This is one of my favorite articles, translated from the website of Anders Halldén at cultur.nu I hope you enjoy it!
“Iisakki Järvenpää ( Isaac Riverhead in English) began his career at Kauhava Puukkotehdas in 1899. (Puukkotehdas translated means knife factory). The factory was founded in1898 and made knives until 1939. Iisakki Järvenpää was employed as production manager, or perhaps better foreman.
This beautiful, pristine and pure luxury knife that you see in the first image is made to a very high standard. With one hundred percent certainty it can be assumed that Iisakki Järvenpää was involved in manufacturing, especially considering that he just started as head of production. The knife, which measures 25 cm, or about 10 inches in the sheath, is designed to be hung on the festival clothes, a jewelry knife or “staskniv” (finery knife) as our Norwegian friends would call it.
Iisakki Järvenpää. worked at the factory up til 1904 but who was this man who is one of the world’s most famous knife makers? Iisakki was born in Kauhava parish1859 and by the age of 20 had begun knife making. From the beginning, he used bark on the handle and after a few years 1881, he began to make his own blades. A year after that he and several others began to etch the blades with manufacturer’s name and place of manufacture, Kauhava, Finland.
On a knife from 1887, one can see that the model over twenty years has not changed much. Black and red sheath with pressed pattern, the knife was narrow and graceful model, red bark stems decorated with inlay and beautiful graceful and generous decorated brass fittings. A blade that is beautiful, free of the blood groove, something that began in 1905 which was a requirement for the U.S. market.
To return to the first photo, a horse head knife that was never used, the knife in absolute mint condition. Inside the sheath is only a few small scuff marks and it is 110 years old! Fittings in nickel silver, marquetry made of over a hundred small brass wires. To cap it all, the beautiful cast horse head, filed and engraved.
The Finnish knife ornament in the shape of such a horse’s head is worth a few lines. Credit for having designed the horse head goes to another famous knife maker from this time, Juho Kustaa Lammi. Juho was requested by a cavalry office to make a horsewhip crowned with a horse head. This was so good that Lammi began to mount those on their knives. The style spread, most knife makers and knife factories in the neighborhood “stole” the idea. Iisakki Järvenpää Oy still manufactures several models with horse heads. See http://www.iisakkijarvenpaa.fi/
Now look at the next photo and see what happened with the horse head. The oldest head which sits on the knife in the top photo has an identical style as an original on a knife from 1891, therefore I assume that this is from same casting model as the Juho did some time in the 1880s. As shown in the pictures of the three horse head knives a move toward a simplified form occurred.
The knife in the middle is also from Kauhava Puukkotehdas but made 30 years later, and you still see the good craftsmanship. Reduced in size, still engraved but now only on one side and the details have become fewer. The handle is now galalith (a synthetic plastic material manufactured by the interaction of casein and formaldehyde), later in the 1900s it was made from plastic.
The lower blade made by Iisakki Järvenpää OY, 50 years later, has regained the bark handle, but without any decoration. The horse head has lost almost all the detail which enabled a much easier casting without significant rework. We all know to work costs money and that production must be simplified for efficiency for the blades to be able to reach the market at an affordable price.
We who have a penchant for older knives appreciate a craft made with primitive tools and machines, with poor lighting, but with a high sense of form and decoration that resulted in world class knives. If you have comments or wish to comment on this article please email me, you can also visit my knife a site that contains pictures of hundreds of beautiful Finnish knives.” www.cultur.nu and email@example.com
Sources: Suuri Puukkokirja , Timo Hyytinen, Collectable Knives of Finland, Lester Ristinen, A Finnish Knife Legend by Pentti Turunen , Norwegian knife blade nr3 2002.
Update about Iisakki Järvenpää:
Iisakki Järvenpää Oy was purchased in June 2013 by three South Ostrobothnian entrepreneurs. The aim is to develop and maintain Finnish knife manufacturing and crafts. The company’s strength is the company ‘s brand and employees. The current staff will continue employment without interruption. Pekka Pollari, Jarkko Haukkala and Hannu Pennala are the new owners.
Here is a news article about the sale and new owners: