NYC History: the 007 Knife

The 007 knife is an embodiment of New York City’s decline in the 1970’s. The more you read of the street life in that era of the city’s history, the more you come across the 007 knife. As far as I know it was sold throughout the country (it is mentioned in courtroom documents in Massachusetts and Illinois) but it is not written into the history of any other place the way it is of New York City. Mention the 007 knife to a New Yorker of a certain age and background, and they’ll have a story for you.

The first time I heard of a 007 knife was in Please Kill Me, a history of the 1970’s NYC punk rock scene:

Cheetah Chrome: Dee Dee Ramone had given Stiv Bators a 007 knife at one of our first gigs. Stiv carried it all the time, and one time, we were up at the Chelsea Hotel and the 007 was just lying there on a nightstand or something. Stiv just picked it up and mentioned that Dee Dee had given it to him… Dee Dee was Sid (Vicious)’s hero and as soon as Sid found out that Dee Dee had given the knife to Stiv, Sid wanted one too. So a couple days later we all went up to Times Square so that Sid could buy one.

Accounts differ, but that self-same 007 knife is often identified as the one that Sid Vicious killed Nancy Spungen with (most interestingly, here, by Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren who says that Nancy WAS stabbed by a 007, but Sid didn’t do it). Regardless, it struck me as interesting that Cheetah Chrome referred to a “007 knife,” as if it was a distinct and known type of knife. The detail stuck with me, but I had no idea whatsoever what type of knife the 007 was. The name obviously conjured up images of James Bond; in my mind’s eye JB carries some sort of dagger or perhaps an elegant stiletto of indistinct European origin.

A few years later I was reading boxing trainer Teddy Atlas’s autobiography, Atlas. He grew up on Staten Island in the 1970’s, and although from an upper middle class family (his father was a doctor), he had a wild adolescence, which led to multiple arrests and time on Riker’s Island before his teens ended. It also led to him getting 400 stitches on his face, courtesy of an 007 knife:

I threw the guy with the blackjack to the ground, and then saw the driver coming at me, saw the flash of a knife in his hand. It was this kind of knife called an 007, a flick blade. I remember thinking, That’s a double-oh-seven… It was too late. He stepped back and spun, like a matador, slashing the side of my face. The blade was so sharp, I barely felt it. 

Atlas nearly died from blood loss. The 007 was not a fancy switchblade, or a hunting knife, but a simple pocket knife, with a long blade that opened with a flick of the wrist. Knives like these are called flick knives, folding knives, or gravity knives (due to the fact that when held in a closed position, the weight of the blade should be enough to allow it to open due only to gravity and maybe a flick of the wrist).

Like Teddy Atlas, Harley Flanagan also grew up rough in NYC in the 70’s. And like Cheetah Chrome and Sid Vicious, Flanagan was also a punk rocker, albeit a bit younger. He began playing New York clubs in 1979 as the 11 year old drummer for The Stimulators and later formed hardcore legends the Cro-Mags in the early 80’s. He grew up in his mother’s apartment on Avenue A, and in his possibly forthcoming memoir Life Of My Own mentions the ubiquitousness of the 007 among the Puerto Rican gang members in his neighborhood in the 70’s:

And everybody either had a golf club – like a cane – and/or a 007 knife, which was this huge knife, that from the handle to the tip was as big as your whole fuckin’ forearm! Those knives were real cheap – they sold them at every corner store. They were like three bucks – it was kinda like a gravity knife. 

We can see Flanagan may be taking a bit of poetic license (which is fitting, as Allen Ginsburg also lived in that apartment building off of Avenue A) about the size of a 007, but not by much. Unfolded and pointed at your face, it would certainly present a memorable and fearful image.

It really doesn’t look like anything James Bond would ever carry. Who came up with the idea to label a cheap, wooden handled pocket knife with the “007” identity? Some sleazy import/export guy who placed ads in the back section of men’s magazines? Or the owner of the sweatshop in the Far East that churned these things out? Your guess is as good as mine. The leather buckskin strap is surely an essential 70’s detail; the detritus of the hippie fashion sensibility spreads even to implements of mayhem.

