The text below contains excerpts from the book La Cuchilleria Espanola, Colecciones del Museo de la Cuchilleria de Albacete. Images used with permission.
Cutlery and Don Quixote are two essential elements of the identity of the region of Castilla-La Mancha, which is one of the seventeen autonomous communities of Spain. The province is well-known for craftsmanship and industry, sectors which are highlighted by cutlery, mainly from Albacete, Toledo and also from Santa Cruz de Mudela in the province of Ciudad Real.
The cutlery trade has for centuries been characterized by items of incalculable and undoubted value, quality and beauty which are still made in the province today. The quality of Castilian-La Mancha cutlery has long been known outside of our borders. Today the cutlery products are marketed and distributed around the world, including in France and Germany, two countries where the cutlery has united us in bonds of fraternity. The artisans of the three countries share tradition and also combine that tradition with new technologies [Referring to Solingen and Thiers].
I know the businessmen of Castilla-La Mancha well. They are tenacious entrepreneurs whose success is due, in good part, to activity based on generations of experience and knowhow. They owe much to the tradition of a job well done, to the abilities of those who promote their work, to the knowledge of its workers and to the pride of being a knife-maker, skills often inherited from parents, grandparents and even further back. The industry in Albacete has much of what any enterprise needs to succeed: willingness to work, imagination to adapt to the times, readiness to transform and a desire to make progress.
The cutlery, emblem and feel of this land and hallmark of its people, has been a permanent source of inspiration for literature. [Quoting Spanish poetry] “On the temple of the zither and the razor rhymes have been framed as: Those who tempered it / in forges of oblivion, / say that from its brunido steel / two beats escaped.”] On the platforms of our stations today brake high-speed trains, but a while back, at dawn Albacete resounded with the sounds of the knife which was its own kind of poetry.
It is truly satisfying that you can enjoy cutlery which was celebrated by that extravagant hero of La Mancha, Don Quixote. His adventures have not only thrilled and delighted millions of readers, thousands of artists and intellectuals have also been inspired by it, since Don Quixote is a reference point for all men regardless of their origin and culture. To paraphrase that saying, we are all Don Quixote. In the land that I preside, we celebrate a book, Don Quixote de la Mancha, but we also commemorate a land, Castilla-La Mancha, which we invite you to visit and enjoy.
By José María Barreda Fontes President of Castilla-La Mancha (2004 - 2011)
The museum is the work of artisans through time and is part of the heritage of Castilla-La Mancha province and the city of Albacete. The Municipal Museum of Cutlery in Albacete was created to preserve and disseminate that heritage and revitalize the cutlery sector. The museum acts as a journey through time tracing our origins and discovering the craftsmanship that helped us make our mark. The Caja, the Castilla La Mancha Collection, the APRECU Collection, the Samuel Setian Collection and a host of donated pieces and materials by individuals make up the museum. Castilla-La Mancha has in the figure of Don Quixote its main ambassador in the world. The Museum of Cutlery is an essential part of the essence of Don Quixote.
“Albacete” is a word of Muslim origin. Etymologically "Al-Basit" means "the plain".
Albacete is re-conquered by Christians. The close-by castle of Chinchilla plays an important role.
Resurgence of the city of Albacete and the independence of Chinchilla.
Albacete becomes an important regional hub. The first documentary references of the existence of brotherhoods of carpenters, weavers, blacksmiths and swordsmen appear. The first mentioned cutler in documentation is Alonso Fernandez. Spanish landfall occurs in the Americas (Columbus, 1492).
Economic expansion continues. More cutlers and swordsmen appear in the official record. The Spanish empire in the Americas continues to expand.
Demand for folding knives, shorter knives and scissors surpasses that of swords as economic development takes shape in Spain.
This is the golden age of cutlery in Albacete as the industry develops and expands.
The railway connects Albacete with Spain and Europe allowing trade in cutlery to expand. The famous knife sellers at the Albacete railway station start plying their wares. The Industrial Revolution begins in Europe.
The folding knife is developed and its uses and applications expanded. Industrialization of knife production puts many small makers out of business. The Spanish Civil was takes place from 1936 to 1939.
In order to compete with cheap knife imports – including those that take the form of traditional Albacete knives – the industry must adapt and innovate.
The form and concept of a folding knife is universal and ancient. They have been found as far back as in the graves of Iberian tombs of the Second Iron Age as well as in Roman excavations of the last years of the Empire.
However, the Spanish folding knife as an instrument of widespread use among the population appears first at the end of the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, and arises from the need for a defensive weapon that is foldable and that facilitates concealment. Its shape and dimensions take a form that we are familiar with in the eighteenth century. This is also the time that its popularity grows; the second half of this century is considered “the golden age of the Spanish folding knife”.
Starting in the nineteenth century until the present day the Spanish cutlery industry has faced a number of crises. The challenges have included a temporary unavailability of steel, the competition from foreign cutlery and the existence of legal restrictions and prohibitions regarding the use and possession of knives. However, the craftsmanship, utility and beauty of Spanish knives has fostered the continued existence and success of these unique knives.
The knife is one of the oldest and most basic tools used by man for his survival. Sometimes as a weapon but always as a utensil for work and domestic use. Knifes and daggers have different utility. The dagger is a short pointed blade weapon designed to pierce. The blade is the differentiating element between the two instruments. The knife is asymmetrical, with a straight back, tip and a single edge. This allows a comfortable sliding of the blade in the cut and an easy application of force downward, because the dull spine offers a good support of the thumb or index finger. The blades of knives can be decorated with notches in the recess, longitudinal grooves, simple engravings or lining in the heel.
On the other hand, the blade of the dagger is symmetrical with a central axis from which two edges divide. We can find dagger blades decorated with burin or punch engravings, perforations or incrustations and brass tabs. In both - knife and dagger - the materials and ornamentation of the handle is often similar. The most common among antique Albacete knives are composed of a brass and a cylindrical intermediate piece, sometimes of wood, bone, antler, metal or other materials, with longitudinal ribs formed by various other materials often including bone and brass.
Since the beginning of the 20th Century, the form and function, as well as the materials used in making Albacete knives, has evolved. This has been driven by successive restrictive regulations, the evolution of aesthetic tastes, the application of certain industrial procedures, the use of new materials and diversification of uses for Albacete knives. Here are some of the forms that current Albacete knives take: