Like Nixon & Winterbottom, James Drabble tried to mechanise the Sheffield cutlery trades. He had been born at St Andrew’s, New Brunswick, Canada in about 1821. He may have been the son of George Drabble. If so, he was a clerk in Sheffield at the time of the Census (1841). In 1845, James Drabble advertised as a manufacturer of shoe, butcher, table, and palette knives in Carver Street. However, in 1847 he appeared in the bankruptcy court and admitted that he had suffered heavy business losses (Sheffield Independent, 2 January 1847). James Drabble was next listed in 1860 as a merchant and manufacturer of cutlery at Orchard Lane Cutlery Works. Until 1866, he partnered George Armitage. The firm employed 50 men and specialised in table knives and forks.
At the London International Exhibition (1862), James Drabble & Co displayed daggers, butchers’, spear and machete knives, and received an ‘honourable mention’ for table cutlery. The daggers had various inscribed mottoes, such as ‘Never Despair’, ‘A Sure Defence’, ‘Draw Me Not Without Occasion, Sheathe Me Not Without Honour’. Machinery was applied to the manufacture of these fixed-blade knives. Drabble told The Sheffield Independent, 29 May 1862, that:
whilst other makers apply machinery only in part to the forging process, we have it complete: and in the hafting department we have every machine required in the various manipulations, which other manufacturers have not. Our object has been to put down machinery, so that we could compete with American and German manufacturers.
In 1869, Drabble was bankrupt again and his stock and machinery auctioned (Sheffield Daily Telegraph, 9 January 1869). During the 1870s and 1880s, he continued in Wellington Street and Trafalgar Street (Trafalgar Works), though on a smaller scale (employing 29 workers in 1871). His firm disappeared from directories after 1888. On 17 March 1908, The Sheffield Daily Telegraph noted the death two days earlier of James Drabble, the merchant and cutlery manufacturer, aged 86, who lived in Clarkehouse Road. He had spent the last thirty years of his working life as a traveller for the Nunnery Colliery. He was interred in the General Cemetery, leaving £1,400.