In 1964 Dennis Jackson, a design engineer for Wiltshire cutlery in Melbourne saw a US market survey that showed that 80 percent of Americans didn't know how to sharpen a knife. Rather than respond with a better knife sharpener he saw an opportunity to create a self-sharpening knife.
Jackson’s invention was to embed a sharpener within a sheath or scabbard. Every time the knife was inserted or withdrawn through a slot at the end, it was sharpened. Hence the title: the Staysharp knife.Trial versions were tested in domestic kitchens, which showed that the engineering worked, but it needed a better container and external design. In 1966 Stuart Devlin, who had designed Australia's first decimal coins in the years prior, was hired to create a more streamlined plastic scabbard and a better handle for the knife.In 1969 the first batch was test marketed in Perth in time for Christmas. It was successful and it became the first design of a self-sharpening knife to be mass produced and was launched into the rest of Australia.
By 1971 an issue arose that was not revealed in the test trials: the shavings from the blade sharpening were trapped inside the scabbard. Wiltshire engaged Peter Bailey to redesign the scabbard into two pieces with a removable sharpening cassette. Dennis Jackson devised two new blade lengths and shapes for different uses and in 1972 the Mk 11 Staysharp 752 and 753 were released for sale.
The Inventors ABC TV show was launched at that time, and the catch cry of one of the presenters, Diana Fisher, was “what colours does it come in?”. Being the 1970s the answers were ‘Burnt Orange’, ‘Tibetan Gold’, ‘Avocado Green’, as well as plain white.
Not every good design has immediate success. Wiltshire realized that the design needed to be presented as more appealing, practical and desirable to the homeowner. Perhaps even fashionable. So the first advertisements featured the well-known fashion model, Maggie Tabberer to endorse the Staysharp with her own signature.
The Staysharp Mk 11 won the Prince Phillip Prize Certificate of Merit for Australian Design in 1972 and was listed in the Australian Design Index with a Good Design label in the same year. It features prominently in the Good Design Australia review of 60 years of designs published in 2018.
The Staysharp knife has a design registration or patent in 37 countries and has been updated over the years. Now over 8 million Staysharp knives have been sold, a continuing success for 50 years.
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