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Winchester "Trade Knife"

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Notchy Bob

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I wanted to run this one by you boys and see if anybody knows anything about it.

I was browsing on Evil Bay (never a good idea...) and found this interesting knife. The price seemed fair, so I bought it. This is a fixed-blade butcher/skinner with a pin-fastened wood scale handle and stamped (not etched) Winchester trademark. The blade is 5-13/16" long, the handle is 4-11/16", and the total length is 10-1/2". The blade is 0.063" thick. It appears to be carbon steel, but I would not rule out a "semi-stainless" alloy. The blade has a swage that extends 3-7/8" back from the tip. The wood has a yellowish cast and a very fine grain with minimal flecking, and I think it might actually be boxwood. I believe the five pins are brass, but they are pretty grungy. Here are a few snapshots:

Winchester 1.JPGWinchester 2.JPGWinchester 3.JPGWinchester 4.JPGWinchester 5.JPG

I know Winchester has maintained a line of cutlery for a long time, but I had never seen one of these. It looks like they made an honest effort to re-create a frontier trade knife, and it does indeed have some old-time features: No choil (meaning the blade is the same width as the tang where the blade joins the handle), the beveled wood handle scales fastened with pins, and a relatively flattened radius at the butt. However, the tang does not appear to be tapered, as 19th century knives typically were, and I believe that swage is a later feature. I'm thinking it's probably a late 20th century creation, made to cash in on the "mountain man" craze of the 1970's and 80's. If it ever had any collector value, the idiot who skated a grinding wheel all over the blade in a benighted effort to sharpen it reduced that value by a considerable margin. There are also a lot of rust freckles, and a few dings and considerable staining on the wood.

However, from a practical standpoint, this is a pretty darn nice piece of cutlery. The blade is thin enough and straight enough to make it a good slicer, yet it has enough "belly" and width at the tip, and enough stiffness, to make it a good skinner for big game. I like the way the beveled or faceted handle feels, and the knife as a whole is rock-solid. Despite those errant grinder marks, the blade shows very little actual wear. It will make a terrific camp knife, and it has the authentic "look" that people like us want to see. I'm pretty happy with it.

However, I'm still puzzled. When was it made? How was it marketed? Is that handle really boxwood? ... And why the dickens did they quit making such a great tool?

Any thought or insight from you "knife knuts" would be welcome.

Best regards,

Notchy Bob
 
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Notchy Bob

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Thank you for the link, hawkeye2. That gives a good synopsis of the Winchester company history.

M.H. Cole illustrates one Winchester hunting knife from 1931 in his book, The Skinning Knife, on page 131. The size is similar to mine, and it has a similar swage, but the blade is not as broad at the tip, the handle is made of cocobolo and is riveted (not pinned), and it has a Britannia metal bolster. Levine's Guide to Knives & Their Values (5th edition) indicates Winchester got into knife making just after World War I and ceased production of cutlery in 1942. However, Winchester's "...German and French distribution agencies have had Winchester brand knives contract made for sale in their European markets..." and "...Winchester USA has licensed Blue Grass Cutlery to distribute new Winchester brand knives in this country" (p.122), but I got the impression that the Blue Grass knives were mostly folders. My knife has "made in U.S.A." stamped on the blade, although part of that stamping was obliterated by the idiot with the grinder. Maybe Blue Grass made a few straight blades? I don't know. Goins' Encyclopedia of Cutlery Markings indicates the Winchester-branded knives made by Blue Grass went into production in 1987 and were marked similar to mine, with the "Made in USA" tag, and I'm guessing my butcher/skinner is likely Blue Grass made.

So, my Winchester "trade knife" is still sort of an enigma. A web search this afternoon failed to turn up any more like it, suggesting there must not have been many of them made. I'm hoping somebody here on the forum might know more about it. I might see about getting on one of the knife forums, also.

Notchy Bob
 

Notchy Bob

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Dexter Russel is still making knives like this. Here's a complete set. It's just a utilitarian tool. Being stamped Winchester is great for a collector, but unfortunately puts it out of our timeframe.
Thanks for your response, JB67, and for the link. However, the point I hoped to make about this particular knife is that it appears to be a sincere attempt toward making a modern knife in an older style. Saying the Winchester stamp puts it out of our timeframe is like saying the Thompson/Center or Pedersoli stamps put those guns out of our timeframe.

