Giving away a knife as a form of advertising, is a marketing technique used for many years by most, if not all, knife manufacturers from the early days up until today. No doubt, you have seen such knives on display at knife shows or searched eBay listings for old knives and found, for example, ‘FELT’ knives (Also see images at the bottom).
Felt manufacturers would purchase these advertising knives from various cutleries like Camillus, Robeson, Schrade, Colonial, Kutmaster, and Imperial.
The felt manufacturers bought these knives with their name either hot stamped, etched, laser engraved, or they had a special emblem/shield placed on the handle, or “scales” as they are appropriately referred to.
These knives were given to employees of felt companies as a token of appreciation and in hopes of future orders of felt. Some of the best known felt companies that handed out knives were Albany Felt (later known as Albany International), Orr Felt, Oriskany Waterbury felts, Philadelphia Felts, Knox Felts Mt Vernon, and Draper Felt.
The town of Camillus is located near the heart of Timber County. The mountains of the majestic Adirondacks and its prolific forests resonate with the reverberations of the skilled woodsman’s axe and saw. The shores of the Hudson River both north and south of Albany, along with the Mohawk and many other nearby rivers, were populated with prosperous paper mills in the 1890s.
Felt and the Paper Industry
Just what did these felt companies do and what was their tie to the paper industry and to our beloved Camillus knives?
Well, felt companies made large pieces of felt that were used by the paper companies to absorb water from the pulp when manufacturing paper.
The knife that papermakers used to put on dry felts was commonly referred to as a “felt knife”. Employees at the paper companies would also use a knife to cut the ends of the paper that was on enormous rolls.
Felt manufacturers gave knives to employees of paper mills as they would use the tool on a daily basis. Hopefully seeing the felt manufacturer’s name on the knife would influence the next purchase of felt. Simple marketing and actually quite effective!
Albany Felt Company
One of the most common felt advertising knives you will see are from the Albany Felt Company that was established in Albany, New York in 1895. Three local businessmen, Parker Corning, Selden Marvin and James Cox, with a capital of $40,000, formed the Albany Felt Company to manufacture papermaking felts and other machine clothing for paper mills.
In the years following World War II, the company began to expand, building new felt mills throughout Canada and America. And in 1969, it merged with Appleton Wire Works in the U.S. and Nordiska Maskinfilt in Europe, and was renamed Albany International.
Most of Albany International’s business was selling paper machine fabrics, such as drier felts, which needed to be trimmed daily. So lots of Albany Felt knives were handed out to employees of paper factories.
As a result, Mr. Lee Minicucci of the Albany Felt Company was a regular customer of Camillus and was known to visit the plant while in the area to purchase knives.
His first choice was the model #23 knife, a two bladed CAMCO stamped blade, manufactured by Camillus Cutlery. In later years, Mr. Minicucci also bought other models in addition to the #23. These were slightly smaller versions with a notch for ease of opening. Perhaps he felt it was a good variation that could be utilized for other purposes rather than just trimming felt. After all, the more uses the knife had, the better chances the advertiser had to market its name.
CAMCO Advertising Knives
The CAMCO line of knives was created around 1948 and purchased in large quantities for advertising or as give-a-ways as the knives were less expensive.
Although several components were identical to Camillus knives of the same period, a variety of cost effective materials and a slightly lower standard of finish was applied to CAMCO knives.
The typical CAMCO knife would have had the blade sharpened but not buff stropped, which removes burrs on the sharpened edge. Also, many times the liners would be made of steel instead of the more expensive brass. In addition, CAMCO knives quite often had steel bolsters rather than the typical nickel silver and many of the backside scales may not have been finished.
It’s clear that advertising knives were truly working tools, not originally made for collecting.
Like many variations in older knives, inevitably a collector recognizes its importance to the industry and amasses a collection based on the subject or style of the tool. One can garner a rather nice collection of these knives without a serious outlay of cash and have an attractive display to show off to others.
Keeping the history alive is so important and that’s just what we hope for with the documentation of knives, people, places and industry. An acquired skill by the savvy collector is to “read the knife” not for what’s written on it, but for the story it has to tell.