Outstanding historical account Codger. Thanks very much for that great 'slice' of cutlery history.
One of our forum members has a special collection of Empire knives, and I thought you all might like to see his knives, and learn a bit about the company history. The lion's share of this history was compiles by the late John Goins, and his wife Charlotte Goins. Mr. Levine has contributed bits of information about Empire, and even a US EPA study was consulted. Also, writings by Albert Baer and Blackie Collins.
The Empire Knife Company was once a driving force in the early American cutlery industry. Begun in fits and starts under several names in Winsted Connecticut, according to John and Charlotte Goins, the company at it’s zenith in the 1890's, produced over 800 assorted knife patterns, and employed approximately 150 workers, making it one of, if not the largest cutlery in the nation at the time.
The name of the city of Winsted, one of the first milling towns in Connecticut, was an amalgamation of the names of two towns between which it was situated, Winchester, and Barkhamsted. As with most cutlerys (and indeed most manufacturers of every ilk) of the mid to late 1800's, Empire was established adjacent to a water power source, at the juncture of the Mad River and the Still River.
In 1852, under a different name, Thompson & Gascoigne (after the two Sheffield trained cutlers who immigrated to America to manufacture pocket knives), the shop was set up in a corner of an established table cutlery factory called the “Eagle Works”, located on Lake Stream, and was for a time fairly successful selling their wares through a local mercantile owned by Elliot Beardsley and James Alvord. However, the “Eagle Works” factory closed in 1854, and the two Englishmen lacking sufficient funds to buy or build a factory of their own, also closed.
Two years later, better funded and still marketing cutlery, Beardsley & Alvord bought a local tannery building and built an entirely new factory on the site. Finally, the cutlery had the name we now know as Empire Knife Company. Some of their earliest knives were made using parts left from the earlier enterprise, including blades already bearing the Thompson & Gascoigne stamp. In 1878, after the earlier death of Beardsley, Empire bought the Lathrop and Barton cutlery factory on the Mad River. Expanding yet again eight years later in 1886, the parent company, still known as Beardsley & Alvord, constructed yet another new factory on Norfolk Road. Then in 1890, they incorporated as “Empire Knife Company”. Company President Charles Alvord was joined by brothers George and Landon, operating the company until 1920, when both George and Landon retired, selling their shares. The company reorganized, but for the next ten years steadily declined and like many of the former cutlery leaders of the day such as New York Knife Company, after the stock market crash of 1929, closed their doors for good in 1930. The water rights reverted to the town of Winsted, and the buildings were purchased by Hudson Wire Company. Another reason for the closing, as mentioned later by Albert Baer, the dominant forces in the American pocket knife industry of the 1920's-30's was Remington, L.F.&C and Winchester. Retailers who did not handle at least some of the knives from these “big three”, just were not in the business.\. Looking to put idle factories and equipment to work after the end of the First World War, Remington plunged into the cutlery market with a vengeance. In late 1919, they began preparations and by 1920 were in production. The Remington and L.F.&C. Plants closed almost simultaniously in 1940, Remington turning back to their primary business, guns as WWII loomed upon the horizon. Their knife division was sold to Pal Blade Company. The metal stock of L.F.&C. Was purchased by Baer for his newly formed Ulster Knife Company.
As with researching any history, inconsistences, conflicts and oddities are found in records pertaining to the operations of Empire Knife Company. As a classic example, I located a document generated in 2001 on a piece of privately owned property located at 170 West Lake Street in Winchester which came to the attention of the U.S. EPA circa 1998. The report cites the property as being known as the “J. Fragale Property”, and goes on to identify previous occupants and their activities on the property. Union Pin Company is cited as the most recent previous industry located there (1910 to 1979), and most likely the operation which left residual contaminants such as traces of PCB’s and other chemicals, however, further tracing of the property ownership shows the site owned and occupied by “Empire Knife Company” from 1859 through 1908. “Milling, cutting, grinding, and polishing equipment was used in the production of knives, producing metal powder and lubricating oils as waste products. Waste disposal practices during these operations are unknown.” Exactly how this fits with the general time-line above, as given by John and Charlotte Goins in 1998, I haven’t a clue. Perhaps the ownership of the property stayed with Empire after an earlier move, and they rented it to another company, or retained it for warehouse space. No mention is made of this having been the site of an earlier tannery. More sleuthing is in order!
Other interesting tidbits emerged from this research. When Michael Mirando first arrived in America from his native Frosilona Italy, he was unable to find work in his chosen craft, cutlery. He soon returned to his native Italy, but was back in America working at Empire Knife Company in Winsted by 1909. His brother Felix Mirando joined him there in 1910, and they stayed with Empire until 1916. At that time, the two brothers decided to go into business for themselves. They moved to Providence, Rhode Island to be near the jewelry industry, and began making skeletons for “waldemar”, or pocket watch chain knives. Thus another company, Imperial Knife Company, spun off from Empire and came to become the largest knife company in the country, and eventually, one of the largest in the world.
