Among pocket knives, the Laguiole knife is perhaps the most famous of all. The word Laguiole is the name of a village in the middle of the Aveyron region of France. The Laguiole, also known as a Aveyron, was originally a farmer’s hand tool.  Legend has it that when one of these knives is given to a friend, as a gift, it symbolizes a friendship which cannot be broken.
 [Bill, remember that, OK?]  There is also a legend that when a boy reached a certain age, he would be given a laguiole pocket knife which his father had made specially for him.  As such an important part of the lives of the farmers in Aveyron as an every day companion, the Laguiole knife carries cultural importance. The sound made by the blade when one closes signified at the end of a meal that the head of the family had finished dinner and that the table could be cleaned. A boy received the Laguiole knife as a rite of page and age and entrance into manhood, becoming a source of pride for any man. Even today, carving the traditional round bread with a circular cut of the knife has considerable ceremonial significance.

Some rituals also exist: The true Laguiole lover never will let the blade hit the spring when closing, making sure to close it gently, respecting the proverb “resort silencieux vivra vieux”, (silent spring will live longer). Indeed the clattering of the blade ruins the edge of the blade and can alter the spring over time. Another symbolism still alive is to give a penny in return for receiving a knife to prevent the knife from cutting friendship’s ties (couper l’amitié).

Dictionaries give the following definition for “LAGUIOLE”: “country town in Aveyron, 1248 inhabitants. Cutlery. Ski (Petit Larousse, 1998) It is this village that gave its name to the famous knife, because it was born there some 168 years ago.  The village has been an important market place for the farmers of the surrounding beautiful plateau of Aubrac. The area is situated in a rural region of the South of France at the junction of three different departments, the Aveyron, the Cantal, and the Lozère.

The origins of the knife do not claim any science, and many theories and legends have probably been told around fireplaces during the tough winters of this region. There is however enough material available today to retrace the history of this old knife, for instance two book written by D. Crozes, dedicated to the Laguiole knife. (De Corne et d’acier: l épopée du couteau de Laguiole”, 1990, an “Le Laguiole, une lame de légende” (1996, Ed. du Rouergue, Rodez.

Born in 1829, the Laguiole knife has derived inspiration from various sources. The ancestors of the Laguiole knife were called in the local dialect or “patois” a “Capuchadou”. Farmers in Aveyron used this course dagger to cut bread or wood in the middle of the 19th century. It was composed of a thin fixed blade and a short wooden handle. Another inspirations believed to have come from the Spanish “Navaja”. The farmers used to cross into the Pyrenees Mountains to go and work in Catatonia fro the summer with their long saws since fieldwork did not require more hands at home. They probably brought back this Spanish knife, with its ring-like safety locks and its Turkish style blade (called “yatagan”).

According to legend, it was the Aveyron born Jaques Calmels, son of an innkeeper from Laguiole village who invented the knife after an apprenticeship in cutlery production. The Laguiole knife was to replace the old “Capuchadou”. In fact, the newly invented tool proved to be really convenient for the farmers’ use because it was adapted to their needs and particular tastes. The people of the rural Aubrac Plateau have found many uses for this knife in daily life.

Calmel’s family had traditionally followed tradition of the village of Laguiole by making cheese, as well as by making knives. Up to a few years ago, his grandson, Pierre Calmels, was running the store. Connoisseurs recognize the names of Calmels, as well as others like Pages, Glandières, or Salettes,. Knives made by those well-known shops can reach very high prices in auction worldwide. 

Throughout its existence the Laguiole knife has had to adapt to its time and new demands. The first piece that was added to the traditional blade was the “poinçon”, the piercer that was used to make holes in the horse harnesses or to pierce the paunch of sheep suffering from colic, to remove stones from horse’s shoes, or to cut horses hair. The corkscrew became poplar after 1880 with the emigration of poor farmers from Aveyron who would leave home to try and make a better living in Paris (first selling coal and wood, then opening bars and restaurants, still to be found in Paris today).