Intangible Cultural Heritage in Austria

Pocket knife-making in Trattenbach

Applicant: Kulturverein Heimatpflege Ternberg - Trattenbach
Province: Upper Austria
Domain: Traditional Craftsmanship
Year of inclusion: 2015

The Trattenbach pocket knife, a foldable knife that consists of a blade and a lathed wooden handle, has been hand-produced in Trattenbach for nearly 600 years. Many people carry this knife on their persons as a constant companion that gets used for all sorts of things. Frequent functions include as a knife for snacks or for carving, for harvesting mushrooms, as a souvenir, as a promotional item, as a keychain, or for Messerln, a game of skill in which two players compete against each other by allowing a half-opened knife to fall onto a wooden surface from a height of 50 cm (the object being to have the knife’s blade penetrate and remain standing in the wood). Since 1682, Trattenbach’s cutlers have been recognized as an independent guild. Making this knife requires detailed knowledge of the materials involved as well as experience in working with steel, wood, and water power. Today, there are two businesses left that produce the Trattenbach pocket knives by hand. Knowledge about their production is passed on via in-house written instructions and orally, and at least one of these producers’ continuation into the next generation is assured.

The long history of knife-making in Trattenbach (UA) exhibits a high degree of continuity. The first written mention of knife-making there is from 1422. Since then, the pocket knife has become a veritable symbol of (Upper) Austrian craftsmanship. And as such, knife-making in Trattenbach even managed to endure difficult periods such as the Industrial Revolution. Its production gradually came to involve various new occupational groups, the names of which are typical of the region. These include the Broater [bladesmith], the Härter [“hardener”], the Schleifer [blade grinder], the Bankfrau [“bench woman”—responsible for assembly and packaging], and the Drechsler [turner]. The strong competition from other producing countries around 1900—in particular from Asian countries—has now made necessary the simplification of production in Trattenbach in order to remain attractive on the market. This intensified competition has thus forced many makers of the Trattenbach pocket knives to give up their businesses and hence their crafts. But since the majority of Trattenbach residents are descended from knife-making or wood-turning families, many of them remain familiar with knowledge concerning the knives’ production and use even today.
Efforts by the cultural association Heimatpflege Ternberg Trattenbach and the development of the Museum Village of Trattenbach, which now attracts around 5,000 visitors annually, are representative of a broader population whose members are attempting to preserve the knowledge associated with a refined craft that is barely practiced anymore in the present day. Furthermore, Austria as a whole is home to around 30 pocket knife clubs. And in the autumn of 2015, the Kulturverein Trattenbach [Cultural Association of Trattenbach] held its first combined meeting of such associations, an event that is planned to take place on an annual basis in the future.