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Old traditional folders - how would you rank the companies?

Discussion in 'Traditional Folders and Fixed Blades' started by scotchleaf, May 17, 2018.

  1. scotchleaf

    scotchleaf

    Oct 23, 2006
    If you take the old companies: Case, Imperial, Ka-bar, Schrade, Ulster, Camillus, Queen, Utica, Robeson, Boker USA, and Western, for example - how would you rank their knives for quality?

    Did some start out great, and then lose quality?

    Were Imperials ever high quality?
     
  2. WinchesteRalox

    WinchesteRalox

    392
    Mar 26, 2018
    Tough choice but of what I can remember handling in person, 1. Case. 2. Boker. 3. Schrade. 4. Camillus. 5. Imperial.
     
  3. T. Erdelyi

    T. Erdelyi Gold Member Gold Member

    Feb 3, 2001
    I'd take Western outta the mix as the majority of their knives were FB IIRC.

    Robeson, Ulster, Queen would go together as far as F&F and quality of construction and materials.

    Case, Camillus, Schrade, Kabar, Boker USA are about on par with each other.

    Imperial and Utica following up the rear.

    Imperial had a premium line in the 50s-60s I believe. where they used solid rat tail NS bolsters, celluloid scales crocus finish on the blades but the money's in the volume and the cheaper made knives sold better. Didn't mean the knife was a bad knife. Mine is wicked sharp and will cut for a long time with a 5 second touch up every 20 or so boxes.

    I feel in the industry every American company has had their UPS and downs. In the old days the way out survived was to marry within the Cutlery families in order to create new companies with the children of rival Cutlery firms. It worked for nearly 100 years. Nowadays it's the constant battle with established companies tryin' to keep up production numbers to fill the big box retail stores while using equipment 50 years out of date.

    By the time they can afford the new equipment they lose the big box contracts forcing them to go bankrupt as they're left holding millions of dollars of substandard product they can't afford to keep and no one will pay what they need to even break even. Not when you can buy the same knife from a smaller reputable dealer for a little more and be guaranteed a good knife.

    Look what happened to Schrade because of WalMart. They bankrupted the company when WalMart decided they no longer would carry Schrade knives. Schrade burned a lot of potential customers to keep WalMart happy and with the swipe of a PO that went somewhere other than Schrade left them with big bills and product they couldn't move at a profit.

    Now look at them, owned by Taylor Brands and having them made offshore. I do have to give Schrade props for pullin' out and reintroducing a lot of old discontinued patterns.
     
    meako likes this.
  4. scotchleaf

    scotchleaf

    Oct 23, 2006
    thanks - good info. Any threads that go deep into this topic?
     
  5. deltaboy

    deltaboy

    Jul 6, 2014
    1.Case
    2. Schrade
    3.Callimus
    4.Western
    5.Boker
    6.Imperial
    7. Colonial
     
  6. Buzzbait

    Buzzbait Gold Member Gold Member

    Feb 25, 2001
    I don't think it's really possible to rank them, unless you specify a date. A lot of the Schrade Walden stuff was awesome, and then they and Ulster went to Swinden key construction, which sort of ruins it for me. Similarly, the construction methods used by imperial, and I think Colonial also, ruins it for me. I will say that Schrade's heat treatment was pretty awesome, even their stainless.

    Case has really had its ups and downs in terms of quality. All over the place. Very high ups and downs, and lots in the middle. They get major props from me for sticking with a lot of jigged bone and carbon steel, when many companies moved almost entirely to Delrin and stainless.

    Camillus was pretty consistent, from what I've seen. Always good, but maybe never truly great or bad. The quality of their war time knife efforts were amazing, considering the massive quantities they were pumping out. Almost GEC level quality, but obviously very limited in selection. They got incredibly good at a handful of knife models. for a short period of time. Many Camillus knives were contract knives, with quality levels depending on who contracted the knives. The Remington reissues were generally quite good, but the same patterns made for United Cutlery were not as nice.

    I have some Boker USA. The knives were very functional, but not a high level of fit and finish. I'd put them a level below Camillus, from the samples I've held.
     
    r8shell, Will Power and T. Erdelyi like this.
  7. afishhunter

    afishhunter

    Oct 21, 2014
    I don't know if a complete list is possible.
    There have been hundreds - if not thousands - of knife brands since 1840 or so, just in the USA, most are long gone, (The Great Depression saw a hundreds of cutlery companies close shop) but they were popular in their day, and examples of their product still exist.

    Top Quality Manufacturers:
    (That I can think of right now)
    Russell
    Cattaragus (spelling?)
    Robeson
    New York Knife Co.
    Pretty much any of the old name Sheffield makers.
    Most of the Solgien makers.
    Queen (or they might be considered an upper mid level brand pre-1950 or so)
    Hammer Brand (or they might be considered an upper mid level brand)
    Remington (at least when they made their own knives)
    Tideout (before becoming a GEC brand)
    Schat & Morgan
    Eye Brand

    Mid Level Brands:
    Marbles
    Ulster
    Camillus
    Old Timer/Uncle Henry/Schrade
    Utica
    Ka-Bar
    Contract made Remington Branded knives.
    Kissing Crane
    Böker (Tree Brand)
    Western (folding knives)
    Case
    Buck (300 series)
    Some of the Solgien makers.

    Economy Knives:
    Imperial
    Colonial
    Böker USA (not Tree Brand)
    Utica Kutmaster
    Some of the Solgien makers models.
    Opinel


    Some of the brands in the Mid Level also made knives in the economy class, either under their own sub-brands or under contract for others.

