Interview with man who started working in knife factory in 1872

Part II in the American Life Histories– manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project 1936- 1940. Today’s interview is with William Dunbar of Reynolds Bridge, Connecticut during the year of 1938. The person conducting the interview is not identified and it begins with a note about Mr. Dunbar.

William Dunbar, of Reynolds Bridge, a hale and hearty old gentleman who admits to “over eighty” but astonishingly active is the last of the knifemakers remaining in his section. Commonly known as the “village,” this little suburb is composed of two straggling rows of houses over the mile long road intersecting the main highways from Thomaston to Waterbury and Watertown, (Connecticut). Built expressly for the English knifemakers who once worked in the old wooden factory in the heart of the village–long since abandoned and falling into decay–the little settlement is now occupied largely by poorer families attracted by the low rents. The home of Mr. Dunbar however is comfortably furnished, equipped with modern conveniences. He spends his winters in Florida, has a summer camp at a nearby lake–and only last year, he says, built himself a small power boat which he used successfully for fishing excursions.

“This here concern,” says Mr. Dunbar (meaning the old knife factory at Reynolds Bridge)” was called the American Knife Company, and when it started I can’t tell you. But I know it was begun by Pierpont and Morse. Squire Morse, he owned a clock shop down there on the site of the factory building, and it burned down. And afterwards (c.1849) he got together with Pierpont and started the knife factory. (Goins’ dates American Knife Company c. 1875- 1895. It was sold to Northfield Knife Co. in 1894- SK)

“No, I don’t think either one of them knew anything about knifemakin’. They were good businessmen. They hired the knifemakers and let ’em go, and I guess they made money. My father worked in Waterville and then came up here. No sir, he was a Yankee, he wasn’t an Englishman. I learned the trade from him when I was a kid and went to work in the shop here when I was fourteen.

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Cutlery History- Every puzzle piece helps

Let’s see a show of hands of how many of you like to learn about cutlery life in the early 1900s?

I’m excited. Got me a new picture book yesterday off eBay and can’t wait to look at it. It’s a 224 page manufacturer’s catalog of cutlery factory equipment from 1918.

While I don’t expect it to paint much of a picture of working in a factory back then- it will provide a glimpse. And every little puzzle piece helps.

Sounds dry, you say? Maybe. But nothing like the 493 page The Cutlery Trades by G. I. H. Lloyd of 1913. Now that book will make your eyes roll back in your head- lots of charts and tables, and no pictures.


Published in: on December 6, 2009 at 9:23 am  Leave a Comment  
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CNJ Knife Trivia- A Writer Who Helped Make a Knife Famous

Knife History Trivia

Today’s CNJ Knife Trivia focuses on the identity of an early American writer and the knife he helped make famous. There are two books, in particular, in which he mentioned this knife and more than likely you have read them both too.

This writer wasn’t hired for product placement (intentional mention or use of a product in a book or movie) of this particular knife, instead, he only mentioned it, almost in passing, and yet, as minor as it was at the time, these slight references helped promote this knife to generations of young boys making it one of the most popular knives in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Can you name this writer and the knife involved?

Hint: He is also known for writing “Gimme a Case-Knife.”

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Published in: on November 29, 2009 at 3:41 pm  Comments (2)  
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She worked in a Connecticut knife factory from 1888 to 1914

During the Depression folks were hired to travel the Country documenting American Life as part of the Federal Writers’ Project. These interviews are now in the Library of Congress.

The following is an interview conducted with the Widow Buckingham in 1938. She worked for American Shear & Knife for 26 years, beginning in 1888.

This interview brings working in a knife factory to life- in a personal way. It’s American cutlery history at its finest.

It begins with Mrs. Buckingham being asked about the history of knife factories in her area- the Reynolds Bridge area of Connecticut.

