Even if you've never heard its name until now, you've seen a Barlow knife before. Originally devised in 17th century England, the folder took off in the U.S. when the John Russell Manufacturing Company began producing them one hundred years later. Unlike more intricate pocket knives, the Barlow aimed for simplicity, utility and affordability — it was supposed to be the type of knife a working person could afford and find use for every day.
"It was sort of like the first everyday carry knife," says The James Brand's Ryan Coulter. He should know: the company has just released the Wayland, its modern interpretation of a Barlow.
The new knife follows the pattern's clearly defined characteristics — center-line symmetry that runs through the pivot, a rounded butt, a long, well-defined bolster — but makes some contemporary changes. While many (but not all) Barlow knives have a clip-point blade, for example, the Wayland has a sheepsfoot, a shape that doesn't have as much of a piercing point.
Then there are the material upgrades. The Wayland is available with rosewood, G10 or Micarta handle scales and a premium CPM-S35VN stainless steel blade. These materials didn't exist centuries ago, but serve to increase the Barlow's proposition of everyday utility. (They don't do much for affordability, though; the Wayland starts at $179.)
"If you showed [the Wayland] to President Lincoln or President Washington or Mark Twain, they'd be like, 'I recognize that!'" says Coulter, noting that the silhouette, size and form stay true to Barlows produced centuries ago and that the differences are minor. Tom Sawyer probably would've appreciated a modern-day "super steel" anyhow.