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The Congress knife arrived on the scene in the early 1800s.   As with other Pocket knives such as Trappers and Stockman’s, the Congress was made with a specific audience in mind; and that audience was not congress.  Most likely the name Congress refers to the way the way the blades of the knife come together (as in the  equal numbers of blades are located on both ends  of the knife and then come together or meet in the middle of the handle).

The market for the knife was the Antebellum South  and the blades chosen were those needed to fulfill its agricultural needs.  The most common Congress is he four blade pattern which features two large sheepfoot blades as primary blades, and a small coping and pen blades as secondary blades.    The sheepfoot blades were used extensively in the cotton and tobacco industry.   The reason the Congress had two sheepfoot blades, one on each end, is the same reason the muskrat has two identical blades.  It allowed the user to cut twice as long before having to stop and re-sharpen his blades.  This allowed the worker to take fewer breaks during the work day.   The coping blade was used for scribing (perhaps carving initials in wood planks to mark work done?) and the pen blade was so that the knife had a blade with a point on it.

The pattern caught on like gangbusters in the Deep south and was found to be an excellent pattern for whittling.    The patterns quickly evolved and soon followed congress knives with  2 blades a Half Congress as well as 6 and 8 blade Congress knives.  Normally the Half Congress had one sheepfoot and a smaller pen or coping blade.  However the 6 and 8 blades tended to keep  two keep the two sheepfoot blades coming together in the center and just added additional blades such as a cuticle/nail file, small clips or additional coping or pen blades.  The most famous of is probably the six blade Congress that  Abraham Lincoln was carrying when he was assassinated.   (Abe Lincoln was said to be an avid whittler.) Today, many people call a six Blade Congress, regardless of the blades configuration a Lincoln Congress.   His actual knife had a large sheepfoot, a large spear blade, a cutlicle/file blade, two pen blades and one coping blade.

The early Congress knives, including the Lincoln congress were made on a slim concave shaped handle.  This meant that when the knife was placed spine down on a flat surface only the ends would touch the surface; the center of the knife would be raised in the air.  The ends were also smaller than the center of the knife so that you had two arcs.  Because of this shape, you have a somewhat long handle for relatively short blades! (Again the blades come together in the center!)  On the bright side, the longer handle gives you more to grip when cutting through tough stuff.

Today, you will also find congress knives built on a larger frame which allows wider blades to be added.  You will also occasionally find “congress” knives that have a flat back-spring. Many congress collectors can accept the wider frame but do not accept the flat spine, arguing (I think correctly) that the curve of the handle is an integral part of the pattern.  Some also argue, that the knife should have four blades, two  large sheepfoot,  followed by a small pen and a small coping. While this is the most traditional, it is probably not an argument worth making.  

Okay, enough  background!  Let’s come together and show some Congress knives!

The Congress pictured is an old Case Congress from around 1965-1969.    The pocket worn scales are old green jigged bone!

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Congrats!  Those blades just lay right in there!  Hmmmm, now to find a yellow one?

Thanks Jan, and none of the blades show any rub marks from their neighboring blades either, they really don't make them like they used to do they? This model in particular is odd compared to most other Bucks in that it never saw the Buck factory, it would have been shipped to SMKW directly from Camillus, and they were never sold or advertised by Buck itself. It also has no date codes, whereas all other post 1986 Bucks are so dated.

I've only seen a couple of the yellow handled knives being sold online, and they sold for LOTS more than I paid for this one, though one of the Buck gurus claims the black version is more scarce. It was a bit costy at $40 for me and my budget, but I wasn't sure I would ever see another one so I decided to grab it while I could. If nothing else it helps me get closer to my goal of one of each of the CC-made 300 series, and it is a cool knife that I'll be proud to carry.

Jan Carter said:

Congrats!  Those blades just lay right in there!  Hmmmm, now to find a yellow one?

Here's another Congress to talk about. Since getting my Buck #321 Congress a few months back, and enjoying the utility of carrying a Congress knife, I decided to get one I wouldn't have to worry about wearing out. I decided to retire my very collectible #321, and replace it with this; a Rough Rider RR157 Bone Stag Congress. For one thing, getting ANY stag handled knife for under $15 is amazing in the first place. Getting one at that price, that is well made and useful is equally amazing.

This one exhibits all the things I have come to expect from Rough Rider, no blade rub, no wobble, good snap, and 440 stainless steel. The genuine bone handles are nicely jigged, well fitted, and comfortable in the hand. The only drawback I've encountered so far is difficulty getting my fingernail into the nick on both smaller blades, but other than that it seems to be a great knife.

I've included a side by side photo of the RR & my Buck #321 to show the different way the blades are arranged; I would consider the RR to be "right handed", while I would call the #321 a "leftie". Though made by Camillus, I have read that the #321 had it's blades reversed compared to Camillus' own brand Congress knives, which would therefore more resemble the RR in how the blades are arranged. Why the Buck #321 is different I don't know, but being an SFO from SMKW, it was made to their parameters, so they made that call for some reason.