The more you read about NYC (low)life in the 70’s, the more you notice the 007. Due to its cheap price, ease of availability, and menacing size, the 007 knife was perfect for violent crime.  As an ex-cop posting on the longislandfirearms.com forum notes:

Back in the day in the Bronx all the mopes carried 007 knives. For those not familiar they are a folding wooden handled knife with a blade generally in the 5″-7″ range. Cheap, and they could ALWAYS be opened with a flick of the wrist... Most cops who worked the Bronx back in the 1970’s and 1980s have quite a collection of 007 knives. And the knives are really pretty much useless for anything other than cutting someone.

An amusing (in retrospect) article in Jet Magazine from May 24, 1973, discusses a mugger named Butch who, after giving a series of interviews to a newspaper reporter was “tracked down by Detective Phillip Gerard… from a picture in a daily newspaper which showed the back of his head and a 5 inch long ‘007’ knife he customarily carries.”

Funnily enough, Butch was not the only 007 carrying mugger who talked to reporters. In the book Jones: Portrait of a Mugger from 1974, reporter James Willwerth also tails a stick up kid and again notes his implement of choice:

Holding a concealed 007 knife, a model popular among muggers for its long blade and quick release, Jones hit the streets in the early evenings and mugged in dark, contained spaces like apartment hallways.

The quote above was from a New York Times article from 2004 describing the 70’s as the “Age of the Mugger.”  As the article correctly notes, people either not from New York or below a certain age have a hard time grasping how common and everyday these acts were. In a more recent article published a few months ago in the New Yorker,  Adam Gopnik writes, “If, in 1980, someone had predicted that by 2012 New York City would have a crime rate so low that violent crime would have largely disappeared as a subject of conversation, he would have seemed not so much hopeful as crazy.”

So, as the violent crime rate has gone down and mugging has for all intents and purposes disappeared as an everyday part of urban life, the 007 has disappeared as well. You can still see them on Ebay, but selling or owning a knife of that type is now illegal in New York City, due to both the size of its blade and its classification as a gravity knife. There are still local delis that sell cheap and nasty knifes in bad neighborhoods, but nothing with the size and grandeur of the 007. The 007 was almost like the Zelig of New York City violent crime, popping up everywhere under the most unlikely circumstances; the same knife cut both Nancy Spungen and Teddy Atlas. It was wielded by every two-bit stick up kid and gang member in all five boroughs. To an average subway commuter or late night stroller, it was the stuff of nightmares. This was the thing that caused you to give up your wallet and your watch. Apparently, the proverbial “junkie with a switchblade” was really a “junkie with a 007.”  The era of the 007 is over, but it cast a long shadow over the 1970’s.

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musings about music, culture, food, and more... twittering and tumbling: @tavistocksmiley http://axchem.tumblr.com/
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24 Responses to NYC History: the 007 Knife

  1. tommy says:

    This story is ridiculous,just because the knife was used to commit crimes lets not trash the knife.If that’s the case several guns around the U.S. should also be trashed.I was born and raised in New Jersey and owned one the these knifes,does that make me a thug or make the knife a killing crime machine,this story just shows the ignorance in some people.

    • peter says:

      no, what this story does is show how one knife popped up through out the history of the 70’s… anything else you read into it is strictly on you…

      but, to address your points, several types of guns ARE trashed b/c they are known to be used by criminals… think about the rep the Glock 9mm got back in the 80’s… or “cop killer bullets”?

      the statement, “muggers favored the 007 knife” DOES NOT MEAN “all 007 knife owners were muggers.” reading it as such is false logic. also, using only your own experience as evidence does not help your case, especially when posting from a completely anonymous internet account.

  2. “NYC History: the 007 Knife | Axis Chemicals” was
    in fact in fact enjoyable and enlightening! In todays world that’s very difficult to deliver.
    Thanks a lot, Eldon

  3. Storm Trooper says:

    Great article. i’m a native new yorker who grew up in the 70s and 80s and remember when NYC was really fucked up. My dad worked the night shift for the NY Transit and would carry a 007 and a lead pipe every night. When I was old enough I would carry a 007 to school everyday.

