Documenting Your Cutlery
If you were born in the 1700’s or 1800’s you would be aware that the common definition of “cutlery” was: “any tool with a cutting edge on it”. The American Museum of Cutlery was formed to celebrate the fact that edged tools were a necessary and important ingredient in the settling of the Western Hemisphere, a region that became known by the rest of the world as “America”. The edged tools that cleared our forests, fed and clothed our forefathers, and won, and continue to preserve our freedoms will forever be revered as tools of history at this important museum.
To merely showcase a knife with a description of what it is and when it was made is alright but this is not all that this experience can be. Anyone can buy a knife on Ebay and put it into a museum setting or collect many different examples of a style of knife and display them. That’s nice. But picture a knife or scissors or some such ……being donated along with a photo of its owner holding it if possible, with an added description of how it was made or used. Add to that a narration of what made it special to the owner. Well, you now have an inanimate object that has been blessed with vitality and now reborn as a tool of history.
Overall cutlery history has been little documented and has long been taken for granted. Think for a minute. Each family has some recollection of an edged tool that made a difference in their family at some point. That tool might be your Mother’s favorite bread knife, Dad’s pocket knife that he was never without, Grampa’s side knife or bayonet from the War, or Grammy’s often used cookie cutter. What knife was used to carve your turkey? I still have that special kitchen gadget Ma used to cut out donuts on special Saturdays. When I was in elementary school, I didn’t know any boy who didn’t have a pocket knife on him. They were used to sharpen pencils or put a point on worn shoe laces, or pry open the rusty hinge on a lunch pail. I still have my pocket knife from back then. It served me well from Cub Scouts to Eagle. It helped build science projects and was always ready to lend a hand. My sheath knife skinned my first deer over 50 years ago and dozens since. Those knives along with a written or recorded narrative about them, I believe, will be of interest to my grandchildren. These knives were inexpensive to begin with and have no monetary value today. But, they are priceless to me. To merely let those two knives get thrown into the junk drawer of obscurity is an opportunity lost. They, along with my hatchet, were indicative of who I was at the time and helped develop my can-do attitude.
Our humble museum opened in 2005 in this small village of less than 1000 citizens. Let me give you a glimpse of some of the very interesting donations that have come forward, just from our little town. Here are just a few examples:
1) A large set of early knives and forks that were found in the attic of a local family's homestead in Massachusetts that dates to about 1680.
2) Three knives and a machete that were revered tools of a local Marine. He was a .50 cal “machine gunner” on a Grumman TBF airplane and who flew out of Bougainville in the Solomon Islands during WWII. He went on countless raids against the Japanese airfields at Rabaul with his friend Pappy Boyington in a fighter plane flying cover for him.
3) A Collins fighting knife intentionally issued unmarked and carried by a local resident who was an airplane mechanic in Burma with the AVG (Flying Tigers) in 1941.
4) Surgical knives and a dagger that belonged to our local doctor who was in charge of triage in a Forward Battalion Aid Station for 9 long months in France and Germany. The tape recording of his describing his role in the liberation of Dachau will forever resonate.
5) A pocket knife carried by an identified local Civil War soldier of the 154th NewYork Regiment. The knife was at Gettysburg, Sherman's March, and Lee's Surrender.
6) A well used handsaw made about 1900 with teeth filed by hand and a handle carved from an elm tree that the maker cut down with an axe. All the work was done by hand by this talented machinist rather than use any power equipment …“Because”!! Thank you, Grampa Grover M. Anderson!!!
7) A bowie style knife made by a local resident from the leaf spring of his old pickup truck. The sheath made from the hide of a deer he harvested and tanned, lacing made from woodchuck hide, and handle from an elk antler he found shed in New Mexico while mule deer hunting.
8) An unmarked knife issued to a local man who was a member of the OSS in WWII given to him personally by "Wild Bill" Donovan.
9) A froe used to make local roof shingles and barrel staves.
10) A special jar lid used to cut ravioli by a wonderful much loved local Italian housewife.
So step up America ! Put your thinking caps on !
There are thousands of stories out there ! Be the historian in your neighborhood !
Make a difference !
What To Do?
Here are some suggestions:
Have the owner of the edged tool photographed with the object just under his or her smiling countenance. Then take notes! Write down recollections. Record them. Video tape them. Interview keeping in mind the “who, what, where, when, why and how?” questions. Keep the results in your family archives. Create a display. The American Museum of Cutlery would like a copy of your efforts. OR ......Entrust us with the originals for your museum, America’s Museum. It’s that simple. Write about it. Don’t bother just photographing the object. It’s the story of its creation or use that is of value, not just the object. Still need help? Call us! Bring it in or one of our volunteers will come to you for photos and a write up.
It is important to note that many of the very best knife and edged tool makers to ever live, are alive today. They need to be photographed with their creations, their stories recorded, conserved, and archived. Hopefully they will donate an example for future study and appreciation. From ancient pre-Columbian edged tools to today's high art examples, the Museum stands ready to house and display all for future generations.
. The American Museum of Cutlery is the brainchild of Patrick J. Cullen, the current President of Bank of Cattaraugus, in Cattaraugus, New York. The Bank is the oldest in Western New York having its origins in an 1831 partnership. One of the early partners was Davy Crockett’s cousin. Where the American Museum of Cutlery is located, hundreds of knives were made by local blacksmiths and cutlers for soldiers to carry off to the Civil War. Numerous knife companies were located in the region, making millions of knives over subsequent years. The Bank has evidence of nearly a dozen cutlery companies in the 1800’s as customers including Cattaraugus Cutlery, Case Brothers Cutlery, Korn Razor Manufactory, The Ten Eyck Edge Tool Company, The United States Edged Tool Company, and W.R. Case and Sons Cutlery. Cutlery companies still in operation in the area include Ontario, Cutco/Alcas, K-Bar, Robinson, Queen and Great Eastern. Present and former employees of these companies have stories to tell and these are highly sought after by the museum.
The “American Museum of Cutlery” and “AMCUT” are registered trademarks of the 501 (c)3 Historic Southwestern New York Foundation, Cattaraugus, New York. The American Museum of Cutlery is not affiliated with any manufacturer or retailer. It is an independent nonprofit museum organized and operated under the auspices of the Historic Cattaraugus Corporation, also a 501(c)3, registered with the New York State Attorney General’s Charities Bureau and governed by the laws of the State Education Department of New York State.
The American Museum of Cutlery is located at 9 Main Street; Cattaraugus, New York 14719. Its hours are 1pm to 4pm Thursdays through Sundays. It has been open since July 2005 and has been fully staffed by volunteers. Patrick J. Cullen, the founding collector, can be reached at 716 257 9813 or 716 257 3431 or at AMCUT.ORG@gmail.com.