I will agree, the knives are utilitarian, and the Dexter/Russell knives are direct descendants of the old time trade knives. However, they are not the same.

Here is a photo of some knives:

Pins & Rivets.JPG

The top one is a new-made 6 inch "Green River" butcher knife. The wood handle slabs are fastened to the tang with brass cutlers rivets. Patents for the tubular rivets which evolved into today's cutler's rivets were awarded to an American inventor named Mellen Gray in 1881. It is generally agreed that cutler's rivets were not used much, if any, until into the 1890's. There are a couple of other details about this Green River butcher that make it "not authentic,"such as the small but present choil and the etched maker's mark. However, it does have a carbon steel blade and beechwood slabs, and it is in fact a great knife.

The second knife from the top is also in current production, by John Nowell of Sheffield. This one puts us closer to the old-time style, and in fact the maker calls it a "19th century pattern." The beechwood handle scales are attached with pins instead of rivets, the maker's mark is stamped or "struck" into the metal rather than being etched onto the surface (like the Green River knife in the photo), and the choil is virtually nonexistant. However, that pin pattern and the contour of the handle puts us more into the third quarter of the 19th century, or later. A nit-picky detail, to be sure.

The Winchester "trade knife is third from the top. The beveled handle scales appear to be of boxwood; a traditional wood, in a traditional form. It has an earlier five-pin handle attachment. There is no choil at all, i.e. the blade at the hilt is the same width as the tang or handle. The Winchester trademark is from the 20th century, but it is struck into the blade, as the old ones were done.

The fourth knife from the top is an original early to mid 19th century trade knife by John Wilson of Sheffield. Note the five-pin beechwood handle, no choil, the "struck" markings (not really visible in the photo) and the general sweep of the blade. The "hump" on the back of the Winchester blade is farther back than on the Wilson, and the swage on the Winchester is a newer innovation, but the overall outline of the blade is very similar to the Wilson, bearing in mind that the Wilson shows considerable wear.

So, we can make an analogy to Hawken rifles. The Green River knife at the top of the array would be analogous to a T/C Hawken... A fine rifle, an accurate shooter, and a proven game-getter, and a side-lock muzzle-loading rifle to boot. However, it bears scant resemblance to the old St. Louis Hawkens carried by the plainsmen, just as today's Green River knives have modern features.

The John Nowell knife would be analogous to a Lyman Great Plains Rifle. It looks more like the originals in many respects, and is good enough for many tradition minded shooters. This knife, and a Lyman GPR, would satisfy all but the most discriminating buckskinners.

The Winchester "trade knife" could be compared to the Ithaca Hawken... A sincere effort by a major 20th century manufacturer to really duplicate the originals. Under a magnifying glass, some details are inaccurate, and the 20th century maker's name is stamped on it, but it would take a hard-core, thread-counting reenactor to turn one of these away. Like the Ithaca Hawken, this knife evidently came and went.

That old Wilson knife on the bottom is like a battered old Hawken... The real thing. It has the look for which the others strive.

So, I get the point. The Winchester "trade knife" which is the subject of this post is a modern-made and inexact copy, but it is more similar to the originals, in most respects, than any other modern made "trade knife" I have seen. And I have seen a few. If we toss it out because of the maker's stamp, what are we going to do with our Lyman, CVA, Pedersoli, and Uberti guns?

Best regards,

Notchy Bob
 

mushka

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For whatever my opinion is worth, I think you have a nice old knife. Good purchase.
 

Kansas Jake

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I like the Winchester knife and it is probably what it seems. A knife made and sold by Winchester/Simmons for daily use. It is in a style of older knives, but many useful styles of knife never go out of style. We still use butcher knives made out of stainless with plastic handles that look similar in shape to pieces used two hundred years ago. If it were mine, I would probably keep it for display, but also know that if I carried it for use I'm not destroying a very rare collectable piece.
 

