Nelson knife

In a former life, my Ma was an OT. She’s put her knowledge of disability living aids to good use, and this arrived in the post for Tom this morning:

I was interested to discover that this knife-fork is called a “Nelson Knife,” after the famous implement used by the admiral following the loss of his right arm in 1797. Nelson owned several knife-fork combinations — including a luxury gold-plated one — and they are on display at the National Maritime Museum alongside other Nelson “relics”. You can see a picture of one here.

Tom’s very useful Nelson knife resembles its original in name only: while the eighteenth-century device had a separate knife blade screwed onto to the prongs of the fork with a tiny screw, this modern incarnation combines both functions in one piece of metal. It is quite like a cheese-knife, actually, with more substantial prongs.

After looking at Nelson’s original knife-fork on the NMM website, I became quite interested in its design history. A quick search for nineteenth- and twentieth-century patents on similar devices threw up some interesting — if sadly predictable — results. I found flurries of patent applications for knife-fork combinations in the 1860s and the 1920s — that is, during and following the American Civil War, and the First World War. Both wars created many one-armed men, and obvious markets for the Nelson knife. Of course, there’s nothing startling about the discovery that wars make disabilities, to which people and their tools must adapt, but it has made me look at Tom’s humble implement in a new and rather sobering light.

Thanks for the Nelson knife, Ma!