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WESTERN CUTLERY COMPANY

iKnife Collector
Hosted by Gus Marsh
Topic: Western Cutlery Company
November 21, 2012
WESTERN CUTLERY COMPANY
The Western Cutlery Company story and that of several other manufactures
could begin in 1864, the year that Charles W. Platts emigrated from Sheffield,
England. Platts was descended from a long line of knife makers and, in turn, his
descendants were to have a significant impact upon a number of U.S. cutlery
businesses.
Platts first employment in this country was the American Knife Company in
Reynolds Bridge, Connecticut. A few years later, he became superintendent of
the factory belonging to the Northfield Knife Company in the nearby town from
which the company took its name. Charles and his wife, Sarah, reared five sons
and each learned the cutlery craft at the Northfield Cutlery firm. Although other
sons and their descendants remained active in the cutlery industry, the focus
here is on Harvey Nixon Platts.
H. N. Platts left Northfield in 1891 and moved west to Little Valley, in Cattaraugus
County, New York. His experience led him to work in the blade grinding and
finishing department of a new knife factory operated by Cattaraugus Cutlery
Company. The companys early owners, J. B. F. Champlin and his son Tint were
joined temporarily in the business by four brothers of Mrs. Champlin (formerly
Therese Case). These Champlin brothers-in-law were W. R., Jean, John and
Andrew Case.
Also working in the Cattaraugus office was Debbie Case, who lived with her
brother, Russ, and their father W. R. Case. In 1892, H. N. Platts and Debbie
Case were married and, within a couple of years, they had become parents of
two sons, Harlow and Reginald.
Charles Platts, still a respected cutlery leader, and his other sons reentered the
picture when they moved from Northfield to Little Valley in 1893 and began work
with Cattaraugus. Practically every department of the Cattaraugus factory now
had a Platts family member at work and the result would be near inevitable, they
decided to start their own cutlery business. In 1896, Charles Platts was joined by
his five sons in forming the C. Platts & Sons Cutlery Company in nearby
Gowanda, New York, which in 1887 moved to new and larger facilities in Eldred,
Pennsylvania. In 1900, when Charles Platts died, it was H. N. who assumed leadership of the
family business. In addition to managerial responsibilities, H. N. served as the
key salesman of Platts cutlery products. Ever expanding to new territories, his
sales trips took him father west through several states and into the midwestern
plains states. More than a few of Platts sales trips were made in the company of
another cutlery salesman, brother-in-law Russ Case. Platts would sell knives on
one side of the town street while Case sold on the other side, each selling knives
branded with their own name.
A new company, with J. Russell Case and H. N. Platts as organizers and major
stockholders, was to merge from this family and working relationship. The early
days of the business would see the company selling knives branded both “Platts”
and “Case”, so choosing one family name deemed logical. Because Russ Case
would have sales responsibility while Platts would oversee manufacturing, the
name Case was selected. Sometime earlier, Russ had begun a jobbing company
known as “W.R. Case and Sons”. The new company, incorporated in 1904 in
Little Valley, would have a similar name except that an “s” would be added to the
word “Son”, thereby recognizing Platts family membership as the W.R. Case sonin-law. Debbie Case Platts supervised the office and summer school vacations
saw the two young Platts boys working in the factory.
H. N. Platts health began to decline due to “grinders consumption”, a disease of
the lungs caused from years of work with the sandstone grinding wheels.
Although the business was doing very well and the now teenage Platts sons were
becoming increasingly active in the business, the fathers health hinged upon a
move to a drier climate. In 1911, he sold his interest in the company to Russ
Case and moved his family to Boulder, Colorado. Accompanying Platts and his
family to their new home was a determination to continue his lifetime work in the
cutlery industry.
A developing west proved to be fertile ground for knife sales since the cowboys,
farmers, miners, and others workers needed quality cutlery to use many times
every day. Platts knew the business and he certainly had experience in starting a
cutlery factory, but he also recognized the need to establish a base of business if
he was to be successful in starting all over again. His connections with the
eastern cutlery manufactures were important as he sought sources of product.