JB67

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Thanks for your response, JB67, and for the link. However, the point I hoped to make about this particular knife is that it appears to be a sincere attempt toward making a modern knife in an older style. Saying the Winchester stamp puts it out of our timeframe is like saying the Thompson/Center or Pedersoli stamps put those guns out of our timeframe.

I will agree, the knives are utilitarian, and the Dexter/Russell knives are direct descendants of the old time trade knives. However, they are not the same.

Here is a photo of some knives:

View attachment 44894

The top one is a new-made 6 inch "Green River" butcher knife. The wood handle slabs are fastened to the tang with brass cutlers rivets. Patents for the tubular rivets which evolved into today's cutler's rivets were awarded to an American inventor named Mellen Gray in 1881. It is generally agreed that cutler's rivets were not used much, if any, until into the 1890's. There are a couple of other details about this Green River butcher that make it "not authentic,"such as the small but present choil and the etched maker's mark. However, it does have a carbon steel blade and beechwood slabs, and it is in fact a great knife.

The second knife from the top is also in current production, by John Nowell of Sheffield. This one puts us closer to the old-time style, and in fact the maker calls it a "19th century pattern." The beechwood handle scales are attached with pins instead of rivets, the maker's mark is stamped or "struck" into the metal rather than being etched onto the surface (like the Green River knife in the photo), and the choil is virtually nonexistant. However, that pin pattern and the contour of the handle puts us more into the third quarter of the 19th century, or later. A nit-picky detail, to be sure.

The Winchester "trade knife is third from the top. The beveled handle scales appear to be of boxwood; a traditional wood, in a traditional form. It has an earlier five-pin handle attachment. There is no choil at all, i.e. the blade at the hilt is the same width as the tang or handle. The Winchester trademark is from the 20th century, but it is struck into the blade, as the old ones were done.

The fourth knife from the top is an original early to mid 19th century trade knife by John Wilson of Sheffield. Note the five-pin beechwood handle, no choil, the "struck" markings (not really visible in the photo) and the general sweep of the blade. The "hump" on the back of the Winchester blade is farther back than on the Wilson, and the swage on the Winchester is a newer innovation, but the overall outline of the blade is very similar to the Wilson, bearing in mind that the Wilson shows considerable wear.

So, we can make an analogy to Hawken rifles. The Green River knife at the top of the array would be analogous to a T/C Hawken... A fine rifle, an accurate shooter, and a proven game-getter, and a side-lock muzzle-loading rifle to boot. However, it bears scant resemblance to the old St. Louis Hawkens carried by the plainsmen, just as today's Green River knives have modern features.

The John Nowell knife would be analogous to a Lyman Great Plains Rifle. It looks more like the originals in many respects, and is good enough for many tradition minded shooters. This knife, and a Lyman GPR, would satisfy all but the most discriminating buckskinners.

The Winchester "trade knife" could be compared to the Ithaca Hawken... A sincere effort by a major 20th century manufacturer to really duplicate the originals. Under a magnifying glass, some details are inaccurate, and the 20th century maker's name is stamped on it, but it would take a hard-core, thread-counting reenactor to turn one of these away. Like the Ithaca Hawken, this knife evidently came and went.

That old Wilson knife on the bottom is like a battered old Hawken... The real thing. It has the look for which the others strive.

So, I get the point. The Winchester "trade knife" which is the subject of this post is a modern-made and inexact copy, but it is more similar to the originals, in most respects, than any other modern made "trade knife" I have seen. And I have seen a few. If we toss it out because of the maker's stamp, what are we going to do with our Lyman, CVA, Pedersoli, and Uberti guns?

Best regards,

Notchy Bob
Unlike the guns you reference, the Winchester knife was not made to duplicate originals. It was made as a new knife for everyday use. Winchester was in the business of selling tools and cutlery (in addition to firearms), not reproductions for antiquers. The fact it looks just like an old trade knife is simply because the form still served a purpose when Winchester made it and still does today.
 

Artificer

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Unlike the guns you reference, the Winchester knife was not made to duplicate originals. It was made as a new knife for everyday use. Winchester was in the business of selling tools and cutlery (in addition to firearms), not reproductions for antiquers. The fact it looks just like an old trade knife is simply because the form still served a purpose when Winchester made it and still does today.
True. That plus the fact people in different trades like meat processors, preferred the time proven styles. They didn't care when the first such knife was made or for who, they just cared it worked. Some butchers went through two or three of that style of knife over a long career.

