The Queen Cutlery Company
By Gary Zinn
Queen City Tear Drop Jack. Image courtesy of Queen Cutlery Co.
There are only four cutlery firms that still make significant varieties and numbers of traditional pocket knives in the U.S.A. These include Bear & Son Cutlery, W.R. Case & Sons Cutlery, Great Eastern Cutlery and Queen Cutlery.
Of these, Bear & Son and Great Eastern are relative newcomers, having started business in 1991 and 2006, respectively. By comparison, Case and Queen both date their origins back to circa 1900. These two firms can be credited with keeping the traditional styles and production methods alive in the American knife industry, during a century in which other veteran domestic cutlery firms went out of business, dramatically changed their product lines and production methods, or were absorbed by foreign investment firms.
Previous survey articles covering Bear & Son, Case and Great Eastern are already available on Guns and Shooting Online. The purpose of this article is to give Queen Cutlery its due, by briefly summarizing the history of the firm and then outlining its current product line.
When I have tried to research the histories of long-time cutlery companies, I have generally found the information available to be very sketchy. Queen Cutlery is an exception. This is because David A. Krauss, Ph.D., has thoroughly researched both Queen and its predecessor, Schatt & Morgan. His book, titled American Pocketknives: The History of Schatt & Morgan and Queen Cutlery, was published in 2005 and is available online at www.americanpocketknives.com. The book covers the two companies from the 1890s through 2002.
I abstracted the following key dates and events from Dr. Krauss' historical narrative. Events recounted for the years 2006 and 2012 are from various internet sources.
1895: John W. Schatt and Charles B. Morgan form the New York Cutlery Co., with an office in New York City.
1897: Schatt and Morgan buy the Platts Cutlery plant in Gowanda, NY and begin making and selling knives under the Schatt & Morgan brand name.
1902: Schatt & Morgan relocate to Titusville, PA. (Titusville was a significant knife making center at the time, with a concentration of knife artisans.)
1922: The Schatt & Morgan Co. fires five production supervisors for skimming factory parts to make skeleton knives (knives without handle scales) to sell for their personal profit. These five men form the Queen City Cutlery Co. and begin making knives in Titusville.
Late 1920s: The Schatt & Morgan business falters and the firm enters bankruptcy.
1933: Queen City Cutlery Co. purchases the Schatt & Morgan property and business assets at a bankruptcy auction. Queen City operations are relocated to the Schatt & Morgan facility.
1946: The company name is shortened to Queen Cutlery Co.
1933 - 1969: The founders of Queen City Cutlery Co. and their descendants own and manage the business.
1969: Queen Cutlery Co. is purchased by Servotronics, Inc.
2006: Bill Howard, Master Cutler and chief knife designer for Queen Cutlery, resigns. He partners with Daniels Family Cutlery Corp. to form a new business, named Great Eastern Cutlery, which begins production in 2006. (Great Eastern Cutlery is also located in Titusville, PA.)
2012: Queen Cutlery Co. is purchased by Kenneth R. Daniels, of Daniels Family Cutlery Corp. (Earlier in the year, Daniels Family Cutlery sold its interest in Great Eastern Cutlery to Bill Howard.)
2016: Ken Daniels is C.E.O. of Queen Cutlery Co., with Jennie Moore, a Queen employee with over 25 years service, as President. Both have children who are also involved in the business.
Depending on how one wants to view it, Queen Cutlery can claim its birth year as being 1922, 1902, or even 1897. Queen cites 1902 as its inaugural year, based on continuous operation of the Titusville factory since that time.
Five events listed in this outline history were pivotal to the company as it exists today. These occurred in 1922, 1933, 1969, 2006 and 2012. The first was the scandal that rocked Schatt & Morgan in 1922. There was no feasible alternative to firing the "Gang of Five" who had been stealing from their employer. However, the loss of five key people in the factory severely crippled the business. This situation likely contributed greatly to the decline of Schatt & Morgan Cutlery in subsequent years.
It is believed that the Gang of Five had been pursuing their skeleton knife scheme for several years before they were caught. They apparently anticipated that they would be busted eventually and had an exit strategy in place. The evidence of this is that they formed their new company very quickly after they were fired by Schatt & Morgan.
