The penny knife dates from the 18th century and was an extremely basic utility knife, originally with a fixed blade. It received the name penny knife for what it reportedly cost in England and America during the late 18th century. The famous Fuller's Penny Knife helped build the reputation of Sheffield, England cutlers in the pre-industrial era of the early 18th century.
The penny knife would later evolve into a very simple, mass-produced knife with a folding blade, which pivoted freely in and out of the handle without a backspring or other device to hold it in position (other than the frictional pressure of the knife handle itself). This type of inexpensive folding knife was popular with small rural farmers in the United States, England, France, Italy, and Spain for much of the 19th and part of the 20th century, and consequently is often termed a farmer knife, sodbuster knife, or peasant knife.
Antique penny knives have increased significantly in value and can sell for as much as $500(US). In modern production, the smallest models of the Opinel, an early 20th century peasant's knife, continue to utilize this basic design, consisting of a folding blade pivoting on an axle mounted through a steel-bolstered wooden handle.
- Goddard, Wayne (2000). The Wonder of Knifemaking. Krause Publications. p. 141. ISBN 978-0-87341-798-3.
- Sheffield, The Athenaeum, London: John Francis, No. 2420, 14 March 1874, p. 351
- The Youth's Companion, Boston, MA: Perry Mason & Co., Vol. 52, No. 1 (2 January 1879), p. 108
- Shackleford, Steve (2010). Blade's Guide to Knives & Their Values. Krause Publications. pp. 288–290. ISBN 978-1-4402-0387-9.