The Swiss companies Wenger and Victorinox have both been around for over 100 years, and both have been “official” knife suppliers to the Swiss Army.
Unlike the red polymer scales (handles) and myriad polished blades and tools, which are what come to mind when one thinks of a “Swiss army knife”, the actual folding knife issued to Swiss soldiers was quite different. The Soldier, or Soldat (Soldier in French) model, aka Model 1961 (Wenger also called their civilian version the “Standard Issue” or “SI”), was made by both companies from 1962-2008. The production year was marked on the back side of the main blade tange (base of the blade).
Above: a Wenger Standard Issue (civilian version with bail)
Wenger later made a commemorative version from 2011-2013. In 2009, Victorinox introduced a modernized, new Soldier version that is 111 mm in length.
Frequently referred to as “Alox” or “Aloxy”, in reference to the alloy “scale” (handle) material, these silver-handled knives were longer (93 mm) than the common red plastic scale knives (85 mm) that typify the “Swiss army knife.” They also are limited to just four implements, or tools.
See SwissKnives.info for lots of details on the Soldat and other Swiss Army knives.
See also SAKwiki for detailed specs on nearly all Wenger and Victorinox knives, variants, pics, catalogs, etc. It’s a remarkable resource.
Wenger was acquired by Victorinox in 2005 and in 2013 the Wenger knife brand (and rounded-square shield emblem) were dropped, making Wenger knives suddenly more collectible than their nearly-identical Victorinox counterparts. I had a Wenger pocket knife in the 70’s, so I’ve always been inclined to Wengers over the (now) more popular Victorinox. Note that the “round bottom, square top” shields used on the Soldats is the Swiss crest, and thus the same on both the Wenger and Victorinox versions. For the most part, you can’t distinguish between a Wenger or Victorinox Soldier without opening it up, except for some of the variants described below.
Above: Victorinox (top) and Wenger (bottom) examples of the Soldier; only the civilian version of the Wenger ever included the bail (although it didn’t always include one). Note that both manufacturers use a Swiss shield, not the Wenger or Victorinox company emblem shields.
One of the distinguishing differences between and many Soldat versions are the rivets – coming in either solid or hollow form. Hollow rivets were often used on the end opposite the shield so that a bail (metal hook, as my Wenger has) or fabric lanyard could be attached. The military versions never came with bails, and eventually stopped coming with hollow rivets.
Above: a 1979 Victorinox Soldat with a hallow rivet and inspection stamp; often you see these with no stamp, but still with the square box where the stamp belongs. Note that there is no bail.
Though silver is the most common scale finish color (yes, the first ones were red), non-Soldier models were produced in many colors – particularly the Victorinox versions (such as the Cadet, Farmer and Pioneer models). The orange ones are particularly attractive. Earlier models of the Soldat used all-silver shields.
eBay is about the only place to find the now-discontinued Wenger Soldier/Standard Issue knives; expect to pay at least $50-65 for a “new” old stock. If you can’t find one, then the currently produced Victorinox Pioneer version is less expensive, easy to find and just as nice. Still, there’s something cool about the bails on those old Wengers!