If you ask someone to describe a Swedish Mora knife, chances are the description will be of a belt-worn, fixed-blade knife with a red handle and a black sheath. This is a description of the 'classical' Mora knife used by fishermen, hunters, and generations of craftsmen all over the world. However, in the past century, Mora cutlers have produced a wide variety of utility, sporting, kitchen, and hunting knives besides the 'classical' model. Some of these vintage knives are quite rare and therefore not very well known. One reason is that Mora knives were tools or user knives, and as the blade wore out the knives were discarded or used for parts. Another reason for not being well known is the limited documentation available on various models that were produced during the past century. With the exception of an excellent article by Larsson (1992), there are surprisingly few articles about Mora knives. This shortcoming is acknowledged by Scandinavian knife collectors who call for cutlery historians to document the complete history of the Mora cutlers and their knives (Halldén, 2009). I have a more modest goal with the present article of providing an overview of the Mora knife history and illustrating knives that were popular during the 1920s to 1980s era. I hope this article will stimulate interest in the most famous Swedish knife of the century: The Mora knife.
Sweden is a Nordic country on the Scandinavian peninsula with Norway to the west, Finland to the east, and Denmark to the south. Besides hosting internationally renowned cutlers, Sweden has also produced famous actors like Greta Garbo; international music bands like ABBA; and tennis champions like Björn Borg. (Not to mention the Swedish bikini team!)
The story of the Mora knife began in the late 1800s in the small village of Östnor, Mora municipality, Dalarna county. According to Larsson (1992), there were many skilled cutlers in Östnor during this time. However, many of these cutlers were only making knives as a side business as their main production often consisted of casted brass products or sewing machines. One of the first well known cutlers was Finn-Anders Andersson (FA Andersson) who stopped making sewing machines and started full-time knife production in 1877. Although Finn-Anders was an early and well-known cutler, his work did not generate the concept of a Mora knife as we know it today. Rather, it was another cutler, Frost-Erik Ersson, that initiated a more than century long success in the production of Mora knives. In 1891, Frost-Erik arrived back on Swedish soil after 4 years of logging work in the United States. At this time, Frost-Erik established a company and produced a variety of products under the name Erik Frost. Initially, Erik Frost only made knives that were used by workers in the factory, but in a short time the Erik Frost factory became Erik Frost Knivfabrik AB (in English, 'Frost’s Knife factory') and the first company to engage in knife-making on an industrial scale.
Cooperation instead of competition
Although Frost-Erik had a crucial role in the production of Mora knives, he was followed by other cutlers that opened their own factories. Some of the more famous Mora cutlers include the Jönsson brothers (i.e., Erik, Anders, John, and Manne), Jöns Persson and sons, Krång-Johan Eriksson (K. J. Eriksson), Frost-Mats Mattsson (F. M. Mattsson), and Bud-Carl Andersson (C. Andersson) to name a few. Today, most of these knife factories are long gone. While Erik Jönsson still makes knives with his uncle Holger, the C. Andersson factory stopped making knives in the late 1950s followed by F. M. Mattsson in the early 1960s. In 2005, a new company called Mora of Sweden emerged from the classical cutlers K. J. Eriksson and Frost’s Knife factories. Today, Mora of Sweden is the only factory in the world that makes Mora knives. If your knife isn't made by Mora of Sweden in Mora, it's not a Mora knife!
Mora of Sweden's national and international markets today are governed by a business climate where competition, cutting edge development, user ergonomics, and cost effective operations are all vital ingredients. However, things were very different in the village of Östnor in the early 1900s. Back then, the Mora cutlers operated under an agreement that was more like a cooperative movement. Although everyone wanted to sell as may knives as possible, the cutlers all helped each other with knife components and even shared machines. All the cutlers used the same sheath manufacturer, a local shoemaker by the name Ström. At one time or another, many of these cutlers worked for Frost-Erik in his factory. During these early years, it was a common practice among cutlers to buy parts from Erik Frost and to assemble knives outside the factory. These knives were later sold using the cutler's own name, not Erik Frost's brand name. As Larsson (1992) explains; it was better to cooperate than to compete, there were plenty of customers for everyone!
