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New Brunel acquisition for STEAM

A very special paper knife, owned and used by the famous engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel, has recently been acquired by STEAM - Museum of the Great Western Railway and is now on public display at Swindon’s award-winning museum.

Published: Friday, 13th September 2019
STEAM artefact

The previously unseen Brunel artefact dates from the 1830s and measures 46cm in length.  

STEAM Museum Manager, Frances Yeo said: “This is a really lovely object with a hugely significant and fascinating history. With an ivory blade and ebony handle, the paper knife includes a decorative silver neck bearing the inscription I K B.

“It dates from around the 1830s when Brunel was Chief Engineer for the Great Western Railway and would have been used to slit open the uncut pages of newspapers and other large documents.

“We are delighted that STEAM has been able to acquire Brunel’s paper knife, and excited to be able to put it on public display for the first time. The purchase was made possible by a generous contribution from the Friends of Swindon Railway Museum and also from visitor donations to STEAM’s Acquisition Fund.

“The paper knife has an excellent provenance, having been given to the vendor’s ancestors as a gift by Brunel’s son, Henry Marc Brunel.

“On close inspection of J C Horsley’s famous portrait of Brunel at his desk, our curatorial team think that Brunel’s paper knife is shown in this painting.

“Last year, the museum acquired a set of drawing instruments owned and used by Brunel, also made possible with the support of the Friends of Swindon Railway Museum and public donations. The newly acquired paper knife is a very important addition to STEAM’s Brunel collection. We would like to thank the Friends of Swindon Railway Museum and all the visitors who have kindly made donations to STEAM’s Acquisition Fund.

“We hope both new and regular visitors will make a point of viewing this wonderful and unique piece of history when they next come to STEAM.”

Brunel’s paper knife can be found in the museum’s ‘Building the Railway’ exhibition area.

More information about visiting STEAM can be found on the museum’s website at:

Photo: Alan Wild and Steve Gregory of the Friends of Swindon Railway Museum with the new acquisition.

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