of these knives with maker’s name have symbols separating the names or placed between words. The diamond symbol a square a or a rectangle symbol was often placed between words (i.e. IEAN ♦ B TIVET). It is not uncommon to see certain words partially cut on the top line:

This was probably done to format the layout of the maker’s name (our modern version of justifying) and as well most likely for practical reasons when fabricating the stamp. Another interesting similarity amongst all blades is the fact that the maker’s name was stamped on one or two lines depending on the length of the name. Some would see this as a knife making standard in France at the time. There is usually the equivalent of number of letters on the top and bottom row of the maker’s name.

One thing that is quite interesting about the maker’s name is that most were written using “Old French,” which has many different variations in spelling. To put it simply, the concept that there was only one way to spell a word was one that was unknown to old French scribes or in this case knife makers. The existence of spelling variations in different regions — such as ‘mont‘ in Paris, ‘munt‘ in Normandy, for example is understandable. These are often the result of different pronunciations. Nevertheless, it is hard to accept the fact that even in texts written in a single regional dialect, by a single scribe, there are often different spellings of the same word, sometimes even within the same line! The reason for this is fairly simple: French had not yet standardized.

I’ll add that my brother Beau is a French professor at the University of Virginia, or training to be one – I’m not quite sure. He relates to me that the “French” spoken today is not quite the “French” spoken in the 18th Century. The language spoken in Paris was different than what was spoken in the rural areas. There were upwards of 43 different dialects around rural France – not to mention foreign colonies, such as New France in North America. He told me that it wasn’t until the 19th century that France started to centralize their language and education system. As such, reading and translating “Old French” can be quite complicated, as is discussed somewhat below.

Very important to remember that in old French the letter “V” can represent or be interpreted as a “U” or “V” (i.e. BVISSON = BUISSON or LEIEVNE = LEJEUNEand the same applies for the “I” which can be interpreted as a “J”, “r,”I” or “Y” (i.e. IEAN = JEAN). Another variance would be the “EZ” which would represent “E” (i.e. AYNEZ = AINE). As well, many times the letters would be missing either as a result of trying to condense many words on a small blade for practical reasons, or simply because of the fact that the French language was not standardized (i.e. FRANCOI = FRANCOIS).

The key to reading old French and deciphering words with variant spellings is to learn as many potential alternate spellings as possible. I have listed a few regular variations in spelling below:

The words “Layne” (L’aine = the elder), “Lefils” (le fils = the son or son of), “Per” (pere = the father), “Fil” (fils = son) was used on the markings due to the fact that knife making in France in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries was a trade that was passed down from generation to generation.

Master List of the sites where French folding knife blades have been found, and known dates of occupation:

  1. Fort Albany, Ontario: 1610-1686
  2. Ossossane Site, Midland, Ontario : 1624-1636
  3. Ste. Marie, Midland Ontario: 1639-1649
  4. Ile-aux-oies, Quebec : 1646-1759
  5. The Zimmerman site, La Salle County, Illinois : 1673 to
    1691
  6. Bell, Wisconsin: 1680-1730
  7. Fatherland Site, Mississippi: 1682-1729
  8. Womack, Texas: 1700-1730
  9. Lasanen Site, Michigan: 1710 -1760
  10. Gros Cap, Michigan: 1710-1763
  11. Quebec city, Canada : 1713-1752
  12. Fort Michilimackinac, Michigan: 1715-1760
  13. Guebert site, Randolph County, Illinois: 1719-1765
  14. The River L’Abbe Mission Site, Illinois: 1735-1752
  15. Fletcher Site Cemetery in Bay County, Michigan: 1745-1765
  16. The Gilbert Site, Texas: 1750-1775
  17. Fort Gaspereau, New Brunswick : 1751-1755
  18. Fort St.Joseph, Michigan: 1750-1775
  19. The Kaskaskia site, Illinois: 1750-1775
  20. Rock Island, Wisconsin: late 1600’s to mid 1700’s.
  21. Mackinac County, Michigan (Personal find): 1600’s to mid 1700’s.

Type 1 Knives

Origin: France, Dates: French clasp knives of this type were found at sites occupied or influenced by the French between 1673-1775 (see archaeological sites below)

Sites where they’ve been found:

  • Fort Michilimackinac, Michigan: 1715-1760,
  • Gilbert, Texas: 1750-1775,
  • Fort St.Joseph, Michigan: 1750-1775,
  • Kaskaskia, Illinois: 1750-1775,
  • Gros Cap, Michigan: 1710-1763,
  • Womack, Texas: 1700-1730,
  • Bell, Wisconsin: 1680-1730
  • Guebert site, Randolph County, Illinois: 1719-1765
  • Rock Island, Wisconsin: late 1600’s to mid 1700’s;
  • Fletcher Site Cemetery in Bay
  • County, Michigan: 1745-1765;
  • The Zimmerman site, La Salle County, Illinois : 1673 to 1691;
  • The River L’Abbe Mission, Site Illinois: 1735-1752;
  • Atherland Site, Mississippi: 1682-1729.

Characteristics:

  • Sharply pointed blades
  • Knob or flanged hinge element
  • This type of blade exhibited a flattened knob which extends from the hinge end of the blade. This knob served as a blade stop while the knife was in use
  • Specimens have a hole near the hinge end through which an iron rod was passed for the handle attachment.

Mary Elizabeth Good noted that:

[They are] characterized by a cutting edge which curves upward toward the tip, and a back edge which slopes downward toward the tip for about two-thirds of its length. This can be further identified in modern terminology as a “long clip point”, the type frequently found on present day pocket knives.

Markings on the blades:

PERRIN Family:

Antoin Perrin Leievne, Arms manufacturer bom in St Etienne December 11, 1741. Son of Pierre and Claudine Rebod. Marri Marguerite Gillier, dies on April 19, 1825 (*Jean Jacques Bi “QUI EST QUI ” de I’arme en France – de 1350 a 1970″, Ed Portail.)

ANTOINE PER/RIN LEIEVNE. Found at sites 12, 12, 20, 21.

ANTOINE PER/RIN LEIEVNE, Photo taken from St. Etienne’s 1737 Cutler’s Lead

ANTOINE PERRIN

ANTOINE PERRINE, Photo taken from St. Etienne’s 1737 Cutler’s Lead

LOUIS PERRIN

LOUIS PERRIN, Photo taken from St. Etienne’s 1737 Cutler’s Lead

PIERRE PER / RIN LEFILS. Found at sites 12, 18, 20, 21

The names PERRIN figures on a list of patronymes for blacksmiths, and more particularly, makers and filers of hinges that were found in the town of Saint-E during the 17th and 18th century. Father of Antoine Perrin Lejeune (see ANTOINE PER/RIN LEIEVNE).

I. PERRI / N. LAYNE. Found at sites 12 and 21

BARTHELEMY PERRIN. Found at sites 20, 21.

(See above regarding the Perrin family name)

HUGVES PERRIN. Found at site 20.

CLAVDE PERRIN (see George Irving Quimby)

Claude Perrin, arms manufacturer born in St Etienne in about of Gabriel arms manufacturer and Jeanne Faure. Marries Anto Thiolliere the 11th of february 1772. (*Jean Jacques Buigne, Le “QUI EST QUI ” de I’arme en Fr< 1350 a 1970″, Editions du Portail.)

CLAVDE PERRIN, Photo taken from St. Etienne’s 1737 Cutler’s Lead

IEAN 0 B / TIVET. Found at sites 12, 13, 18, 20, 21.

The names TIVET, like PERRIN, also is found on a list of patronymes for blacksmiths who were makers and filers of hinges that were found in the town of Saint-E during the 17th and 18th century. lean B Tivet, Jean Baptiste Tivet, arms manufacturer at St Etie about 1762. Son of Pierre, arms manufacturer and Francoise X Close relations to the “Famille Noir”. (See Jean Jacques Buigne EST QUI ” de I’arme en France – de 1350 a 1970″, Editions Portail.)

IEAN / ARCONE (Jean Arcane). Found at site 18.

IEAN / ARCONE (Jean Arcane), Photo taken from St. Etienne’s 1737 Cutler’s Lead

VITEL . M ARCONET

VITEL . M ARCONET, Photo taken from the 1737 tablet.

IVST O CHAPELON (Justin Chapelon). Found at sites 13, 18, 20, 21)

IVST O CHAPELON (Justin Chapelon)., Photo taken from St. Etienne’s 1737 Cutler’s Lead

BLAIZE CHAPELON

P. CHAPELON

IEAN PERRIOT (Jean Perriot)

See George Irving Quimby.

I. ROVET (see George Irving Quimby)

I Rovet, Jean Royet, gunner at St Etienne in 1735. Father of C Royet. (See Jean Jacques Buigne, Le “QUI EST QUI ” de farm France – de 1350 a 1970″, Editions du Portail.)

I. LOUIS ROVET

PIERRE THOMAS LEIEVNE. Found at site 12.

C. THOMAS

ANTOINE BENOIST. Found at site 16.

A. JOLIVET. Found at site 12.

LOUIS JOLIVET

FRANCOIS JOLIVET

CLAUDE JOLIVET

CLAUDI (see George Irving Quimby)

IEAN BARME (Jean Barme). Found at site 12.

HVGVE PALLE (Hugue Palle). Found at site 18.