Outstanding historical account Codger. Thanks very much for that great 'slice' of cutlery history.
Thanks, Codger, for digging up the Empire info.
Many of you have seen this before, but I'll show it again for continuity of subject. My friend, who lives in Winsted, CT, the home of Empire spent many years putting this display together, and when I expressed interest, he sold it to me. It is constantly being upgraded, by both of us, and will be displayed in Oregon in April.
If you haven't been there, you must try to make it; it is currently the biggest exclusively knife show in North America, with 470 tables, with more possibly added this coming show. If the Bowie collectors come, it will be around 530 tables. My CT friend said it's the best show he's been to in years, for finding old, rare cutlery, and he's been to a lot of New England shows!
So here's the display; a replica of an 1880's exhibition display, with, of course, real old Empire knives!
If you have information, knives, pictures etc. I am compiling for an article and/or book on the subject, so please don't be shy!!
Ya know, that's the kind of history and sense of connection you get from traditional knives that you just don't get from the latest black knives.
As always, great and appreciated work, Codger!
Charlie was right, however. There is much, much more to be learned about the Empire Knife Company. A person physically located in Winsted is in a much better position to do this research, since the vital records usually are in the form of old newspaper blurbs, ads, property deeds and plats, not to mention first person accounts from people in the community. And local libraries, historical societies. Even the State Capitol is a repository for records that might prove useful, including details of incorporation such as dates and principals. I'd be willing to bet that Charlie's friend there has picked up some stories and tidbits over the years while searching for the knives, including probably some illustrations from catalogs (I understand that Empire made some of the Wilbert knives for sears circa 1909), and of course, the source for the design of the display frame. Pictures of the buildings should also exist, maybe even in the form of old postcards.
Empire was also one of the largest maker of skeleton knives. This is a pic of one with 14K skins.
That is one of the many Empire patterns that was later made by Imperial knife Company, AKA the Mirando Brothers and Fazzano! You did know that their start was making skeleton knives for the jewelry trade in Providence. Now if I could just find a nice Empire of my own...
When I originally aquired the knife Mr Levine told me Empire was the largest supplier of skeletons before they were pushed aside by Imperial after WWI. His comments lead me to believe it was an original Empire but sounds like you have identified it as Imperial?? Do you know the age?
Sorry if I was misunderstood. It is indeed an Empire. The Mirando brothers made some of the same patterns of knives and skeletons as were made by their old employer, Empire after they left that company. They didn't exactly learn to make knives there, but in the six or seven years they worked at Empire, they did learn a more modern way of construction, the latest pattern designs, and used that knowledge along with their own third generation Italian cutler heritage to produce their own. The Mirando/Fazzano Imperial knives would not have been marked Empire. This particular waldamar design was produced by Imperial well into the early 1960's as finished knives, albeit with gold annodized finish as the "Goldine" series.
Hi I sent an email to codger - I am interested in this topic as Great grandfather worked at Empire in Winsted. In fact, he lent $$ to the Miranda family in Winsted who left for Providence to start Imperial knife. There is some fascinating history here - thanks codger!
The Empire display above (post #3) won an award in 2007, and an even higher one this past April 2010, both at the Oregon show. This latest edition has many more knives, and the grading is much higher; a lot of near-mint pieces.
I appreciate this little visit to the Schrade Forum. In keeping with the Schrade theme, I am planning a similar Schrade display of vintage knives, for a show in the coming years!
Petrunti, I sure am interested in your Empire info for future writing about Empire. Thanks to Codger for digging up the above info as well!!
My connection - Miranda (aka Mirando) family started in Winsted at Empire Knife - along with my grandfather Luigi Petrunti, also from Frosolone. After Mirandas moved to RI they remained close to the community - here is a still from a film my grandfather Carmine Cornelio had made in 1948 Interesting story behind the movie, he had it made - filmed professionally in 1948! -- to bring back to Sicily to show family and friends... The film is quite well known and historical, but only recently did I realize it has footage of Mike Mirando of Imperial Knife
Petrunti53, have you transferred the film to DVD by any chance??
Thanks for your research Codger and thanks petrunti53 as well.
Here is the inspiration for the display. It is a photocopy of a late 1800s brochure, and the original display (which apparently still exists), was produced for an agricultural Fair.
Last edited by waynorth; 10-18-2010 at 10:44 PM.
Wonderful bunch of historic information.
That display is outstanding, waynorth. How long have you been working on it?
You must have a very understanding wife! I'd imagine there's a museum room in your house somewhere for all of your wonderful collection? My little room where my knives were had to make way for the new nursery, my second is on the way.
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