Real American Knife Lore

This forum is dedicated to the discussion and display of old knives. The rich history of all the many companies that made them through the early years will be found here as well as many fine examples of the cutlers art. Share pictures of your old knives and your knowledge here!
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Re: Real American Knife Lore

Postby jerryd6818 » Thu Jun 30, 2016 12:13 pm

Miller Bro's wrote: Morris Cutlery Co., Morris, Ill.;

On the Illinois River about 25 miles East of Ottawa, IL. Now there would be one to look for.

Interesting reading.
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Re: Real American Knife Lore

Postby steve99f » Sun Jul 03, 2016 12:29 am

What great pieces of history, thank s for posting them MB.
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Re: Real American Knife Lore

Postby LongBlade » Sun Jul 03, 2016 12:31 pm

Great reading and historical perspective MB ::tu:: ::tu:: ... Thanks for posting these!!!, and glad these came back to the top of this subforum - ... is there more?? :D
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Re: Real American Knife Lore

Postby carrmillus » Sun Jul 03, 2016 2:24 pm

.....MB, thanks for posting this!!....this is VERY interesting!!!..... ::tu:: ::tu:: ::tu:: ............

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Re: Real American Knife Lore

Postby Miller Bro's » Sun Jul 03, 2016 4:54 pm

LongBlade wrote:Thanks for posting these!!!, and glad these came back to the top of this subforum - ... is there more??


Yes I believe so, I just don't have the time to look for them at the moment.
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Re: Real American Knife Lore

Postby Miller Bro's » Sun Jul 03, 2016 4:55 pm

Steve and Tommy glad you enjoyed reading them :D
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Re: Real American Knife Lore

Postby carrmillus » Sun Jul 03, 2016 6:30 pm

.........miller bros., just ran across this and read all of it, this is very interesting, thanks for posting this!!...... ::tu:: .........

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Re: Real American Knife Lore

Postby LongBlade » Wed Jul 06, 2016 9:29 pm

I was in touch with MB (Dimitri) offline and offered to help keep this thread going... I found a few more to add and here is one referring to a couple of the old Conn Cutleries including Waterville.... this interview from the Library of Congress archives was not with a knife maker per se but he did have an interesting perspective...

Peter Odenwald, 66, Clay Street, Thomaston:

“My brother Henry was tellin' me about you, only he said you was writin' up stuff on the clock shop. You want to know about the knife business, too? Oh, I see. Well, of course I ain't a knifemaker, you'll have to go see Charley Klocker or Jim Truelove or some of them fellas if you want to know the ins and outs of knifemakin', but I worked in the knife shops, different times. I worked in Waterville and I worked in Thomaston knife companies.

“I worked in Waterville about thirty five years altogether. Not in the knife business, though. Last job I had, year ago last December I got laid off, was in Waterville. Like I say, I never claimed to be a knifemaker though. I used to do odd jobs, like cleanin', and packin', and like that.

“Knifemakin' was a pretty good trade and it took you quite a while to break in on it. If
 you didn't have friends or relations in the business, you didn't stand much of a chance. They was good money in it, and of course they wanted to keep it among themselves mostly, those English people. Most all English people in the knife business, somehow or other. Charley Klocker was a German, like myself, but they wasn't many Germans in it. Charley's old man learned the business right in the old country and he was as good as any Englishman I ever saw. Why, he made some special knives, little watch charm knives and novelties like that, and some fella took them out 2 to an exposition in Chicago, and they sold like hotcakes. He wrote back to Charley's old man and told him to send all he could rake up, he'd sell 'em for him.