Laminated steel is an old technique that was used for knives, axes, and scythes. This technique uses a core of high carbon steel, surrounded by layers of tough lower carbon steel like a sandwich. Originally, steel lamination was used to reduce the cost of expensive edge steel. Although Frost-Erik did not invent laminated steel, his production helped industrialize the laminated carbon steel blade. Using this technique, Frost-Erik created blades that became famous for holding a superior edge while at the same time being easy to sharpen. During the early years of production, all blades were hand-forged, leaving an unmistakable 'wavy' edge in the transition between the hard core and outer layers. Frost-Erik soon discovered ways to improve the production by using machines. According to Larsson (1992), the Erik Frost factory had 8 industrial forging hammers and more than 30 workers during the 1920s and 1930s. Not only was Frost-Erik able to produce the same quality of the early hand-forged blades using machines, he was also able to improve the production of standardized parts.
The early 'classical' Mora knife
The early Mora knives of the 'classical' style all had hand-forged blades, a lacquered curly birch handle, and a leather sheath. Over time, some of these early components were replaced by materials that were easier to acquire and that were more cost-effective. Due to Frost-Erik's innovations, the old hand-forged blades were soon replaced by machine-forged blades. The fine curly birch was a scarce commodity and was later replaced by regular birch, initially stained and lacquered, and in later years painted in various hues of red. As fine leather for sheath-making became harder to find, it was replaced by a vulcanized paper fiber, Unica, that looks very much like leather and shares some of the same characteristics. We know from Brask (2009) that the shoemaker Ström was experimenting with a Unica prototype sheath around 1910. During one of his first experiments, Ström used a piece of his son Carl's Unica box. We don't know if poor Carl ever got a new Unica box, but we do know that Ström was successful in his experimentation since he produced Unica sheaths for all Östnor cutlers until 1956. While some modern-day Mora sheaths and handles are made of synthetic polymers, 'plastic' sheaths have been available for Mora knives since the 1950s. Although more cost-effective to produce, 'plastic' sheaths never completely replaced the older Unica sheaths since these are still being produced today.
Two 'classical' Mora knives from the 1950s by C. Andersson (top) and F. M. Mattsson (bottom).
New production of the 'classical' model by Erik Jönsson. This knife was produced during the last decade.
Two 1970s Mora knives produced for the Swedish armed forces by K. J. Eriksson (top) and Frost (bottom). The K. J. Eriksson knife was specifically made for medics. The Frost knife came with a half-guard for finger protection.
Frost produced survival knives for the Swedish Air Force pilots from the 1960s to the late 1980s. The knife in the picture is from the late 1980s.
Böhlmark & Co. advertisements
While sales catalogs and advertisements from the early 1900 Mora cutlers are scarce, this article illustrates some advertisements Böhlmark & Co. used during the 1920s to 1950s. Böhlmark & Co. was the sole distributor for Erik Frost knives from the early 1900s to the 1960s. In this capacity, Böhlmark & Co. advertised and sold Frost Knives and parts to retailers, institutions, and qualified dealers. It seems that no stone was left unturned by Böhlmark & Co. I've even found an advertisement for Frost knives in the No. 50 issue of the 1929 'Swedish Teachers Journal'!
A 1920s advertisement from Böhlmark & Co. for Frost's No. 9-11 models. Böhlmark & Co. was the sole distributor of Erik Frost knives from circa 1910 until the 1960s.