  4. I was a child of the 70’s and lived in NYC and owned a 007 knife but those facts are incidental not causal. Yep, the 007 was everywhere…but not just in NYC. During that same time I saw them in MA (Boston and Cape Cod), NJ (World Imports, Bergen Mall) and FL…and every Sunday flea market that I ever attended on the east coast.
    Let’s not pretend that this article presents even a remotely objective viewpoint. This article definitely vilifies the 007 knife as the sinister tool of choice with violent criminals of 70s NYC…and does so based on several references in popular culture along with a few mentions in other puplications. No doubt the 007 knife was used by violent criminals but then again so were kitchen knives… In fact I’d be willing to bet that more kitchen knives were used in assaults and murders than any other edged tool during the 1970’s. So where’s the article that chronicles the bloody swath that the evil Chef’s knife and steak knife carved through the 70s? I bet more violent criminals of that era were doing the exact same things mentioned in this article without the 007 knife than with it….yawn.

  5. peter says:

    thanks for the bits of info re: 007 availability.

    Um, there’s no article about steak knifes in crime because it would be boring. There’s no aura or mystique there. And, it’s a lot easier to walk around all day with a 007 in your pocket versus a steak knife in your pocket…

    Obviously, not all 007 knives were used by criminals, they were way too common and available for that to be the case. But, I am curious as to what this “objective viewpoint” you speak of would include? Because I didn’t set out to write a negative piece, I was basically just curating all the information I could find on the 007 knife. Don’t kill the messenger. If I somehow missed some glowing mention about someone using a 007 knife for a non-criminal purpose, by all means forward it to me.

    Saying that you bet more violence occurred without the 007 than with it is not a bold statement. Obviously this is true. I am not saying 007 knives have a monopoly on violence, plenty of people got mugged with screwdrivers (just ask Bernard Goetz). They were just the best tool available for the job.

    The point is, no matter what sort of philosophizing or justifications you want to make about the 007 and 70’s crime/violence, the 007 was there. The same knife that gave Teddy Atlas that famous scar also killed Nancy Spungen. That interests me, so I wrote about it.

  6. percy buie says:

    how can i get one of these knives i had one back in 1979 but lost it on the train.

  7. Peter Knight says:

    I was at a junk sale today in a suburb of London and I bought an old metal tin that I liked the look of, when I got it home there was one of these knives inside. I wonder how it got from NYC to a sleepy London suburb… if only it could talk!

    • peter says:

      ha, nice story! Since the knives were made in Japan, they could have been imported to the UK as well… But, yes, the idea of a solitary knife making its way across the pond is much more interesting…

  8. Hiram says:

    saved by the 007. One day in Brooklyn I was about to get mugged from behind. i always carried my 007 in my members only jacket inside pocket, he tried to grab me so i bent down reached into my jacket pocket and with a flick of the wrist she opened up nice and easy. i turn and almost got him. he backed off and went away. i still owned one today. No only muggers carried one,

  9. Joe says:

    Got one of these in a small shop in Brooklyn for my 10th birthday. Carried it almost every day and 45 years later still have it.

  10. Ricky says:

    I had one back in the early 80’s. Traded a friend for it. Don’t remember what ever happened to it tho.

  11. Jay Spoon says:

    My main man carried one, as did other members of our gang “The Peacemakers”. Also popular, were the “Saigon” & “Vietnam” knives. They had inlaid dragons on the handles like they have in Asian countries artwork. I preferred the old standard stiletto, not as big & easier to hide on you than the large 007.

  12. CleanCut says:

    007’s were definitely verrrry popular back in the day. And, yes, not only muggers carried them. We carried various kinds of knives for general protection. The number of guns on the street was far less than now; not even close. So, to protect yourself against someone else who probably also carried a knife, you carried a knife. But that flick motion to open the 007 “felt good”, so the name and the flick made it a standard, There were plenty of other knives that you opened like that, but that feel and that name was IT. Time to check ebay…

  13. Joann Jacques says:

    Awesome article, I grew up in Brooklyn NY in the 70s and yes I carried a 007 knife. I was not part of a gang nor was I a mugger, but I loved my knife and I was know to carry one. I am now 60 years old living in South Carolina, and when I am done writing this I will buy me a 007. Two more things I want today that I cherished in the 70s is a pair of Lil Abner boots and a pink Spalding ball. These are the things that are apart of my NY history.

