The online community of knife collectors, A Knife Family Forged in Steel
The story of knives branded with the name Case encompasses dozens of markings and as many members of a family who would make cutlery history.
To study the brand that is recognized by most collectors as the king of factory knife collectibles, W. R. Case and Sons Cutlery, it is important to include information of other companies.
Although Job Russell Case was never directly involved with the manufacture or the sale of knives, he is considered by many to be the grandfather of the several knife brands that carried his name.
The Case name is near magic to the ears of collectors of factory-made knives. It’s a name that is best known, widely respected, and intertwined with the American cutlery industry.
Grandpa Job Case was born in 1821 and spent his adult years as a farmer, horse trader, freighter, and lumberman.
It is through his descendants that he exerted so much influence upon the knives we collect today.
These descendants were introduced to the cutlery business by their relatives who were knife makers and, in turn, they influenced several other family members to become part of what was to become a knife-manufacturing dynasty.
The story of Case knives begins in the later part of the 19th century and continues through at least a half-dozen significant stages in the industry of the knives and the family that created them.
To make them more meaningful to collectors, knife stampings associated with these periods are included.
The Early Years
The Case family was introduced to knife making when Job’s daughter, Theresa, married a cutlery salesman named John Brown Francis Champlin.
In 1882, Champlin resigned from the cutlery-importing firm of Friedmann and Lauterjung to begin his own business as a knife broker.
In this capacity, he contracted for knives to be made and then sold them under his own brand name. The brand, J. B. F. Champlin, Little Valley, New York was so successful that four of his wife’s brothers joined the business in 1866.
When Champlin’s brothers-in-law, William R. Jean, John D. and Andrew Case, joined his firm, it was renamed Cattaraugus Cutlery Company.
The company continued to do well with Champlin and his son, Tint, directing its manufacturing.
The case brothers’ employment with Cattaraugus was short lived, but its impact upon their lives not.
When they left in 1887, they took with them the desire to be involved in the cutlery industry.
Entering the Knife Brokerage Business
The first cutlery company to use the family name was Case Brothers Cutlery Company, a brokerage firm also located in Little Valley, New York.
The company owners were Jean, John and Andrew but did not include the brother and former Cattaraugus associate, William R. Case.
The new company contracted with various knife manufactures to make knives and sold them marked with several tang stampings.
Beginning The Manufacture of Knives
The Case Brothers’ cutlery business was so successful that in 1900, they built their own factory in Little Valley, New York.
Sales responsibility belonged to Jean Case and he apparently was doing an outstanding job because sales continued to increase along with the number of knife models produced.
The brothers’ specialty was hand-forged cutlery and they were justly proud of the company’s high-quality products.
Desiring to impress their customers with a trademark signifying excellent quality, the brothers began to use the XX mark that is so well known today.
Knives of this 1900-1914 period were stamped with the XX mark usually near the middle of the blade but sometimes on the reverse tang. It would also occasionally appear as Tested XX.
Not only did the Case Brothers factory produce high-quality knives, but it also served as a training ground for the family’s succeeding generation.
When in 1912, the Little Valley factory burned, relocation to Springville, New York was attempted.
Within a couple of years, the company had failed and in 1914, the famous XX trademark was transferred to the competing family firm of W.R. Case Cutlery Company.
During the tenure of the Case Brothers Company, a large number of tang marks were used.
In the meantime, as Case Brothers Cutlery Company was getting well established, Case family members started a new knife brokerage company.
Dean and Elliot, sons of Jean Case, had been involved in the early years of Case Brothers, but they left that company to start their own business in 1901.
Upon Elliot’s death in 1903, the business closed and their only trademark used was the company name, Standard Knife Company.
W. R. Case & Son Cutlery – The Beginning
As stated earlier, W.R. Case was not involved with his brothers’ business, but the Case Brothers Company served to train his son.
During the years 1900-1902, John Russell Case had worked for his uncles and earned his indoctrination into the cutlery business.
Through the support and financial assistance of his father, Russ Case founded a knife brokerage firm in Little Valley, New York in 1902.
In an effort to have customers perceive his new business as being well established, he not only used his grandfather’s (Job R. Case) picture in the company’s advertising, but he also used his father’s name in naming the company W. R. Case & Son.
Russ Case purchased knives for his brokerage business on contract from Platts Brothers Cutlery Co., Cattaraugus Cutlery Co. and others.
Consequently, there were many pattern variations during the 1902-1905 period preceding the establishment of his factory.
They were various tang marks on the contract knives during this period.
W. R. Case & Sons Knife Manufacturers
Russ Case was an excellent salesman and flourishing business encouraged him to move to Bradford, Pennsylvania, and to build a knife factory there.
Another family member, by marriage, would provide the manufacturing expertise needed to complement Case’s sales ability.
The husband of Russ’s sister, Debbie, had come from a family well established in knife making.
So in 1905, H. N. Platts joined with his brother-in-law in combining their operations under one company name.
Since Platts was a son-in-law of W. R. Case, and since Russ Case had established strong brand recognition, the SON in the company’s name was simply replaced with SONS, making the new name W. R. Case & Sons Cutlery Company.
