Great Knife Makers For the Early West By James Gordon

Hard cover, 285 pages, $85. Published by the author James…

Hard cover, 285 pages, $85. Published by the author James Gordon. 808 Paseo de la Cuma, Dept. TK. Sante Fe, NM 87501 505-982-9667

Fur trade and frontier knives have long been a subject of special interest to me, but you quickly find that much of the “research” available is based on myth, wishful thinking and the wild writings of a couple of period novelist. Gordon’s book on the subject is mostly a full-color photo essay without a lot of detailed information on the individual knives. While most of us would like to know more, this is probably better than repeating the common tall tales one more time.

Chapters are broken down by “knife types,” “English makers,” and “American makers.” Despite the legend of the Russell Green River knife, the vast majority of knives used in the early beaver trade were from England, with Wilson and Furniss being the apparent favorites. The author has an excellent selection of specimens from both makers to illustrate that fact. One thing he doesn’t point out is that all “ex-Sycamore Street” Wilsons were made after WW-II.

Russell Green River knives may be all post 1840 (the date usually given for the end of the beaver trade) but the author also has great collection of the much less appreciated Lamson and Goodnow, Northhampton, Ames, and Landers, Frary and Clark products. I was especially pleased to see examples of “Dadley” (a modern term) hunters in the over 6-inch blade range. All of the period catalogs listed them but they seem extremely rare today. The book concludes with a selection of post-Civil War Russell catalog pages as well as a few knives stamped with the brands of various supply houses. While some may question the dates given for a few of the knives, this is an excellent overview of the cutlery that settled the American west.

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