More on the Kent branded Sportsman knives...

Discussion in 'Camillus Collector's Forum' started by Codger_64, Sep 21, 2008.

  1. Codger_64

    Codger_64 Moderator Moderator

    Oct 8, 2004
    Kent Knives - F.W. Woolworth

    I find that knowing the story behind a knife makes collecting and ownership more enjoyable. Sometimes we luck out and get the personal story of first purchase and ownership from the original buyer, but most often not. Then it takes a bit of sleuthing to get the full story, particularly with privately branded knives (SFO’s or “Special Factory Orders”). Who made the knife and for whom? When did they make it and what were they trying to achieve during the market that prevailed at the time?

    Over the past few years I bought several patterns of these inexpensive folders just to explore the materials and construction. The stamping is currently not very popular among those who know, or don’t know it’s origins, much like the Sears Craftsman knives were a few years ago, so one can often pick these up at very reasonable prices. The marking is KENT - N.Y. CITY - U.S.A.

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    [​IMG]

    Now, most of us know that few, if any knives were actually manufactured in New York City, though there did exist a section of one street known as “Cutler’s Row” where many importers, jobbers, and manufacturers had their offices located.

    When we look up the mark in Goins Encyclopedia Of Cutlery Markings (1998), we see that he attributes the mark to A. Kastor & Brothers (Camillus) as used on knives manufactured circa 1931-1955 for F. W. Woolworth.

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    As with Sears Roebuck & Company, F. W. Woolworths was the brainchild of one merchant pioneer who based his store on a successful formula. Frank Winfield Woolworth (1852-1919) was the originator of "five-and-ten-cent" stores.

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    Frank was a farm boy in upstate New York who began his merchant career as a clerk in a drygoods store in Watertown New York From a website archive:

    In 1873, he started working in a drygoods store in Watertown, New York. He worked for free for the first three months, because the owner claimed "why should I pay you for teaching the business". He remained there for 6 years. There he observed a passing fad: Leftover items were priced at five cents and placed on a table. Woolworth liked the idea, so he borrowed $300 to open a store where all items were priced at five cents.

    Impressed with the success of a five-cent clearance sale, he conceived the novel idea of establishing a store to sell a variety of items in volume at that price. With $300 in inventory advanced to him by his employer, Woolworth started a small store in Utica in 1879, but it soon failed. By 1881, however, Woolworth had two successful stores operating in Pennsylvania. By adding ten-cent items, he was able to increase his inventory greatly and thereby acquired a unique institutional status most important for the success of his stores.

    Woolworth's first five-cent store, established in Utica, New York on February 22, 1879, failed within weeks. At his second store, established in Lancaster, Pennsylvania in April 1879, he expanded the concept to include merchandise priced at ten cents. The second store was successful, and Woolworth and his brother, Charles Sumner Woolworth, opened a large number of five-and-ten-cent stores. His original employer was made a partner.

    The growth of Woolworth's chain was rapid. Capital for new stores came partly from the profits of those already in operation and partly from investment by partners whom Woolworth installed as managers of the new units. Initially, many of the partners were Woolworth's relatives and colleagues.

    Convinced that the most important factor in ensuring the success of the chain was increasing the variety of goods offered, Woolworth in 1886 moved to Brooklyn, New York, to be near wholesale suppliers. He also undertook the purchasing for the entire chain. A major breakthrough came when he decided to stock candy and was able to bypass wholesalers and deal directly with manufacturers. Aware of the importance of the presentation of goods, Woolworth took the responsibility for planning window and counter displays for the whole chain and devised the familiar red store front which became its institutional hallmark.

    The success of the chain between 1890 and 1910 was phenomenal. The company had 631 outlets doing a business of $60,558,000 annually by 1912. In that year Woolworth merged with five of his leading competitors, forming a corporation capitalized at $65 million. The next year, at a cost of $13.5 million, he built the Woolworth Building in downtown New York, the tallest skyscraper in the world at the time. Cass Gilbert was the architect, and it was engineered by Gunvald Aus. Another rare fact about the Woolworth Building -- it served as the company's headquarters right up until Woolworth's 1997 declaration of bankruptcy. By 1997, the original chain he founded had been reduced to 400 stores, and other divisions of the company began to be more profitable than the original chain. The original chain went out of business on July 17th, 1997, as the firm began its transition into Foot Locker, Inc.
    The UK stores continued operating (albeit under separate ownership since 1982) after the US operation ceased under the Woolworth name and now trade as Woolworths.