“Don’t know’s I can give you much history about these Reynolds Bridge Companies,” she says. “We only lived here since 1916. I came from a knifemakin’ family, though. Worked at it for twenty-six years myself, over in Hotchkissville. American Shear and Knife Company–that burnt down in 1914, and they never rebuilt it. (Goins’ dates American Shear  c.1853- 1914. At one time it employed 150 workers-SK)

“My father was from Sheffield, England, where all the good knifemakers come from. I was six years old when we moved to Hotchkissville. Of course I don’t remember much about the old country, but I can remember my mother tellin’ about how when she first come over here she was scared of everything. Sheffield was a big city, you know, and they weren’t used to country ways. She was afraid of the peep frogs, when first she heard ’em. My sister and my two brothers was born in Hotchkissville. My sister–she lives down here on the flat now–father used to say, ‘she’s the first bloody Yankee in our family, and she’s a bugger.’

“Women in the knife shops? Oh, yes, there was about ten of ’em over in Hotchkissville. We used to clean, and pack the knives, little jobs like that. They had boys to get the work ready for the finishers. Most all English people, I don’t know what it was, whether the Yanks couldn’t learn the trade, or what. Oh, there was some, of course. The men that owned the companies used to go to Sheffield to hire help, pay their passage to this country, and let ’em work it out.

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Case Brothers Knife History- An extremely rare find

Had an opportunity to buy a knife recently. Well, I didn’t really get a knife, only a part of it. A blade actually. But at least it was the masterblade.

CaseBrothers51blade

It looks like an elephant toenail blade, or does it?

Case Brothers 2250 005 cropped

Case Brothers Standard Style Ebony 2250 Toenail 3 7/8"

A friend  sent a pic of this blade telling me it was a toenail blade, in case I was interested. It was a Case Brothers Cutlery Co. of Little Valley, NY (c.1900- 1915)- one of my all-time favorites.

When I opened the picture attached to his email, I thought- that isn’t a toenail blade. I expected to see the typical CB toenail blade – short, fat and with a long pull like the one pictured here.

While it was a spear point type blade, and it did resemble an old toenail blade, it clearly wasn’t for the typical CB toenail. “Wait a minute, could it be…..?” flashed in my head. Case Brothers was one of the very few firms to make toenails in two different styles. The most common was the “standard style” – the ’50 pattern (2250, 5250, 6250, 7250 & 8250), but they also made a longer version called the ’51 pattern.

Everybody and their brother(s) made the standard style toenail back in the early 1900s, but the longer variety was another matter.

007 Case Brothers Little Valley NY 2281- 04 copy

Case Brothers Ebony 2251 4 1/2"

You should have seen me dart to where I keep my Case Brothers toenails. Grabbed my ’51 patterns and ran back. Couldn’t get them open quickly enough and when I did- it was a match– the same swedge, the single pull and even the TESTED XX matched one of mine.

20091029_2975

Case Brothers 2251 pictured in 1904 Catalog

Do you know how rare it is to find an old blade that is full? I’m talking about the fullest of full. And yet, this blade represented so much more than simply a full toenail blade to me.

OK, call me nuts if you want, but I value this baby right up there with the best of the best I have. It has it all- my favorite brand, a significant artifact from cutlery history, a toenail masterblade and the rarest of the two varieties at that. It also represents the fullest ’51 pattern masterblade I have ever seen.

20091029_2984

The Case Brothers Ebony 2251 Pattern Toenails

In case you are wondering….

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Published in: on October 30, 2009 at 9:10 am  Comments (1)  
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Meet Knife World’s Editor Mark Zalesky

Mark Zalesky

Mark Zalesky

Knife people are nice people, that’s what I have found. Knives are fun, yes, they are, but the people we are associated with while playing knives make it all the more fun.

Mark Zalesky, editor of Knife World, is one of these fun people. Extremely quick wit, great sense of humor, vast knowledge of knife history, love for the hobby. Sometimes a bit hard-headed, but a great guy and someone I count as a friend- knives or not. I love his editorials- Irons in the Fire. He can get fired up there every now and then too.

Recently, David Anthony, author of Tidioute- A Town With An Edge, interviewed Mark and agreed to share it with Cutlery News Journal for us to enjoy. If you know Mark you can actually hear his voice in his quotes, if you don’t, then you will by the time the interview wraps- up.

