Case Family & American Cutlery History Video Documentary by Brad Lockwood Part I

Introducing a two-part video series on the Case Knife Family

Brad Lockwood, great-great-great grandson of Job Case- the patriarch and icon of the Case family cutlers- produced these videos for all Case and American cutlery history fans to enjoy.

This series is much like a cliff notes narrated version of his fantastic book, “Tested XX – The Case Cutlery Dynasty.” Brad does an excellent job providing us footage of many of the historic homes and knife factory sites in Little Valley, NY- “The Village of Knives,” in addition to Case family history. Members of the Case family either worked for or started 32 different knife companies over the years.

Stay tuned for Part II later this week.

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Another Knife Auction Underway

wardsauctionAnother knife auction is underway and is being conducted by Ward’s Auctions, a collectibles auction company. Eric Ward, President of the firm, contacted me about this sale. He wrote, “We are well known for ammo, boxes, advertising posters & calendars for hunting & fishing, but not so much when it comes to the Knives- NOT YET ANYWAY!”

While it sounds like the firm is focusing more on future knife auctions, the sale they have currently scheduled is a liquidation of knife inventory spread throughout the firm’s next four scheduled auctions. The first is going on now and ends November 20th. The November sale inventory consists of Case, Marbles and Winchester knives and begins with lot #9323.

The other three auctions are set for next year, so if you want to keep up, then bookmark their site or sign up for their email list updates and auction announcements.

Published in: on November 4, 2009 at 4:12 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Times change and knife companies’ sales methods must too

I’m intrigued with knife company history, as you probably know. While I wasn’t much of a student of history back in school, now that I can relate it to something, I love it!

History is not everyone’s cup of tea and I recognize that, but today we need to take a bird’s-eye view back regarding knife companies and their sales methods to see how things have changed….and continue to.

Quick Look Back

Union Cutlery Co saleman's case

Union Cutlery Co saleman's case

In the mid to late 1800s knife companies used jobbers and traveling salesmen (drummers) to peddle their knives. Then large wholesalers and retailers came into the picture. These firms often promoted different knife brands in their catalogs- often boasting over a 1000 pages. Eventually, the traveling salesmen died out and then came the age of advertising & merchandising. Local hardware and general stores were also primary sales outlets for the knife companies.

Even today, you can still find the local general or hardware store scattered around the country. These retailers and dealers still represent, for several knife companies, their primary sales channel. Next time you travel and run through a small community stop in- you will often find several brands available, like Case, Old Timers, Buck and Gerber knives, to name a few.

Times changed

Wal-MartFor many of the knife companies gone are the day of having thousands or tens of thousands of local sales outlets. Today Big Box Stores- the Wal-Mart, KMart, Home Depot, Target and Lowe’s- monopolize sales. These national chains have tremendous buying power too, providing them significant leverage when negotiating with the knife companies.

The speciality knife stores, like Smokey Mountain Knife Works, are the exception rather than the rule. There are very few stand alone knife stores out there today.

Big Box vs. 20,000 dealers

With fewer mom and pop stores across American many knife companies are faced with the dilemma of courting these Big Box Stores

buckknifecLast week, we saw a revealing article about Buck Knives in the Wall Street Journal. C. J. Buck was interviewed about his decision to relocate their company in 2004. The bottom-line was Buck’s move was an effort to lower operating costs, and thus allowing them to maintain their pricing (in other words, they were faced with potentially needing to raise their prices due to their costs).

Mr. Buck points out- “We (had gone) from having over 20,000 small cutlery dealers like Don’s Hardware store and some chains to a few big accounts like KMart, Wal-Mart, JCPenny and Montgomery Ward. We saw tremendous volume increases… But price became a big factor and our margins began to get squeezed.”

Knife companies like Buck, who use the big accounts as a way to volume sales are directly impacted by lower margins, while the companies still relying on the small dealer network have higher overhead to facilitate thousands of accounts and these dealers are being directly impacted by customers pulling in their spending reins. Many of these stores are now struggling to stay in business.

Online Knife Sales

Today, the World Wide Web plays an important component in knife sales too. Most every small retail and hardware store at least promotes their store online. The majority of them have some aspect of e-commerce too- allowing their customers to order direct from their site. Their challenge is, however, in order to command any measurable web sales they either have to have a very loyal customer base or continued marketing. Moreover, these stores simply can’t get the page rankings to compete online against the big boys- Amazon, Wal-Mart, etc. And at times their online stores compete with their physical location.

mainstrsupplystore

Here’s an example- Main St. Supply Company–  a 100 year old general store. Its web site offers hundreds of products, in addition to knives from Case, Buck and Old Timer.

Then what about each knife company’s own website? I can’t think of a single knife company without an online presence today. They realize the benefits of online promotion of their firm and their knives and yet, they are faced with the decision of whether to have direct online sales from their websites or to remain loyal to their existing distribution network- their dealers and retailers- by not competing directly against them.

Interestingly, a quick review of 16 top knife companies, nine offer direct online sales. Of the seven that don’t, they point buyers to their dealers list provided from their site.

Business Model Changes?

Are the knife companies in the middle of a paradigm shift (sorry to use that worn out phrase) from the tried and true dealer network of physical locations to more web oriented sales? The majority can’t count on landing a big box account or national retailer.