    Vital statistics 1929
    total annual sales in the US and Canada $272,754,045
    11,000 bales of cotton used to weave towels alone, with 2,000 looms working 24 hours a day and employing 1,000 people
    over a million mousetraps sold every year
    100,000,000 shaves with Woolworths blades during 1929
    over 1,000,000 nets and 5,000,000 printed curtains sold
    7,500,000 tons of yarn used to make men's socks
    90,000,000 lunches served to customers during the year
    4,000 miles of pencils if laid end to end and 300 miles of pen points
    33,000 miles of garter elastic

    1929? Why would I back this up to mention 1929?

    Well, many retailers and manufacturers bit the big one in the Great Depression of 1929-1932. The list of cutlerys and hardware jobbers which closed is large.

    1929: Remington sold out to the Dupont Company.
    1930: Schatt-Morgan Knife Company filed for bankruptcy.
    1931: New York Knife Company went out of business, the factory was closed due to bankruptcy.

    However, some not only survived but thrived. Woolworth's and A. Kastor & Brothers / Camillus were such companies. Their success was largely due to innovative thinkers able to meet a vastly changed marketing landscape.

    Circa 1931-1955...? Oh, how can I tell a story of the American knife industry without mentioning Albert Baer!

    Albert M. Baer was put in charge of sales in 1930. Albert signed George Herman ‘Babe’ Ruth to endorse autographed baseball bat figural knife for Kastor Bros., first of many endorsements. In order to permit Baer to be a stockholder, Alfred B. Kastor sold him 50 shares of his common stock

    Under Baer's management of sales, Camillus manufactured KENT brand knives for F.W. Woolworth's beginning in 1931.

    Excerpts from the A.M.Baer Memoirs:

    "My habit was to go to the Woolworth Company every Christmas and every New Year and thank them for the business they gave us. This started in 1923 because I got the inspiration that any company with the number of stores that Woolworth had, should be the outlet for the products that we made at Camillus Cutlery, regardless of the fact they had a limit of 10 cents in the east, and 15 cents in the west.

    George's predecessor, Mr. P. G. Franz, lived in Buck Hill, Pennsylvania, and he had an apartment at 86th Street and Central Park West. He traveled to Europe regularly to their main headquarters in Crayfell, Germany and was punctilious about never going to lunch with anybody or not even accepting a book when he sailed on the Europa. P.G. liked me and although I had practically nothing to sell, I still called on him and was particularly fond of his assistant, a woman 10 years my senior, named Mrs. Kissack. Mrs. Kissack always tipped me off when I phoned for an appointment as to whether P.G. was in good mood or not. All the years I called on him, he called me "Mr. Baer" and he was always "Mr. Franz." One day Alfred Kastor showed me a sample of a two-blade metal handle Jackknife that
    Mr. Gerling had sent us, and quoted us 3 cents a dozen. Now the tariff on importing knives advanced considerably with knives when sold at over 39 a dozen both ad valorem and specific. If you don't know customs terms, ad valorem is a percentage of the value and specific is a set amount per knife. 3~ knives, FOB Germany, landed in this country at about
    57.
    I never asked Alfred anything but took the samples down to P.G., told him what we paid for them, where we bought them. He knew Gerling and P. G. wrote up a general order to be shipped to all stores for 10,000 gross. Big deal! He paid me 85 a dozen. I brought the order back to the office and I thought Alfred would flip. He practically made a special trip to Germany and placed the order, and we were in business with Woolworth selling them 10 cent pocket knives. They sold like hot cakes and in the midst of the sale, over the Wall Street ticker, came word that Woolworth was about to sell 20 cent merchandise. Here was the opportunity of a lifetime. Now we could make a Camillus product in the USA and boy, we needed the business. I was down to see Franz the same day word came out, and he agreed that we should submit some samples, for he said he wanted to get prices and samples from other factories, particularly a company in Providence called Imperial, for they had been trying to make 10 cent knives in the United States for him and he heard that they gave good value.

