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~ The McKinley Tariff Act ~



And The F-S Fighting Knife

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The McKinley Tariff Act

~ Why Are Some F-S Knives & Scabbard Stamped ‘ENGLAND’...? ~

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A common mark found on F-S knives and their scabbards is the single word ‘ENGLAND’.  This is seen on both the grip side of the crossguard and also on the scabbard, usually on the top front of the frog but occasionally on the reverse.  The reason for this mark and what it tells us about the F-S Knife and scabbard is often misunderstood and on occasion confused with the ‘Sheffield England’ marking.  The origin of the mark stems back to the late nineteenth century, some fifty years before the introduction of the Fairbairn-Sykes Fighting Knife, and is applied to much more than just the F-S Fighting Knife.  Perhaps some historical perspective is needed before we look more specifically at what this means for today’s F-S collector.

~ The McKinley Tariff Act Of 1890 ~

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In the last decade of the 19th century, the Ohio Republican Senator William McKinley sponsored an act to increase the tariff on imported goods.  This act, which became law on October 1st, 1890, was a misguided attempt to protect US industry from its foreign competitors and the inexpensive products which were finding their way into the domestic market.  This new tax would become known as the McKinley Tariff and would apply an import duty to some products, occasionally as high as 49%!  Ultimately the whole concept proved flawed and became widely unpopular, resulting in the act lasting little more than four years.

William McKinley

So why is this of any interest to the F-S collector?  Although this import tax was short-lived, one small but enduring element was that those goods made outside of the US had to be prominently marked with their country of origin prior to their entry into the United States.  This requirement is still in use today.

~ The British F-S Knife Comes To America ~

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Shortly after the end of WWII, a substantial quantity of ‘surplus’ F-S Fighting Knives were disposed of by the British War Department.  It is thought that around 200,000 or more knives were bought by R. H. Vazquez Co, which later traded (from the same address) under the name of Pasadena Firearms Co. Over the coming years these surplus ‘British Commando Knives’ were advertised through magazines such as Popular Mechanics and sold via mail order for as little as $2.95.....!

Advertisement circa 1950.

November 1954 edition of Popular Mechanics Magazine

Note at the top right of this advertisement next to W.E. Fairbairn it says “ with inscribed photograph of Lt. Col. Fairbairn ”.  I would be very interested to hear from anyone who has one of these photographs?

It would seem reasonable to assume that those knives imported into the US just post-war were likely the bulk of those that were unissued and left in stores at the end of WWII.  It is also worth mentioning that overwhelmingly, those knives that have been observed with the import mark are late-war Third Pattern F-S Knives.  Many Ribbed & Beaded variants have also been observed and indeed it is this style of F-S that is featured in the above advertisement.

It is not unusual for other variations of F-S  to turn up with the import stamp, but predominantly it is the two styles previously mentioned.  Conspicuous by their absence are F-S knives etched by Wilkinson although a few examples have been noted marked ‘England’, including one example of a First Pattern. But for the most part Wilkinson-etched knives rarely turn up stamped ‘England’.  From this we can conclude that the vast majority of Wilkinson ‘etched’ knives had been long-issued by war’s end and only those knives from very late-war production remained ‘in-stores’.  This also sheds light on another point, in that due to the high quantity of Ribbed & Beaded F-S Knives with the England stamp we can conclude that this pattern is at least in part of late-war production.

Advertisement circa 1954.

Left and below; various advertisement for the F-S.

~ What Does This Mean For Todays F-S Collector? ~

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So now here we are, many decades after the fact and collecting the F-S Fighting Knife...so what, if anything, does having the import stamp on F-S knife mean for today’s collector?

Well actually there is quite a lot that we can glean from this mark or the lack thereof.  First, it’s worth noting that some collectors will not choose to have knives in their collection that are marked ‘England’.  The logic being that these knives were never issued and sat out the war in stores only to be sold as surplus after the war’s end.  I can certainly understand this train of thought and cannot find fault with their logic, although I personally do not subscribe to this mindset.  These knives, by having the England mark, clearly demonstrate that they were indeed of WWII production.  The fact that they were not issued means that many are in very fine condition, leaving us with many examples still in great shape and as we all know, ‘condition’ is often the primary consideration when collecting.  But for the collector who chooses the path of not collecting England-marked knives, this is a personal choice and one which I certainly don’t wish to criticize.  We all have different tastes and preferences and that makes for some very interesting and unique collections.