Before the year 1911 was over, orders were being sold and knives were arriving
from the east to fill them. The new business was named “Western States Cutlery
and Manufacturing Company”. That name was selected instead of the founders
name because “Platts” had been used a brand for the old company mentioned
earlier and had very recently been used by Platts Brothers Cutlery Company,
operated by H. N. Platts brothers. The geographical name was given to establish
an identity separate from that of the Case and Platts businesses back east, and
the “States” extension of the name signified the companys sales territory. Early Western States knives were manufactures by Challenge, New York Knife
Company, Valley Forge, Utica, and W. R. Case & Sons, among others. Although
the business was prospering and a manufacturing facility would have been in
order, it would be several years coming. World War I had begun and had brought
shortages of material and labor. It had also required the services of the older son,
Harlow, whose aid would have been needed for factory startup. Platts dream was
realized, however, with the opening of his new factory in 1920.
In the early 1940s, H. N. retired from active management of Western States
Cutlery and those responsibilities were passed on to his sons, Reginald and
Harlow, who continued in partnership until Reginald left the cutlery business in
1950. A new name, Western Cutlery Company, was given the business in 1951
when Harlow Platts and his son, Harvey, reincorporated the company. Western
Cutlery remained in Boulder until its 1978 relocation to nearby Longmont,
Colorado.
Harvey Platts had become company president and continued in that capacity
until 1984, when Western was purchased by the Crossman Air gun division of
Coleman Corporation, thus ending the more than 100-year involvement of the
Platts family in the U.S. cutlery industry. The association with Coleman lasted
until 1990, when an investor group in Wyoming purchased the knife factory and
trademarks. Unable to obtain satisfactory profit performance, the companys
brands, machinery, and tooling were sold to Camillus Cutlery Co. in 1991, and
many parts, papers, and other items were dispersed at auction. Camillus Cutlery
closed its doors in February 2007, leaving the future of Western Cutlery and the
companys other brands in limbo.
STAMPINGS AND TRADEMARKS
Early Western States knives had tangs stamped with the words WESTERN
STATES in an arch and BOULDER, COLORADO in a straight line below, similar
to the stamp used by C. Platts and Sons. Pocketknife tangs were stamped with
the curved WESTERN STATES until about 1950, when WESTERN, BOULDER,
COLORADO was adapted.
WESTACO was a budget priced brand that seems to have appeared in the
1930s. WESTMARK was a brand used on high end products that first appeared
in 1970.
In addition to stamped tangs, many early knives had trademark etching on the
blade. The companys best-known mark was a tic-tac-toe pattern, and the words
“Sharp Tested Temper”, were used beginning in 1911. In 1928, the Buffalo
trademark consisting of an old buffalo skull framed with “Western States” and
“Sharp Cutlery” was adopted and gradually replaced the tic-tac-toe marking. The
“dagger and diamond” logo that appeared on later Western products was first
used in 1963. Tang stamps on pocketknives as well as sheath knives were gradually changed
to “Western USA” during the 1960s. Beginning in 1978 and continuing until the
nid-1980s, the stamp “Western USA” was used with a letter added beneath the
“USA” to indicate the production year.
A-1977
B-1978
C-1979
D-1980
E-1981
F-1982
G-1983
H-1984
I-1985
J-1986
And so forth. During the 1980s, stampings began to include the model number, a
trend that continued under Camilluss ownership. The Coleman era (1984-1990)
saw the use of some COLEMAN WESTERN stamps as well as ColemanWestern markings on the retaining strap buttons of knife sheaths.
IDENTIFYING WESTERN STATES POCKETKNIVES
Western States early knives follow the traditional numbering system of a pattern
number, along with letters and other numbers that described the knifes features.
Unfortunately, the numbering system was an internal protocol for employees and
pattern numbers were not marked on the companys products until 1954. With
Camillus now out-of-business, much of that inside company information has been
lost. Collectors today must identify early knives from catalogs and application of
the numbering system.
Most of the old stock numbers can be deciphered by using the numbering key
explained below. Some older pocketknife numbers have a zero inserted just
before the pattern number to signify a modification, usually in material or finish,
such as (9393 or 93093)
The first digit signifies handle material as follows:
2 – Imitation Pearl 3 – Brown or Golden Shell Composition
4 – White or Imitation Ivory
5 – Genuine Stag
6 – Bone Stag
7 – Ivory or Agate Composition
8 – Genuine Pearl
Sources
Official Price Guide to Collector Knives, 15
th
Edition by Houston Price & Mark
Zalesky

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