Fashion in the Age of Datini

Knives (Working)

Knives are very easy to study, since they commonly appear in merchants’ records and paintings of banquets, city life, and saints who were martyred with one. The iron parts also survive well. The Museum of London has a book on Knives and Scabbards (ISBN-13 9780851158051) with several hundred late medieval knives, Holtmann has a dissertation with 1300, Ottaway and Rogers, Craft, Industry, and Everyday Life, pp. 2751-2793 analyze 235 knives from York, and Karen Larsdatter has a page on Cutlery; there are a few knives in Davis, Excavations in Carlisle, Vol. 2 pp. 746-749, some more in the Allen collection, and information on scabbards in Leather and Leatherworking in Anglo-Scandinavian and Medieval York.

St. Bartholomew with a flaying knife, in a painting by the Maestro della Madonna della Misericordia in the Castelvecchio, Verona (late 14th century). The black grip studded with brass nails is extremely common in late 14th century Italy.
A knife held by a saint in St. Anastasia, Verona

Most knives in Italy in this period had a tang the same length, width, and shape as the handle (scale tang) with wooden, horn, or bone scales on both sides. Niko at Neues aus der Gothik has an excellent page on slightly earlier (and Germanic) fashions such as the ‘little plate technique’ of building a handle from many small discs of different materials.

Sets of knives in a single scabbard or etui were very popular for storage in the kitchen or the workshop. Datini carried them, and a few survive, such as British Museum 1855,1201.118 Cases for a knife and a poking tool (Fr. poinson) are hard to find in archaeology from in this period, although a student who died on the road to Paris in 1347 wore a big knive, a small knife, a pricker and a little fork in one scabbard at his belt (Baggage of a Student in 1347). Small knives worn in a pocket on the scabbard of a sword or big knife ("by-knives" in modern jargon) do not have appear to have been as popular as they became in the 15th and 16th century.