The penny knife dates from the 18th century and was a very basic utility knife, originally with a fixed blade. It received the name penny knife for what it reportedly cost in England and America during the late 18th century: one penny. The famous ”Fuller’s Penny Knife” helped build the reputation of Sheffield, England cutlers in the pre-industrial era of the early 18th century.
The penny knife would later evolve into a very simple, mass-produced pocketknife with a folding blade, which pivoted freely in and out of the handle without a backspring or other device to hold it in position (other than the frictional pressure of the knife handle itself). This type of inexpensive folding knife was popular with small rural farmers in the United States, England, France, Italy, and Spain for much of the 19th and part of the 20th century, and consequently is often termed a farmer knife, sodbuster knife, or peasant knife. Antique penny knives have increased significantly in value and can sell for as much as $500(US). In modern production, the smallest models of the Opinel, an early 20th-century peasant’s knife, continue to utilize this basic design, consisting of a folding blade pivoting on an axle mounted through a steel-bolstered wooden handle.