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Thread: Electrician Knife Pattern Research

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    Electrician Knife Pattern Research


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    Here is one I've been working on for a while, and I thought I'd share a rough draft and get some further information from you collectors.

    Among the classic working man’s pocketknife patterns which has survived basically unchanged for nearly a hundred years is the Electrician’s knife. I believe every division of Imperial Schrade, and all of it’s predecessors as well as most of it’s competitors have made them at one time or another. It was an early “utility”, or workman’s pattern, much like the horticulture knives which also have been made for a long time. Electrician’s knives were in great demand during the second world war, and government contracts were filled by several companies, and even gave rise to a few companies seeking a piece of the government contract pie.

    During WWII, "Food Rationing" and "Gas Rationing" were instituted and ration coupon books can still occasionally be found in attics. These are the most often remembered civilian restrictions in America's past to help in the war effort. Some others are less known but were more important in the effort to conserve resources on the home front, freeing them for the manufacture of war goods. Some of the more important orders issued were the "Steel Act" and the "Copper Order", these limitations or conservation restrictions almost completely shut down production of common manufactured goods available to civilian consumers. One very important order affecting the cutlery industry was the "General Limitation Order on Cutlery No. L-140" of the "War Production Board". This order sharply curtailed cutlery production for most civilians.

    Knife makers were scrambling to find military contracts, for only with a “priority” provided by a contract could they acquire the steel and brass needed to make knives. And only with a promised supply of materials could they take the contracts! The new owner of the Dwight Devine works (Ulster Knife Company), Albert Baer, astute businessman that he was, managed to find a deal on a large supply of steel, brass and other metals in early 1941. On a prospective buying trip to visit the recently closed Remington Dupont cutlery plant, he learned that LF&C was also closing, and deferring the Remington purchase to PAL, bought every bit of steel and other metals in the LF&C inventory for two cents a pound. Eventually during the war, brass was in such short supply that most available was routed to munitions manufacturing. Knives made during the war which traditionally used brass liners, pins, and blade liner locks such as the TL-29 electrician / Signal Corps knives used steel instead for these parts. The use of brass was resumed after the war.

    In it’s basic form, an electrician’s knife is based upon a two bladed barehead jack, very much like a short bolstered Barlow pattern. The most widely used master blade is the spearpoint, though not exclusively so. The secondary blade which pretty well defines the pattern, is a flat slotted screwdriver blade, usually with a wire insulation stripper feature of one type or another. Most, though not all, feature a blade lock on the screwdriver blade. Bails (also called shackles) are also commonly seen on this pattern, though not always.

    The knife takes it’s most common name from the military specification "TL-29," TL standing for "Tool - Linemen". According to Tom Williams, Camillus historian, the Camillus electrician's knife is a #57 pattern and Camillus has produced this pattern since WWI. The military designation suggests it’s adoption in 1929. As produced during WWII, the TL-29 came in a kit, “TE-33", consisting of a leather dual belt pouch “CS-34", the “TL-29" knife, and a pair of “TL-13A” cutting pliers. Evidenced by surplus stocks from the period, the knives were also supplied individually wrapped in waxed paper in cardboard boxes of a half dozen knives each, so were likely issued also without the pouches and pliers as needed.

    The TL-29 knife continues in production to this day, though I’m not sure it is still a Military contract item. Stories abound from former military personnel as to when the knives were issued and for what purpose. One gentleman states that they were specifically made for use in removing the cowling from Huey helicopters. Others remember them being included in aviation maintenance tool bags. Most common earlier remembrances were that they were used by soldiers of the U.S. Signal Corps for laying field telephone wires. Demolitions use was also mentioned, but the screwdriver blade was not of the appropriate size and shape for making holes for blasting caps and fuses.

    As to who exactly was the first cutlery to produce this pattern, I haven’t a clue. Cattaraugus is credited with a 1909 patent for the liner lock used on the screwdriver blade. Some knives of this pattern are describerd in catalogs as being without the lock, and also without the bail, both of which I believe are specified in the TL-29 military specifications, though I haven’t located that sheet as of yet.