Wouldn’t you be interested in seeing the total number of online knife sales compared to the total sold for the last few years?

I would guess that number is going to increase to a point over time. Does that fact, coupled with higher profit margins for direct to the pubic sales, influence knife companies to increase their direct online sales efforts? And if they do, is that move helping or hurting their dealer network? Only time will tell, but the majority of knife companies already do. The question then becomes, will they keep their dealer networks?

Closing Point to Ponder

Recently I asked one of the most popular knife companies about whether they would allow a dealer to only have an online store. The answer was “No. We require our dealers to have a physical location.” … sounds like a bit of 1980s thinking, now doesn’t it?

Photo Credits: Buck Knife – The Wall Street Journal; Main Street Supply Co.

Famous Knife Factory Fires

If you have been collecting knives for any time you have probably heard stories of the most famous knife company fires. There are quite a few, actually.

I’m sure you have heard about the Case Brothers fire that destroyed their Little Valley, New York factory on February 10th, 1912. But did you know this was actually their second factory to have burned to the ground?

Case Smethport Cutlery 6.11.1910

Case Smethport Cutlery ruins 1910

Two years earlier their Smethport, Pa factory burned. It had only been in operation since Dec. 1909 when they, along with W. R. & Russ Case, and H. N. Platts, purchased the Smethport Cutlery Company. Then on June 11th, 1910,  fire destroyed the entire plant.

Not to digress, but I found the entire set of circumstances of this fire very interesting- almost comical.

  • When the Night Watchman discovered the fire, he reportedly tried to extinguish it by grabbing a pail of water and throwing it on the fire, only to see the flames increase- he had thrown a pail of oil, instead of water.
  • smethport-pa-fire-depart-historyWhen the fire department and hose carts arrived and opened the hydrant, there was no water pressure.
  • “No team (horses) was handy to then haul the fire engine, so a number of firemen started out with it by hand, but the progress was slow and before it was on the ground and in operation this large building was completely enveloped in flames and all possibility of saving any part of it was gone.” Quote from McKean County Miner- June 16, 1910
  • One of the reasons the site was selected for the cutlery plant in the beginning was the location of the hydrant, which was immediately next to the building.

List of Knife Factory Fires

Throughout American cutlery history fire has been a big problem. It is not unusual to discover a knife company didn’t rebuild, instead they went out of business. Other times, I found factories that burned to the ground more than once and rebuilt each time.

Overall I was surprised with what I found. Before I show you, let me ask-

Can you history buffs name one or two other cutlery factory fires?

(more…)

Case lays off additional workers

caselogoBREAKING NEWS- The Pittsburg Post-Gazette reported today, W R Case & Sons Cutlery Co. of Bradford, Pa. laid off 78 more employees. This is the second workforce reduction this year.

Case puts knives on sale in first-ever Spring Sales Event

casespringsaleW R Case announced a “Spring Sales Event” by discounting knives through participating dealers. According to Case, this is the first time in its history to run a spring sales event. Unprecendented times call for unprecedented actions and Case is getting out of its box to increase sales and move inventory.

Published in: on March 20, 2009 at 5:39 am  Leave a Comment  
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The Conversion of a Rebel & Case Knives

Weekend Edition

When I first started collecting pocketknives I learned of Case knives. Then I kept running into Case knives. Everyone I talked to talked about Case knives. It was obvious Case knives were very popular and the throngs of collectors wanted Case knives.

No, I don't fly a Rebel Flag

No, I don't fly a Rebel Flag

I am a bit of a rebel. I don’t follow the crowd. I registered Independent. The last thing I want to do is the thing everyone else is doing. And as as it related to collecting knives, I decided-

I was NOT going to collect Case knives!

And I didn’t, instead I built a collection of German-made knives (H. Boker). Then years later I started collecting elephant toenails  and I wanted the old stuff! 

I can hear you chuckling now

Everyone who has been ’round knife collecting for very long knows Case is where every collector eventually gets to- one way or another. It is kinda of like what we say down here in the South- you can’t get there without having to first go through Atlanta (airport). The same is true for Case and especially for a collector of old American made knives.

You see, Case was a major player back when elephant toenails were first made. Case Brothers made them. W. R. Case &  SON had toenails made by Napanoch around 1902. Then you had the Platts (jumbo swellcenter!!) and W R Case merger around 1905. And the whole time Case toenails were produced, not to mention Crandall, Little Valley Knife Association, on and on. Everywhere I turned was a Case knife or family member.

Try as I might, I couldn’t collect old toenails without falling in love with Case and its fascinating history. If you have been around ElephantToenails.com or CNJ for very long you probably thought I was a stock holder, on salary or something, but I’m not. I resisted it tooth and nail and then naturally fell for this firm.

cccmagwinter2008resizedlowresToday I am a proud member of the Case Collectors Club and this week received the CCC magazine, which, incidentally, mentions Cutlery News Journal’s interview with Tom Arrowsmith, the President of W R Case Cutlery Co., on the CNJ Knife Show.

The CCC  has grown from a handful of members in 1981 to 18,000 members worldwide. I can attest to the fact- these folks are fanatics when it comes to Case knives. I have been fortunate to have been asked to conduct the auctions for two Case events in Bradford, Pa and I’ve never seen anything like it. casefanknife

And I must confess one day you may see me like this too, cause the conversion of this rebel is complete.20080718_0778