A TL-29 pocketknife, or penknife, is something that most males in the western world grow up with. Penknife is the British English term for a small folding knife, and the American term is a pocket knife. They are the common terms for a small knife that can have single or multiple blades, and even multi-tools.

     Originally, penknives were used for thinning and pointing quills (cf pena, Latin for feather) to prepare them for use as dip pens and, later, for repairing or re-pointing the nib. A penknife was also used to sharpen a pencil, prior to the invention of the pencil sharpener. In the mid-1800s, penknives were necessary to slice the uncut edges of newspapers and books.

     A penknife did not necessarily have a folding blade, but might resemble a scalpel, or chisel, by having a short, fixed blade at the end of a long handle. One popular (but incorrect) folk etymology makes an association between the size of a penknife and that of a small ballpoint pen.

     During the 20th century there has been a proliferation of multi-function knives with assorted blades and gadgets, including; awls, reamers, scissors, nail files, corkscrews, tweezers, toothpicks, and so on. The tradition continues with the incorporation of modern devices such as ballpoint pens, LED torches/flashlights, and USB flash drives.

     The most famous example of a multi-function penknife is the Swiss Army knife, some versions of which number dozens of functions and are really more of a folding multi-tool, incorporating a blade or two, than a penknife with extras.

     In the U.S., the TL-29 folding pocket knife is one of the most ubiquitous. Most people think it had its origins in World War II, but it started life as the Signal Corps Knife and dates back to at least May of 1919 when the first U.S. Army specification was put together. The knife was undoubtedly manufactured prior to this.

     Early knives have elaborate escutcheons with markings indicating the Signal Corps as “SC USA”, “US Signal Corps”, etc. These early knives are often just considered Signal Corps Knives. Signal Corps knives are typically marked on their escutcheons with either SC-USA or Signal Corps. Another key identifying feature of these knives is the presence of a half circle cutout on both sides of the screw driver blade. These knives are often at a premium and fetch a higher value than the more contemporary versions.

     A common feature of World War II era knives is the simple stamping of “TL-29” into the wood handle. Some WII era knives have an escutcheon with the TL-29 on it. Post war handles were made of plastic materials. The early plastic knives are often warped and not shaped properly. Most modern Chinese made TL-29s are of the black plastic handle variety.     

      Following WWII, surpluses of these knives found their way into the hands of many handyman toolboxes. To this day, one of the most popular features of the knife is its affordability. The TL-29 makes a great collectors’ item for the novice collector and can be found at almost any military collector show. Some collectors enjoy the simplicity of knives with few variations such as the Jet Pilots Survival Knives while other collectors will enjoy the almost endless variations in the TL-29.

     A common feature of World War II era knives is the simple stamping of “TL-29” into the wood handle. Some WII era knives have an escutcheon with the TL-29 on it. Post war handles were made of plastic materials. The early plastic knives are often warped and not shaped properly. Most modern Chinese made TL-29s are of the black plastic handle variety.

     There are so many manufacturers of this particular knife, it would be much easier putting together a list of companies which didn’t manufacture it.

     Swiss Army knives have so many components that they weigh a ton. The bigger ones make you walk lop-sided. Give me a simple penknife/pocketknife any day. I thought it was time to chronicle this essential piece of male growing up, so now you know the history or, at least, some of it.

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