    The 3 3/4" number 2042SD is the first of this pattern illustrated in the Schrade Cutlery Company’s 1926 catalog. This ebony wood handled example had a nickle silver “empire” shield and bolsters, brass linings, and a brass blade lock for the screwdriver/wire stripper blade. The large spear point master blade did not have a lock, a feature rarely seen on even later renditions of this pattern. It was available with or without the shackle (bail). This knife was a “barehead”, having only the front bolsters, and no rear.

    In 1926 the 3 5/8" number 2053 ½ was also listed. It featured stag jigged bone handle with a nickle silver “propeller” shield and bolsters. Unlike the 2042SD, this one was “tipped” or had small read bolsters for decoration and reenforcement. It also use a sheepfoot master blade, and a differently ground screwdriver blade, both with a long mark. The screwdriver blade did not feature a lock on this on this one.

    Listed as well in 1926 was a third variant, the 3 5/8" number 3053 ½, which added a pen blade to the 2053 ½.

    A 3 5/8" number 8443 was listed which had all the features of the 2053 ½, except it used a spear point blade as the master, and a third blade, a leather punch pinned to the other end of the knife. It is named the Automobile and Electrician’s knife, and is illustrated with “Auto-Electric” etched on the master blade. It does not have a blade lock.

    The 1929 catalog lists a 3 3/4" number 2043SD with shackle. It is the same as the ebony handled 2042SD but with jigged bone handles.

    In 1930, another variant, the 3 5/8" number 2311SD appears with cocobola handle, and the number 2314BSD with black celluloid handle. Both are sleeveboard patterns rather than the previous equal end knives. Both featured blade locks.

    A knife listed in 1934 appears to fit the definition of the pattern, but for the addition of a bottle opener to the screwdriver blade. That is the 3 5/8" Screw Driver Jack Knife number C2153SD. It has stag jigged bone handles with NS bomb shield, both ends steel bolstered with no bail, and a spear master blade with the screwdriver/opener combo blade, no lock. The same knife with caps and shield omitted, cocobola handles is number 2151SD.

    A 3 3/4 number C2141SD cocobola handled electrician’s knife was listed with lock, and available also with shackle.

    This lineup was produced pretty well from the years introduced until the company was sold to the Baers in 1946.

    Catalog resources are spotty at best, usually missing altogether from the war years of 1941-1945, and pick up again in 1946-47 with the Ulster/Kingston knives. Unfortunately, the Schrade Walden catalogs are missing until the early 1950's.

    With the Schrade Walden Electrician’s knives, the first one in my catalogs appears in 1950, the number 204, which is noted as being the same as the old number C2041SD, a Schrade Cut Co number. It has the same features as the C2042SD listed in 1926, except that it had the blade lock. It was available with shackle or without. In 1954, it was listed with and without a shackle. In 1959, it was offered as the #204WW and 204WWSHA with the new “Wonda-Wood” impregnated wood handles. This is also the last year it is noted and illustrated as being available without the shackle.

    Records indicate that in 1959, the Sears Roebuck #9478 was a Kingston K-29 Electrician’s knife in mahogony plastic, and in 1962 it was changed to the Ulster TL-29 Electrician’s knife in Wonda-Wood with bail. In 1963, the number for the Ulster TL-29 was #9529, and 9560 in 1966. At some point, it was changed to the Schrade 204, then the Imperial Work Mate RJ750 in 1985.

    The 1960 and 1961 Ulster catalogs listed their Electrician pattern, the 3 3/4" TL-29W with Wonda-Wood handles, and the Kingston version, the 3 3/4" K-29 with mahogany grained plastic handles, both with the center safety lock. Neither were shielded. The Kingston version was the one sold to Sears. Schrade Walden’s catalog of the same year listed the 204SHA, no longer offered without the shackle, but with Wonda-Wood handles and empire shield. It was named “Handyman” in the catalog this year for the first time. In 1965, the 204SHA was noted to be hardwood. It continued to appear every year basically unchanged until the 1970 catalog where the shield was deleted, and it appears to be delrin handled. At that time, it began to be listed as 204S. The handle material was changed to delrin. The handle was not described until the 1974 Belknap catalog where it was called “Genuine Woodgrain Delrin”. It was named “Master Electrician” in this catalog, and retained the bail and blade lock. The 204S was omitted from the 1976 Schrade catalog. An Electrician pattern knife is not seen again until the appearance of the Irish produced Tradesman line in the 1991 catalog, the TM2 and three blade TM3.