Mark's early favorites- MSA Safety Hunter

Mark's early favorites- MSA Safety Hunter

Rather than attempt to rewrite it and re-publish its images (some great knife shots included), I elected to post it as an attachment- PDF format. I hope you enjoy getting to know Mark. He’s a great guy and a Cutlery Hall of Famer, if there is such an organization. If not, he should be the first inductee.

Thanks David for providing this sit down with Mark, as well as your passion for our hobby!

Zalesky Interview PDF

Published in: on October 22, 2009 at 3:13 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Knife Company History- Northfield Knife Company advertisement 1884

October 4, 1884 Northfield Knife Company advertisement

October 2, 1884 Northfield Knife Company advertisement

Source: The Iron Age- October 2, 1884

Published in: on October 15, 2009 at 12:14 pm  Comments (3)  
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CNJ Trivia- Pocketknife and the President of the United States

Knife Company History Trivia

Knife History Trivia

Today’s CNJ Trivia revolves around with the office of the President of the United States and one of our favorite subjects- a pocketknife.

pres-seaCan you name which President was carrying a pocketknife at what historians call “the time of his death?”

While this President is known for many things, one of the aspects we remember is what he was inflicted with that ultimately caused his death.

click to see the answer

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Published in: on October 8, 2009 at 7:34 am  Comments (8)  
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Cutlery News Journal Makes History!

knives2010Cutlery News Journal (CNJ) is recognized by Krause Publications’ Knives 2010– The World’s Greatest Knife Book by making their Knife Publication list.  Cutlery News Journal is the first blog to make the list. All other knife publications shown are traditional print media.

CNJ began last year and is the first independent knife collector news blog. Blogs are web media outlets published electronically. All articles are stored for easy topic search by their subscribers.

Krause Publications is a subsidiary of F + W Media, the leading enthusiast content provider and marketer of magazines, including Blade, books, conferences, and interactive media properties.

Photo credit: Krause Publications

Pieces of cutlery history travel down through time- together

puzzleMany collectors of vintage knives also collect old knife company memorabilia- the knife boxes, letterhead, ads, catalogs, buttons, signs, letters, photographs and those type things from their favorite knife company of days gone by. These rare items are pieces of the puzzle to help us get a better glimpse into the life and times back then.

Anytime we can link two or more items directly, like a knife box marked with the our favorite knife pattern number, an old ad illustrating our favorite knife or an old invoice with our knife’s pattern number on it, we go nuts.

Not long ago I had the opportunity to purchase some knife company memorabilia from a collector- old knife boxes, billheads, invoices, postcards and the like from many of the granddaddies of American cutlery firms. I didn’t study them at the time, instead I put them in plastic sleeves and then in notebooks labeled for each of the knife companies.

Only later when I was looking up some knife history factoid did I realize two of the items directly linked. Yes, they were both from the year 1900 and also both from Case Brothers Cutlery Co., Little Valley, NY, but to me the direct link is they were both addressed to a Mr. G. C. Monchow in Marilla, NY and are about the same knife order.

casebrothersmonchow

On Oct 29, 1900, Case Brothers issued an invoice to Mr. Monchow showing the order and shipment method initialed by the salesman “JRC” (John Russell ‘Russ” Case- the eventual founder of W R Case & Son). Then on Nov. 12th, 1900, Case Brothers mailed a postcard to Mr. Monchow acknowledging his payment on that specific order.

“We acknowledge with pleasure the receipt of your favor of Nov. 10 enclosing check for $62.08 which has been placed to your credit, in payment of bill of Oct. 29, 1900 for which accept our thanks: cordially inviting your further orders, we remain, yours respectfully,” Case Bros., Cutlery Co.

Pretty cool, isn’t it? It is extremely rare for two directly related items of cutlery history both to have survived and still together after 109 years!

In case you are wondering, Mr. Monchow owned a general store in Marilla (Erie County) New York. The store opened under the name H. T. Foster & Co. in 1865. Mr. Monchow became a partner in 1874. He survived his partner and sometime between 1889 and 1900 changed its name to G. C. Monchow & Co- the name reflected on the billing invoice and receipt from Case Brothers. The store closed in 1938.