Among the 1920s Böhlmark & Co. advertisements we find the Frost No. 5 'classical' Mora knife with yellow-brown lacquered birch handles and Unica sheaths. This 'classical' model with a single bottom bolster and patterned Unica sheath was very popular. The knife was sold with a sheath (sheath knife) and without a sheath (cutting knife) in ten different sizes, from 12.7 cm (No. 4) to 34 cm (No. 5). Examples of two similar but more upscale versions of the 'classical' No. 5 knife from the 1920s and 1930s are Frost's model No. 23 (23-28) and No. 33 (33-38). These models had, in addition to the bottom bolster, a nickel-plated top bolster with a rounded pommel. While the No. 23 had a plain lacquered birch handle, the No. 33 was sold with an exquisite curly birch handle. Both the No. 23 and the No. 33 models were sold in six different sizes; from 13.2 cm (No. 23 and 33) to 23.4 cm (No. 28 and 38). These 'classical' models were also popular in other Scandinavian countries. In 1938, we find Mora knives and sheaths advertised in the Norwegian company Bergan's catalog. The advertised models were 'classical' Mora knives similar to Frost's No. 5 and No. 33 models (Thoresen, 2010). Although the knives and sheaths have Bergan's own stamp, they were all made by K. J. Eriksson.
A 1920-30s advertisement for Frost's 'classical' Mora knives, models No. 23-28 and No. 33-38. The No. 23-25 knives had a lacquered birch handle and Unica sheaths and were sold in sizes from 13.2 cm (No. 23) to 23.4 cm (No. 28). The No. 33-38 knives had a curly birch handle, but were otherwise identical to the No. 23-28 models.
A 1920s advertisement for Frost's 'classical' No. 5 Mora knife. This early knife was produced in ten different sizes (with or without a sheath); from 12.7 cm (No. 4/0) to 34 cm (No. 5).
An even more upscale version of the No. 23 and the No. 33 models was the Frost No. 9 model as advertised by Böhlmark & Co. in the 1920s and 1930s. This knife was sold in three different sizes; from 16.8 cm (No. 9) to 21.2 cm (No. 11). While the No. 9 knife itself is reminiscent of the No. 33 knife, the No. 9 model had an exquisite Unica sheath with nickel-plated trim. According to Brask (2009), there is an even older version of the No. 9 model that was produced in the beginning of 1900. This version had a sheath of real leather and bolsters and trim made of solid nickel silver. This model also had an older straight-line stamp with 'E. FROST' over 'MORA' unlike the 1920s and later models with the circular 'ERIK FROST' over 'MORA' over 'SWEDEN' stamp. Although not labeled so by Frost or other Mora cutlers, the No. 9 model style is very popular among collectors and have acquired a fitting nickname; the 'luxury model'.
A 1930s advertisement for Frost's No. 9 - 11 sheath knives. This model was made in three different sizes; 16.8 cm (No. 9) to 21.2 cm (No. 11).
A 1950s Erik Frost model No. 11. This 22.1 cm knife has an an exquisite curly birch handle and a Unica sheath with nickel-plated trim. This popular model is called the 'luxury' knife by collectors.
Apart from the 'classical' models, the Mora cutlers introduced many other models in the 1930s and 1940s. Some of these models were explicitly advertised for hunters. In advertisements from the 1930s and 1940s, Böhlmark & Co. advertised the Frost Special No. 210 Hunting Dagger and the Frost Stainless Hunter Knife No. 1154. Both of these were larger knives with curly birch handles and had sheaths of leather with nickel-plated trim. We also find an interesting Böhlmark & Co. advertisement that was specifically geared towards cross-country skiers. In a 1938 yearbook of the Swedish Skiing and Outdoor Recreation organization ('På skidor: Skid- och friluftsfrämjandets årsbok / 1938'), we find Frost's patented skiing knife No. 1102 and No. 1114 (Swedish patent No. 84013, Norwegian patent No. 55835) that was specifically designed for scraping off ice and grip wax from the skis. Superbly crafted with stainless steel blade, curly birch handle, and a leather sheath with nickel-plated trim, this knife was a must for any serious cross-country skier!
An advertisement from the 1930-40s for Frost's Special No. 210 Hunting Dagger. This hunting knife had a blade of high-quality steel, a lacquered curly birch handle, a sheath of leather, and nickel-plated brass bolsters and sheath trims.
A 1940s advertisement for the Frost Stainless Hunter Knife No. 1154. The Hunter Knife was made with a new Frost stainless steel blade of a superior quality. The No. 1154 had a blood groove, lacquered curly birch handle, and a leather sheath with nickel-plated trims.
