Back in the “good old days,” in the early 1970’s, I purchased a Victorinox Fisherman (SABI, 53541, Vic, 1.4733.72) at a Hoffritz store in Grand Central Station in Mid-Town Manhattan at 42nd Street. In those days, Hoffritz sold knives, scissors, various cutlery utensils, shaving accoutrements, and the like in various shops around the city, especially at train depots and airports for travelers, tourists, and road warriors. I recently returned to the location of the shop on the ground level of the Station near the Lexington Avenue exit, but it was no longer there. I guess the changed economy and security concerns put a serious crimp in their business. The Hoffritz’s Victorinox knives were especially made for sale by Hoffritz and do not carry the Victorinox name anywhere on the tool.
More recently, I decided out of curiosity to buy a new Victorinox Fisherman and compare the old with the new to see whether time and technology changed this venerable knife. The most notable change is in the appearance. Although both old and new have the familiar Victorinox Swiss Cross and shield on the front scale as well as the fish emblem, the old has, in addition, the name “Hoffritz,” in metal inlay embedded on the same scale. Another major difference that attracts the eye is the Tweezers. The old has an aluminum tip that was replaced by the current plastic one about 1978. Another significant difference is the Multi-Purpose Hook/Parcel Carrier on the reverse of the new model. It was first introduced about 1991 on all 91mm models that included the Scissors.
Other less obvious changes also differentiate the old from the new. For example, the Cap Lifter/Bottle Opener on the new Fishman has a 90° stop. This provides better leverage when using the tool as a screwdriver working in cramped or confined space. Several other minor changes also differentiate the old from the new. The new Reamer/Punch has a sewing eye that can be used in repairing small, temporary tears on sails, tent canvas, or soft leather items.
The Phillips Screwdriver on the old Fisherman is significantly different from the new. Half the tool on the old is square, the other half round. The old, moreover, has a 10mm slit (Can-Key) down from the tip that is intended for pealing certain can lids that used to come with small tabs that would fit into the bottom slit of special can-keys usually affixed to the side or top of the can. I found the Can-Key especially useful in the old days for opening sardine cans, especially if the original key was somehow missing from the can. (I believe new sardine tins can be opened by hand without any special tools, just as most beer and soda cans no longer require can openers or cap lifters.)
Other differences also differentiate the old from the new. As noted before, the word “Victorinox” appears no where on the knife. The Company today advises all potential buyers to look for the Victorinox name on the tang of the blade to ensure that they are purchasing a genuine Swiss Army Knife. Even the old 108mm GAK and Mauser knives are marked “Victorinox” on the tang. The old Hoffritz Fisherman, however, is marked “Hoffritz” on the tang,” but the reverse does have the familiar “Switzerland/Stainless/Rostfrei.” The knife’s box is the old familiar one, red marked “VICTORINOX original schweizer offiziersmesser” with both the Vic number and the old SABI number, 11-177, and the price $28.75 (Its suggested retail price today (2011) is about $40, actually a reduction in price considering the real value of the US dollar then and now).
There are other minor differences between the two models. As one might expect, the old Fisherman has a screw instead of the rivet on the scissors and no guiding groove to keep the spring in place. Another difference is the placement of the Key Ring—the old Fisherman puts it on the Phillips’ layer; the new model places it on the other side on the Reamer/Punch’s layer. Also, the old Fish Scaler is magnetized, not the new.
Finally—one needs either a magnifying glass or extra good vision to note this difference—the new Fisherman, like most new 84mm and 91mm Victorinox knives with a Corkscrew or Reamer/Punch on the reverse, has a tiny pin hole behind the Reamer/Punch. This is for the Stainless Steel Pin that is currently sold with the Plus Scales. Of course, anyone can insert a pin from the distaff’s sewing kit, but most purists would probably purchase for a small price—ten cents the last time I looked—a genuine, authentic Victorinox Stainless Steel Pin from the manufacturer or an authorized dealer. The last difference I was able to discern between the old and the new was the tang and blade. On the old Hoffritz model the tang, together with the blade, appears somewhat thicker than the new, the result, I believe, of a change in the metallic composition of the blade, which makes for a thinner blade without compromising its strength.
Which do I prefer, the old Fisherman or the new? I found that there is at least one feature on the new that is really important, at least as far as I am concerned—the hole for the Stainless Steel Pin. When I acquired the new model and spotted the tiny pin hole behind the Phillips, I filled it with a pin. Why? What’s so important about the Pin? Those who think the Stainless Steel Pin and the accompanying Tweezers are of little use have never suffered the pain and annoyance of embedded splinters. I have found both tools invaluable in extracting these foreign objects from my epidermis.
As for the Multi-Purpose Hook in the new model, I find it worthless. Victorinox suggests it can be used for carrying parcels with strings, but as far as I know, parcels today, at least in the United States, are wrapped with tape, not string. I suppose, though, that the Hook could be used for holding the handles of plastic bags that carry groceries, but that too may soon be passé since some cities in the US are considering banning them at the behest of environmentalists despite recent reports that reused cloth grocery bags have becoming nesting places for bacteria and other nasty little creatures.
This is the 8-page pamphlet that the salesman gave me when I purchased the knife. Note the clip-point blade on the small blade of the pictures of the old Champion on the cover and page 4. By the time I made my purchase it had already been replaced with the current spear point, about 1972 or 1973. Note also that the pictures of the old Champion include the Long Nail File; although it is no longer included on models sold in the US, it is still available in place of the Multi-Purpose Hook on the Climber model (1.3722) in Europe.
On the other hand, the Company suggests the Hook can be used to pull up metallic tent pegs. The last time that I was out “camping,” courtesy of the US Army, I remember we used wooden pegs, but perhaps the new army does use metallic pegs. Fortunately I haven’t been recalled to active duty so the new Green Machine might have new tent pegs, since they even have new uniforms. (I wonder what I would get on eBay for a used Ike jacket?) The Company also proposes that the Hook can be used to fix gear chains on multi-gear bicycles, but I cycle with the old 3-speed Raleigh Sports with its reliable Sturmey-Archer gear system and have never had the chain come off the sprockets.
What would make the Hook somewhat more useful would be if Victorinox included the new Hook with the Nail File/Match Striker on the reverse. Although not a particularly good nail file, at least it might serve some useful purpose. If I may be so bold, I would suggest that the elves in Ibach add the new Multi-Purpose Hook with the Nail File for all of their knives with scissors that do not contain the File/Metallic Saw.
Last, but not least, I like the magnetized Fish Scaler on the old Fisherman. Actually, I only recently discovered that the Scaler on the Hoffritz model is magnetized—this after forty years of ownership! (Hoffritz did not include the “Guide to Implements” that is included with knives sold by Victorinox.) Although some might consider this insignificant, I found the magnetized tip a most useful tool to “fish” paper clips and other small metallic objects from inaccessible places.
All in all, I would say that the old Fisherman is an excellent tool. It’s as good today as it was when I bought it in my salad days forty years ago. The workmanship of Victorinox knives, their utility, and their aesthetic appearance, are incomparable. As attested by being placed in the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Swiss Army Knife, whether old or new, is indeed a work of art as well as an excellent utilitarian tool.