Monday, May 11, 2020

Bingham Knife

The knife caught my eye at a knife show and it came home with me.  But what did I get?  Well, it always starts with tang stamp and a reference book.  “W. Bingham Co  Cleveland O” was all I could read.

Mystery W. Bingham Knife

Cleveland at the turn of the 20 century had a glowing reputation as a hardware mecca.  There were four major distributors, one of which was The W. Bingham Co, which was one of the Midwest's largest hardware concerns.  It was founded when William Bingham and Henry Blosson bought out the hardware stock of Clark & Murfey in April 1841.

They opened their own store at Superior and W. 9th street and later expanded by erecting a new building nearby in 1855.  They also incorporated as the W. Bingham Co. in 1888.

In 1915, Bingham discontinued its retail operations and built a new wholesale warehouse at 1278 W. 9th St.  Although Bingham expanded its line of goods, its major business always remained hardware supplies and conducted business over 12 states. On 15 June 1961, Bingham closed its warehouse, but a group of Bingham officers, headed by Victor E. Peters, acquired the company's industrial division and renamed it Bingham, Inc.  Eventually the company stopped making industrial tools and became a distributor only.  Ownership traded hands with brokers and money managers and was finally bought by Formweld Products Co.  Some form of the company remains in operation in Solon where it continues to distribute tools to area manufacturers.

The blade has been polished but retains the rust pits.  The jog in the handle can be seen.

The first google reference I found was for a forged and fraudulent W. Bingham Co, knife. That didn’t give me any warm and fuzzy feelings.  The second was an Etsy ad for a $300 Bingham knife.  It was, as all Etsy products will tell you, rare and unique. 

A lot of distributors carried knives with their tang stamps which were made for them, not by them.  Cutlery companies exist to sell knives with your tang stamp.  One only has to look at early Spyderco’s made in Seki City.  Spyderco didn’t build a factory, they hired some to make it for them.  This is an honorable business practice, if properly identified.

Not a sealed end like doctor knives

As for the type of knife, well that’s still up for discussion.  It has squared butt, like a doctors, but it is pinned in place and not solid like a doctors knife.  About half way up the handle the entire handle takes a little jog sideways in the plane of the handle.  It’s not quite like a gunstock, because both sides jog and it’s a very small jog.  The main blade is a thin flat blade with a shallow false edge.  This style is often referred to as a long spear or physician blade.  The second blade is small despite the large channel it sits in.  Both blades open from the same end like a trapper, but the blade and knife handle are wrong, wrong, wrong for a trapper.  

Not a Trapper!

It’s like, in my unfounded opinion, you wrote up a description of what the knife should look like and someone else drew the sketch and made it.

The knife is lined with two brass side scales and a brass center scale.  The scale covers, I suspect, are a celluloid swirl of white and olive green.  Each blade has its own back spring. 

The blades have seen better days.  One of my common remarks is, if owners had just wiped down the metal surfaces with a drop of 3 in 1 oil… but they didn’t.  The blades and springs had rusted and someone scoured them rust free and ruined the collectable nature of the knife.  Even the back of the springs has been polished shiny.  As much as I hate rust, these scoured blades, so shiny and pitted just look wrong.  The defiler would have done better to just oil and carefully rub off the crusty rust and not gone after the pitted rust.

Each blade has it's own spring

I don’t think the knife was made by W. Bingham Co.  I think it was made for them.  It’s a link to Cleveland and part of the confusing history of knife making when companies were bought, sold, reacquired.  Today we expect some longevity in companies, but even that isn’t true.  New companies emerge and old names are sold.  Companies that were silent jobbers have launched their own brand using the experience they have gained making knives for other companies. Established companies use the excess capacity of smaller companies struggling to get a foothold, to boost their production or try out a new idea cheaply.  Names and brands are not guarantees if they were ever.

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