Business was excellent and many new knife patterns were introduced during the 1905-1914 period, but the prestigious XX symbol still belonged to Case Brothers.
With the failure of that company in 1914, W. R. Case & Sons was able to acquire the trademark, one that has been a standby for the company to this day.
Due to his failing health, H. N. Platts left the company in about 1910 and moved to Colorado where he started a new cutlery company called Western Cutlery Company.
At about the same time, Russ Case’s other brother-in-law Herbert Crandall merged his Crandall Cutlery Company with W. R. Case & Sons.
Russ Case had no children but for many years his company would remain under the ownership and leadership of family members. When he died in 1953, majority ownership of W. R. Case & Sons Cutlery Company passed to his niece.
Rhea Crandall was the daughter of Theresa (Case) and Herbert Crandall, Russ Case’s early partner.
Rhea was first married to Harold Osborne, to whom she bore a son. After the elder Osborne’s death, she married John O’Kain. O’Kain led the company as president until his retirement in 1971.
At that time, he became chairman of the board and Rhea’s son Russell B. Osborne, became the company’s president.
Ending of Case Family Ownership
In 1972, ownership of the W. R. Case & Sons Cutlery Company was passed from the Case family members to American Brands Inc, but leadership influences of the Case family would remain for yet a while.
Russell B. Osborne continued as president until his death in 1975 and his son John served as vice president and new products manager.
American Brands’ ownership of the famed cutlery giant continued until the end of 1988.
The cutlery business, which the conglomerate had purchased sixteen years earlier, had enjoyed a reputation built over several decades.
Although it may not have been recognized by the parent company in maintaining that image.
They were, therefore, not surprised when American Brands had made public its interest in selling the old company.
By the beginning of 1989, W. R. Case & Sons Cutlery Company was under the ownership and leadership of James F. Parker, an enterprising businessman who had already built a thriving cutlery business of his own.
The Parker Influence
The Case family had made a tremendous impact on the knife industry over a period of a hundred years.
At the beginning of the 1990’s, Case was again guided by cutlery-oriented ownership and leadership.
The change marked a turning point that will likely be significant for collecting generations to come.
Knife patterns, stampings and handle materials used many years ago but discontinued over the past several decades were reintroduced.
Among the handle materials used on “the new Case” knives were Rogers Bone, Christmas Tree Celluloid, Gold Stone Celluloid, Red Bone, Green Bone, Curley Maple and India Stag.
The reintroduction of old-time patterns and stampings was accomplished through a series started in 1989 and known as Case Classic.
This series was announced as “basically handmade just as they were in the late 1800s” and the knives were made using many of the original dies.
Collectors should be aware that a company other than Case made knives in the Classic series for Parker.
After Parker’s ownership of the Case Company ceased, he retained marketing rights for the Classic for several years.
The earliest Classic knives with revived stampings were patterns ROG639 (Case Brothers), G6391 (W. R. Case & Sons), CT1072 (Case Tested XX), ROG61050SAB (Case Brothers), 51050SAB (W. R. Case), G62075 (W.R. Case & Sons), and ROG62075 (Case Brothers).
The handle materials, shields, blade pulls, and blade marks were matched to the original period of the knife’s production by the old companies.
Their stamping included the year of manufacture.
These knives were limited in production to 3,000 of each, and 500 of each was reserved for the Centennial Mint Set. Retail prices of these early Classic releases ranged from $120 to $150.
The Centennial Mint Set contained a total of one hundred knives with a wide variety of patterns and handle materials.
Most of their blades were etched “Case XX Tested Centennial 1889-1989”. Retail price of the complete matching serial number sets was $5,000.
Perhaps one of the more significant actions taken during this time was the sale of the Case Factory Collection of knives, along with other knife-related items of historical and collector value.
A considerable number of extremely rare knives were sold into the collector market. They quickly found “homes” in the collections of a number of lucky Case fans.
Some, of course, have since been traded or sold, thus adding several fine and expensive old knives to the marketplace.
Case’s tenure as a Parker company was relatively short lived.
In March 1990, Case joined other of his companies in bankruptcy proceedings.
The company was sold to a Chattanooga; Tennessee based investment firm known as River Associates and operations of the Bradford factory resumed.
Although short, the Case-Parker years were significant ones for the famous old brand.
For too many years preceding the Parker ownership, many collectors believed that the knife manufacture had failed to live up to its generations long reputation for quality.
The turn into the 1990’s marked the beginning of a turnaround in product quality. Once again, collectors and users alike could join the company’s employees in their pride for knives marked “Case”.
The 1990s and Beyond
In May 1993, River Associates sold W.R. Case & Sons to Bradford, Pennsylvania’s other manufacturing icon, the Zippo Manufacturing Company.
Ironically, the company known worldwide for its cigarette lighters had been Case’s sister subsidiary when they were both owned by American Brands.
Under Zippo’s ownership, Case has paid particular attention to the desires of their collector base and has grown by leaps and bounds as a result.
Among the testimonies to this growth are the Zippo/Case Museum in Bradford, Pennsylvania, the biennial Zippo/Case International Swap Meet, and the burgeoning ranks of the Case Collector Club, currently the world’s largest organization of knife collectors.
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