Maniago. The origin and history of knife makers and the cutlery
The first reliable information on the processing of iron in Maniago is in a document dated March 31, 1380.
The presence of one or more blacksmiths in the village was one of the typical needs of any rural settlement era, necessary for the construction of the simplest work tools and repair work.
During the Middle Ages this activity spread and the use of water wheels was perfected. In 1450 this inspired the noble Count Nicolò di Maniago (1407-1485) to think of using hydropower for economic purposes, taking advantage of the geographical location of Maniago, located at the confluence of 2 rivers on the furthest reaches of the plain. This was how in 1445 Count Nicolò was permitted by the Venetian Republic, which Maniago fell under at that time, to dig one or more aqueducts and canals, to make use of the water of Cellina and construct buildings or mills along it. A few years later in 1453 he was given the right to divert water from the Cellina creek for his own use. With this initiative the count secured the monopoly of water power use and immediately started work on the construction of the canal.
Along the canal arose mills, sawmills and the first Ironworks.
With the construction of ironworks, people who were engaged in the processing of iron went on to manufacture iron products on a larger scale thanks to the power offered by the “donkey head hammer” activated by water.
The market which the blacksmiths of Maniago were able to turn to was not just local. With sales, it expanded within the territory of the Venetian Republic.
Production between the sixteenth and seventeenth century was prevalently dedicated to tools for agriculture and domestic use such as scythes, large knives and cleavers.
There is no other significant news on the activities of the blacksmiths until 1720 when a rural survey was done with the names of all the inhabitants of Maniago and with the description and identification of their properties.
The survey resulted in the identification of 4 ironworks owners including the Beltrame brothers, Francesco and Domenico.
The cutlery of Maniago, called the “workshop” by my grandfather Ivano Beltrame, was born in the 18th century, when the need moved towards cutting objects of smaller dimensions such as pocket knives and scissors. The technology differed from that of ironworks, as manual energy was enough. A more confined space was desired which could be found inside a house and the means for the creation of objects were: the bench with clamps, the drill and drill files, the forge with bellows, the anvil and a small hammer and grinding wheel.
Until 1800, the blacksmith industry was still not prevalent in the community economy but it was during the Napoleonic period that Maniago became known beyond its borders.
After domination by the French, the Austrians arrived who were little interested in developing industry beyond the Alps, but the blacksmiths did not lose heart and made an effort to market their own products. They traveled more and expanded their contact with sales emporiums. In 1870 there was a crisis of excess product and about twenty people formed a company to take over all the production of certain workshops by paying in cash at a fixed price.
In 1887 the blacksmiths formed a cooperative company for the purchase and sale of raw materials and management of product sales.
MANIAGO AND THE FIRST INDUSTRY: THE CUTLERY OF MANIAGO
In the years before the Great War, the first factory was built in Maniago. The German entrepreneur Albert Marx, owner of other businesses in Solingen and Caslino d’Erba, formed Società Anonima Marx e Comp in 1907. It was during the war that Marx was forced to liquidate his interests in Maniago and passed on the company to other Italian shareholders who changed its name to Co.Ri.Ca.Ma or Coltellerie Riunite si Caslino e Maniago. In 1917, during the occupation, the factory was unfortunately abandoned and the blacksmiths found themselves without work. Around 1920, however, it was divided into 40 small workshops where the production of knives, scissors, pen knives resumed. Along with the workshops, 30 small family workshops were built, including that of our grandfather Vittorio Beltrame’s, who with his 4 sons: Ivano, Danilo, Luciano and Carlo began the production of Marinere ( sailor knives in Maniago dialect) and multi-purpose knives.
In the meantime, bigger articles were created which dominated production and were sold in Italy and abroad. However another serious blow was dealt by the great crisis of 1927-29.
Time passed and after the second world war, knife making regained importance and people took initiative and the history of our small cutlery factory began at this point.