Queen Cutlery Is Changing Its Game

By Gary Zinn

SXM Express John Henry knife
SXM Express John Henry knife. Image courtesy of Queen Cutlery Co.

It is obvious things are changing at Queen Cutlery (www.queencutlery.com). Just log onto their website or open their pdf catalog. The knife pictured above is featured in both places and is a clear signal this venerable maker of traditional knives is kicking up its heels.

This knife certainly makes a statement. It is big and bold, with a 5-1/2 inch closed length and a wide 4-1/4 inch clip point blade. The most surprising thing is that the #71 John Henry Express knife is an automatic, a traditional styled automatic folder, from Queen!

This new knife is an attention getter, but it is not the only change at Queen. A close look at the 2017 Queen catalog reveals other changes.

These indicate a streamlining and focusing of the product line, by which the company is concentrating on its traditional folding knife roots. Conversely, the new automatic knife portends a unique product line, push button (or lever tab, in this case) opening knives built on traditional folding knife patterns.

This is an update of a general article on Queen Cutlery that I wrote in early 2016 (The Queen Cutlery Company). The update is not so much about the new John Henry Express knife, as it is about the new emphasis and focus at Queen.

The Schatt and Morgan (premium), Queen City (limited edition) and Queen (mainline) brand tang stamps are used to group the product lineup. For 2017, the Schatt and Morgan line is anchored by the new John Henry knife, along with thirteen other specific patterns and variants. These start with two sizes of a cattleman pattern with ATS-34 blades and smooth, white bone handle scales. Then, there are two harness jack models with 420HC steel and worm groove stag scales and nine patterns with 420HC blades and burnt stag handle material.

The Queen City offerings are three models, a cigar trapper, sowbelly and cigar muskrat. All have red, saw cut bone handles and 1095 high carbon blades. These are limited production items, 300 pieces of each pattern to be made.

The Queen tang stamp line includes three groups of knives. The Stag Bone group includes 15 patterns with D2 tool steel blades and stag bone handle scales. The second group of 11 knives features Queen Blue Bone handles with D2 blades. The third group, called the Work Horse, wears "imitation bone" (Delrin or the equivalent) handle scales and 1095 steel blades. There are 16 knives in this group.

Comparing the 2016 and 2017 catalogs, there is no net change in the number of items listed in the Schatt and Morgan, Queen City, and Queen Blue Bone lines. The Queen Stag Bone line increased from 15 to 18 items and the Work Horse line expanded to 16 items in 2017, from 7 in 2016.

There are several dimensions to the streamlining and focusing of the Queen product line. First, the entire Feathered Buffalo Horn series has been discontinued. This alone streamlines the Queen lineup considerably, because the series included 18 knife models. Also dropped are the Joe Pardue and Bill Ruple collaboration design series.

As recently as 2015, Queen listed ten traditional style fixed blade hunting knives, along with three modern style hunters and two tactical style fixed blade knives. Some of these were dropped in 2016. The remainder, along with six modern, one-hand opening (thumb stud) locking folders, have been totally deleted from the 2017 lineup. In other words, Queen is focusing its model offerings on traditional style folding knives and is no longer devoting attention and production effort to knife styles outside of its wheelhouse.

This retrenchment does not mean that Queen is not bringing out new items beyond the John Henry Express. A three blade whittler with a backlock main blade appears in the 2017 catalog. This is a pattern variant I do not recall seeing previously, made by anyone. In addition, two of the Queen City items are built on the venerable, but seldom seen, cigar factory pattern, as are Queen models called the Allegheny Jack and Executive Jack.

A looping slide show on the main page of the Queen website teases four other new items that are on the way. These are a #1L Swing Guard Lockback, a #19 Single Blade Lockback Trapper, a #26 Whittler and a #54 Half Whittler. Each of these will be available with three or four different handle treatments.

I close this update by returning to the #71 John Henry Express automatic and what it may portend. The John Henry, with its large Texas toothpick handle pattern, is 9-5/8 inches long open and weighs 5.9 ounces. Crocodile Dundee would like this one.

The blade is 1095 high carbon steel, tempered to Rc 57-59. Based on the usual Queen hardware preferences, I am guessing that the frame, lever and deployment spring are stainless steel, the pins brass and the bolsters nickel silver.

Two things about the image above: The knife is pictured with desert ironwood handle scales, but it will also be made with five other premium handle treatments, which are shown on the home page of the Queen website. The inset image shows the lever tab, which is pressed to open the blade and is also used to unlock the deployed blade for closing.

This knife will not be found on a hanging card at your local big box store. Its retail price is over $300, as offered by a few select Queen Cutlery dealers. Most purchases will doubtless be by collectors. Do not expect to see it being used to carve a totem pole at a bushcrafter rendezvous. (Although bushcrafters might do anything, so who knows.)

Queen does not intend the John Henry Express to be a one-off novelty, but rather the flagship of a family of automatic knives based on traditional patterns. According to a short article recently posted on KnifeNews (April 5, 2017), Queen VP Ryan Daniels promises that a second knife in the "SXM Express" series will be unveiled at the Blade Show in June, 2017, with more to follow in time.

Queen is employing a unique strategy to get into the popular automatic knife market niche. Rather than making modern styled "me too" automatics, they intend to differentiate their automatics by using traditional patterns, something no other commercial maker has done.

Time will tell whether automatic knife fanciers will embrace traditional styles, but Queen is certainly marching to their own drummer with the approach they are taking to joining this market. Queen Cutlery is indeed changing its game, in several ways.

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