Ironically, the underhanded actions of the Gang of Five were doubly rewarded, because by 1933 the same people who were fired from Schatt & Morgan eleven years earlier were positioned to purchase the assets of the company they had helped bankrupt. The skeleton knife episode and its aftermath is like a twisted subplot in a historical novel.
Queen Cutlery, in its various guises, was privately owned until 1969, when it was bought by Servotronics, Inc. Servotronics, founded in 1959, is a public corporation that "primarily designs, develops and manufactures servo controls and other components for various commercial and government applications (i.e., aircraft, jet engines, missiles, manufacturing equipment, etc.)" in its Advanced Technology Group.
Servotronics has a second, subsidiary division, the Consumer Products Group. This division (in their own words) "designs and manufactures cutlery, bayonets, pocket knives, machetes, combat, survival, sporting, agricultural knives and other edged products for both commercial and government applications."
Between 1969 and 2012, the Servotronics Consumer Products Group included the Queen Cutlery Co. and the Ontario Knife Co., which Servotronics had acquired in 1967.
Combining a high-tech servo control business with the cutlery business seems an odd pairing of enterprises. Whatever reasons Servotronics had for diversifying into the cutlery industry, they eventually became disappointed with the profitability of Queen Cutlery. Accordingly, sometime in the 2000-2010 decade, they began looking for an opportunity to sell Queen. However, before getting to that event (in 2012), it is relevant to call attention to happenings in the year 2006.
Bill Howard was the chief knife designer for Queen Cutlery for many years prior to 2006. However, Howard left Queen and formed a partnership with Ken Daniels, of Daniels Family Cutlery, to open Great Eastern Cutlery. The immediate implication for Queen Cutlery was it lost the talent and leadership of Bill Howard, who was truly a key man in the Queen enterprise. However sound or unsound the business was in the last years before 2006, Queen clearly struggled after Bill Howard moved on.
This set the stage for Servotronics to sell Queen. On Sept. 20, 2012, the sale was announced:
"Servotronics, Inc. announced today that it has completed the sale of the assets of its subsidiary, Queen Cutlery Company, a facility located in Titusville Pennsylvania, to Kenneth R. Daniels, Daniels Family Cutlery Corporation, that will be doing business as Queen Cutlery Company. The sale of assets was part of a long-term strategic effort to enhance profit margins through the elimination of certain select components and products."
Two things about this sale seem clear. First, Servotronics dumped Queen Cutlery as an unprofitable enterprise. Second, it is likely that Ken Daniels sold his interest in Great Eastern Cutlery to amass the financial resources to buy the Queen business.
Incidentally, these business maneuvers in which Bill Howard and Ken Daniels engaged are examples of a phenomenon that has been common in the history of the cutlery industry. I think of this as "water turtling," which is when a player in the cutlery pond is visible in a particular location, but then dives underwater and disappears for a time, only to pop up somewhere else in the business.
Bill Howard water turtled out of Queen Cutlery in 2006 and popped up with Ken Daniels at Great Eastern Cutlery. Then, in 2012, Daniels turtled from Great Eastern Cutlery to become owner and C.E.O. of Queen Cutlery. Get a scorecard if you wish to keep the players straight.
It is early days yet, but Queen Cutlery Co. seems to have attained a renewed focus and vitality under the leadership of Owner/C.E.O. Ken Daniels and President Jennie Moore. (The story is that Jennie Moore asked Ken Daniels to buy the company and he countered that he would do so if she agreed to serve as its President.)
The tone of the new era at Queen is probably best captured by a statement attributed to Ken Daniels. At the time he acquired the firm, someone asked him how Queen would be different going forward. He is said to have replied that, first of all, knife people would now be in charge. This implies much regarding what Daniels thought of the prior management of Queen Cutlery.
Meanwhile, the Ontario Knife Co. remains a subsidiary of Servotronics, Inc. In fact, in 2014 a substantial capital investment in the Ontario cutlery plant at Franklinville, NY was announced. This included a 28,000-square-foot addition, capital improvements to the plant, reconfiguration of its production process within the expanded facility and the addition of new knife making equipment.
The Queen Cutlery product line
Queen uses three tang stamps that reflect its heritage. These are the Schatt & Morgan, Queen City and Queen brands. The outline of current models, below, follows the organization of Queen Cutlery knife models for the year 2016, as shown on the company website.