Gus
 

Artificer

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This thread reminds me of when I was assembling my 18th century Artificer's (Military Armorer's) Tool Kit.

I was ecstatic to find there actually was an original 18th Century Catalogue that listed all kinds of tools that not only clock makers used, but also in many/most of the metal working trades.

I was further delighted to find such things as Lancashire Pattern Hacksaws were still being made up into the 1950's and "period correct" Box Joint Pliers were made even more recently than that.

Tool makers were not making such tools the same way 200 years later for sale to re-enactors, rather there were still plenty of people who preferred those types of tools. So the tool makers continued to make them.

Fortunately for me, I was able to fill out my 18th century Tool Kit with some "authentic" tools made after I was born and many others made only a decade or two earlier.

Gus
 

Notchy Bob

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All points taken, and all points of view appreciated. However, I do think it's pretty cool that of the three other knives in the photograph, the one the Winchester knife most closely resembles, whether by accident or intention, is the old Wilson.

Best regards,

Notchy Bob
 

Jim Wag

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Any knife that can stand on it's tip, and pose for a photo, is a dang good knife.

Jim in La Luz
😎
 

toot

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I wanted to run this one by you boys and see if anybody knows anything about it.

I was browsing on Evil Bay (never a good idea...) and found this interesting knife. The price seemed fair, so I bought it. This is a fixed-blade butcher/skinner with a pin-fastened wood scale handle and stamped (not etched) Winchester trademark. The blade is 5-13/16" long, the handle is 4-11/16", and the total length is 10-1/2". The blade is 0.063" thick. It appears to be carbon steel, but I would not rule out a "semi-stainless" alloy. The blade has a swage that extends 3-7/8" back from the tip. The wood has a yellowish cast and a very fine grain with minimal flecking, and I think it might actually be boxwood. I believe the five pins are brass, but they are pretty grungy. Here are a few snapshots:

View attachment 44808View attachment 44809View attachment 44810View attachment 44811View attachment 44812

I know Winchester has maintained a line of cutlery for a long time, but I had never seen one of these. It looks like they made an honest effort to re-create a frontier trade knife, and it does indeed have some old-time features: No choil (meaning the blade is the same width as the tang where the blade joins the handle), the beveled wood handle scales fastened with pins, and a relatively flattened radius at the butt. However, the tang does not appear to be tapered, as 19th century knives typically were, and I believe that swage is a later feature. I'm thinking it's probably a late 20th century creation, made to cash in on the "mountain man" craze of the 1970's and 80's. If it ever had any collector value, the idiot who skated a grinding wheel all over the blade in a benighted effort to sharpen it reduced that value by a considerable margin. There are also a lot of rust freckles, and a few dings and considerable staining on the wood.

However, from a practical standpoint, this is a pretty darn nice piece of cutlery. The blade is thin enough and straight enough to make it a good slicer, yet it has enough "belly" and width at the tip, and enough stiffness, to make it a good skinner for big game. I like the way the beveled or faceted handle feels, and the knife as a whole is rock-solid. Despite those errant grinder marks, the blade shows very little actual wear. It will make a terrific camp knife, and it has the authentic "look" that people like us want to see. I'm pretty happy with it.

However, I'm still puzzled. When was it made? How was it marketed? Is that handle really boxwood? ... And why the dickens did they quit making such a great tool?

Any thought or insight from you "knife knuts" would be welcome.

Best regards,

Notchy Bob
they also made flash lights. and fishing gear.
 

clarksvillejoe

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Pictures of set of Green River knives from 1976 Bicentennial issued by Russell. Given to me by factory representative in (approx) 1985. Short history on lid of box. Kinda related to OP.


Russell knife set 1.jpgRussell knife set 2.jpg
 
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Nice knife, I have a Remington knife very similar to your Winchester picked it up years ago at a flea market if I remember correctly paid 75 cents for it.
 