    The Ulster TL29 appeared in the 1970 Belknap catalog, now with shackle, and the mahogany grained plastic handles formerly used on the Kingston branded K-29.

    ISC also made the electrician pattern under the Imperial stamp. In 1985, they introduced a new “Work Mates” series of knives with carbon steel blades, woodgrain jigged delrin handles, nickle silver bolsters. The four knives were the 3 3/4" RJ750 Electrician’s knife, the 3 3/4" RJ751 using a hawkbill blade in place of the spear master blade, the 4" RJ752 with a large single hawkbill blade, and the 3 1/4" RJ753 Lineman’s single sheepfoot blade, all four with bails, the RJ750 and RJ751 having locks for the screwdriver blades.

    The Remington catalog of 1936 shows their 3 3/8" #R-2111 giving the same general specifications as the Schrade Cut Co and other maker’s TL-29 pattern. Here is a partial list of brands I have seen during a recent eBay survey of the Electrician knives while doing this research. It is not a list of cutleries who produced them for the military, before, during, or since WWII.
    Boker
    Camillus
    Camco
    Case
    Colonial
    Imperial
    Kingston
    Ka-Bar
    Klein
    Kutmaster
    Queen
    Remington
    Schrade
    Schrade Cut Co
    Schrade Walden
    Ulster
    Utica

    (cont.)

  2. #2
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    (cont.)

    Additionally, these knives are commonly found with the names of distributors and retailers stamped on them, such as the ones marked “Holub Sycamore Ill. U.S.A.” made for Holub Industries. Inc., an electrical tool and component distributor (now ITT Holub Industries), and of course the ones made for Sears Roebuck under several tangstamps such as Dunlap and Craftsman.
    The long-lived electrician pattern knife, though still made, has fallen out of favor for both civilian and military use. The two main reasons are the proliferation of multi-tools, and the replacement of slotted screws in most industries with Phillips head screws.
    Although Henry F. Phillips (1890-1958) received patents for the design in 1936 (US Patent #2,046,343, US Patents #2,046,837 to 2,046,840), it was so widely copied that by 1949 he lost his patent. The American Screw Company was responsible for devising a means of manufacturing the screw, and successfully patented and licensed their method; other screw makers of the 1930s dismissed the Phillips concept since it calls for a relatively complex recessed socket shape in the head of the screw — as distinct from the simple milled slot of a flathead screw.
    As we now know, the rest is history. Power tool assembly, for which the Phillips head screws excel, in the aircraft, electronics and auto manufacturing fields has all but displaced the familiar slotted screw, hence the need for a screwdriver for them.

    Still, the Electrician’s knife, a design nearly a century old, if not older, represents a treasure trove for the knife collector. Handle materials, once jigged bone, then ebony, rosewood or cocobola, then phenolic resin impregnated hardwood, became a variety of plastics in several colors to approximate the appearance of those woods, then Delrin molded with woodgrain texture or bone appearance. According to Camillus historian Tom Williams, the TL-29 pattern, their number 27, is the second highest recorded selling pattern just under the Mil-K military utility knife.