This 1940-50s Böhlmark & Co. advertisement for popular Frost knives encouraged sellers to “Meet the demand during the vacation period” and to “Sell Frost knives.”
Other popular hunting knives from the 1940s and 1950s was the Frost Moose Hunter Knife No. 127/237, sporting a high-carbon steel blade, moose antler handles, and a leather sheath that was partly covered with sealskin. This superbly crafted knife must have been every hunter's dream! Among the larger knives we also find 1940s and 1950s Böhlmark & Co. advertisements for Frost Bayonet Daggers, models No. 6150 and No. 6215. Both of these bayonet daggers had stainless steel blades, finger guards, and moose antler handles. Both knives were advertised as being perfect gifts for military personnel and hunters! In addition to these larger hunting knives, Böhlmark & Co. also advertised various smaller Frost knives specifically geared towards scouts, fishermen, and sailors.
Frost's Moose Hunter Knife No. 127/237 as shown here in a 1940-50s Böhlmark & Co. advertisement. This knife had a high-polished carbon steel blade with a superb edge and sharpness. The handle was made of real Moose antlers. The knife came with a sturdy leather sheath, covered at the bottom with real sealskin.
This 1940-50s advertisement shows two popular Frost Bayonet Daggers with stainless steel blades; No. 6150 (top) and No. 6215 (bottom). Both models have Moose antler handles, finger guards (double guards on No. 6150 and single guards on No. 6215), and chrome-plated top bolsters. The sheaths were made of frost-lacquered metal in assorted colors with double leather straps.
Frosts Knivfabrik AB. catalogs
In the 1960s when Frost’s Knife factory ended its business relation with Böhlmark & Co., we see several new catalogs aimed for international sales. One interesting catalog in English (also printed in German) is the 'Mora knives for Vikings' where 19 different models are advertised. Also included is a brief history of the town of Mora, and a historic view on how sharp-edged weapons relate to knives used by 'modernized Vikings'. In the catalog, we see hoof knives, 'classical' Mora knives, butcher knives, fishing knives, and fillet knives, as well as various hunting knives (including the No. 210 Hunting Dagger and the Frost Moose Hunter No. 127/237). Although some 'classical' Mora knives are advertised, the Frost models No. 23 (23-28), No. 33 (33-38), and the No. 9 (9-11) 'luxury model' are are no longer advertised. This catalog is clearly a smorgasbord of Frost models designed to entice a wide variety of international buyers. An added bonus in the catalog is a picture and a description of a Frost knife patterned after a knife designed by Anders Zorn (1860 - 1920), a world-famous Swedish artist who was born in the town of Mora. We are told this knife was given to King Gustav VI Adolf (1882 - 1973) as he was visiting Mora on one of his traditional Kingdom tours.
Domestically, we see larger two-color catalogs during the 1960s that illustrate the complete assortment of knives made by Frost’s Knife factory (Swedish and English text). One catalog groups over 100 knives into four categories: Hobby, tool, and craftsmen knives; Hunting, sporting, and fishing knives; Sport fishing, fish cleaning, filleting- and chopping knives; and Butcher, boning, and restaurant knives. Quite an assortment! In addition to the variety of butcher and restaurant knives, we find some of the familiar models of the 'classical' Mora knives as well as the scout and hunting knives. The 'classical' knife, we are told, is the most used all-round knife all over the world. 'This knife should be found in every home, hobby-room and tool-box!'
In the 1970s, we see larger full-color catalogs with text in both Swedish and English. Four knife categories are advertised: Craftsmen's knives, sporting knives, hunting knives, and fishing knives. Although many of the traditional knives in this catalog are the same ones as advertised in the 1960s, in this catalog all the 'classical' Mora knives have plastic sheaths instead of Unica sheaths. We also find a variety of new up-scale hunting and sporting knives, all having exquisite Rosewood or Jacaranda handles and fine leather sheaths. New items not found in previous catalogs are fishing knives with dishwasher proof polypropylene handles and two axe-knife combinations (No. 80 and No. 82).