Notchy Bob

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Pictures of set of Green River knives from 1976 Bicentennial issued by Russell. Given to me by factory representative in (approx) 1985. Short history on lid of box. Kinda related to OP.


View attachment 44998View attachment 44999
That is a nice set, clarksvillejoe. Thanks for sharing! I had never seen a set like that, but I have seen a very few of the individual knives. The now defunct Indian Ridge Traders sold those blades, the deeply checkered ebony scales, and the brass rivets with small diameter heads for those who wanted to assemble the knives themselves. I missed the opportunity to get any of the knives, although I did order two sets of the scales and rivets, back in the seventies. The barrel-shaped scales which I bought have the same profile and hole spacing as Dexter/Russell's "Green River" Buffalo Skinner and Sheepskinner blades. Never got around to putting them on a blade, though. Not yet.

Cold Steel got into the "trade knife" act for a few years in the 1990's. They made a "scalping knife," a hunting knife and a seven-inch butcher knife, all with blades of their proprietary Carbon-V steel. I have one of each. The top knife in this photo is the seven-inch butcher from Cold Steel:

Modern Trade Knives.JPG

You can't really see the trademark in the photo, but it shows a buckskin-and-fur clad trapper in a heavily laden canoe, with the words, "Hudson Bay Knife & Tool Works" and "A Division of Cold Steel * Carbon-V * Made in USA." The handle has sharp, square corners, just as it came from the factory. I believe Cold Steel figured anybody savvy enough to buy one of their knives would be capable of rounding or beveling the corners to suit his own taste. This knife has been out of production for 20+ years, and I left mine as it came from the factory. If I need a knife for practical use, I have others...

You can Google "cold steel hudson bay knife" and find a lot more about them on the web. And, before anybody razzes me about it, I know very well that the Cold Steel knife is nothing like the old Hudson's Bay camp knives. Cold Steel gave it that name... not me.

The other three in that picture, in case anybody is interested, are a standard-issue six inch Russell Green River butcher, a six-inch John Nowell "19th Century Pattern" butcher from Sheffield, and a seven-inch Green River butcher blade blank which I blued and buffed, modified slightly, and hafted in beech with six iron pins.

And, since the topic of Russell Green River knives came up again, here are some originals. I took this photo a little while back, with the intention of focusing on the pin patterns, handle shapes, and choils. Blade lengths vary from about seven inches to around ten inches, but all are "bullnose butchers." Based on their trademarks, these knives are arranged from oldest (maybe 1880's) to newest (mid-20th century). Older knives, and knives made to older patterns (like the Winchester knife which was the original topic of this thread) tend to have much smaller or sometimes nonexistent choils.

Green River Knives.JPG

Here are the same four original Green River knives, in the same order but left to right instead of top to bottom. This image shows the evolution from tapered to un-tapered tangs:

Green River Handles - Top.JPG

Nice knife, I have a Remington knife very similar to your Winchester picked it up years ago at a flea market if I remember correctly paid 75 cents for it.
Thank you. I paid a bit more than that for the Winchester knife, but I thought the price was reasonable. I would like to see a picture of your Remington, if you get a chance.

Best regards,

Notchy Bob
 

Notchy Bob

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I like the Winchester knife and it is probably what it seems. A knife made and sold by Winchester/Simmons for daily use.
Thank you for your comments, Kansas Jake, and I am glad you like it. However, Winchester merged with Simmons in 1922 for making tools and cutlery, and they parted ways in 1929. I don't think this knife is that old. Based on the trademark, using Goins Encyclopedia of Cutlery Markings as a reference, I think my Winchester knife is probably of post-1987 manufacture, likely made by Blue Grass Cutlery.

While I have seen a photo of a box of Russell Green River skinning knives, made in the 1940's, which had five-pin handles, the use of pins, rather than rivets, is most unusual in a late-20th century knife mass-produced in the USA. As far as I know, all of Russell's more recent production of wood-handled knives has used rivets rather than pins. An image I found of a Winchester knife from 1931 shows rivets, also.

Best regards,

Notchy Bob
 

toot

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I beleave that there if another one that is very simular, called ONTARIO FORGE I beleave? maby wrong? any one ever hear of them?
 

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