Friday, August 30, 2013

Imperial Knife Company

In 1916, the brothers Michael and Felix Mirando arrived in Providence, Rhode Island from Winsted, Connecticut, where that had worked for the Empire Knife Company. The Mirando family had made knives in Italy for several generations, and the move from Empire was with the intent of starting their own cutlery business. Their fist knives were made during 1917 in a small rented blacksmith shop and the Imperial Knife Company was formed. The company at first made only knife skeletons which were used by the area’s jewelry trade in making watch chain knives and, within less than a year of the company’s founding, Imperial was producing more than a thousand pieces per week.

Business grew and, in 1919, Domenic Fazzano, a boyhood friend from Italy’s Frosolone Cutlery Center, joined the Mirandos in business. By the early 1920s, wristwatches began replacing pocket watches and necessity became the mother of invention for Imperial. Its innovation of the shadow knife (skeletons with mounted plastic scales) was responsible for its continuing success. In fact, continued practical application of innovative ideas not only helped Imperial to weather the storm of the Great Depression, but also helped make the company into the giant it is today. During a time when knives were handled in bone, stag, cocobolo, and horn, Imperial pioneered knives with colorful plastic handles. When the buying public was exceptionally cost-conscious, Imperial’s sales of bumped tip bolstered knives and those of “shell” wrapped handle construction offered reasonable alternatives. While these inexpensive knives have never attracted extensive collector interest, a few forward-thinking souls are seeking out the more attractive examples in pristine condition, and building interesting collections on the cheap.

By 1940, Imperial was the world’s largest cutlery manufacturer, producing as many as 100,000 knives per day. During World War II, production of knives for civilian use was restricted and Imperial converted to full wartime production. The company produced over half the trench knives used by the various branches of the U. S. Armed Forces. After playing the key role in designing the M-4 bayonet, Imperil produced the largest quality of all bayonets purchased by the government. With wartime production priorities, Imperial began to work cooperatively with the Ulster Knife Company, owned by Albert and Henry Baer.

In 1947, the three established company names of Imperial, Schrade and Ulster came together under the leadership of the Mirandos, the Fazannos, and the Baer’s in a company named the Imperial Knife Associated Companies. The Baer brothers bought out their partners in 1984 and the company name was changed to Imperial Schrade Corporation.

Imperial-Schrade suddenly closed its doors in 2004 and the company’s assets were dispersed. Among the items sold was an extensive “factory collection” of knives which included many beautiful, pristine examples and unusual prototypes that were never produced for public sale. Taylor Cutlery of Kindsport, Tennessee, now owns the company’s name and trademarks.

Some of the stampings used by Imperial included IMPERIAL KNIFE CO., IMPERIAL Prov. R. I., HAMMER BRAND, I.K.CO. JACK-MASTER, KAMPKING, and FRONTIER as well as several contract brands. While older knives were handled in traditional materials such as bone and celluloid, those using plastic, metal and Delrin, are more commonly found.

Price Guide to Collectors Knives, 15th Edition by Houston Price and Mark Zalesky.