Rebirth of Old Brands?
We all know that old American brands that are now out of business are being made now in China. But are they really?
Let's begin by considering the Schrade products currently being made in China, since I am most familiar with them. Let's also assume for the sake of argument that the quality of the American made product and the quality of the Chinese product are identical. What is the difference other than the country of origin? I would propose that the difference is vast and go far beyond the issues of quality and place of manufacture.
Schrade knives were made in the United States for 100 years, 1904-2004. George Schrade and his brothers Jacob, Lewis and William started the company. Initially they had knives made in Germany until they completed the construction of their factory in the United States. William and Jacob but most especially George were inventors. All three held patents on automatic or switchblade knives. George especially was an inventor and entrepreneur whose patents and designs are still seen in modern day knife production. These men were so proud of their products that they used their family name on the product, i.e. Schrade.
Another entrepreneur of the knife industry, Albert Baer purchase Schrade Cut Co. in 1946. About 1947 they became associated with Imperial Knife Company. Imperial held the legal rights to use the name Hammer Brand. From 1936 onward, Imperial had made a line of shell-handled knives using the name Hammer Brand. By 1938 the shell-handled Hammer Brand Knives were the leading product of Imperial Knife Company. This was of historic significance because it was a successful product in the midst of the Great Depression. While other companies were closing due to bankruptcy Imperial created a niche in the market with a quality product that was less expensive to manufacture and could therefore be sold at a lower price. I think this was a stroke of brilliance on the part of Imperial Knife Company.
But the name Hammer Brand has even deeper historical roots. Hammer Brand is a brand name of New York Knife Company. Hammer Brand was the marking they used on their top-of-the-line products. New York Knife Company closed due to bankruptcy in 1931, early on in the Great Depression.
After the close of New York Knife Company, Imperial Knife Company secured the rights to the name Hammer Brand. Hammer Brand was synonymous with quality and was a highly recognized brand in its day. Imperial capitalized on this name recognition to make their line of shell-handled knives successful. It was a bit of marketing genius but would not have been successful had not the shell-handled knives been of good quality. I'm not sure exactly when I Imperial stopped making shell-handled knives, but I think they had stopped by about 1960. Now 50 years later you can go to a flea market almost anywhere in the United States and find shell-handled Hammer Brand knives by the dozens. Some of the knives are worse for the wear but most of them are still functional even though they may be missing handle or two.
Today in 2009 we see old American brands such as Hammer Brand, Old Timer and Uncle Henry that are being made in China. The argument rages as to whether these Chinese made knives are equal in quality to their American-made predecessors from whom they take their name.
I contend that the two products, the American made original and the current Chinese production are no more related than apples and oranges. There is no way to compare them because they are not the same product.
These knives are more different than they are alike. For a baseline of comparison let's use the Old Timer and Uncle Henry brands.
1. The majority of the Old Timer and Uncle Henry knives were made with Swinden Key construction. As far as I have been able to determine there was only one company that used the Swinden construction, and that was Imperial Schrade Corporation. The Chinese knives bearing these names are made with the common pin through bolster construction, not Swinden construction.
2. One of the major selling points for Old Timer knives is the fact that they were made with carbon steel. There are many people who use knives on a daily basis who prefer carbon steel for its edge holding ability and ease of sharpening. A quick check with the importer of these knives confirmed that all the Old Timers from China are made with 440 stainless steel.
3. The Chinese Old Timers are not even a true copy of the original American-made knives. For example one online store is selling an Old Timer in a trapper pattern that is 3-3/4 inches in length (closed). All of Schrades Old Timer trappers were either 3-7/8 inches or 4-1/8 inches in the case of the 296Y (classified by some with the Old Timers). Schrade did not make a 3-3/4 inch trapper.
4. Many of the knives from China wearing the Old Timer name are not patterns that were made by Schrade in the Old Timer brand. Many of these patterns were never even made by Schrade. Show me an American made Schrade leg knife, dirk, toothpick, doctors knife, and cigar whittler or sowbelly stockman. These patterns are made in China for most brands being imported. Just because they put a Schrade shield on the knife, does not make it a Schrade.
5. Then there is the handle material, ram horn, red marble, desert ironwood, etc. These were not handle materials that were commonly used by Schrade, if they were ever used at all. Even the Delrin used on the Chinese Old Timers do not look the same as the American made Old Timers. The practiced eye of the Schrade collector can pick out the Chinese made knives because subtle differences in the color and texture of the handles.
So we have knives that are constructed differently, of different materials, in different sizes, in different patterns that even look different. The only think they have in common with the original is the name.
So what are we really seeing in the phenomenon of the reemergence of knives bearing the old American brand names? Are we seeing the rebirth of old American knife brands? I think not.
What we are really seeing is one of the less auspicious moments of capitalism. When we have people who claim to love this country and to love the rich cutlery heritage that it represents, that choose to produce products overseas in the home of our traditional enemies, all the while enriching the coffers of our enemies while depleting our own treasury, something is terribly wrong.
The fact that they try to sell these to collectors as a Schrade, Marbles, New York Knife, or what ever the brand may be, is unconscionable. The fact that some people actually buy them to “collect” boggles the mind!
It is like going to Korea and having Hyundai build a car and calling it a Packard, then expecting them to be excepted into all the Packard clubs in America!
There is nothing in the world that some man cannot make a little worse and sell a little cheaper, and he who considers price only is that man's lawful prey.
– John Ruskin, English critic, essayist, & reformer (1819 - 1900)
That is the way I see it,