“They made good money, the knifemakers did. Spent it faster's they could make it, though. Funny, you comin' along this afternoon— I was just talkin' to Tod Waters about an old knifemaker from Northfield, used to come down here and get drunk. His name was Fred Russell. Maybe you remember him yourself. You don't? Well, like I say, they always had a pocketful of money when they started out on a spree. I seen this Fred Russell many a time with a roll big enough to choke a cow. He used to come down here to the Hash House and get roarin' drunk. Helpless. He drove a horse and wagon. Tod Waters was in there one night and Russell was there, and he got good and drunk. Got a cryin' jag on. He says to Tod Waters, ‘take me hom, Tod.’ Tod felt sorry for him, so he took him out and helped him into the back of the wagon, and got in the driver's seat and drove up to Russell's house in Northfield. But when he got there, he went around to help Russell out, and the old guy was gone. Tod drove all the way back to Thomaston, lookin' along the road, figgerin', he might have fell out, but he never see hide nor hair of him till he got back to the Hash House. There was Russell up to the bar havin' a drink, and cryin' again. Soon's he saw Tod he says, ‘take me hom, Tod.’ Tod says, ‘I'll be damned if I will!’ I often say that to Tod when I see him an the street, ‘take me home, Tod,’ I say. He always gets a laugh out of it.

“Funny how that business went to hell, ain't it? Well, it ain't no worse than a lot of others, right now at that. I worked down in Waterville, Burbecker and Rowland's for a good many years. Then the Beardsley and Wolcotts got ahold of it and they went under, and then 
this company from Massachusetts took it—they kind of rented the place—and it was all right for a while—and then they moved back to Fairhaven. And I got laid off and I ain't worked since. I coulda gone up there to work, but what the hell, I was only gettin' a couple days a week, and it woulda cost me seventy five or eighty bucks to move and after I got there I probably woulda got laid off again and then where the hell would I be? So I got this unemployment insurance for thirteen weeks, and in the meantime I had an application in for the old age pension and the week after I got my last check, the pension started comin'. Of course it's only seven bucks a week, but I can get by on it, if I's careful. I wish I had a couple bucks more, and then it wouldn't be so close figgerin'. I don't want to be rich, I don't give a damn as long as I can get by. The only thing I's afraid of is some day they'll do away with it. But there ain't no use worryin' about it, is there? Take it as it comes and don't worry about what's gonna happen, that's the way I always figgered.”
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Re: Real American Knife Lore

Postby edge213 » Wed Jul 06, 2016 9:38 pm

This just may be my new favorite thread on AAPK!! Keep 'em comin'.
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Re: Real American Knife Lore

Postby LongBlade » Sun Jul 10, 2016 4:55 pm

Glad you are enjoying these edge213 ::tu:: ... I do as well ::nod:: ...

I figured this would be a good next installment to the thread given the reference to Charley Klocker in the last one I posted... and in contrast to the many Sheffield workers a German worker's perspective...

Charles Klocker - Conn. 1938-9

“They weren't all Englishmen”, says Charles Klocker, of Plymouth Hill. “My father was a German. Learned his knifemaking in the village where he was born in the old country, and he taught it to all us kids whether we liked it or not, soon's we got old enough to work. I had to learn it. Hated the goddamn job, and I hated Northfield. We used to live in Bronxville, New York. That's the first place my father worked when he came to this country. And I was fourteen when we moved to Northfield. After livin' in the city, it was pretty dull. 'soon's I was old enough to be independent, I lit out. Went out west and kept a-travelin'
 for five or six years, workin' at the knifemakin' trade from one shop to another. Worked in shops all through the middle west. That's the way knifemakers used to do, go from one job to another. A pretty restless bunch.

“They stuck close together, too. Had their own union. You couldn't break into the trade unless your old man was a knifemaker. The union had the say, who was going to be taken into the business. I worked up in Northfield time of the strike. We were out for months, I don't remember how long, but it was a long time. I chopped wood for sixty cents a day, to make a little money.

“What was it about? Well, it was the time the government raised the tariff on knives. Prices went up all through the country, and most all the knife companies raised the help five per cent right off the bat, and give 'em another five per cent raise a little later. The Catlins up in Northfield didn't want to give anything. Finally the boys struck. Wanted at least five per cent.

“I can remember the time them fifteen knifemakers came over from England. The one Catlin hired to break the strike. He didn't tell 'em there was a strike goin' on, but they got suspicious.

“Catlin had a boarding house all fixed up for 'em. Had Old Lady Wildgoose come down from Torrington to do the cookin' and everything. Night they came to the 2 village me and Tom Hawley was walkin' down the hill and we met Charley Gustafson and his team, bringin, 'em up.

