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Gerry Kersey, Stanley Tools and The Year Knife

The Year Knife in the reception/ display room at Stanley Works, mid 1970's
The Year Knife in the reception/ display room at Stanley Works, mid 1970's. Gerry Kersey recalls being in the room when the photo was taken

By Gerry Kersey
BBC Radio Sheffield presenter

Gerry Kersey has been broadcasting on BBC Radio Sheffield since the 1960s. Listen to his programme every Monday night from 7-10pm on BBC Radio Sheffield, as he brings you great tunes from a bygone era. BBC iPlayer: Gerry Kersey

Before broadcasting on BBC Radio Sheffield, Gerry Kersey worked in advertising and from 1968-1977 he worked in the publicity department at Stanley Tools' Sheffield office.

During this time, Gerry became familiar with one of Stanley's most magnificent display objects - the Year Knife. The idea of the Year Knife was that a blade would be added each year to mark the years of the Christian calendar.

The Year Knife was made in 1822 by Joseph Rodgers & Sons and was designed to hold 2000 blades - one for every Christian year
The Year Knife holds 2000 blades - one for every Christian year

The knife was made with 1822 blades by Sheffield cutlers Joseph Rodgers & Sons Ltd, in 1822.

At a height of 80cm (32") high the Year Knife demonstrates the mastery of the Sheffield cutler - it is fitted with scissors, corkscrews, a nail file, a hacksaw and button hooks, alongside the crucible steel blades. Some of the more recent blades were engraved to commemorate special events such as the 1966 World Cup and the Queen's Silver Jubilee in 1977.

The knife is set to join 100,000 objects in the prestigious Hawley Collection of Tools in the summer. The collection is moving to a new, purpose-built gallery at Kelham Island Industrial Museum in Sheffield thanks to a grant of £595,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund meant that the former Wheatman & Smith Saw Works beside Kelham Island Museum could be renovated to give a permanent home for the prestigious collection.

After being on long-term display at Cutlers' Hall, the Year Knife has been restored by Sheffield metalworker Stan Shaw and Lathco Electroplaters Ltd.

The Year Knife at Stanley Tools

"The Year Knife arrived at Stanley Tools UK some time in the early 1970's," remembers Gerry. "It was unveiled in pride of place in Stanley's spacious reception area at the Rutland Road works in Sheffield.

"It was a splendid sight, with its crucifix form and a really splendid Perspex case so that the public couldn't touch it.

"I spoke to former colleagues at Stanley Tools to find out a little more about how Stanley first acquired it, and why. Apparently they bought it at auction in 1969 to prevent it from leaving Sheffield and heading to the States - ironic when you realise that Stanley was an American company!

"No-one could remember how much was paid for it but a figure of £3000 sticks in my mind… don't quote me though!

The famous Stanley Knife
The famous Stanley Knife. Stanley Tools once had an office in Sheffield

"The knife was in a poor state when Stanley Tools acquired it. Loose, damaged and rusty blades meant that it needed some real TLC - but it got just that with help from the original manufacturers, especially an older employee by the name of Mr Scales, and from David Galloway - an exhibition and design consultant - who restored the knife to its original glory.

"There was an immense sense of pride in this piece of Sheffield's history. David Galloway designed the Perspex case and its display stand with its own lighting system, and organised it so that it could be transported around the country, and indeed into Europe for display.

"Thereafter old Mr Scales used to come every now and again to dismantle and clean the Year Knife, add another blade or two to keep up with the passage of years, and then reassemble it."

The last blade was added to the Year Knife in 2000 to mark the Millennium. It was made by Sheffield metalworker Stan Shaw using silver donated by the Sheffield Assay Office and from the summer will be seen - along with the other 1999 blades on the knife and the rest of the Hawley Collection - at Kelham Island Industrial Museum from 17th March 2010.

"It is a real thrill to think that the Year Knife will once more be before the public gaze because, apart from being a beautiful artefact, it represents for me a very happy part of my working life," says Gerry.

A former Stanley executive, David Prosser, told Gerry his own recollections of the Year Knife: "David was given the responsibility of transporting the knife to an exhibition in Paris, and he remembers being stopped at Customs and had to explain that in his car he had a knife with almost 2000 blades! One wonders how he would have been received by Customs today!"

Gerry Kersey has been broadcasting since the 1960s
Gerry Kersey has been broadcasting on BBC Radio Sheffield since the 1960s. Before this, he worked in advertising

Gerry's career

Gerry Kersey left Stanley Tools in 1977 to work for National Holidays' publicity department, but he only stayed there for 18 months before taking up broadcasting full time. Gerry now has a programme on BBC Radio Sheffield every Monday from 7-10pm.

From the summer you will be able to see the Year Knife and the rest of the Hawley Collection of Tools in the new purpose-built Hawley Gallery at Kelham Island Industrial Museum in Sheffield. For more information on opening times and prices, visit the website.

Your memories

Do you remember seeing the Year Knife on display? What about other parts of the Hawley Collection? Tell us your memories and stories about the cutlery and metalwork trades in Sheffield.

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The BBC may edit your comments and not all emails will be published. Your comments may be published on any BBC media worldwide.

Ted Wade, Sheffield

I worked for Stanley Tools from 1961 until 1996 and was in charge of the laboratory at our Woodside Lane/Rutland Road works. I remember the Year Knife very well and it was always a source of comment by visitors to the works. The case that it was held in was a circular device which allowed the knife to lower into the base for transportation and, we were told, if anyone tried to gain unauthorised entry. How David Prosser managed to get the whole thing into his car is surprising since the case plus knife must have been very heavy and one would think that a van would be more likely to be the transport method. New blades were added each year and the one which I remember most was the one to celebrate the Queen's Silver Jubilee in 1977.

Ken Hawley used to be a regular visitor to the company offices and he was supplied with a large number of hand tools from the Stanley Museum which was in the Care of the Quality Control Manager, the late Peter Chamberlain. He also used to talk about tool design with a number of employees who worked in the company's Product Design Department - especially David Scott, Dick Gilbert and one of his relatives Barry Gostello. I am looking forward to seeing the Year Knife again now it is in its new location.

Tony Barfoot, Sheffield

I'm pretty sure I saw this on display in the Weston Park Museum on a school trip. That must have been in the early 1970s.

Paul Dyson, Sheffield

I thought the knife stayed in Weston Park Museum, I always made a bee line for it to the right as you walked in. It's a beautiful piece of craftsmanship and a credit to all cutlers past and present.

Christopher Hunter - Cottingham, East Yorkshire

Is this the same year knife i recall seeing at Frank Dodd's "Wee Cutlery Shop" at Howard St in Sheffield, which Mr Dodd's family ran for many years after his death? His daughter Alda was a family friend and managed the shop till she retired. I thought the Year Knife had been donated to a Sheffield Museum then when the business closed.

Gerry Kersey
29 Jul 09 |  TV & Radio


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