    I had no sooner returned to my office that I had a phone call from him asking me to come back. When I did, he was shaking with anger. "What do you think?" he said. “The American Cutlery Industry, led by Domenic Fazzano of Imperial have lodged a complaint claiming that the 10 cent knives which you sold me were undervalued, and we have to go to Customs Court to fight the case. How dare they on one hand come to try to sell me, and on the other hand act in this underhanded way?"

    I told P.G. not to worry. We had done nothing illegal. We would stand behind him and Woolworth and fight this case. I suggested that he get two samples from Imperial as though nothing had happened, so we would see what they were going to offer competitors. He smiled and said “Wonderful. We’ll, fight fire with fire! “ It was not long before we had the sample roll of the 10 knives Imperial had submitted to the Woolworth Company. I took the knives to the factory. We discussed the quantities involved, took the prices that Imperial had quoted Franz and duplicated the patterns as best as we could, and down I went to see P.G. I got him to pay us a little bit more than
    Imperial because we made a better product. He paid us $1.505 a dozen and he sold them for 20 cents each.

    When the knives hit the stores, they were a sensation. The sales were enormous. You could go and count how many they sold per hour. In fact, I did just that, and we started to mechanize the Camillus factory as a result of the Woolworth order. P.G. never told Imperial why they lost the business, for certainly had Domenic not been part of the conspiracy to embarrass me, they would have had this business.
    The hearing in the Customs Court took place, and we were able to prove that there was no chicanery. The case was dismissed and with tears in his eyes, P.G. Franz looked at me and said “As long as you live, Mr. Baer, we will let you be competitive, and if you meet competition, you will always have our business.” This message he passed on to George Graff and for all the years that I was with Camillus, George lived up to P.G.’s admonition. When George Graff became the buyer of Woolworth, I was selling several knives to him. George seemed like a nice guy. He came out of the Chicago district office. He knew about and liked ..to sell pocket knives...
    And in fact, when George Graff did take over as the buyer for Woolworth, he continued buying from Baer. And then in October 1940, Baer left Camillus in a tiff with the Kastor brothers. And most of the buyers, Sears’ Col. Tom Dunlap and Woolworth's George Graff included, followed Albert to his new company, Ulster. Another excerpt:

    George Graff, the Wool-worth buyer, wrote a letter to the Board that Camillus was a ship without a rudder. That didn't sit well with Alfred Kastor, for F. W. Woolworth was their #2 client.
    Kent branded pocket knives sold quite well and for many years. They were well made and yet inexpensive. Some of the designs were quite handsome and colorful. Some were utilitarian in stagged plastics. Almost all were a good value for the price at a time when Americans counted their pennies closely.

    Here is the earliest Kent Sportsman’s sheath knife I have. Tom Williams couldn’t recall the pattern number, but knew that it predated 1939. Cocobolo wood handle with brass pins, full tang high carbon steel blade.

    [​IMG]

    The Kent fixed hunting blades seem to be less common, far more so than the various patterns of slipjoints.

    Here is the next Camillus Sportsman’s pattern, #5665, which was introduced in 1939 according to Tom Williams. Stagged bone handles, brass rivets, added guard, chrome plated with special blade etch:

    [​IMG]

    While it is a decent example of the pattern, it is quite shelf worn and the etch is hard to read. Here is the upgrade I just bought to replace it in my collection. Viva la difference!

    [​IMG]

    I take it that Woolworth's did not buy and sell a lot of fixed blade hunting knives. Price point, maybe. According to the late John Goins, the Kent branded knives date 1931-1955, which may or may not be precise. Why/how did they quit selling them? Perhaps they just quit having them private branded and sold manufacturer branded knives for a while after circa 1955. Baer stated that his Ulster made some knives for Woolworths, and he sold them some Imperials later too. In the late 1950’s to early 1960’s Woolworth’s, like Kresge (K-Mart) and several other five-and-dimes moved into a newer market of a larger variety store.

