Herter’s Improved Bowie Knives


As many readers probably already know, I have long been a serious fan of the knives once sold by the mail-order sporting goods company “Herter’s.” The owner, George Leonard Herter, was legendary for his ability to combine P.T Barnum-style marketing with cheap prices and, in most cases, good quality. The annual catalog was almost the size of the equally famous Sears version and practically every item in it required a full page of fine print to describe its many virtues. Of course, what knife lovers remember most are the “Herter’s Improved Bowies.”

Why this blade was an improvement on the original Bowie was never really explained, but what the customer did receive for less than $2 in the 1960’s was a totally practical 5-inch knife with a wood handle in an inexpensive sheath. For slightly more they would throw in a copy of the condensed version of the “Herter’s Professional Guide’s Manual,” full of the strange woods wisdom of George himself.


The exact pattern of the Improved Bowie changed a number of times over the years. My guess is that these revisions corresponded to Herter finding a new source for that year’s production. With the exception of the knives R. Murphy made during the final years, records of these contracts seems to be lost, possibly in the huge fire that burned the company’s main warehouse.

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