“‘What you got there, Charley?’ I says. “‘Got some knifemakers,’ says Charley, ‘right from the old country.’

“‘Well, there was a fella named Jim Williams, one of the johnny bulls, he hollers out to me, ‘Is everything all [reet?] up there, lad?’ He talked that low English. I says, ‘No, by God, it isn't. We're on strike,’ I says.

“They went on up the hill to the boardin' house, but not one of 'em went to work the next day. Catlin was madder'n hell, he wouldn't pay their board and they had to get out. But the knifemakers took care of them, every one of them got a job. They took seven over
in Hotchkissville and four down to Cotton Hollow and I think the rest went to work in Southington. You see, the way it was, if you was on strike, like us, you couldn't go out and get a job anywhere else while the strike lasted. None of the other shops would take you. But with those fellas it was different. They hadn't gone to work anywhere.

“My old man made knifemakers out of all of us, me, and my brother Ed and my brother Gus. My brother Gus, if you could talk to him, he was superintendent of the brick shop down on the Waterbury road—Thomaston Knife Company. That's the one Joe Warner owned. But Gus is over in Watertown now. My father worked for Gus at the end. He wouldn't give it up. He was an old man but we couldn't get him to quit. We was always afraid he'd get hurt..

“So Gus tried to discourage him every way he could. He wouldn't give the old man his blades. Let him come to work, and there wouldn't be anything for him to do. His work would lay there on the bench for months, with Gus holdin' it up on him. Finally he see
we got the best of him and he quit. ‘Py God.’ he says, ‘if I was a younger man I'd go someblace else and get a chob. My own son,’ he says, ‘I teach him everything he knows, and now he puts me oudt from the shop.’

“The old man learned his business from those old fellas that did the work in their houses. That's the way they did it over in the old country, you know. I've heard him tell how they used to chisel 'em out with a chisel. The knives you get these days, now. They look fine. But anyone that knows will tell you what they are.

“My father used to make those watch charm knives. Little damn things not more than in inch long. Stoughton took about fifty of them out to the exposition one year and sold them all in less'n a week. Wrote back and asked the old gent for more. Said he could sell all he got.

“I never cared much for the work, but I see a lot of the country because I knew my trade.
I could always move on to another town and get a job. But when I got back home after bummin' around for a few years, I give it up. The boys up in Northfield—they used to save up four-five hundred dollars, and then off they'd go. Wouldn't go back to work till it was gone, the ones that were single, and by that time they'd probably be a good many miles from Northfield and never would come back.

“One thing about it, you could always make good money. You could make three-four dollars a day, if you wanted to work, when two dollars was good pay in most of the shops. You could see the way it was goin' years ago, though. Knife shops closin' up all over the country, and new machinery comin' in. What the hell good was the trade to a man? It don't make no difference any more whether you can make a good knife or not—the cheap ones sell better. Who cares if they're good or not? They ain't got time to fool around with the old fashioned methods. So where would I be if I depended on the knife trade today, to earn a livin'? You said it, m'boy, you said it.”
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Re: Real American Knife Lore

Postby 313 Mike » Sun Jul 10, 2016 5:12 pm

I agree, fantastic thread, keep 'em coming!
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Re: Real American Knife Lore

Postby treefarmer » Sun Jul 10, 2016 6:23 pm

::tu:: Interesting reading!
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Re: Real American Knife Lore

Postby carrmillus » Sun Jul 10, 2016 6:37 pm

..........very interesting, love reading this kind of stuff!!!............ ::tu:: ::tu:: ........................

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Re: Real American Knife Lore

Postby LongBlade » Thu Jul 14, 2016 12:39 am

Thanks all - I'll keep on posting what I can find and glad you folks are enjoying ::tu:: ::tu::

James Truelove had an opening introduction as to who he was in the community before his interview that followed - so that is why the first paragraph is in bold... enjoy fellas....

