One of the best known and most loved knives in the genre of vintage “character knives” is the Camco Lone Ranger knife, made of course by Camillus Cutlery Company.
Most of us can likely remember the inspiration for these knives, primarily in the form of the radio, television, and film as well as comic strips. The masked former Texas Ranger and his Native American sidekick Tonto – not to mention leading horses Silver and Scout – captured many an imagination in their adventures fighting for law and order in the old west.
The Lone Ranger radio shows came first, the original broadcasts running from 1933 to 1954, while the television series aired on ABC for eight seasons, 1949-1957 (and has never really left the airwaves since). Despite all the years that have passed since their heyday, the Lone Ranger and Tonto are still deeply embedded in American culture – that selection from Rossini’s William Tell Overture can never again be anything but the Lone Ranger’s theme, can it?
The Lone Ranger knives were produced from 1949 into the mid-1950s, and were a great fit for the original era of the radio and television shows. They were stylishly embossed on the front handle with THE LONE RANGER, HI-YO SILVER along with illustrations of both, while the reverse side was inlaid with five raised metal studs surrounding the Lone Ranger’s “trade mark” – a silver bullet.
The knife’s handles were of black, red or ‘Nu-pearl’ (i.e. cracked ice) ‘unbreakable plastic’ which is believed to have been celluloid, near the end of its popularity as a handle material. These handles adorned 3-1/8” two blade jack knives (the Camillus #26 pattern) with nickel silver tip bolsters on both ends, solid brass liners, a nickel silver bail, and two high carbon steel blades – a master clip point blade and a secondary screwdriver with cap lifter.
When new, each Lone Ranger knife came with a rawhide lanyard; on the average, those lanyards probably survived barely longer than it took the average boy to cut himself with his new knife!
Surviving records indicate that these knives were provided to retailers on a “beautiful, sales-making six color Lone Ranger Display Card” which was delivered with an assortment of one dozen knives, four of each color. Additionally, with each assortment was packed one “colorful Lone Ranger window streamer.” Between the sign in the window and the colorful countertop display, how could any childhood Lone Ranger fan resist, then or now?
The Lone Ranger name was such a perfect fit with pocketknives that the two have been paired together a few times since the original Lone Ranger knives, including in Smoky Mountain Knife Works’ “Riders of the Silver Screen” series, some of which were produced by Camillus.
Most significant among the later knives are the 1993 Lone Ranger 60th Anniversary knives, which were nicely made reproductions of the original knives produced by Camillus during the Lone Ranger’s heyday. These knives were similar in most respects to the original knives with the exception of a “60th Anniversary” blade etch and a slight shake up in handle colors – red and black remained, ‘Nu-pearl’ was replaced with ivory, and dark blue was added. The most obvious change was that the inlaid bullet and studs on the reverse side are flat, unlike the rounded originals, and the bullet has two grooves rather than five.
A number of interesting in-house illustrations of the Lone Ranger knives have survived, including concept drawings of the artwork for both the knife and its promotional material. Some of these show concepts that never made it to the final production stage, and offer us a rare glimpse into the inner workings of Camillus Cutlery during the late 1940s and even the influence of an outside designer. One of the sketches carries the name of King Features artist Joe Musial, who drew Lone Ranger comics as well as many others over the years, including Popeye, Blondie and the Katzenjammer Kids — so the connection between the Lone Ranger knives and the Lone Ranger comics was a very direct one.
Well over sixty years since they first saw the light of day, these knives continue to fascinate just as the tales of this legend of justice do. Who was that masked man? Why, the Lone Ranger, of course!
How about you, do you remember the Lone Ranger knife, do you have one in your possession or an do you own an original countertop display card? Let us know, or show us, in the comments.