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Short tour in history of Italian automatic stilettos

The first switchblades in Italy appeared in the late eighteenth - early nineteenth century. In those days, these knives were not in mass production and were not particularly popular. Each knife was sort of an exclusive model, produced in a single copy.

Construction of first automatic stilettos has little difference from modern models. Both has similar locks, fixing blade in the opened position, similar springs and push-button mechanisms for opening the blade. As well as more than 200 years ago, material, used for the handle are buffalo horn and stag horn. Some differences can be found in the fact, that, in modern automatic stilettos, switchblade mechanism is entirely concealed in the handle of the knife, the first flick-knives had no guards.

The biggest difference in the method of production - although modern automatic stilettos assembled by hand, however, components for assembly - the product of mass production, whereas earlier models of flick knives were unique, both in detail and as a whole. The photo below shows one of the first automatic Italian stilettos made in Maniago in Italy.

early made stiletto from Maniago

Since the information about the history and evolution of the Italian automatic stilettos is extremely patchy in nature, it is impossible to determine exactly where in Italy the first automatic knives were produced, but considering that historically the mass production of these products concentrated in several cities in Italy, we can assume that "homeland" of Italian stilettos are the cities and regions Maniago, Frosolone, Campobasso and Scarperia.

Development of flick-knife production was urged by German businessman Albert Marx, who visited Maniago in 1907. By that time Maniago already had developed manufacturing of various cutting tools. As the owner of several factories in Solingen in Germany, Albert Marx introduced in Maniago some new, improved methods of knife production. Innovations included the principle of the divided production of components for the assembly of the knives, which was the developed in Maniago in so-called "cottage industry", which still exists nowadays. With the assistance of the german businessman was founded the company, later called Coricama. This abbreviation means COltelerie Riunite di CAslino edi MAniago (Assembling knives in Caslino and Maniago). Caslino - is the name of the town near the Maniago. In Caslino lived Marx and there he founded a small factory. It was about that time, when switchblade knives in the form of stilettos began to appear in significant quantities, though certainly there were automatic knives made in a different style before.

Also from 1920 to 1923. there was a group of knife craftsmen In Maniago, who produced the classic automatic stilettos with a handle made of stag horn branded "PREMIATA SOCIETA-COOP MANIAGO", besides, similar products were producing by local firms "Sina & C" and "Colt. Riunnite".

In the 1930s started expanding of production of automatic stilettos, appeared some tools for standardized production of various parts of knives. All knives were hand-made with blades like Bayonet and Dagger, although bayonet prevailed. Those switchblade stilettos still were not wide-spreaded and had not been exported abroad.

In 1940, Italy entered the Second World War and the production of knives is minimized, since the production capacity were busy making the military products.

With the ending of the war in 1945, there begins process of returning American soldiers home from Europe in the United States. In particular, from Italy, many soldiers carried with them souvenirs - automatic Italian stilettos. This point can be considered a starting point for creating a market and promoting this kind of knives in the United States.

At the same time, in the American-English language entered word "Switchblade", meaning the flick knife. This word first appeared in the nineteenth century, as a variant of the phrase "knife switch" - (a knife to be switched literally). Most dictionaries including those devoted to slang, suggest that the word first appeared in 1946, but did not explain the etymology of the word and do not provide any information about the original from which it came.

In 1947-48s firm Latama entered and formed the market of Italian automatic stilettos in the United States. The process of expansion of exports of such knives in the United States from Italy begun. This process accompanied by improvements in production technology, such as stamping bolsters and guards, which helped to boost the production and to increase the volume of production.

Around the same time, the Italian entrepreneur Mauro Mario created a union of firms that produced more than a half of all automatic knives during the 1948-1958s. In its best years, his company produced 100 000 knives annually. Mauro Mario produced his knives under his own name as well as under the brands Mauro M., Rosco, Wandy, Joy, Whitby, GC Co (Guttmann Cutlery of New York) and many others. In second place, comparing volume of production, we can put a firm LATAMA. All products of those firms was mainly exported to the United States. Those were the days, which may be called the "golden age" of Italian automatic stilettos

Meanwhile, in USA, the following processes, associated with automatic stilettos, begun: growth of sales and popularity of these knives among young people and lovers of cold weapon; the growing number of Hollywood films, in which the "bad guys" always armed with flick knife. The Italian automatic stiletto gradually built up a reputation of a sinister attribute, which by its very existence provokes stabbing and killing, and which should be immediately banned. Read more about the history of the prohibition of such knives in this article.

The result of all this fuss, provoked by cinema, media and performances of various politicians, was ban on sale of automatic knives in the state and city of New York in 1954. Considering the size and importance of the market in New York, a ban in 1954 was a signal of the end of the sales automatic stilettos in the USA, although in other states, they continued to be sold, particularly by mail.

And in 1958 the US Congress passed so-called Switchblade Knife Act of 1958 - a law that banned the sale of fully automatic knives in the United States. Interestingly, non automatic folding stilettos and knives with a fixed blade still remained legal for sale and possession in many states. However, these knives, deprived of the automatic opening function of the blade did not enjoy great popularity among the public.

The result of the loss of the USA market was a sharp decline in production of automatic stilettos in Italy.

In the period from the 1960s to the 1980s, the production of automatic stilettos was going through hard times, although the production of knives was not stopped. There was a firm Jndiana Cutlery, which managed to give flow of orders for the knife-makers in Maniago. Their products was designed mainly for sales in Europe. Nevertheless, production volumes were no longer the same as before.

In those days, firm "F.lli Beltrame F & c" did not stop the production of stilettos, since there was increased demand for their knives mainly in Germany and France in 1970s.

Starting in 1980s, and especially since the late 1990s to the present days, the United States shows renewed interest in the Italian auto stilettos. This happened due to literature and periodicals devoted to automatic knives, and especially due to the emergence of the Internet, which has given the opportunity of discussions for collectors on the subject. This process led to the fact that in Italy once again began to make stilettos for export to the United States. Of course, it is not the volume of sales that were in the 1950s. Now people buying these stilettos not for carrying, but to keep home in collection.

After all, despite the fact, that the federal US laws prohibit the sale, carrying and transportation of automatic knives, however, there are some exceptions for employees of law enforcement (law enforcement authorities), as well as the military, the National Guard and other government employees and authorized dealers, selling knives. In addition a number of US states have their own legislation to allow legally own automatic knives, and even carry them on person.

Nowadays, almost anyone can buy for collection italian automatic stiletto, ordering it in online stores in the US, Europe, or directly from the manufacturer of Maniago in Italy. Although there are nuances to the passage through customs of such items. In some countries the sellers sent automatic knives disassembled, piece by piece, as in most cases the import of components and spare parts for automatic knives is not prohibited.

At the moment, in Maniago in Italy still available automatic stilettos of following companies and craftsmen: F.lli Beltrame F&c (Frank Beltrame), SKM, AB Coltellerie (Armando Beltrame), Renzo Beltrame, AGA Campolin (Angelo Campolin), AKC (семь€ Campolin), Renzo Pascotto.

The article based on material from the book "Switchblades of Italy" by Tim Zinser, Dan Fuller and Neal Punchard, Wikipedia, as well as articles and forum discussions all around the web.
 

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