Celluloid and Pyralin Knife Handle Material
French Ivory, New Horn, New Pearl, Candy Stripe and More
Celluloid is the name of an early U.S. trademark that has come to be commonly used for all knife handles made using cellulose nitrate. But during the peak of popular use of celluloid for knife handles and other every day personal items, many manufacturers had their own patented trade name.
One such company was the Merchant’s Manufacturing Company, in Newark, New Jersey. They had been in business since 1881 and produced cellulose nitrate under the name “pasbosene”. The trademark was changed to “cellonite” in 1883. The company relocated to Arlington, New Jersey in 1885, and was renamed the Arlington Manufacturing Company.The new trade name used by the Arlington Manufacturing Company was “Pyralin”.
Arlington manufactured pyralin in many shapes and colors, but specialized in the manufacture of a synthetic replacement for ivory. Ivory was expensive, and not within the price range that most Americans could afford. Early uses for the pyralin material was in small personal toiletry items like combs and shoehorns. Arlington also produced mirrors, picture frames, and even small cups and decorative bowls using their ivory pyralin. Beautiful examples of these items can still be found in excellent condition today.
Arlington continued to be one of the top two producers of cellulose nitrate plastic for the next 25 years. In 1915, Dupont purchased the Arlington Manufacturing Company, but they continued to use the pyralin trademark.
Boker USA was an early customer of both Celanese and the Arlington Manufacturing Company, and many knives shown in Boker catalogs over the years were described as having “celluloid” and “pyralin” handles. Two of the most popular handle materials Boker sourced from Arlington were the popular ivory pyralin, and a cellulose nitrate known as “New Horn”. After 1928, Boker also made extensive use of an imitation pearl color, known first as “New Pearl”, and then later “Nu Pearl” in the early 1950s.
Knives from both Germany and America can be found with ivory cellulose handles but knives with New Horn handles can be determined with great certainty to have been made in Boker’s factory in Maplewood, New Jersey.
The Solingen knifeworks never used new horn pyralin material. Boker’s use of New Horn pyralin can be bracketed to the approximately forty-year period ranging from circa 1925 until 1966. Knives from that time frame can be found with handles that range in color from blood red to deep brown.
Boker USA also used a candy striped pyralin handle up until the early 1940s, primarily on their toothpick and “fish-tail” knife models. Candy stripe handled knives were made later by the Solingen knifeworks for United Boker from 1984 to 1994.
Due to the unstable nature of knives with cellulose nitrate handles, few of these models remain. The survivors still exhibit a beauty that reminds one of a lost era in knifemaking.