A penknife, or pen knife, is a British English term for a small folding knife. It was originally used to describe a knife used for cutting or sharpening a quill to make a dip pen nib. Originally, penknives were used for thinning and pointing quills to prepare them for use as writing instruments and, later, for repairing or re-pointing the quills. They did not necessarily have folding blades, but resembled a scalpel or wood knife by having a short, fixed blade at the end of a long handle.
Today the word penknife is the common British English term for both a pocketknife, which can have single or multiple blades, and for multi-tools, with additional tools incorporated into the design.
Over the last hundred years there has been a proliferation of multi-function knives with multifarious blades and gadgets, including; awls, reamers, scissors, nail files, corkscrews, tweezers, toothpicks, and so on. The tradition continues with the incorporation of modern devices such as ballpoint pens, LED torches, and USB flash drives.
The most famous example of a multi-function penknife is the Swiss Army knife, some versions of which number dozens of functions and are really more of a folding multi-tool, incorporating a blade or two, than a penknife with extras.
- A Society of Gentlemen in Scotland (1773). Volume 3. Oxford University: John Donaldson 195 The Strand. p. 524. Retrieved 18 December 2014.
upon your knee with the back of a penknife,
- Moore, Simon (1988). Penknives and Other Folding Knives. Osprey Publishing. pp. 25–26. ISBN 978-0-85263-966-5.
- Shackleford, Steve (5 January 2010). Blade's Guide to Knives & Their Values. Iola, Wisconsin: Krause Publications. pp. 219–222. ISBN 1-4402-1505-7.