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Age That Old Knife By Deciphering Its Blade Stamp

Identifying marks on knives can lend clues to their provenance.

Age That Old Knife By Deciphering Its Blade Stamp

This Russell Barlow, with its "R-Arrow" mark, has seen plenty of pocket time since its manufacture between 1875 to 1930. Or has it? Many counterfeits are in circulation and only research can reveal their true history. (Photo by Colin Moore)

Any outdoorsman worth his or her salt can tell if a knife is fairly new or from a bygone era simply by examining its components and obvious wear and tear. But there are other telltale signs that can pinpoint a knife’s age and origin, such as its markings, handle material, blade style and metal composition. Over the years, knife manufacturers have used any number of methods to mark their knives. Here are a few clues to help you age knives from four popular makers.

BUCK KNIVES

If you own a Buck knife, it’s simple to pinpoint the year it was made, presuming it was made between 1961 and today.

From 1961 to 1967, the era that saw the introduction of Buck’s iconic Model 110 Folding Hunter with locking blade (1964), the tang stamp simply read "BUCK." From 1967 to 1972, "USA" was added, with a comma separating the brand name from "USA." "BUCK" plus the model number and "USA" followed from 1972 to 1986. A "dot" system was employed from 1974 to 1986 to identify 110 and 112 models.

In 1986, Buck began to stamp the ricasso (aka the base of the blade) with a symbol that matched the year of manufacture. In 1986, for example, the symbol was "<".

Most of these code stamps are simple marks and don’t represent anything other than the year. In 2005, however, Buck added a readily identifiable outline of the state of Idaho. It was in 2005 that third-generation company president Chuck Buck moved the manufacturing operations from southern California to Post Falls, Idaho.

Identifying any Buck knife made before World War II is problematic since only a relative few were made at a time, and none were stamped. In the early years, company founder Hoyt Buck simply stamped his last name on the blades of his fixed-blade knives one letter at a time. For more on aging a Buck knife, visit buckknives.com/about-knives/how-old.

CAMILLUS KNIVES

Camillus is named for the town in New York where it was founded in 1902. As with other knifemakers, how Camillus stamped its name on a blade can reveal its age.

Camillus first used a serif font to spell out an arched "CAMILLUS" over "CUTLERY Co." and "NEW YORK," with a decorative spacer etched between "CAMILLUS" and "CUTLERY Co." In 1915, a four-line stamp was incorporated. The spacer was dropped and "CAMILLUS, N.Y." and "U.S.A. 1915" comprised the third and fourth lines.

In 1916, the company returned to a three-line, all-cap stamp. Then, in the 1930s, it reverted to a four-line stamp displaying the company’s name and its location.




A sans serif font was employed from 1946 to 1950 for a three-line stamp that read "CAMILLUS, NEW YORK, USA." Two- or three-line variations of this stamp, and an italicized version, were used in the 1960s and into the 1980s.

Metal "knife shields" pinned to the stag or bone handles of various pocket-knives through the decades provide additional clues for dating a Camillus product. The shields varied through the years, with the first of the lot resembling a badge.

An elongated, horizontal band with "CAMILLUS" sandwiched between two lines was the last one employed by the original Camillus Cutlery Company before it declared bankruptcy in 2007.

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CASE KNIVES

At the dawn of the 20th century, Case seemingly had more tang stamps and shields—most notably the "Tested XX" stamp—than it had different knives to put them on. The company had more than 30 tang stamps for variations of its folding knives and about 20 more for its sheath knives.

From 1905 through 1914, blades bore the inscription "W.R. CASE & SONS CUTLERY CO., BRADFORD, PA." During the same period, some folding blades were tang-stamped "W.R. CASE & SONS, BRADFORD, PA." From 1914 through 1920, a three-line "CASE XX TESTED" was enclosed in an oval or a circle. From 1905 through 1920, there were other variations of the company’s name, the "Double X" and the hometown.

After that, the font, the arrangement of words and the messages they conveyed help pinpoint age. Sans serif or cursive font styles became key indicators. One sweeping tang stamp from 1920 through 1940 reads "Case 25."

From 1940 to 1964, the company’s pocket knives bore the "CASE XX" marks or "CASE XX METAL STAMPINGS LTD" (1948 to 1952). "CASE XX STAINLESS" appeared from 1950 to 1964, and in 1965 "U.S.A." was added to the tang, where it remained until 2000.

In the 1970s, a "dot-dating" system was employed. Dozens of variations existed, depending on the year and the model. Case went full circle in 2020 when it returned to a 10-dot dating system paired with the traditional "CASE XX" stamp.

SCHRADE KNIVES

Schrade’s history is confusing, mainly because of ownership changes and plant moves. The oldest of Schrade’s tang marks dates back to the company’s opening in Walden, N.Y., in 1904. “Schrade Cut. Co.” was stamped on the first two lines, with "Walden, NY" on the third line, and "Germany" (where the first knives were built) beneath it.

From late 1904 to 1917, "Schrade" was stamped in an arc on the main blade, with "Cut. Co." on a straight line beneath it, followed by "Walden, N.Y." on a third line. From 1917 through 1946, the same words were used in the tang stamp, but the name "Schrade" was stamped in a straight line. "Walden" was on the tang from 1946 through 1973. After that and until 2004, "Schrade N.Y. USA" or "Schrade USA" with a model number was used.

The Schrade plant eventually produced Old Timer and Uncle Henry knives. Old Timer joined the lineup in 1959 and Uncle Henry in 1964. Schrade moved to Ellenville, N.Y., in 1958 but closed that operation in 2004. The brand is now owned by the parent company of Smith & Wesson, Crimson Trace and others.

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