Update: The Walter Lang 100-blade knife sold for $5,500.
What you see: A Walter Lang 100-blade Exposition knife, No, 227, created circa 1960. Skinner estimates it at $5,000 to $7,000.
The expert: Jonathan Dowling, a specialist in the clocks, watches, and scientific instruments department at Skinner.
Who was Walter Lang? What do we know about his family’s company? He was the fourth generation of a knife-producing family in Germany. Pius Lang started the company in 1852, and in 1889, he showed an 100-blade knife at the Paris Exposition. They say Walter Lang pushed the family to enter the global marketplace. The company is still going.
Do we know why Walter Lang made this 100-blade knife in 1960? Was it for the 1964 World’s Fair? No, I think he just continued to make these. He made 50-, 100-, and 200-blade versions with mother-of-pearl sides and polished stainless steel blades.
I take it he didn’t make this 100-blade knife on his own–he had assistants? I’m under that assumption as well. I think it’s similar to fine watchmaking, with certain people produce certain blades.
Do you have a list of all 100 blades and their functions? No, I can’t find one. [Laughs] When I was researching it for the auction catalog, I went to the Pius Lang website. They don’t have it.
Ok, but how do they account for 100 different blades? I’m thinking after you get past the most popular two dozen, things get a bit too specific or obscure… I think there’s a lot of repetitive pieces, whether they’re different sizes or shapes. [The lot notes mention the following implements: Pliers, nippers, scissors, tweezers, files, a cigar cutter, a leather punch, a corkscrew plus other bottle and can openers, a bone saw, a wood saw, a mustache comb, an ear wax spoon, a fork, a scalpel, a bone toothpick, and a barbed hoof cleaner.]
So this Walter Lang 100-blade knife is not a one-off? In my research, I found that 400 100-blade knives were produced by Walter Lang. I think they date to the 1960s, but the information I could pick up was vague.
The lot notes say the 100-blade knife, when closed, measures almost five inches long. How much does it weigh? It weighs 935 grams, or a bit over two pounds.
Was it meant to be functional, or was it a stunt piece? I think it’s a pure stunt, but the precision and the quality of the blades is impeccable. There are a couple of saw blades on it. I would not try to cut down a tree limb with a saw blade, but you definitely could. It took 35 minutes to open all the blades on one side.
Thirty-five minutes! Did it take the same amount of time to open the blades on the other side? Give or take, yes. I’d call it a good hour to do it without cutting yourself.
If you did cut yourself when opening the knife, I’m sure there’s a surgeon’s needle on it somewhere that you could use to stitch up the wound. [Laughs] It’s a conversation piece, for sure.
Can you comfortably carry the Walter Lang 100-blade knife? Did you try putting it in your pocket and walking around with it? I did not, no. It’s stainless steel and mother-of-pearl, which is hard to damage, but it’s not ours. Any scratches or scuffs could potentially hurt it.
The bit with the mother-of-pearl is called the “grips”. I take it that’s where your fingers are supposed to rest? Yes. It’s claimed that the mother-of-pearl is from stock set aside by Pius Lang.
What is your favorite blade on the knife? It’s the mustache comb. [Laughs]
Why? This thing is two pounds. The mustache comb is just shy of two inches long. To have a two-pound object in your hand at the right height to comb your mustache…it’s a challenge.
Who was the target market for the Walter Lang 100-blade knife? Or did he do it just because he could? I believe that 100 percent. It’s not a functional piece, its a “Wow” piece.
What is the Walter Lang 100-blade knife like in person? This is craftsmanship at its best. The polishing of each blade, each instrument, is astonishing. No corners were cut with this. The lock and hinge each instrument is on makes a nice click when you open it. It’s pure quality, like fine Swiss watchmaking.
What does it feel like to hold the Walter Lang 100-blade knife in your hand? Is it clumsy or awkward? No, it’s very well-balanced. It’s not top-heavy or bottom-heavy or left-heavy or right-heavy. There’s nothing really I can compare it to.
I imagine that’s how Walter Lang shows his mastery, yes? This thing could have been an absolute mess, but it’s merely ludicrous and still functional. Yes. [Laughs]. I’d be so curious how it evolved over the last 50 years–what the layouts were, what came with the piece, and what happened over that time frame. It’s a work of art.
What condition is the Walter Lang 100-blade knife in? There’s no tarnish or scratches. There’s a few surface scratches on the mother-of-pearl, but there’s way to tell with the naked eye. I think a lot of people buy them as curiosity objects, open them once, and shut them.
How often do Walter Lang 100-blade knives come to auction? We had one in June 2012 that sold for $7,110. So this is the second one I’ve seen in person.
Why will this piece stick in your memory? Being able to experience an object like this–we called it a once-in-a-lifetime experience in 2012, but now it’s twice in a lifetime. I thought I wouldn’t see another, but here we are.
Images are courtesy of Skinner.
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