Two Calhoun County museums are now home to more than 3,000 knives, swords and other edged tools after the closure of a Tennessee knife museum.
The National Knife Museum of Sevierville closed its doors at the end of May. Brad Vice, who is president of the museum’s board of directors, says it relied on support from members and sponsor companies to make ends meet. It fell on tough times when that support started fading.
Besides being the president of the museum’s board of directors, Vice owns Alabama Damascus Steel in Jacksonville, which supplies many of the nation's knife makers with metal for blades.
The museum had been housed in Smoky Mountain Knife Works, but the store told the museum that they needed that space back. Vice and the rest of the board were left with a sharp problem: Either liquidate the museum’s large collection of knives and swords, or find another nonprofit organization to take them.
So he and the board of directors “decided to give a third of the knives to the Berman Museum, a third to the Janney Furnace museum, and a third to the NRA,” Vice said.
“We wanted to bring the knives home so that everyone can enjoy them without breaking their pockets,” he added.
Robert Lindley, director of the Janney Furnace museum, said the museum has 1,700 new pieces, thanks to the National Knife Museum’s donation.
The donation consisted of “historically significant edged tools,” said Lindley, including 40 custom-made knives gathered by collector Joe Druin and valued at $125,000. That collection belongs to the Knifemakers Guild of America, which loaned it to Janney Furnace through the National Knife Museum.
Lindley values the portion of the collection that Janney Furnace received at more than half a million dollars.
Lindley said Janney Furnace is displaying about three quarters of the collection they received, according to him. “We’ve got a timeline exhibit that begins with stone tools, like flint knives, and goes all the way up to 20th century tools, like surgical and bleeding knives,” he said.
The second display area containing items donated by the National Knife Museum consists of historical knives and swords. One exhibit is called “Your Grandfather’s Knife,” and features pocketknives popular among men in the 1940s from knife makers such as Camillus and Case.
“Probably our most unusual piece is the astronaut survival knife,” said Lindley.
Janney Furnace acquired the donation last month.
“We had the entire donation in two weeks, and then we closed the museum to the public for two weeks to get the collection ready to display,” Lindley said.
He had no trouble displaying the items because the National Knife Museum also gave Janney Furnace cabinets. Lindley estimates that there are about 50 additional displays in storage. Each display can be rotated into the collection so that visitors have the opportunity to see something different every time they go.
Lindley said he’s already seen an increase in traffic at his museum due to the donation.
“People hear about it through word of mouth and come to see the collection, plus the other items we have on display,” he said.
Anniston’s Berman Museum of World History received 1,296 items from the National Knife Museum, according to the museum’s collections assistant, Adam Cleveland.
“We got knives from just about every era,” he said.
The museum also got an educational timeline piece on W.R. Case & Sons Cutlery Co. knives.
“It shows the beginning of Case knives all the way up to today. It’s one of the most complete timelines on Case every done,” he said.
The Berman Museum is still working on cataloging everything it received in the donation, and most of the items are stored in the museum vaults. Cleveland hopes that some of the knives will be rotated into exhibits soon.
Vice said that in another year, the National Knife Museum “will probably be dissolved and go away. There’s just not any call for it anymore.”
James F. Parker started the National Knife Museum in 1981. He formed Parker-Edwards Cutlery with knifemaker Fain Edwards in Jacksonville in the 1960s. Bear and Sons Cutlery now operates in that company’s facility.