    As a side note, Woolworth’s is I believe one of the largest food supermarket chains in Australia, and is still doing well in England and Germany. In America, they are now Footlocker, Inc. having bankrupted in the late 1990’s and owning Kennys Shoes.
     
    Last edited: Sep 21, 2008
    At1Rest likes this.
  2. Codger_64

    Codger_64 Moderator Moderator

    Oct 8, 2004
    I note that there are several production detail differences between these last two knives. The rivet size and style, style of bone jigging and sheath details. How many years were these produced? Does one example represent the earliest 1939 type and the other one of the later production? Up to circa 1955? What was the original retail pricing?
     
  3. tthman

    tthman

    202
    Nov 13, 2005
    hi,ive always been interested in the kent brand,only have a few fish knives, which i what i collect,found a unused kent black handle fish knife for 5 bucks back in the early 90s and have always been on the lookout for nice ones.I think the one in your pic with the multicolored handles is pretty tough to find,but maybe one of these days.Other brands im interested in with no info available is prov.usa and ideal ,cheap made knives but i bet alot of history behind the names,thanks.
     
  4. Trent Rock

    Trent Rock

    Jun 29, 2007
  5. Codger_64

    Codger_64 Moderator Moderator

    Oct 8, 2004
    Here is another Camillus Kent branded hunting knife, this time with an odd synthetic handle. I have no idea if the lettering was painted on at some later date by an owner, in spite of the seller's suggestion that it was a WWII era military knife. Tom WIlliams did mention some time back that the "Sportsman" pattern was provided to some U.S. military units before tooling could be reset for a newly designed military field knife at the onset of WWII. Could this be one of those knives, altered or not? Or is it a rehandled Kent?
    [​IMG]

    Codger
     
  6. Codger_64

    Codger_64 Moderator Moderator

    Oct 8, 2004
    With the knife now in hand, I can say that if it was rehandled, it was done in a factory. The material is not hard rubber, but some sort of plastic molded onto the tang with no mold parting lines apparent anywhere. The texture spacing and depth is consistant beyond what one would expect from either hand work or a hastily prepared mold.

    The blade is the same as the previous Sportsman knives I have shown, vestiges of the "Kent" and trees etch still apparent even though someone made an effort to remove them. Quite a bit of the original chrome plate remains as well.

    Codger
     
  7. redjohn48

    redjohn48

    101
    Mar 8, 2006
    "The stamping is currently not very popular among those who know," Who are these people who know? The way I see it, any product is worth what someone is willing to pay. Example: I just saw, on Ebay, the Camillus/Western fixed blade knife with the large,(I think it's aluminum) butt. The rest of the handle is wood. Wish I knew the model #. The last time I looked the top bid was 78.00. That makes it worth 78.--. Not to me, but I'm not bidding. My point is that true value is dictated on a deal by deal basis. If I run up on a rare knife that I need to complete a series I may pay a price that others think is absurd. It's my collection and others may think I'm a fool, but when they start buying my blades for me their opinion will start to matter. Besides, I'll make up for it in a later deal.
     
  8. Codger_64

    Codger_64 Moderator Moderator

    Oct 8, 2004
    Here is a recently acquired "upgrade" of the earlier Kent "Sportsman's" pattern.

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    Still not a perfect example, but to me it is very nice for a utilitarian hunting pattern knife dating to 1931-1938, particularly so for a hunting knife which was originally intended for sale by an early mass merchandiser at a low price.

    It came from an old estate sale in Missouri. What was it's value? $995.00. No, $99.50. No, $9.95. In fact, of the millions of people worldwide to whom this knife was made available, I was the only one interested enough to place a bid on it. What would the interest level have been had it been stamped with the maker's mark instead of the merchant's mark? Probably as much as ten times what it sold for or more.

