History of the village of Laguiole
Laguiole is the name of a village in France, located in the Aubrac region at 1000 meters above sea level.
Laguiole knives have been made there since the 19th century.
It was in 1829 that a modest peasant knife was born in Laguiole, a small mountain village in Aveyron, a mixture of the Navaja knife with an Arab-Hispanic shape and the local knife of the time, the Capouchadou.
Its famous bee, a symbol of prestige and quality, which adorns its spring will make it the most famous knife in France.
Etymologically, Laguiole comes from “La Gleisola” which means small relief church.
It will become the main church in the 16th century.
The name “Laguiole” comes from the association of the article “La” before the name “Guiole” or “Guiolle”.
Its pronunciation “Laïole” comes to us from the dialect of our ancestors.
Village well anchored in its environment, with a tradition of breeding, known for its fairs which regularly ended with the exchange of a few blows of sticks: this fair stick made of white alisier has since been described as “Laguiole justice” ( “drelhièr”).
Well known for its 19th century cutlery craftsmanship, the Laguiolese did not hesitate to go into exile to live: it was the period of bougnats and Parisian successes (the Lipp brewery, the Café Le Flore, etc.). From the smallest coal business to the most famous brewery, all these exiles have kept their love of the country and remain anchored in their tradition. They grouped together in a friendly, La Laguiolaise.
History of your Laguiole knife
In 1827-28, Pierre-Jean CALMELS helped his parents serve in the family inn. Place for exchanging anecdotes and news.
One of the customers takes out of his pocket one of his latest purchases, a Spanish knife, “La Navaja”.
Pierre-jean sees it and is fascinated by it!
It was love at first sight for him. He must be able to transform this object into a closing knife. He then goes to his uncle BELMON who is one of the local locksmiths.
They think together about how to create this new knife.
In 1829 the forced-notch closing knife was born !!
Pierre-Jean CALMELS then established himself as a cutler. He was very young, barely 16 years old, having been born in 1813, but Genius has no age.
Working hard, he would almost immediately create a knife combining elegance and functionality, which would quickly become famous and found a dynasty of cutlers who were no less famous; this still continues today.
He perfectly mastered his art, which he would pass on to his descendants.
The first knives from Pierre-Jean CALMELS, which have come down to us, are almost all luxury models, mounted in ivory and already have the “yatagan blade” which has since characterized Laguiole knives.
They are magnificent pieces, which certainly motivated their conservation.
The common models with horn handles were certainly the most numerous and were undoubtedly thrown away after wear and tear, their simplicity not having seemed worth keeping.
Some of these early knives, probably the oldest, have a “fly” switch, a small cylindrical protuberance on the back of the spine of the blade, engaging a corresponding hole in the front of the spring.
It is lifted to close, by pulling on a ring carried by a chin on its front part, to allow it to release the blade by releasing this “fly”.
This system, perhaps borrowed from the Catalan “navajas”, of which it is classic, is still found on numerous knives of very diverse types and origins.
But soon this “fly” stop switch was replaced by a “forced switch”, undoubtedly invented by Pierre-Jean CALMELS, which would from then on be one of the characteristics of Laguiole knives.
This “forced notch” is a triangular protrusion under the front of the spring, which when opened engages a corresponding recess in the heel of the blade.
It is not strictly speaking a “stop switch”, it does not lock the blade, but it makes it hold firmer once open.
It thus yields to the pressure of the hand on this blade for closing, but at the cost of a greater effort than the simple square nesting of the spring on the heel of usual closing knives.
The shape of the handle, in the beginning, is already very functional, slightly bulging in the middle to fit the shape of the hand that grips it and then tapering, slightly curved.
Subsequently, this shape will often evoke the silhouette of a leg (which we want to be feminine) when models with three pieces, blade, awl and corkscrew, appear towards the end of the century.
It will then recall that of “Jambettes”, cheap knives with wooden handles and very crude manufacturing, in use since the Middle Ages and undoubtedly dating back to the Gallo-Roman era.
On these luxury models mounted in ivory, we will often add a corkscrew, which confirms their destination to a wealthy clientele, consuming wine in “sealed” bottles, while the “vulgum pecus” pulled it from barrels.
This corkscrew will soon disappear and reappear later, as we will see later.
Around 1840, Pierre-Jean CALMELS added to his knives, at least to those of good standard quality with horn handles, an articulated punch on the heel of the handle, which would definitively ensure their success with rural customers.
It would then quickly lead to the disappearance of the “CAPUCHADOUS”, due to the fact that it provided the same services in a smaller volume, being foldable and easy to put in your pocket.
This punch made it possible to repair harnesses “in the field”, to remove stones that often slipped under the irons of draft animals and, if necessary, to pierce the bellies of “weathered” livestock.
This making the Laguiole a universal tool covering all the needs of the farmer, would ensure its success with those who had to adopt it immediately, in place of all other models.
Around 1850, the Laguiole will have practically taken its final form, by the addition of brass “bolsters” to the two ends of its handle which they reinforce. The heel bolster, which the pivot axis of the punch passes through, will often have the shape of a shoe, accentuating the “woman’s leg” shape.
CALMELS, nicknamed BRIDOULET, arouses many local vocations: Joseph and Jean CAYLA, Henri and Jules RASCALOU, Jean-François GLAIZE, Joseph and Berthe PAGES, the MAS, the CURE, etc.… there were around thirty of them.
Many of them ran shops on Rue du Valat.
The plaster retains traces of a few signs.
The CALMELS dynasty
Pierre-Jean CALMELS, creator of the Couteau de Laguiole, who died in 1876, was succeeded by his son Pierre.