    In preparing this research, I obtained ten examples (seven pictured):
    1. Schrade Cut. Co. Walden N.Y. 3 3/4", near mint with beautiful light wood handles, brass liners, lock, and pins, “To release push center lock to left” etched on the screwdriver blade, no bail.
    2. Schrade Cut. Co. Walden N.Y. 3 3/4", used with dark wood handles impressed TL-29, steel liners, lock and pins, faint surviving etch “To release push center lock to left” on the screwdriver blade, stamped aluminum bail with rounded diecut ends on steel pin.
    3. Ulster Knife Co. 3 ½", used with dark wood handles impressed TL-29, steel liners, lock and pins, no surviving etch on the screwdriver blade, heavy round steel wire bail with pierced flattened ends on steel pin.
    4. Ulster U.S.A. 3 3/4", near mint with dark swirled plastic handles, brass liners, lock and pins, “Press” stamped on lock in the place of a screwdriver blade etch, steel wire bail with pierced flattened ends on steel pin.
    5. Kingston U.S.A. 3 3/4", lightly used dark mottled plastic handles, brass liners, lock and pins, “Press” stamped on lock in the place of a screwdriver blade etch, steel wire bail with pierced flattened ends on steel pin.
    6. Holub Sycamore U.S.A., 3 3/4" light brown bone colored Delrin handles, brass liners, lock and pins, faint surviving blade etch, steel wire bail with pierced flattened ends on steel pin.
    7. Imperial Prov. R.I. USA, 3 3/4", mint woodgrained Delrin handles, brass liners, lock and pins, no stamp on lock or blade etch, steel wire bail with pierced flattened ends on steel pin.
    8. Imperial Prov.USA, 3 3/4", lightly used with dark wood handles, steel liners, lock and pins, no stamp on lock, faint surviving blade etch, steel wire bail with pierced flattened ends on steel pin.
    9. Made In USA, 3 3/4", used with dark wood handles, nickle silver “propeller” shield (matches early Schrade Cut Co patterns), brass liners, lock, and steel pins, no surviving blade etch or bail. Goins indicates this may be a Sears contract knife.
    10. KA-BAR OLEAN N.Y. 3 3/4" used poor with dark wood, nickle silver "Empire" style TL-29 stamped shield, steel bolsters, pins and liners, brass liner lock, missing bail.



    Codger

    As always, I solicit corrections, additions, piictures and suggestions!
    Last edited by Codger_64; 12-01-2006 at 05:13 AM. Reason: Add Kabar knife description

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    addition

    Thanks for the research, Codger. Nice accumulation of info.
    Here's a tidbit to add. Empire, a powerhouse of knifemaking until about 1930 made electrician's knives, as evidenced by these old guys.
    The top one has a lock, released by depressing the main blade, and the bottom one-blade has a back lock, and a sharpened edge for cutting.

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    Great information as usual.My one and only.It's a Colonial.I never noticed that the lock only works on the screwdriver blade.Arnold
    Last edited by tobyrogers; 05-09-2007 at 02:03 PM.

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    That's the first one I've seen on a barlow pattern/large bolster model! Cool!

  6. #6
    hi, ive always been surprised why this pattern isnt collected more,theirs alot out there and pretty inexpensive,one more to add to your list that i picked up recently, is one stamped ric-nor boston mass.Ithink it wwas made by provadince cutlery,thanks

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    Picture, tthman???

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    Codger - here's two out of my collection of knives...sorry for the poor quality of photos, and the bread crumbs...my old camera is only 2 pixel, no macro lens...

    And first of all, THANK YOU very much for this article. What do you do in your spare time?

    The top knife is marked Kutmaster > Utica, N.Y. > with what appears to be USA under it.

    The slabs, I think, are dark rosewood.

    The second knife obviously (or not so obviously) has the TL-29 escutcheon. The blade is three line tang stamped: Camillus > Cutlery Co. > Camillus NY (and it is hard for me to see, even with a jeweler's loupe, periods and commas on the last line. The slabs on this I also believe are rosewood, but lighter than the first.

    The TL-29 I inherited from my father, he was an infantry officer, I think he scabbed it out of a tool box.




    Edit: both of these knives have three brass liners between the two springs and the slabs, and a brass liner lock for the screwdriver blade.
    Last edited by Coldwood; 11-19-2006 at 05:06 PM.

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    http://cgi.ebay.com/Vintage-RIC-NOR-...QQcmdZViewItem

    Yes, I ran out of research funds long before varients of stamps. Goins says that the small blades (one supposes of jacks and stockmen) are marked "Prov. Cut. CO.", and the "Ric-Nor Boston USA" mark was used mainly from 1950-70. He didn't identify the merchant though.

    Codger

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    Quote Originally Posted by Coldwood View Post
    Codger - here's two out of my collection of knives...sorry for the poor quality of photos...The second knife obviously (or not so obviously) has the TL-29 escutcheon.
    You have to apologize for your pics after seeing what my scanner spews out?

