History of the Nontron knife
The Nontron knife bears the name of the village of its birth. Its story is so long and filled with legends that it is difficult to date. However, experts agree on the fact that the Nontron knife is the oldest French knife. Guillaume de la Villeneuve was already referring to «Pierregord knives» in his «Nomenclature des crieries de Paris »at the beginning of the 13th Century. It is possible that this region of Southern France produced knives and other sharpened tolls before the Middle Ages.
All the raw materials were indeed gathered in site. The mineral iron (nontronite), long operated by Gallic people called Petrocorii (forges of Azat-in-Nontronnais, among others) and the numerous box trees. The blades were hardened near the village in the very cold pure waters of the Bandiat River. Strabon of Amasea, Greek geographer and historian who was a contemporary of Julius Caesar and a world traveler, described the Petrocorii as excellent iron workers.
In the 14th Century, the glossary of St-Palaye reported the writings of the poets that were paying tribute to these cutting Tools. At that time, the Parisian "Compagnons du devoir" (fine journeyman) used to visit Nontron during their trip around France. This is certainly this reputation for excellence in metal working that explains why the King of France Charles VII, also called "the Victorious" (crowned by Joan of Arc) would have ordered his sword to Nontron ironsmiths.
On October 13th 1653, Guillaume Legrand, master cutler in Saint Eustache (Paris) married Marie Belleterie and settled in Nontron, the village of his wife to manufacture Nontron knives. It is at that period that we can find the first writings concerning the turning ferrule.
According to the Inspector from the Manufactures and Industries of Bordeaux, there were 35 cutleries in the Perigord area in 1788. At that time, with 2800 inhabitants, the Nontron village counted only 8 knife makers working in 5 renowned cutleries.
Two families appeared in the Nontron history and will be present for more than one Century: the Bernards and the Petits. During the first World War, the cutlers that were working in the Bernard and Petit cutleries were dedicated to the manufacturing of the locked knives on request of the Ministry of War. 10 years after the end of the 1st World War, only the Coutellerie Petit survived.
It will become the Coutellerie Nontronnaise in 1928. Alphonse Chaperon, garage mechanic located in Nontron, bought it in 1931. Gérard, his son, was at the head of the firm between 1943 and 1986, date of the take over of the firm by the “SARL Bernard Faye”. Then Forge de Laguiole bought this firm in 1992. Since that date, the leitmotiv of Forge de Laguiole has been to preserve the know-how on its territory, according to the tradition, while looking forward to the future. On June the 21st 2000, the new workshop designed by Luc-Arsène Henry opened its doors. Since that date, several designers lent their talents to the reinterpretation of the oldest French knife.
20 cutlermen are still working in the Coutellerie Nontronnaise that was awarded Living Heritage Company.
Woodburning: these patterns, whose origin and meanings are still unknown, are made from “flies”, a kind of reversed V surrounded by 3 points and rows of small points. Are they religious symbols? Is it a reference to the compass of the Compagnons du Devoir (fine journeymen)? These symbols appeared at the same time as the clog handle. Today, they decorate all the boxwood models.