A Frost’s knife factory catalog from the 1980s illustrating two fishing and sporting knives (top) and two filleting knives (bottom).
In a similar Frost’s Knife factory catalog from the 1980s, we find the same four knife categories and essentially the same assortment of knives as in the 1970s catalogs, although some items are new and there is a slightly larger inventory with 59 knives and 4 sharpening-steels. To broaden the international appeal, this catalog has text in Swedish, English, and French! Among the new knives we find an elegant series of hunting knives called the 'Lapplander.' This hunting knife was sold with blades in four sizes; from 75 mm (No. LL-75H) to 115 mm (No. LL-115). The handles were made of Jacaranda with polished brass mountings, and sheaths were made of sturdy natural leather. The perfect knife for the hunting connoisseur!
Mora of Sweden - a newcomer with a century of experience!
Today, Mora of Sweden has an impressive assortment of the 'classical' Mora knife as well as the craftman's knife, construction worker and electrician's knife, wood carving knife, and hoof knives in their production line (Mora of Sweden, 2001). Despite being a newcomer at only 5 years old, the company is founded on the accumulated cutlery experience from the K. J. Eriksson and the Frost Knife factories dating back to 1891. This has definite advantages in the design and production of modern knives. Take the Mora® Craftline knives as an example. Here we have a tool knife developed along state-of-the-art ergonomics and human factors guidelines. A high-friction handle grip that fits the hand like a glove; a specific color coding for each application (i.e., red-allround, blue-flex, orange-rope etc.); and the best quality stainless steel available - providing an ergonomic knife that is both efficient and safe to use. Form, color, function, the three important factors in any applied ergonomics project!
But everything isn't brand new and ergonomically tailored in Mora of Sweden's product line. Some things work just they way they are and have done so for a very long time. And for some reason human affection has very little to do with ergonomics and human factors, as is evident from our fondness of 'classical' things. Although the 'classical' knife is still produced by Mora of Sweden with a red handle and a black plastic sheath, a remake of the old 'classical' style with an unpainted handle and a Unica sheath is now available as the 'Mora®Knife Classic Original.' Not surprisingly, this model has become a collector's item and an exclusive souvenir besides being a strong and functional utility knife.
As we enter the 21st Century, we naturally wonder what the future will bring. For sure, Mora of Sweden will continue to provide world leading cutlery for craftsmen, the outdoors, the food industry, as well as the hobby enthusiast. And as a company it can look forward to celebrating its 5th anniversary. What should we expect to mark the 5 year anniversary, maybe it has something to do with curly birch, nickel silver, and leather? After all, this is the lock, stock, and barrel of their trade! I can clearly imagine the advertisement on their web page: 'Mora of Sweden announces their 5th anniversary model of Frost's vintage No. 9 luxury knife!' I can hardly wait to get hold of one! Until then, I'm off trying to find a vintage Frost No. 299 filleting knife with a stainless gurry-spoon for my collection. Happy collecting everyone!
I would like to express my sincere gratitude to Pär Brask, Mora of Sweden, for providing support while I wrote this article. Pär provided me with advertisements and catalogs, helped me date knives, and patiently answered all my questions regarding the early Mora knives. Pär Brask is a great-grandchild of Frost-Erik Ersson. Thank you Pär - you are a true gentleman!
Brask, P. (2009). Personal communication.
Halldén, A. (2009). Mer om antika knivar ['More about antique knives']. Downloaded on 12-29-2009 from http://www.cultur.nu/knivar/
Larsson, B. (1992, May). Morakniven: Vass veteran ['The Mora knife: A sharp veteran']. Antik & Auktion, No. 5, 54-58.
Mora of Sweden. (2010). http://www.moraofsweden.se/
Thoresen, P. (2010). Bergans morakniver ['Bergan's Mora knives']. Downloaded on 01-10-2010 from http://kniver.blogspot.com/search/label/Bergans%20morakniver