Above: The knife above is fine example of a Second Pattern F-S.  Note the crossguard shows the US importation mark of country of origin ‘England’.

Right: A late-war Third Pattern showing the US import mark of county of origin ‘England’. Note also the War Department Broad Arrow (lightly stamped) above the very seldom seen inspection mark of ‘4’.

From a novice collector’s perspective the England stamp is very helpful.  If a knife carries this marking we know for sure that it was originally in British military stores at war’s end (1945).  Although subsequently imported into the US as surplus and sold on the civilian market, it does NOT change the fact that this is a completely genuine war-time British production F-S Fighting Knife.  It is also worth pointing out that both the knife AND scabbard should be marked England as if one is missing this mark it may be a sign that they are not original to each other.  I personally see no problem with having England-marked knives in a collection and have owned many fine examples.  When all is said and done I feel the important factors are that the knife & scabbard are genuine.

The US import (country of origin) stamp of ‘ENGLAND’ if found on the F-S Knife should also be found on the scabbard too.  If not, it is a potential sign that the pair are ‘not’ original to one another.  The stamp is sometimes found on the back of the upper part of the frog but also on the front as in this case.  Sometimes this is very faintly stamped or even double-stamped.

~ Sheffield - WWII Or Not ...? ~

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It is an important reminder that what we have been discussing thus far is the mark ‘ENGLAND’ and not ‘Sheffield, England’ or ‘Made in Sheffield, England’ or ‘Made in England’. Although these markings are indeed country of origin marks, the vast majority of these marking were used ‘post-war’ (rare exceptions excluding). This is of course just one clue to the period of manufacture for an F-S Fighting Knife, so if any F-S Knife has the single word ‘Sheffield’ or the words ‘Sheffield England’ stamped on the crossguard, it is not normally of war-time production but was likely made from 1960’s onwards. There are rare exceptions to this rule: Firstly, Some variations of F-S that use the standard ‘sheath’ type (i.e. the R.A.F Fat Wooden Hilted F-S) do have a small stamp indicating Sheffield on the frog.  On examples of the Fat Wooden Hilt F-S has also been observed.  Also the rare J. Clark made knives can have the word ‘Sheffield’ as part of their makers stamp. A few war-time knives have also been noted not with the ‘England’ mark but a mark of ‘Made in England’ stamped around the pommel.

~ Poor Memory, Stories Or Just Plain Fantasy..! ~

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Just one final thought on this topic.  If you come across an F-S Knife marked ‘ENGLAND’ which is well-used, beat up and/or modified in any way, this was NOT done during WWII by some Commando who was fighting through Nazi-occupied Europe.  I have heard the story countless times.  I will be shown an England marked knife and the owner will say this came from their grandfather who “won it in a card game from a Commando in Britain just before he parachuted into France on D-Day”, etc, etc.  This just could not have happened as the knife was safely in stores until it was sold into the civilian US market.   Let me share a great example of this which came my way some years ago.


I was contacted by a gentleman who wanted to know more about his father’s ‘Commando Dagger’.  The F-S knife was indeed a lovely example of a Ribbed & Beaded variation complete with its original scabbard.  His father had been a doctor during WWII and some time ago passed it onto his son.  I explained that this was indeed an original and very nice example but must have been commercially purchased ‘after’ WWII and in the US.  Somewhat confused, he said he would contact his father to check the details.   Of course at this point I was a little nervous, as I had assumed his father was long gone by now and of course the gentleman was potentially going to challenge his father on whatever story he may have been told. As it turned out, I need not have worried.  His father, who had not talked much about the war, was happy to share with his son some additional details.  Apparently he had never even served overseas and had remained in the US serving as a doctor.  He bought the knife out of a magazine via one of the above advertisements as a memento of his service and after WWII.


The nice thing about this story is that father and son got to chat about a part of the past which they had not covered prior.  In this case, there was no intention by the father to tell a war story, the son had simply made some innocent assumptions.  This story illustrates that the ‘ENGLAND’ stamp can often provide us with valuable information but can also be confusing if not properly understood.

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The Wilkinson First Pattern F-SThe_Wilkinson_First_Pattern_Fairbairn-Sykes_Fighting_Knife.html
The Wilkinson Second Pattern F-SThe_Wilkinson_Second_Pattern_Fairbairn-Sykes_Fighting_Knife.html
The Wilkinson Third Pattern F-SThe_Wilkinson_Third_Pattern_Fairbairn-Sykes_Fighting_Knife.html
The McKinley Tariff Act