Second Selectman James Truelove of Reynolds Bridge, a dignified, urbane old gentleman referred to eulogistically in our weekly paper as a “pillar of the Republican party” came
 to Thomaston more than thirty years ago from Sheffield, England, Lakeville, Woodbury and other knifemaking towns and established himself immediately among the knifemakers here as a political figure. His obvious educational advantages, an extensive vocabulary from which he selects words of impressive proportions with care and deliberation, and a certain satorial elegance-combined no doubt, to make of the entire knifemaking population an admiring and faithful constituency. Thus Mr. Truelove has represented “The Bridge,” in the political affairs of our town almost, it might be said, since the mind of man runneth not to the contrary, though the knifemakers, as a political bloc to be reckoned with by office holders have virtually vanished. His accent, if he ever had one, is no longer noticeable, he has few remaining ties with his homeland, is staunchly American and just as staunchly Republican. Says he: Conn. 1938-9

“To the best of my knowledge, the first knifemaking operations in this country by the Sheffield men began at Waterville about 1844. And this group was bought out by Holly up on Lakeville, the company for which I worked when I first came to this country. I worked in Woodbury and then I got a job over here in Thomaston. It's been a good many years now since I worked at the trade, though I'm still following along same line you might say. You see, I do all the hardening for 2 the Seth Thomas Clock Company nowadays.

“I was a hand forger. That was my job. Learned under my father, and he got it from his father, and so on. For four generations. We were hand forgers for four generations. I had five brothers, and out of the five, four of them learned hand forging too. The other enlisted in the army, but entered the knife business when he came back to civilian life. That was the rule in Sheffield in the knifemaking trade. You learned from your father, and what he way was , you were also.

“Yes, it was a difficult job hand forging. Not everyone could learn it. It required quickness— you had to work fast before the steel went below a workable heat—and a certain amount of strength, and good eyesight. The steel wasn't the same as it is now. I think it's safe to say there's been over a hundred different brands of steel developed during the last thirty years, roughly the period I've been in this country.

“I came here when I was thirty years old, already married, brought my family with me. I got tired of the way of life in the old country. There was my father. He lived about a mile and
a half from his work. Every day he walked the same old route, along the same old streets, never saw anything different, never got out into the country, came back again at night, went to bed—-his father did it before him—his father before him. I said by God I was going to see a little bit more of life than that.

“Sheffield was a big city. Close to three quarters of a million population I believe. Like any manufacturing city, smoky, dirty. I said I was going to see a little country for 3 a change.. There were sixty to eighty different knive companies there. Picture that. Any wonder they could send so many knifemakers over here and not miss them? Jealous[!?] Why, those men were so jealous of the reputations of the companies they worked for, they used to have stand up and drag-out fights every day in the week because of arguments over who made the best knives.

“I didn't go into the shops till I was more than eighteen. Had quite a bit of schooling. But
I decided I could do as well at knifemaking as at anything else, so I went in the company where my father worked. Wasn't long—a few years later—I had my own little business. I forged nothing but surgeon's knives—particularly high grade work. Those shops such as I had—where the work was brought to you on contract—were called ‘little masters' shops’. And by the way—I've seen that sort of work, surgeon's scalpels, offered for sale in the cheaper stores recently for less than I could buy the material for in the old country.

“Worst feature of the knife business was the prohibitive tariffs. There was one company— employed six to eight hundred hands. Ninety per cent of the knives were exported to the United States. And then, I think it was before Cleveland was elected, they put on the big tariff. They reduced the production right away in Sheffield, crippled the industry. The way they did it was to limit the amount of pay a man could make. Not like here. They didn't tell you how many hours you were to work. They told you how much money you could get for a certain amount of work and the hours were up to you. Called it 4 'stinting.’ Single men were stinted to $ 50 ? weekly and married men to five dollars, where some were making as much as ten previously.

“Then Mr. Payne, the president of one of the big companies went to America to study the situation. He said the trend was Democratic and that the tariff would be changed with the next election, but in the meantime they had a to reduce production ten per cent. Called the help in and explained the situation, but he promised them that with the election of a new president in the United States business would pick up. Well, his judgment proved excellent. Inside of six months after the election they returned a twenty per cent cut to the help and were working five and a half days a week. They draw a 10 per cent dividend the second year after the election. That determined my politics right there. I said if I ever came to America I'd be for a protective tariff. That's why I became a Republican.

