June 15, 2010


A few years back my father gave me this Tuf-Nut pocket knife-on-a-chain that he carried as a kid.  Today while looking at the Barlow name on the bolster I was reminded of this:  "Mary gave him a bran-new 'Barlow' knife worth twelve and a half cents; and the convulsion of delight that swept his system shook him to his foundations.  True, the knife would not cut anything, but it was a 'sure-enough' Barlow, and there was inconceivable grandeur in that - though where the Western boys ever got the idea that such a weapon could possibly be counterfeited to its injury, is an imposing mystery and will always remain so, perhaps." - The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain

Now, I realize that the Barlow Company of modern times who produced (and later imported) personalized and promotional gift items such as keychains and pocketknives is not to be confused with Barlow as a description of the knife that dates back to 17th century England.  (George Washington was a fan of the Massachusetts-made Barlows of the late 18th century.)  But I can easily imagine that to my father, the appeal of the Tuf-Nut was no less than the allure of the a "sure-enough Barlow" in the time of Mark Twain.  This may not be a very realistic point of view in an age where metal detectors at schools have become the norm because of few deranged young lunatics in recent history for whom a life spent playing video games in the dark isn't enough life wasted, but I'd like to think that there's still something special about the idea that when a boy carries a pocketknife he carries with him possibility and potential and ingenuity.  He can hack through the brush, cut through the ropes, fashion a raft, make a whistle or just skin a stick on the porch.  I have two young sons.  One of them is going to get this Tuf-Nut someday. And someday he might even be able to put it in his pocket.


  1. I'm not sure I'm okay with EITHER of our sons having this little gem... not because of the knife either.

  2. A few years back the wonderful out door writer Gene Hill wrote a piece about knives. He remarked when he was in school not only did boys carry a pocket knife, most teachers counted in it!But then again boys today don't need one I guess. Hell even their over caloried snacks are "easy open". A great post about your legacy knife. I hope your boys build a raft or two with you.

  3. Thanks, James. As the owner of a sporting breed, I've grown pretty attached to Gene Hill's work over the years but I've not seen the piece you're referring to so I'll have to look it up. (Also, the snack comment cracked me up...)