One of the most popular styles of pocket knives among collectors is the sunfish. While often referred to as a rope knife, the sunfish pattern is actually an early nineteenth century American pattern that was favored by many carpenters in the southern parts of
. Most sunfish patterns have a very wide back and a
thick blade that is similar to a sailor’s rope knife. Most sailor’s knives or
rigging knifes had a “hawk bill” style of blade and quite often had a bail or
hole for a lanyard. The majority of sunfish patterns do not have a bail (metal
While sunfish patterns were produced in various lengths, they commonly had the same thickness and width. The sunfish is normally a straight handle design with two bolsters but there are some that have a swayback type of handle. The blades are fairly short and are usually less than three inches in length. The main unique characteristic of a sunfish is their handle and their blades are usually quite wide. Sunfish knives normally have two blades: a spear and a pen blade. There are some single blade patterns but these are not very common.
The sunfish pattern is based on a double-ended jack knife pattern and has many different names that have been associated with it over the years. It’s been called an elephant toenail, a vest pocket axe, an oyster shucker and most certainly was not what could be considered a “gentleman’s” knife. This pattern was most likely marketed with a wide variety of uses and this probably gave rise to the various names that are now associated with this style of pocket knife.
One characteristic of the sunfish that is not commonly mentioned is the strength of its backspring. Due to its wider width, the backspring of a sunfish is amazingly strong for its size and it takes a modest amount of effort to open the blade as a result. It also takes some very careful maneuvering on your part when closing the blade. It is a very strong design for a “working” knife that comes in a compact package.
Staying above the water line!