The barlow knife is about as traditional and simple as pocket knives get. Mark Twain spoke of the barlow knife in Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer. A barlow knife has a large, long bolster on one end, sometimes with a maker’s mark stamped in it. It typically has a single spear or clip blade but is sometimes accompanied by a pen blade. Sawcut, brown bone is the most common handle material on vintage barlows but fancy versions had stag, jigged bone or even pearl.
They are very much a part of Americana even though the knives themselves originated from the Barlow family in Sheffield, England. In the 17th and 18th century, many members of the Barlow family including Obadiah, John and Samuel made many simple pocket knives. They were inexpensive to produce, very utilitarian and were soon exported to the American colonies. Many of these knives are stamped with the name BARLOW on the blade or the tang. Eventually, United States knife manufactures began producing these knives in the late 1800s and early 1900s including Russell, John Primble, Cattaraugus, Remington, Case and many more.