He added to the spring a moving part, the “slide” which allows it to act not only on the blade, but also on the punch and later the corkscrew which Pierre was to restore in honor in 1880.
The return of this additive was then motivated by the “rise to Paris”, at that time, of many Rouergats and Cantal residents, who came in increasing numbers to seek their fortune in “Lemonade”, then in “Restoration”.
Professions in which they would experience dazzling success and where the corkscrew proved to be an essential tool. Assistant to the knife which never left the pocket of these newcomers, so they always had it on hand.
It was the “three-piece” model that would quickly spread, becoming the most common. Without doubt Pierre was not the inventor, the addition of a corkscrew not being a novelty, but at least the director in a form which would quickly become established.
Unfortunately he was not to enjoy his inventions for long, as he died in 1887.
His son Jules who succeeded him, was to experience increasing success with the Laguiole knife in the Capital, due to an increasingly large influx of Aveyron and neighboring residents, who, following in the footsteps of their compatriots who had opened the way, gradually finished monopolizing the “bistro” and restaurateur professions.
Happier than his father, he was to live until 1930, when he died leaving two sons. The eldest, named Jules like his father, had settled in Rodez in 1927, where he very quickly acquired a great reputation that his son Jacques, who succeeded him, continues to maintain very high, the reputation of CALMELS not being able to fall.
As for the youngest, Pierre, he took over from his father in the same Laguiole boutique. I remember meeting him there towards the end of the 1950s, among pieces of ivory and elephant tusks, a material he was particularly fond of, performing wonders and helping to maintain the reputation of the knife very high. of Laguiole than of the name of CALMELS.
I then brought back, in addition to a few classic knives, a series of twelve ivory-handled table knives, with an appearance and quality that make them real museum pieces.
Then, Pierre CALMELS who, although very old, still worked with the same skill, died in turn a few years ago, leaving two daughters.
Nicole and Catherine, heirs to the family’s innate talent, replaced him at the workbench where they demonstrate the same mastery.
They thus continue to perpetuate the name and reputation of CALMELS, under the company name “CALMELS et Filles” which their father had inscribed in large letters on the front of the store, some time before disappearing.
How far we have come since then, the bone and horn of yesteryear now rub shoulders with precious wood species from all over the world.
The Alaskan mammoth ivory fossil has made its place in collectible and prestige models.
In 1840, the awl appeared; it was used by shepherds to pierce the swollen bellies of herbivores in the bloat phase.
Then, in 1880 we saw the appearance of the corkscrew.
Beliefs and Legends around Laguiole
Borrowed from history and anecdotes for more than two centuries, the Laguiole knife is a useful companion for both pleasure and work.
Why do Laguioles have a cross on the left side of the handle?
This cross is called “The Shepherd’s Cross” and it adorns most Laguiole knives.
In our region, which is very steeped in the Catholic religion, transhumant shepherds who left for several months far from places of worship used their Laguiole knife as an oratory for prayer.
This cross is the miniaturization and symbol of the Holy Cross.
Indeed, the Laguiole was planted in the bread, the shepherd’s cross thus did its job in praying being “the shepherds’ Rosary”.
This is why this decoration is only on one side of the handle.
Fly or Bee, what about it?
Much has been written about the decoration of Laguiole knives.
Everyone thinks it’s a bee and others think it’s a fly.
A legend says that Napoleon I authorized the inhabitants of Laguiole to wear a bee on the town’s coat of arms to reward them for their bravery.
No writing has ever confirmed this legend.
Furthermore, this would be very surprising because the Aveyronnais of the Empire were considered resistant to military service.
Another legend said that Napoleon III granted the bee. We can refute this legend in the same way.
Another explanation would come from a distortion of language.
Indeed, in the Occitan language, abelha means bee and could be identified phonetically with “lo beyro”.
The latter designating an assembly ferrule occupying the same place as the bee on the Laguiole knife.
The reality would not be very far from this hypothesis.
In terms of cutlery, the Laguiole knife is one of the so-called “fly” knives.
The fly being precisely the small triangular or oval metal part (with or without a ring), which had to be pulled backwards to allow the blade to close.
Today, on the laguiole with forced notch, the fly has lost its former functional role but it would therefore have remained in figurative form as a decoration for the memory of this technical element.
This last explanation being the most plausible, it remains to be seen whether it is really a fly represented or a bee?
For Pierre CALMELS (son of Pierre-Jean), it could only be a bee.
Such a prestigious knife could not have a fly as an ornament. The insect can only be noble, so it can only be a bee ?
For Jacques CALMELS (cutler in Rodez), it would rather be a gadfly that buzzes around the cows in summer.
This debate which attracts the enthusiasm of Laguiole enthusiasts still persists today.
The original technical fly has been embellished into decoration, which can be considered as fly, bee, horsefly…
Nowadays, the fly designates the location of the bee, which is no longer the only motif visible on the spring of Laguiole knives.
The bees have given way to clover leaves (lucky charm), scallop shell (in reference to the road to Santiago de Compostela which crosses Aubrac), smooth plate, 3D and many other decorations worked and chiseled by hand hand !
Everyone has their own interpretation !
The Laguiole bearer of Traditions and Anecdotes!
If you have been given a Laguiole knife, know that tradition dictates that you pay a coin to the person who gave it to you to preserve the bond of love or friendship that binds you.
The connoisseur will never close his Laguiole knife by clicking the blade so as not to damage the edge of the blade as well as the spring, this in compliance with the Aveyron proverb:
“Silent spring will live better!” »
This now explains the presence of a stop on your Laguiole knife which protects your blade when it closes.
At the time, only the patriarch was authorized to slam his blade at the end of a meal to ask the family to clear the table!