    @t.erdelyi
    Western did make some slipjoints.
    I have a c1974* Western made "Demo" knife that the Army Reserves gave me.
    *Based on the tang stamp and when I enlisted.

    I've never heard before that Walmart is why Schrade closed down. (FWIW They currently sell Old Timer and Schrade knives)
    I've always heard it was mismanagement, and labor disputes (including a 4 or 5 months long strike by the Union workers), that did them in.

    Oh, Taylor has not owned Schrade for a couple years now.
    They sold out to BTI, a division of Smith & Wesson.
     
    sXePhenomenal and T. Erdelyi like this.
  8. dsutton24

    dsutton24 Gold Member Basic Member Gold Member

    164
    Apr 9, 2018
    Speaking as a knife user in those days...

    Imperial had high quality knives. They had their cheapies, too, probably most of their production would fall into tha category. But the cheapness came from using tin handles and the like, the blades and springs were still decent quality. I know I sure whittled a lot of sticks and skinned a lot of squirrels with their knives.

    A step up would have been Western, Camillus, Schrade, and so forth. Good useable knives, but knives that would still lose scales and shields on occasion.

    Case dosen't really get a place in my ranking. They were just so expensive, and didn't offer anything I couldn't get in a Western or Camillus. Boker wasn't around.

    I'm still a user, but i also collect now. Still don't care much for Case, I've run into too many Case snobs, and have seen their business shift almost entirely to building knives for collectors. I stll like the old names, and buy them whenever they come along.
     
    Last edited: May 18, 2018
  9. T. Erdelyi

    T. Erdelyi Gold Member Gold Member

    Feb 3, 2001
    With new knife prices for modern traditional frequently surpassing $100 for just a good knife people are looking to older production knives. Like Buzz said date has a lot to do with it.

    The cutlery industry has had its golden age and I think we’re at the forefront of another with designer steels and scales made from more manmade materials than ever before.

    Companies reviving old patterns, premium materials hand fit and finished bring prices in the $200 and up range into custom territory.

    Like AFH said, there were so many companies over the years that were around for a few years and gone. Some were done in by the depression, some poor management while others were absorbed/bought out by a bigger competitor. Some even made premium knives, heirloom blades to be used and passed on.

    A great example of this was the Union Knifeworks company of NYC NY. They were in business for 1 year between , 1911-1913. They made working knives from the best materials at hand using old world cutlers. Here’s an example I was lucky enough to find. At the time it was rusted shut and looked like garbage. A lot of TLC and elbow grease and from the sow’s ear I rescued this silk purse. I had a choice with the broken blade and opted to make a box cutter out of it.

    Who remembers Union Knifeworks (Knifeworks one word)? Nobody but they were there for a year and made some of the best knives in the world. Keep in mind this knife is over 100 y/o and I still carry and use it all the time. it walks and talks like it was handmade by Tony Bose himself. After 100+ years that's pretty impressive if you ask me.

    [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]
     
  10. sXePhenomenal

    sXePhenomenal Gold Member Basic Member Gold Member

    663
    Mar 8, 2018
    Dunno haven’t tried that many old knives only a handful from Case and Schrade but I’m looking in to getting a few
     
  11. leghog

    leghog

    Aug 10, 2013
    Challenging question considering many makers made knives for other makers. Example --- my KaBar scout was made by Robeson. Also I have some Imperials that are ealier and much better than my later ones. It has been my experience the pre-war and WW2 Imperials were great quality.
     
    Will Power likes this.
  12. Campbellclanman

    Campbellclanman Platinum Member Platinum Member

    Mar 10, 2007
    I think that we probably will never get the quality that the very old Companies gave us- Cutler Companies such as Empire, early Robeson, Cattaraugus etc, the Old Master Cutlers were many in the day- who worked with such skill and produced by hand knives that will continue to survive for easily another 200 years- (if cared for and looked after ) there is one company who is smashing into the "Old time" quality - and for a new company to survive in these days doing this- is quite incredible...this is GEC.
    Older cutler firms also had the advantage of the existing economic reality that Labour was inexpensive- so the time people - skilled people at that - could spend on any such item made the difference.

    I think with Henry Ford being the first to introduce process - and theres a lot involved in that one word, I teach processes and working lean, so once companies - big companies saw the value in this this was a game changer I believe.
    But as a humble New Zealander - who is away from all the direct traffic of knives - I still heavily mourn the loss of such greats such as Camillus and Schrade - These two companies made some of the most outstanding knives that deserve to sit within THE top 10 best ever.
    Nice reading from such knowledgeable people such as Ted to help us with the understanding of the game changer Walmart had such an effect on Schrade! A good saying in business and there's a prime example- never put all your eggs in one basket, we need people like Charlie, Lyle etc to come in and visit here.
     
  13. Ernie1980

    Ernie1980 Gold Member Gold Member

    Apr 19, 2012
    I have not even come close to owning examples of the great cutlers from the past, but I have owned samples from dozens of different companies over the years. In my experience, the most reliably quality knives from the past were Joseph Rodgers and New York knife company. Many other makers produced great knives but IMO they were not as consistent as these two.
     
  14. Dan of Bazz Clazz

    Dan of Bazz Clazz Basic Member Basic Member

    594
    May 10, 2017
    One of the business rules of modern times for manufacturers.

    "The only thing worse than being in Walmart, is not being in it"

    Have a very smart friend and sponsor who was able to skin that cat. He got his very small company (makes plastic worms) placed in Walmart, AND still keeps most if not all of his independent dealers and large accounts. He did it while keeping his unit price per worm, the same to Walmart and everyone else!!!

    I told you he was smart!
     

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