    To me, with pocket cutlery and hunting knives, it makes sense to look at the merchant marked knives, particularly in regards to A. Kastor/Camillus made knives. The "Quiet Giant Of Knifedom" made many more knives, both in pattern and volume, in custom brandings than under their maker's marks (the same is true of Ulster/Imperial/Schrade). While some of these low price point knives are not as fancy as higher priced competetor's knives intended for more upscale markets, they did represent exceptional value for buyers. That has not changed. And as you have seen, I enjoy knowing the history behind not only who made the knives, but for whom they were made, both the merchant and the market.

    Who knows and recognizes the "KENT" mark? Well, obviously anyone interested in Camillus knives, who also frequents this now-obscure forum and has read my posts. And people who have copies of John and Charlotte Goins' Encyclopedia Of Cutlery Markings, and who have curiosity about early Camillus patterns. Well now, I guess that does narrow the competition a bit, does'nt it? :D

    As my friend Don Luis in Mexico City once said regarding my tastes in knives,

    "Menos burros, más mazorcas de maíz".

    Loosely translated, "fewer donkeys, more corncobs"

    Codger
     
    MarsHillPicker and Mack like this.
  9. Codger_64

    Codger_64 Moderator Moderator

    Oct 8, 2004
    Has it really been three years? I recently found a third example of the earlier Kent Sportsman, this time with "a" sheath. Is it original to the knife?

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    Has an S-card surfaced for these yet? Is this a correct sheath?
     
  10. edbeau

    edbeau

    Jan 20, 2006
    Very interesting thread, Codger. Always great to read the history of the knives. Have you ever run into any information on the Westmark line by Western? Mainly I am interested in trying to date my knives by the serial number on the knife. The Westerns are fairly easy to date when they have the letter code but the Westmarks use a serial number.
     
  11. Codger_64

    Codger_64 Moderator Moderator

    Oct 8, 2004
    According to company literature, the West Mark branding began in 1970. They were still listed in 1980.
    http://www.collectors-of-camillus.us/Western/1980-Western-Catalogs.pdf

    I was not aware that those knives were serialized, but since the production records did not survive multiple subsequent owners, there is really not much way to use them to determine approximate dates of manufacture. I managed this with a few serialized Schrade patterns by doing several years worth of intensive serial data surveys to determine the number progressions with waypoints confirmed by occasional findings of knives with original packaging with logos and trademarks, and factory production records, known engineering changes. Still, the further past the lower numbers I moved, the greater the chances of error.

    http://www.collectors-of-camillus.us/Western/1975-Western-Catalogs.pdf

    A search of USPTO TESS shows Westmark filed on August 26, 1970 and first date of use as July. 7th, 1970. Smokey Mountain Knife Works owns the mark now.

    Sorry I couldn't be of more help.
     
  12. CAMCO

    CAMCO Moderator Moderator

    539
    Dec 29, 1999
    Camillus introduced the small hunting knife (#5665 pattern) in 1939. At the beginning of WWII, Camillus was not tooled up to make military knives so the #5665 knife was ordered. I believe some of these knives were issued to the U.S. Marine Corps. These knives would have had the Camillus stampings. The more functional millitary knives like the Mark II, M3 and M4 were first offered in 1943 and later. We had a prototype at Camillus that was an early Mark II knife that had the M3 guard and butt.

    I had not read Codger's posting on Albert Baer's memoirs and this reminded me of his visits to Camillus. Whenever he came to the Camillus factory, I would have many questions for him about his early years at Camillus. One time he told me the story of how he got Babe Ruth's endorsement and permission to use his signature on the baseball/bat knife. He asked me to try and locate the original contract from the early 1930's. but after extensive searching it never surfaced. I believe that when Camillus closed the New York office in the late 1940's the contract went into someone's private collection-perhaps one of the members of the Kastor family have it. Mr. Baer always had an interesting story and a remarkable memory.

    Tom Williams
     
    Mack likes this.
  13. edbeau

    edbeau

    Jan 20, 2006
    Codger, the second catalog is mine. I picked up a few off the bay and sent scans to Larry. All the Westmark knives were serialized but without a list who knows when they were made. I also am on the Schrade forum and have seen the work for the serial numbers on the LB-7's.
     