    Here is one of my photo archive pics of the TL-29 shield...look like yours?


    Codger

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    Exactly. Or almost. Close enough, slight more curve on the top and bottom, pins placed slightly different. I'll try to get a good photo.

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    Super article and extremely informative thus far..

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    Codger, I'm hoping this image comes through, will be useful to you

    thanks, Don

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    Okay, I'm trying this again...hope it comes through....

    Edit: Codger, I reduced the image a LOT through photoshop. If you want the full enchilada email me privately

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    Thanks! Yes, it looks like aluminum, nickle silver or steel? Nickle was a metal along with brass that was tightly controlled during the war years, thus the deletion of shielding and using direct stamps on the wooden covers.

    Codger

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    Codger...I never thought about aluminum...for the escutheons?...do you think it would have been used during war years?...the bolsters definitely look to me like nickel/silver or steel...but I don't really know...I'm looking to you for answers

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    Try a magnet. Aluminum is a possibility to me just looking at the depth of the scratches in the closeup. But it may not be. No tarnish. Has the knife been cleaned? The shield text is beautifully done, crisp, clear, deep. I have a sneaking suspician that the same shield text die may have been used for the bare wood imprinting. No proof of that though, just knowledge that the makers took on these contracts to survive, not to get rich, since civillian production during the war ceased almost entirely, and the contract prices agreed to were rather low in profit margin per unit, and in most cases the prime contract holder got a cent or two of that. I'll let you just guess who was the prime contract holder of the majority of pocketknife contracts during WWII.

    Quote Originally Posted by Codger_64 View Post
    After finishing his meeting with Baker and Gibbins, as he was about to leave, Baker asked him how many knives he could deliver a day. Albert told him that he could fill the contract if he was allowed to subcontract with other factories to make the knives to his specifications, provided they were all delivered first to Ellenville to be sharpened, cleaned and inspected. He came away with the contract, and upon arriving back at his office and explaining the transaction to his brother, Henry agreed it was an excellent idea.

    First he enlisted Felix Mirando in Providence, and Louis Schrade in Walden, then Russ Case in Bradford. Then, in a move that was pure hutzpah and a dash of audacity thrown in, he met once again with Emerson Case who was still in New York City. Emerson agreed to provide 500 dozen knives every day. Folks, that’s 6,000 knives a day. Albert quickly made his tally and judged that he was ready to take Baker’s Army order for one million knives!

    Codger
    Codger

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    Codger, I tried the magnet trick, it didn't stick to the escutcheon or the bolsters. I don't think the escutcheon is aluminum, that material has a different "whitish" shine to it IMHO...this escutcheon has the same look as the bolsters, which I guess are nickel-silver or "German silver" if that's a correct term...I probably did clean the knife years ago, but all I do is degrease and de-dirt them with mineral spirits and a Q-tip and then a light coat of oil, knock off any rust scale with a graphite pencil point, no buffing.

    What, you don't have a list of WWII contractors for pocket knives? I'm surprised
    Last edited by Coldwood; 11-20-2006 at 09:58 AM.

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    By the way, Codger one of my special interests is scout pattern knives...one of the first knives my father gave me was a Case scout...not official BSA...I'm peculiarly interested in scout patterns that were issued to GIs in WWII. I have only one, which I think fits that category (can't prove it):



    The furniture is all steel, magnet proved; the slabs are jigged bone; the tang stamp on the main blade is a faint but large USA; the stamp on the can opener looks like W>PENE>

    What I want to know is who was the manufacturer, the designer, shop smith, supplier of materials, and were these ever issued to the OSS? And what is it's value? Can you help me?

    I'm not trying to be cute with you...much...thanks again for all the research you've done for all of us....

  20. #20
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    Your knife has the "Safety Can Opener", the patent for which was granted to Imperial December 25th, 1945, so your knife most likely dates 1944 or later. The stamp on the can opener peroablyy says... are you ready for this?...CAN OPENER. Dennis Ellingsen would be the guy to give you specifics about your knife. Check it closely for patent numbers on both sides of all the blades.

    Codger

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