The names PALLE figures on a list of patronymes for blacksmiths who were makers and filers of hinges that were found in the town of Saint-E during the 17th and 18 th century

ANTOINE PALLE . L

CLAVDE LOVTON. Found at site 12.

ANTOINE LOUTON

TERNE. PER ET FIL. Found at site 12

A. FELIS(-)IEVNE (site 18) (Probably A.FELIS or A.I LEIEVNE)

Felix, A ; St.Etienne; 1658 (His name as the marking)

CLAUDE 0 EVRANDE (AVDE / OEDE found at Ft. Joseph, Site 18)

A. PEREN LE JEUNE (site 12)

A. ELRAOL. LAYN (site 12)

IEAN / FERRIOL (Jean Ferriol) (site 18)

SB FERRIOL LEIEUNE (site 13,20)

PIERRE FERRIOL LAYNE

CLAUDE FERRIOL

ANDRE (A)VNON (site 18)

LORCE IAYNE (site 11,20)

AT.OM / ILOM (site 18)

FE EOM / SB IE (site 18)

ANTOINE / BENOIST (site 13)

IEAPEIS / ER RIS (site 18)

SB (site 20)

Other markings found on type 1 knives:

See Fort Michilimackinac, 1715-1781: An Archaeological Perspective on the Revolutionary Frontier, by Lyle M. Stone (I State University Museum, East Lansing, 1974.

Type 2 Knives

Origin: France

Date: French clasp knives of this type were found at sites occupied or influenced by the French between1680-1760 (Fort Michilirriackinac, 1715-1781: An Archaeological Perspective on the Revolutionary Frontier, by Lyle M. Stone)

Sites where they’ve been found:

  • Michilimackinac, Michigan : 1715-1760 (This type seems to be very specific to Fort Michilimackinac.)

Characteristics:

  • Convex blade shape
  • Both the back and edge taper to a point
  • Specimens have a hole near the hinge end through which an iron rod was passed for handle attachment
  • exhibits a flattened knob which extends from the hinge end of the blade
Knife blade found at Fort Michilimackinac. 12.5 cm.
Found in Prince Edward Ontario, Canada

Type 3 Knives

Origin: France

Dates: French clasp knives of this type were found at sites occupied or influenced by the French between 1624-1775

Sites where they’ve been found:

  • Ossossane Site, Midland, Ontario : 1624-1636
  • Ste. Marie, Midland Ontario:1639-1649
  • Ile-aux-oies, Quebec:1646-1759
  • Bell, Wisconsin:1680-1730
  • Fatherland Site,Mississippi:1682-1729
  • Womack, Texas:1700-1730
  • Gros Cap, Michigan: 1710-1763
  • Quebec city, Canada : 1713-1752
  • Fort Michilimackinac, MI 1715-1760
  • Guebert site, Randolph County, Illinois: 1719-1765
  • The River L’Abbe Mission, Site Illinois: 1735-1752
  • The Gilbert Site, Texas: 1750- 1775
  • Fort Gaspereau, New Brunswick : 1751- 1755
  • Fort St Joseph, Michigan: 1750-1775
  • The Kaskaskia site, Illinois: 1750-1775
  • Rock Island, Wisconsin: late 1600’s to mid 1700’s
  • Fort Albany, Ontario: 1610-1686
(Knife blade found near Fort Michilimackinac: KG collection)
(Knife blade found near Fort Michilimackinac: KG collection)

Characteristics:

  • blades shaped somewhat like the bill of a hawk and is characterized by blades with backs angled or cuved down at the tip end to meet a more or less straight cutting edige. The other section of back is somewhat parallel to the blade edge.
  • specimens have a hole near the hinge end through which an iron rod was passed for handle attachment exhibits a flattened knob which extends from the hinge end of the blade.

Markings on the blades:

Found at Site 2.

JEAN BIZAILLON, St. Etienne, circa 1695

Bizaillon, Jean : St. Etienne ; 1695

A Bizalion, master cutler, in St Etienne, Husband of Jeanne Boletus. Father of Pierre (1732), Jean-/ (1740) and Jerome (1742). (*Jean Jacques Buigne, Le “QI QUI ” de I’arme en France – de 1350 a 1970”

The “maison” Bizalion was a production house for “clincailler objects such as knives, locks, hinges etc) based out of Saint-El France and continued production up until the mid 19th century.

Catalogue de “clincaillerie” (page “platines”), maison Bizalion (miliei XlXeme s.) (Catalogue of hardware through the 19th century, I think.)