  14. wbeck257

    wbeck257

    1
    Feb 16, 2012
    Thanks to Google I found this thread, and have some questions.

    I found this in some of my Grandfather's stuff and was wondering if yall have any more information on it. From reading this thread I assume it is the Kent Sportsman knife. Any idea of what years these were made, how many they made, and how much they are worth?

    Also, the blade is completely dull and loose -- should I be able to take it to someone and have it sharpened and tightened back?

    Anyways, here is some pictures:
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    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]

    Here is a line to more pictures: HERE

    Thanks for any more information on this..
     
  15. Thomas Linton

    Thomas Linton

    Jun 16, 2003
    Thank you for this older, but informative, thread.
     
  16. ringbuddy

    ringbuddy

    1
    Feb 21, 2016
    I read your blog with interest. I can add to your information if you are interested. I have one of my fathers old knives from his knife collectiom, it is a fort kent fixed blade with sheath. His older sister gave it to him for his 13th birthday in 1938. I know that she bought it at a local Woolworths, I spoke to her recently about this, she is in her 90's but mentioned that she only paid about $2.00 for it and money was scarce during the depression. I would never consider selling it but i was wondering if you could put a value on it? It has never been used and in fact only removed from the sheath to look at. It is the same model of the updated pieces from your collection that you showed in your blog.
     
  17. Thomas Linton

    Thomas Linton

    Jun 16, 2003
    ringbiddy, forum rules bar valuations for registered members. However, posting pictures of your family treasure would add to the value of this thread for all who come here.

    Posting Pictures - Photobucket

    Open a free account at www.photobucket.com (or some other free web-hosting site)

    "Upload" pictures from your computer/device to your Photobucket account using Photobucket "Upload" button in top tool bar and then the "Choose" button.

    This last will take you to your Windows Picture page where you "open" a picture to upload it to PhotoBucket.

    When the bar has filled, the picture is uploaded.

    Left click on the small image of the picture that appears to the left.

    A larger image will now appear to the right. Left click on the bottom "IMG" link. This is the "copy" step in Windows "copy and paste."

    Go to your post here at BladeForums and "paste" the link in your post.

    Save your post.

    Better pictures help get better info.
     
  18. B.Mauser

    B.Mauser

    Jul 22, 2011
    Thank you for this wonderful thread Codger. I enjoyed it so much. Very informative and interesting.


    I had never seen a Kent knife until a couple years ago. I bought a lot of knives online to get a Colonial I wanted. The only other good one in the bunch was a Kent 2 blade jack with amazingly colorful end of day celluliod. After a while I got curious and googled them and found your post here where I learned more about them than I ever expected.

    I have picked up a couple more since then. Here are a few pictures. It took a while to find a good scout knife. Most of the ones I saw for sale had very over sharpened main blades. Finally settled for this one. The shield is dented but the rest is in great condition and had a pretty full blade.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

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    [​IMG]
     
  19. Codger_64

    Codger_64 Moderator Moderator

    Oct 8, 2004
    Very nice! They were well made knives, especially for the low market price point at the time. Not surprising that so many remaining show a lot of use and, due to the celluloid used, plenty of examples with deteriorated covers. But the shear quantity produced and sold also helps assure that some small percentage of survivors are found today in excellent condition. Even after all the years since the branding was first explored here, KENT knives are still an excellent value in old collectable knives in my opinion. Likewise the other still obscure Camillus brandings. For many of us, holding history in our hand gives the knives a special feel.
     
  20. r8shell

    r8shell Platinum Member Platinum Member

    Jan 16, 2010
    I found a couple of Kent Sportsman's Knives. One in cocobolo, and one in what I think is bone. I don't know if the sheath is original.

    Kent sportsman's 2.jpg

    These are really nice old knives, especially the cocobolo. It's amazing the quality you could find at a five&dime store back then. :)

    Kent Sportsman resized.jpg
     

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