The Western Knife Company, C. Platts & Sons Cutlery, Cattaraugus and W. R. Case and Sons, what do these knife companies all have in common?
While doing some research on a Western Knife Company knife that I recently listed on our website, I came across some really interesting information that I thought I would share about these knife companies.
Charles W. Platts
So in order to understand what these four companies all have in common, we have to go back to the very beginning of their stories. So lets begin in 1864 when Charles W. Platts emigrated from Sheffield England to America. Charles having come from a long line of knife makers back in England followed this same path when arriving in America. His first job was with the American Knife Company in Reynolds Bridge, Connecticut. Then a few years later he began working for another factory, Northfield Knife Company, this factory was not far from where he had been working. He became a superintendent there in Northfield where he and his wife Sarah put down their roots and raised their five boys there. All the boys learned the trade of the cutlery business.
One of his sons, Harvey Nixon Platts or otherwise known as H. N. Platts, left Northfield in 1891 and moved west to Little Valley in Cattaraugus County, New York. H. N. was a master cutler and was recruited by J.B.F. Champlin to run his new Cattarugus Cutlery factory. He developed his trade and learned blade grinding and blade finishing in this new knife factory.
Interestingly enough, the Case family was introduced to knife making when Therese Case married a cutlery salesman named John Brown Francis Champlin. In 1882, J.B.F. Champlin resigned from the cutlery importing firm of Friedmann and Lauterjung to start his own business as a knife broker. He contracted knives to be made and then sold them under his own brand name. The brand name was J.B.F. Champlin, Little Valley, New York. It was so successful that in 1886, four of his wife's brothers joined the business that J.B.F. ran with his son Tint. Her brothers were Jean, John, Andrew and W. R. Case! The firm was then renamed the Cattaraugus Cutlery Company.
The Case brothers employment with Cattaraugus didn't last long but it left a lasting impact on their lives. When they left in 1887 they took with them the desire to be involved in the cutlery industry.
W.R. Case had a daughter Debbie Case. Debbie also worked in the Cattaraugus Cutlery Company in the office. In 1892 H. N. Platts and Debbie Case were married and had two sons Harlow and Reginald.
In 1893, Charles Platts and his sons moved from Northfield to Little Valley and they all began working with Cattaraugus. Practically every department within the Cattaruaugus factory now had a Platts family member employed. In 1896, with having developed their trade in the knife industry and with the great American entrepreneurial spirit, Charles Platts and his five sons joined and formed the C. Platts & Sons Cutlery Company in the nearby town of Gowanda, New York.
In 1887 they moved to a new and larger factory in Eldred, Pennsylvania. Then in 1900, when Charles Platts died, it was H. N. Platts who assumed the leadership position in the family business. H.N. served in multiple capacities within the business. He handled all the managerial responsibilities and also served as a lead salesman of the Platts Cutlery knives. He expanded his exposure to new territories to grow this business. He traveled west through several states into the Midwestern plains states. His brother-in-law Russ Case (Russ Case's father was W. R. Case) would also join him on sales trips out west. H.N. Platts would sell knives on one side of the street in town and Russ Case would set up and sell knives on the other side. Each of them selling knives branded with their own name.
These two men having formed such a strong bond decided to form a new company. J. Russell Case (Russ Case) and H. N. Platts were the organizers and major stockholders. In the very beginning of this joint venture, the company were selling knives branded with names "Platts" and "Case". They decided to choose one family name. Russ's position was handling the sales responsibility side of the business and H. N. oversaw the manufacturing. They decided to go with the company name of "Case". Russ had earlier begun a knife company known as "W.R. Case and Son" named after his father William Russell (W.R). So they incorporated and joined these businesses together in 1904 in Little Valley. To recognize the Platts family name and membership within this joined business they added an "s" to the word "Son" thereby changing the new incorporated name to "W.R. Case and Sons". Debbie Case Platts also supervised the office for them in the factory.
After years of work using a sandstone grinding wheel H.N's health began to decline due to a disease in the lungs called "Grinder's Consumption". Business was doing very well and his boys had become teenagers and active within the business. In order to prevent his health from getting any worse, H. N. Platts sold his interest in the company to Russ Case and moved his family to a drier climate in 1911. Moving his family to Boulder, Colorado.
Platts and his family were determined to continue his life's work and passion in the cutlery industry. The newly growing western states opened a new door for knife sales. Farmers, miners, cowboys and other workers needed quality cutlery for every day use in these different working fields. Since H. N. already had experience in starting a cutlery factory and knew all about the business from the ground up to sales, he was successful in starting all over again. He had the eastern cutlery manufacturers connections he needed for sourcing his new products.