  14. Charlie says:

    My dad is not a self defense weapon kind of guy but since I was a kid I would always find this knife hidden in random locations in the house and when I would get the chance, take it out and just hold it cause it was such a cool knife. I never asked him where he got it or really ever talked about it at all but for the first time this year, I noticed the “007” on it and right away thought that it couldn’t be James Bond related so I figured it was a brand or something and just now looked it up to see if there were more out there. I am very glad I found this article. I found it very interesting and the history of it quite astonishing. To past comments, I don’t think this article in anyway trashed the knife saying it was used mainly by criminals. if you happen to own this knife and take that offensively, than that’s your problem. but I actually found it quite contrary. I mean, why do you think criminals would want this specific knife to begin with?! Because it’s a freaking sweet knife. I am glad I read this article. It actually makes me quite proud to own such a cool knife.

  15. brettfromoz says:

    Cool article. And it confimed something I have long believed … that anything other than strictly negative press coverage is baaad news for criminals. Any reporting that is done in terms of anything less than “local authorities want to punch and arrest him” is the moment you make your criminal career the personal obsession of AT LEAST one cop. Look at the hoary old examples of Capone and Gotti. Non-negative press resulted in highly agressive legal pursuit. I believe the lesson.to.be learned is as follows: as a criminal, there are people employed by the state whose job it is to arrest you, given the opportunity. If it is publicly reported that you are a career criminal and apparently have no fear of those state amployees while you daily and happily breakthe law in their geographical area of responsibity … at least one of them will resolve to kick your arse.
    It makes perfect sense, really. If I were a robbery squad detective and some smartarse in my area was talking to the psper about how hes “one of the best” at sticking up old ladies on the street…. yeah, id track him.down and kick.his arse.

  16. Mike says:

    I still have mine and I keep it razor sharp. It was one of the best pocket knives I ever owned. And I collect knives! I have about 300 in my collection, but the 007 takes me back to my teenage years and reminds me how tough life was back then. There was nothing quite like the smoothness and the heft of the 007. I was pretty broken up when the leather lanyard snapped, but it didn’t stop me from making the 007 my daily carry…. as long as I had a pocket big enough to stick it in.

  17. tony says:

    What I remember most about these (when I was a kid on the lower east side) was that you could see the leather string hanging out a lot of the time, so you knew who was carrying one.

  18. Newkie says:

    These knifes were great.Playing ice hockey I had to travel many hours at all hours to get ice time.Often the only one on a train. I always stood,no matter how tired hockey gear on the short bench just inside the sliding door.This gave me a warning if someone came in from the short side and view of all comming the legth of the car.This was for close infighting.My 9 shot Barretta LR was for distance.A M.C. jacket for prtection from razors.They would come on look me over and move on.Even the cops cast a wary eye on me.My good freind and former N.Y. Ranger Nicky Fotiu was N.Y.State P.A.L. Boxing champ and even he carried a hatchet with him.You took your life in your hands on the J or the A train at 3:30 am.I honestly don’t knoe how I got by on those runs in the early 70’s.Ya had to just gut it out.

  19. Gary Johnson says:

    Ok, I got a 007 too, but it came as a double lot with another 007 type knife with the word: SILENCER electroplated onto the blade. The Silencer is my favorite of the two now – the 5″ blade (also stainless steel Japan) is about a half-width thicker, it’s sharper, has more beveling than the 007 blade, plus the handle is a denser and smoother black stained wood; a more menacing version of the 007!

  20. Mike Miller says:

    I have one. When I was a student at UMass, Fall 1979, my roommate went to NYC for the weekend and picked one up. He couldn’t bring it home at the end of the semester, so he gave it to me. I still have it. Regarding “Flanagan … taking a bit of poetic license” for his claim that “from the handle to the tip was as big as your whole fuckin’ forearm” — that’s exactly how long mine is from the end of the handle to the tip of the blade. According to your photo, mine is the shorter one, but the “007” gold lettering looks like that of the longer one. I hope you can see this photo of my knife lying on my forearm:

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