Stanley Knives - Faine 376

By: Jon Faine

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"Stanley knives...but did they come in red?"

Stanley knives. Impossible to get through even the simplest task without using one. I have eleven in various nooks and crannies around the shed. I even have one that is not bloodstained.

Endlessly useful, endlessly lost. And those annoying ones with the safety blade, that slides out of the way for when it is in your pocket? But that also means it is not as strong or accurate because it wobbles while you cut.

But apparently they have not always been grey. I once met a bloke at a swap meet who insists his uncle bought one new from the factory…in red. And my mate Tony, who has been around for years and years, says his Dad once had one come into the workshop for deburring of the centre screws threads, and it was as original as the day it left the assembly line. It still had the grease proof paper around the spare blades in the middle hollow bit.

But is the notion of an original factory red Stanley knife myth or true history? Is it just the product of fertile imaginings or an important and overlooked missing link in our automotive and garaginalia archaeology? Bunyips seem easier to spot.

According to the official Stanley Utility Knife Association Register there are thirteen official variations of the common form. Add to that the later FatMax and various derivatives and you rapidly get into the hundreds.

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The original 199 model, embellished and adorned, sits snug in the mechanics paw. The later high gloss 299 and 99E have a deserved reputation for high performance and reliability but without the same nostalgic tug to the aesthete and artisan in us all.

Association Register Secretary-Elect Matt Painter explained to me that there is new interest across the USA in the original blade holders. The elusive red handled knife is much debated at Stanley Swaps across the Pacific.

"There was a run through the ’50s where they were processing scrap from Pearl Harbor after the war… and there was at least a month when I am told they used red handles not just grey" said Painter in a Skype call last year. "But I myself have never seen them, just heard about ’em."

Now the Type 1109 was produced over decades, millions of them. The original factory moulds have long-since vanished. But before production was shifted offshore, there was a short run overlapping between the Type 1109 and the never quite as good 2109 that might have seen a red Stanley knife slip down the assembly line.

So, over Christmas I decided to solve the riddle. I visited the America On Wheels Car Museum in Allentown, Pennsylvania, just a few hours’ drive from Manhattan. The GPS took me there smoothly in my Hertz hire car, even alerting me to the fires burning in the streets where the homeless had torn down wooden fences to try to stay warm in the snow. Streets of boarded-up empty shops greeted me in the once thriving manufacturing centre.

Skeletal factory shells line the river, where Mack trucks and Stanley tools used to pour off the line for shipment to the world. The Stanley Tools factory is no more. I tried chatting to several locals, but my earnest inquiries into red versus grey handles for Stanley knives drew a consistent response. "No idea buddy" they all said, huddled around the fire, roasting road kill to ward off starvation, "but we understand the importance of your search. Ourselves, we was just now wondering if EJ Holdens had grey or red blocks straight out of the factory..."


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