Friday, August 22, 2014

A Tale of Three Knives

I have three knives – old knives. I’ve known about these knives for as long as I can remember – ever since I was a little girl. Since then whenever I see one of them, I wonder who all could they have belonged to? They were my grandma’s when I was growing up, but did someone have them before her? I remember my grandma Porteous said they were brought over from England, and I think I believed that until just lately when I found them again in a drawer. They aren't in use anymore but was when I was a little girl.

They aren’t very pretty, but I’m not going to clean them up for any pictures. I’ll leave them alone because I know they are old and I don’t want to ruin the "use" marks showing on them now. They have had plenty of use over the years which could very well be over 100 years now. Grandma was married in 1895. I know no one has used them in the last 25 since I acquired them and stuck them in a drawer.


Two of the knives have names stamped on their blade. The middle knife with the horn handle is labeled Landers Frary & Clark with words Bread Knife above a triangle mark with the words TRADE MARK going up one side and down the other and inside the triangle is an arm and hand holding a forging hammer. What looks like ǢTNA WORKS under the company name.
A little web searching revealed and article in Toaster Articles “The Saga of Landers, Frary & Clark” by Earl Lifshey. According to the article, “George Landers, age sixteen, arrived in New Britain, Connecticut in 1829 looking for a job.” He went to work for a Josiah Dewey who had a small company “making cupboard latches and other hardware.” Dewey died and the company became Landers & Smith Manufacturing Company in 1853. By 1862, this “small but prosperous company made another of the many acquisitions” when it “acquired the firm of Frary, Clark & Company, of Meriden Connecticut.” The company name changed to Landers, Frary & Clark. Over the next century into the 1960s, the company was sold to the General Electric Company’s Housewares Division. “In the 1890s the trade name ‘Universal’ was adopted” and it introduced other “revolutionary household products.” After efforts to diversify, about 1965 the company was no longer. The cost of bringing new products to the market evidently was too much and “it was all over. Landers, Frary & Clark was now another famous name that had passed into history where, with the years, its former fame would soon fade away.”

This bread knife is fairly old because its trade name showed up in 1862 and was used until 1890 when the word “Universal” was stamped along with the trade name. My knife doesn’t have this word. This knife couldn’t be one from England because the company was located in Connecticut unless it was imported. I’m sure it was shipped to the midwest and sold in the Chicago area where my ancestors had settled. Who it belonged to before my grandmother is another question. My paternal grandparents William and Carrie Porteous were married in 1895. William’s parents John and Mary Ann lived on a farm on the west side of what is now Mundelein, Illinois and both passed away in the 1920s. Neither one came to live with my grandparents when or if they gave up the farm. Therefore I don’t think any of their household possessions were given to grandma. 

It looks like grandma’s parents John and Wilhelmina Snyder could have been the owners of the knife. They sold their farm in Fremont Center area west of Ivanhoe, Illinois and moved in with William and Carrie sometime after the 1900 Federal census. Great Grandmother Wilhelmina is the likely owner of the knife. I have the wooden bowls and paddles, etc. my grandma Porteous told me were her mother’s. I concluded the knife must have been great grandmother Wilhelmina's.

The top knife in the first picture has the stamped trade name I. Wilson, Sycamore St., Sheffield, England (barely make out England). The “I” actually is a “J” for John Wilson who inherited the company. It was common to see the letter exchanged like that in England. Next to the company name and street name is a trademark of four circles with a diamond next to it. They are called peppercorns.

The handle is two pieces of wood sandwiching the blade which extends in the middle of the handle; all is held together with six rivets in a pattern like 
. . :.
In 1937 there was an ad layout of a “medallion of knives” touting “John Wilson’s World Famous ‘Peppercorn & Diamond Brand’ which cuts as keen as pepper and carries an edge like a diamond – Butchers’ & Provision Dealers’ Cutlery Made from the Finest Guaranteed Double Shear Steel - Hand-Forged. The goods have an unbroken Reputation for Quality One Hundred and Eighty-seven Years. The Oldest and Foremost Firm in the World specialising in the Manufacture of Butchers’ and Provision Dealers’ Cutlery. “Established 1750.” Read about it at British Blades.

John Wilson is listed as one of the masters of the Sheffield Cutlers Guild, 1624-1905 (reference in the “Blade’s Guide to Knives & Their Values” page 117 found on Google Books . On page 323, there is a reference to how well-known John Wilson cutler was: “In 1803, on their transcontinental trek, Lewis and Clark had brought along dozens of John Wilson knives made in Sheffield, handing them out as presents and in trade, as well as using some themselves. We do not know what patterns the knives were. Evidently, both Indians and settlers considered I.WILSON to be a premium brand. Wilson butcher knives were made until about 1970, when thousands of unused examples were dumped on the collector market. The mark ‘HUDSON BAY Co.’ on some of the later knives is spurious [fake].”My Wilson knife more than likely is some sort of a small butcher knife, but it’s hard to tell because it has been sharpened so much its original shape is lost. 
The knife is from Sheffield, West Riding, Yorkshire, England. It could have been bought in the Chicago area; many Sheffield knives were shipped and sold in the States back then as they are today. It could also have been a wedding gift to William and Carrie. William was born in Sheffield when John was working there in the mid-1860s. Sheffield steel was considered the best for knives. So it is conceivable it was just a wedding gift from someone who knew.

That third knife will always be a mystery. I'm sure it is old. The blade's patina is similar to the other two. It also looks something like what Henkels could have produced late 1800s or early 1900s. I don't think their style has changed much, but without proof it's a Henkels, it is only a knife with three rivets holding two pieces of wood and the extended part of the blade together. There is no trademark stamped on it; I’ll never know if it is a vintage Henkels or not.

So, what does this have to do with genealogy? Well, not a lot except it would if you are a family historian who is just as curious about heirlooms you had been around all your life. It's putting "flesh" on the bones of your ancestors and not just about names and dates.

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