Knife models mentioned are slip joint folders, unless otherwise noted. I mostly avoided detailing the specific patterns and sizes of knives in this outline. Anyone who is interested in such specific information, about any particular knife, can easily look it up on the Queen website. The current product catalog can be downloaded for browsing convenience.
Schatt & Morgan tang stamp: Queen puts the Schatt & Morgan brand name on their top of the line pocket knives. There are three series of Schatt & Morgan knives, which all feature brass liners and nickel silver pins and bolsters.
Queen City tang stamp: For 2016, three knife patterns bear the Queen City brand name. These knives feature 1095 carbon steel blades, brass liners and pins with nickel silver bolsters. Traditional patterns and brown jigged bone handle scales give these knives a classic look. The Tear Drop Jack pictured at the top of this article is an example.
Queen tang stamp: There are six series of folding knives and two series of fixed blades under the Queen brand name. These are traditionally styled pocket or hunting knives. I will list the folding knives first.
Notable changes in the lineup summarized above (compared with the 2015 catalog) include new patterns in the File and Wire Tested, Queen City, Joe Pardue and Bill Ruple series. The Blue Bone series replaces the previous American Walnut series. In addition, a set of locking folder knives that were previously a separate series are now distributed among the last four series listed above.
Here are the fixed blade hunting knife series that Queen lists in its 2016 catalog. These knives come with pouch-type leather belt sheaths.
Queen Spiral Buffalo Horn Hunter. Image courtesy of Queen Cutlery Co.
Spiral Buffalo Horn Hunters: This series is two knives, built with 3-3/4 inch, full tang blades. One has a drop point blade, the other a sabre. These knives feature very unusual, beautiful handle scales made from buffalo horn. D2 steel, nickel silver front bolsters and stainless steel bolster and handle pins round out the features of these knives. (See the image above to appreciate how striking this knife is.)
Stag Bone Light Hunters: These four knives are designed for general outdoors applications. All have 420HC stainless steel blades with full tangs and stag bone handles, which are secured to the tangs with brass pins. All except a caping model have stainless steel finger guards.
Queen is deemphasizing fixed blade knives. It has reduced the number of models offered in both series listed above and has discontinued a three knife hunter series and a two knife set of tactical style knives.
I should note two features that are common throughout the Queen line. First, regardless of the blade steel used, all folding knives have stainless steel back springs. Second, Queen indicates that it tempers all of its blades (regardless of the specific steel) to Rc 57-59 hardness.
It is interesting to see the strategy a knife maker uses to build their specific knife models. All conventional folding knives start with a factory pattern that specifies the parts and dimensions for the metal components needed to build the knife. Then, differences in handle material, blade steel, or blade pattern in knives built on a given factory pattern yield different knife models. Further, not just the type of handle material, but its color and the way it is milled and finished also defines different models.
Potentially, a maker can build a large number of specific knife models from a given factory pattern. For example, I noted in my article on Case pocket knives that they build 39 different knives on their #18 factory pattern (a 3-5/8 inch Stockman pattern).
Queen Cutlery keeps it simple. Their 2016 folding knife models are spread across about twenty factory patterns (compared with over seventy for Case). Further, Queen used only four blade steels and eight handle materials on these knives.
Queen lists 74 folding knife models built using this relatively sparse set of patterns and components. In addition, they make six fixed blade models.
This "less is more" strategy seems to be suited to the Queen business situation. The firm has some three dozen employees, so they would be spread thin if they attempted to build knives from a multitude of factory patterns, with many steel, blade pattern and handle material variations.
By sticking to basics, they are doubtless more efficient and can build knives with more consistent quality. Quality is especially important for the reputation of the Queen brand right now, because there was a noticeable amount of criticism of the quality of knives produced in the last few years before Ken Daniels bought the firm.
In a video overview of the "new" Queen Cutlery Co. (accessible via a link on the company website), President Jennie Moore made a statement that seems to well summarize where the firm is and where it wants to be. Paraphrased, her statement was that Queen does not make the most knives, but aspires to make the best knives.
Copyright 2016 by Gary Zinn and/or chuckhawks.com. All rights reserved.