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Object of the Week

A Victorian knife cleaning machine, chosen by Paul, one of our volunteers.

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Knife Cleaning machine

Every week we will be highlighting an object from our collection. This week’s object has been chosen by Paul, one of our volunteers.

Victorian knife cleaning machine manufactured by George Kent

Before the invention of stainless steel just before the First World War, knives would blacken and blunt with use. Knife cleaning and sharpening was essential to keep these important kitchen utensils in shape.

What?

This machine, which is on display in the basement of the museum, was manufactured by the company started by George Kent. The company produced over 100,000 of these machines between 1844 when they were granted a patent, and the end of the 19th century. The George Kent machines came in 8 sizes, each of which would clean a carver and a different number of desert or table knives. This example has slots for 6 knives and would have cost £7 and 10 shillings equivalent to £640 today. According to the manufacturer, they were so simple to use that a child could operate them!

How did it work?

Inside the machine are two wooden disks with a mixture of bristles and leather strips that rubbed against the sides of the knives as the handle was turned. Emery powder was poured into the machine through a chute. This was rubbed into the surfaces of the knives to remove any stains and to polish the blades.  It is likely that the machine dates from around 1862 which means it is one of the ’improved’ model that also sharpened the knives.

Why do I like it?

What I find so interesting is that, with the advent of stainless steel, this is a technology that has almost entirely disappeared. There is another smaller, similar machine under the table in the museum’s scullery, but there were also a range of cheaper products available to ease the chore of knife cleaning such as knife boards.