The Paolantonio brothers came to the United States from Italy prior to 1912. They already had experience at making knives when they came to this country from one of the most famous knife producing cities in the world, Frosolone, Itlay. The brothers, Frederick, Dominick and Anthony worked for the Empire Knife Company of Winsted, CT for a few years. The Brothers all left Empire and separately formed four separate knife companies between 1914 and 1926. Finally, in 1926 the brothers united to form Colonial Knife Company, located at 9 Calendar St. Providence, Rhode Island. The business thrived and they moved to 287 Oak St. and have been manufacturing knives there until 1999 when Colonial moved once more to 61 Dewey Ave, Warwick, Rhode Island.
Colonial Knife Company manufactured five basic models of switchblades in the 1940’s and 1950’s. They were one of only two U.S. Companies who were still manufacturing them on a large scale in 1958 when Congress banned interstate commerce and manufacturing for the purpose of interstate commerce, of the knives. How’s that for irony? The two companies in the nation who still manufactured switchblades on a large scale, could still legally make them, but could only sell them in the state where they were manufactured and both companies were located in Rhode Island!
Many of the antique American switchblades have acquired colorful nicknames over the years. Some of my favorites are the ones associated with the Colonial switchblade. In the following list of knives I have included the length closed, tang stamp and nicknames in parenthesis. The eight basic patterns of switchblade knives Colonial produced were as follows:
- 2 1/4” Snappy (fishtail)
- 2 1/4” snappy (bowtie)
- 3 3/8” Shur Snap (cigar)
- 4” Shur Snap (fishtail)
- 4” Shur Snap (bowtie)
- 4 1/8” Shur Snap (fatjack)
- 4 1/8” Shur Snap (stubby)
- 5” Shur Snap (Jumbo jack)
The names Shur Snap and Snappy were introduced in 1948. The 4 1/8” fatjack was made with two more tang stampings besides the Shur Snap mentioned above. Those stamps are “Pronto” and “Jiffy” and these knives must have been made in smaller numbers because they are harder to find than the Shur Snaps. With the addition of these two important variations there are a total of 10 knives that you’d have to collect to have a good representation of Colonials’ switchblade lineup.
The Jumbo Jack and Stubby knives all have large round buttons. The fatjack knives, including the Pronto and Jiffy, all have a smaller button with some being flat and some slightly rounded. The buttons on the rest of the Colonial Shur Snap knives help to tell us at what stage of production they were made; early, middle or late. I like to refer to these time differences as generations, and there are four total. Those knives with large brass buttons are the oldest. I call them first generation and they were made in the late 1940’s and early 50’s. A large button other than brass would be second generation for the early 1950s. Small rounded buttons are third generation and were made in the late 1950’s. For the record, the handles on these were NOT made of celluloid as many collectors think. I wanted to be sure so I did the fire test on several handles. Celluloid is extremely flammable and will ignite immediately upon contact with flame, while plastic will smoke. Also, the odors are very different. The Colonial Handles are some sort of plastic, not celluloid. Interesting, all of the Colonial switchblades have the brand name over “Colonial” over “PROV USA” stamped on the front tang, but on most of the fishtails, jacks and Snappys all that can be seen or the bottom stamp is “USA”. During the manufacturing process groves must be cut into the tang of the blade for locking purposes and most the time these grooves must be cut right through the “PROV”, usually obliterating it, though sometimes part of it is still visible.
Printed by permission of Mark Erickson, author of “Antique American Switchblade, Identification Value”
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