G.PERRINET (Found on site 2)

HVGUES PERRINET

PIERRE.FLATIN (site 20)

MATHIEV.SAMVEL.I

A.PIERRE.FLATIN (Found on site 3)

(Flower) (B)ENIE. VIALLETON ( Found on site 2 – found North Lake, Elmvale, Ontario, Canada)

B.BONGRAND (found in Prince Edward County, Ontario Canada)

C. FARIME or FARINE

B.R.G

MA

PIERRE.AN DRE BERTET or BERTE (site 20)

PIERRE.ANDRE.BERTER

CLAUDE BERTET

IEAN BERTET

(-)OIN JAVM (site 18)

Other markings and stamps found on type 3 knives:

Type 4 Knives

Origin: France

Dates: French clasp knives of this type were found at sites occupied or influenced by the French between1610-1775 (see archaeological sites below)

Sites where type 3 blades were found :

  • Ossossane Site, Midland, Ontario : 1624-1636
  • Ste. Marie, Midland Ontario: 1639-1649
  • ile-aux-oies, Quebec : 1646-1759
  • Bell, Wisconsin: 1680-1730
  • Fatherland Site, Mississippi: 1682-1729
  • Womack, Texas: 1700-1730
  • Lasanen Site, Michigan: 1710 -1760
  • Gros Cap, Michigan: 1710-1763
  • Quebec city, Canada :1713-1752
  • Fort Michilimackinac, Michigan: 1715-1760
  • Guebert site, Randolph County, Illinois: 1719-1765
  • The Gilbert Site, Texas: 1750-1775
  • Fort St.Joseph, Michigan: 1750-1775
  • The Kaskaskia site, Illinois: 1750-1775 Rock Island, Wisconsin: late 1600’s to mid 1700’s.
  • Fort Albany, Ontario: 1610-1686

Characteristics:

  • blades shaped like the bill of a hawk
  • the cutting edge and the back of the blade are straight and almost parallel. At the point, the back of the blade makes an abrupt turn to the cutting edge. This is a “slant” point, and the end of the blade is its widest part.
  • specimens have a hole near the hinge end through which an iron rod was passed for handle attachment.
  • exhibits a flattened knob which extends from the hinge end of the blade.

Names found on the blades:

FRANCOIS S – Site 21

CLAVDE GIRARD (Claude Girard) – Site 21

JEAN GIRARD

IEANIACO (Jean Jacob) – Sites 12, 21

JEAN JACO

PIERRE JACO

ANTOINE JACO

PIERRE JACO LE JEUNE

JACQUES JACOB

lean Iaco, Jean-Louis Jacob, arms manufacturer, born in St. Etienne in December of 1738. Son of Jean-Louis arms manufacturer and J Montuclard. On October the 12th, 1762, he married Antoinette Francois Chaleyer who is also a arms manufacturer. (See Jean Jacques Buigne, Le “QUI EST QUI ” de I’arme en Fr< 1350 a 1970″, Editions du Portail.)

HVGVES PALLE LE PLUS AYNEZ (site 11)

MATHIEVX PALLE LAYNE (site 21)

ANTOINE.DI DIER.LAYNE (site 11)

BLAIZE.BVISSON (site 11,21)

There was a Jean Busson; St.Etienne; 1658; unknown mark (Possibly one of the Buisson familly members?)

DENIS BVISSON (site 11)

CLAVDE DVRANTE (site 11,20)

SANTNOINE (found in Prince Edward County, Ontario)

JACQVE BRVN (Site 4,20)

__ O1(E) VN_  (site 12)

ANDRE.EORI

Al EVNE (site 12)

A(A) EL— (A) (site 12)

From Marcel MousseUe. “Des couteaux pour la Irzile des foumires”, REVUE D’HISTOIRE DE LA CULTURE MATERIEL REVIEW, Spring 2000 / Prinlemps 2000

To be continued……

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7 thoughts on “French Folding Knives, a.k.a., “Clasp Knives” in the Fur Trade

  1. Greatly enjoyed this post. I have loved the jambettes for several years and have struggled to locate information regarding tehm, Thank you for such a great informative article,

    • Believe it or not, that’s only about half done….. It’s still probably too big for one post as it is. I’m not sure if I’ll do a part 2, or add to this one.

  2. In the article you stated “Here’s an example of a typical 18th century French folding knife, or “clasp knife,” the blade of which was dug near Fort Michilimackinac, Michigan and stamped (IEAN B. TIVET). This particular blade was given a contemporary horn handle using another folding knife found at Fort Louisbourg.” Do you know what type of horns were used for the handle? Cow horns primarily are hollow and the tips portion with a core are not long enough for a handle or at least that has been my experience (yet to find one that could be used)?

    • Ok, I found this information: French knife makers would ordinarily use four types. Sheep horns for “Capucine” knives and folding knives. Ram horns for razors. Cow horns for pocket spring type knives, and antler for “serpent” handles and other various knives.

  3. Truly excellent and well researched publication. Thank you for all the effort you put into producing this

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