The origins of the knife rental service is an interesting story in itself. There is a rich history of knife sharpeners originating in the Trentino region of northern Italy. These people built their own sharpening machinery with a central grindstone, called a moleta. They would take their moletas from town to town, sharpening people’s knives. During the high tourist season in the southern regions of Italy, people from Trentino would travel south to sharpen knives for busy restaurants. Eventually, many of these people migrated to England and the US, taking their skills with them.
In Patrick Grassi’s, On the Edge of Emigration, he traces the history of the Collini family as they travelled from Trentino to England. After World War II, the Collini’s business began to grow, and they were able to upgrade from a moleta to a van, allowing them to service more customers in a larger region. However, new restrictions emerged, making the traditional method of sharpening on the road more difficult. They, along with other knife sharpeners, transitioned into a knife rental service
The Early Knife Rental System
The idea of a knife rental service was to buy a workspace, set up all the sharpening equipment there, buy a large amount of knives, and then rent those knives to customers, delivering them like a mail system. The knife sharpeners would buy two identical knife sets, they would deliver one set to the customer, and, when that first set became dull, it was sent back for sharpening, while the second set was delivered to the customer. This allowed the knife sharpeners to work in a single location, rather than on the road. It also meant that one person could always be grinding, while another traveled in a van, picking up knives or making deliveries. For the customers, it meant that they always had sharp knives, since they didn’t have to wait while their own personal knives were being sharpened.
In the US
This transition had already happened in the US. In Chicago, where there was high demand for knife services, Maestri Brothers, the knife sharpening service owned by brothers Peter and Ben Maestri, provided knife rental service to the entire South Side of Chicago. In the late 1940s and early 1950s they transitioned all of their business into knife rental accounts. Ben eventually started his own business, primarily sharpening for the many slaughterhouses in Chicago.
Years later the Masé brothers, also from Trentino, bought Ben Maestri’s workshop and continued to grow and popularize the knife rental service. According to Grassi, who interviews the Masé brothers in his book, the knife rental service quickly spread by word of mouth until all of their clients were using it.
Fun fact: Ben Maestri, who sold his workshop and client list to the Masé’s, was the great uncle of PostKnife’s owner Michael Maestri, and Peter Maestri of Maestri Brothers, was Michael's grandfather.
The Knife Rental Service Today
The early knife rental system of the mid 20th century was actually pretty similar to what we do today, the main difference being that at PostKnife we offer our knife services to every address across the US. It’s always good to remember that it’s thanks to the hard work and innovation of our Italian ancestors that we’re able to do what we do.
Hope you gleaned some interesting information! If you’d like to know more about knife rental services, or a knife subscription service, check out PostKnife.com.