“But the big competitor with this country was Germany, not England. The Germans produced a knife that was puer pure counterfeit. In plain words it was positively no damn good. They're sold in the quarter and dime stores to this day. I was in Waterbury not long ago and I saw a tray of them. Two men were examining them and one of them got hold of a knife that wouldn't open. After he broke a fingernail on it the girl came over to the counter and asked him what the trouble was. She finally had to take a pair of pliers and open the blade. Well, he bought it. Thgouht it had a wonderful spring, I suppose. I felt like asking him why he didn't buy the pliers too.

“But even when I came here the trade was changing. There were only three companies using hand forged blades then. There 5 was the Holly Mfg. Co. in Lakeville, where I first went to work; and Humason and Beckly in New Britain, and the company at Little Valley. I remember up in Lakeville they had a bell they used to ring when it was time to go to work. I had the damndest time trying to get used to it. Never had anything like that in the old country, you see. I was talking in with a lad named Joe Lucas one day and it rang. I said, ‘By God I don't like the idea of that bell.’ He said, ‘I've noticed you don't.’ I said, ‘I don't like it at all—so much so, in fact, that I think I'll just take the day off and go fishing.’ And I did.

“They didn't say anything, at the shop. They were used to Englishmen's ways. You couldn't get away with anything of the sort these days. A workman hasn't any independence any more, nor any pride in his work. I told an official up at the factory just the other day, I said, you give me any kind of steel you want, poorest quality there is, I said, and I'll turn you out a better blade by hand forging than anything on the market today. Of course he was a clock man, he didn't know anything about the knife business, and he said: ‘What are you talking about. Hand forging. Why that's a thing of the past. The next generation won't know what you're talking about.’ Now that was an intelligent argument, wasn't it? The fact remains, pure and simple, that the machine made product is inferior. Here I'll show you —"Mr. Truelove goes out of the room, returns with the inevitable collection of knives.

“Here, he says, ‘“Here's one of the surgeon's knives I told you about. Made it in the old country.” The blade is about six inches in length, shaped and tempered, but not edged. “This one is kind of a keep sake, one of the first I made. Here's one they called a spear jack, and this one here was called a sleeve board. See the way it's shaped? Just like one of those tailor's boards they used to put in the sleeve of a coat. This one's an ‘equal end.’ Derivation of the name is obvious. And this one's a sportsman's knife. My father carried it for years, and it was on him, in fact, when he died. Everything in it was handforged, lining and all. See these instruments? One for taking out slivers—here's a pair of tweezers, another one for taking stones out of a horse's hoof—a corkscrew—a screw driver—a button hook. Lot of those articles you'd never need today.

“Everybody used to carry knives. I do myself, to this day, I never go out without one.
My old grandfather used to say if he went out without a knife in his pocket he felt half undressed. He was over eighty years old and still workin' at his trade. He had a little anvil out in a vacant lot and he'd forge stone cutters' tools for them. He'd go to work at two or three in the afternoon and work till supper time. They used to leave the work for him in the morning and came back and get it next morning.

“A venerable appearing old man, my grandfather was. Had long white whiskers and
a ruddy face. I remember one time we were finished with a meal and my brother—he
was always drawing 7 and sketching—he got out a sheet of paper and he drew my grandfather's head with pencil, from memory mind you, for the old gentleman wasn't there at the time. And everybody said it was a wonderful likeness, which it was. You've heard that knifemakers were artistic, no doubt. That shows there's some truth in it, doesn't it?

“My father's hobby was taxidermy, and he passed it on to me. I work at it to this day, just for pastime, because God knows there isn't much money in it. Some folks bring animals here and never even call for them. Others'll take the finished product and forget to pay. Come in the other room and I'll show you some of my work.”
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Lee

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Re: Real American Knife Lore

Postby Beechtree » Thu Jul 14, 2016 2:05 am

MB, LB, Thank you both so much. This is now my favorite thread as well! Their is nothing better then primary source material. Could you tell me how you go about getting this, is it that it is already transcribed in a written format? I figure maybe we can get a few more eyes combing the material to see what other gems there are. Many, many thanks once again.
"A tool is but an extension of a man's hand." -Henry Ward Beecher


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