Before the end of the year in 1911, just months after completing his move out west, orders were being taken and knives sold arriving from the east to fill these orders. He named his new knife business "Western States Cutlery and Manufacturing Company". He decided to go with this name instead of using his founding name "Platts" because the Platts name had been used to brand for the old company and was being used by his brothers who operated and made knives branded by the name Platts Brothers Cutlery Company. So he choose this geographical name to separate and establish a new identity from the Case and Platts family businesses back east. The "States" extension in his business name signified his company's sales territory.
H.N.'s early Western States knives were manufactured by Challenge, a New York knife company. Valley Forge, Utica and W.R. Case & Sons, among other knife companies were also manufactured by Challenge. The Western States Knives business was booming and H.N. would have to get a factory established soon for his manufacturing of his knives but World War 1 was upon them and had brought about shortages of materials and labor. The war also required the service of his oldest son Harlow. He needed Harlow's help for the startup of the factory. So after several years of patiently waiting for the right time, he was able to manifest his dream of opening his own new factory in 1920.
They all worked together continuing to make knives until the early 1940's when H. N. decided to retire from active management of the Western States Cutlery and passed on his duties to his sons Harlow and Reginald. They continued the business working together until 1950 when Reginald decided to leave the cutlery business. In 1951 the business was reincorporated and a new name was given to the business "Western Cutlery Company. It was now run by Harlow Platts and his son Harvey. Western Cutlery remained in Boulder, Colorado until 1978 when they relocated to the nearby town Longmont, Colorado.
Harvey Platts became company president in 1978 and continued in that capacity until 1984 when Western Cutlery Company was purchased by the Crossman Air gun division of Coleman Corporation. This ended the more than 100 year Platts family owned and involvement in the U.S. cutlery Industry.
The association with Coleman lasted until 1990, when an investor group in Wyoming purchased the knife factory and trademarks. They were unable to obtain satisfactory profit performance due to the fact it was no longer owned and operated by people who had a passion for making knives for the every day man's use. It had become, like many other companies, out to make a profit only and lost touch with their market. The company's brands, machinery, and tooling were sold to Camillus Cutlery Co. in 1991, and many parts, papers, and other items were dispersed at auction. Camillus Cutlery closed its doors in February 2007, leaving the future of Western Cutlery and the company's other brands in limbo.
So to answer the question, "What do The Western Knife Company, C. Platts & Sons Cutlery, Cattaraugus Cutlery Company and W. R. Case and Sons all have in common? They were all related as family. People who developed a skill, worked together as a family developing their passion and creating something of quality for the every day working man to use. That's why we all love to collect these knives. They are a part of history. Knives made with passion and now collected and coveted by every knife collector today!
For dating early Western States knives, they used tangs stamps with the words WESTERN STATES in an arch and BOULDER, COLORADO in a straight line below, similar to the stamp used by C. Platts and Sons. Pocket knife tangs were stamped with the curved WESTERN STATES until about 1950 when WESTERN, BOULDER, COLORADO was adapted.
WESTACO was a budget price 88 bd brand that seems to have appeared in the 1930s.
WESTMARK was a brand used on high end products that first appeared in 1970.
In addition to stamped tangs, many early knives had trademark etching on the blade. The company's mark they were best known for was a tic-tac-toe pattern, and the words “Sharp Tested Temper”. It was used beginning in 1911 and then in 1928, the Buffalo trademark consisting of an old buffalo skull framed with “Western States” and “Sharp Cutlery” was adopted and gradually replaced the tic-tac-toe marking.
The “dagger and diamond” logo that appeared on later Western products was first used in 1963. Tang stamps on pocket knives as well as sheath knives were gradually changed to “Western USA” during the 1960s. Beginning in 1978 and continuing until the mid-1980s, the stamp “Western USA” was used with a letter added beneath the “USA” to indicate the production year.
During the 1980's, stamping began to include the model number, a trend that continued under Camillus ownership. When Coleman owned the company from 1984 to 1990, you saw the use of some COLEMAN WESTERN stamps as well as ColemanWestern markings on the retaining strap buttons of knife sheaths.
IDENTIFYING WESTERN STATES POCKET KNIVES - Western States early knives follow the traditional numbering system of a pattern number, along with letters and other numbers that described the knife's features. Unfortunately, the numbering system was an internal protocol for employees and pattern numbers were not marked on the company's products until 1954. With Camillus now out of business, much of that inside company information has been lost due to paperwork being sold off at auctions. Collectors today must identify early knives from catalogs and application of the numbering system. Most of the old stock numbers can be deciphered by using the numbering key explained below. Some older pocket knife numbers have a zero inserted just before the pattern number to signify a modification, usually in material or finish, such as (9393 or 93093)
The first digit signifies the handle material:
2 - Imitation Pearl
3 - Brown or Golden Shell
4 - White or Imitation Ivory
5 - Genuine Stag
6 - Genuine Bone
7 - Ivory or Agate
8 - Genuine Pearl