Whatever the differences, my #321 will now reside on my knife display stump to be preserved for future generations. Since I have enjoyed carrying a Congress in my pocket so much, this RR will go into my EDC rotation.

Not bad for under $15.

Syd, Rough Rider makes somre beautiful knives and they are not a bad carry item either.  Just one minor correction.   RR use 440A Stainless Steel  (They usually cally it for 440 Razor Sharp) on the blade but none the less they list it as 440A.  It has an HRC of 57.

If you're happy with it you may want to check out my pages on Rough Riders for more information:  <  http://blindkat.hegewisch.net/RRR/ >

I go to your RR page for reference all the time Tobias, it's a great resource among many that you provide. I just don't have that many stag handled knives, (or knives with real stag that is), and I wanted to retire my Buck #321 from daily use, so Rough Rider was an obvious choice for me. Eventually I'd like to include a Hen & Rooster Congress in the collection, but this RR will do nicely for now. I also would like to find an affordable vintage Camillus Congress too one of these days, but so far all I've seen were a bit costy.
I can prove RR's factory sharpness too, I've got fresh band aids on my thumb to prove that, (ouch!). Cut it trying to get one of the small blades open; I opened the long blade first, then the small one was so stiff and hard to get my nail into, I ended up jerking my thumb back against the other open blade. I'll just stick to the larger blades from now on, too dangerous to get to those smaller blades open, (the only fault I find in this knife). It's a good carry though, and it looks good, so that's half the battle.
I'm still out there looking, ya never know what I'll come up with next. :)




Tobias Gibson said:

Syd, Rough Rider makes somre beautiful knives and they are not a bad carry item either.  Just one minor correction.   RR use 440A Stainless Steel  (They usually cally it for 440 Razor Sharp) on the blade but none the less they list it as 440A.  It has an HRC of 57.

If you're happy with it you may want to check out my pages on Rough Riders for more information:  <  http://blindkat.hegewisch.net/RRR/ >

Syd, I know about RR's sharpness too.  I have a six blade stockman, the Rifleman series.  I was opening all six blades to take pictures.  The knife slipped and three of the blades got me at the same time!  Ouch, ouch, and ouch!

Syd Carr said:

I can prove RR's factory sharpness too, I've got fresh band aids on my thumb to prove that, (ouch!). Cut it trying to get one of the small blades open; I opened the long blade first, then the small one was so stiff and hard to get my nail into, I ended up jerking my thumb back against the other open blade.
I love this pattern, though I could never tell you why. I own 35, and my biggest problem is deciding which one to carry! My first was a small "Pocket Worn" Case, and I still love it. My prize is a 12-blade Bulldog, and I carry it occasionally. It's made like a Swiss watch, all blades are literally razor sharp, and it's not nearly as big as one would expect. I usually carry a 6-blade Hen & Rooster or a medium Case in red jigged bone. 30 of the knives I don't carry are displayed behind glass in my "man cave" along with one huge "store display" Congress knife that rests on top of the case. Before you ask, pics are pending as soon as I take some & figure out how to post them. Glad to be here!
  • Here are a couple of Congresses I recently acquired. First a Camillus #712 4-blade w/serrated blade and "Congressional District" imprinted on the back of one of the blades, secondly a #709 2-blade "Yellow Jacket"; both in smooth Delrin. Fine little slipjoints both, CC sure knew how to make nice knives!
Nice additions to your collection,Syd. Hard Togo wrong with an old Camillus knife from Camillus New York.

Thanks Tobias. While on my quest for Buck 300 Series glory I realized I was really collecting Camillus knives that just so happened to have a Buck logo and stamp on them, so really what I admired about those knives came more from Camillus than from Buck. I've grown to like Camillus so much I really do want to eventually get some of those "clones" of the 300 Series. For example, both Schrade and Camillus made Buck #301 Stockman clones for Sears back in the 60's-70's, (Craftsman brand), and others. They used the same frames, handles and blade shape/grinds, (steel too I bet), the only differences were tang stamps & shields. And, like you say, it's hard to go wrong with old Camillus knives, they just did things right back then.

Tobias Gibson said:

Nice additions to your collection,Syd. Hard Togo wrong with an old Camillus knife from Camillus New York.

I wanted to know an approximate manufacturing date on the Congresses above & just spent an hour surfing this Camillus Collectors site, and found the above #709 & #712 in the 1992 catalog. That's cool actually, my daughter was born in 1993. They were probably out there in a hardware store somewhere in '93, so that's nice to know. In the process I also identified the CC frame number used to produce the Buck #322 Congress, it was Camillus #92, yet a third variety of Congress made by Camillus. Now I know what to look for to find a "clone".

Very nicely written, informative and enjoyable!  Well done!

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