Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Harvey McBurnette, The Tradition of New Mexico

Harvey McBurnette, Dick Dorough and W. T. Fuller all worked together at Goodyear Tire and Rubber in Gadsden, Alabama. W. T. lost one of his hands in a treadmill accident and was retired from work.

They were all friends and machinists, W.T. needed a front locking knife so he could open and close it with one hand. The three makers worked together and developed a front locking folder.

W. T. started making knives for friends and then went on to shows in New York and other large venues, as did Harvey and Dick. W.T. once said that he sold Al Mar one of his front locks and it was not long after that that same design showed up in Al Mars knives, W.T. held no ill will, he was proud to have had it copied and used.

Harvey had to move to New Mexico for health and continued making knives there. Harvey went on to greater fame than either W.T. or Dick, but they all made locking folders as their style. W.T. once said that Harvey could make a better living making guitars, than knives. Harvey was a craftsman of craftsman.

One day W.T was grinding elephant ivory and it covered the upstairs in sheet rock type dust. His wife ran him out of the basement and the shop was built in his backyard the next year. He had a porch on it with two rocking chairs and they shared many times together.

The last one of Harvey's that was auctioned went for around $2,200.00 dollars. A woman who dated Harvey’s son in Gadsden at the time they lived here owned it. Her boyfriend, Harvey's son, gave her a bunch of Harvey's knives that she has had locked up in a safe for 30 years or so. She had no idea of what they were worth.

His fit and finish is second to none. The engraving is outstanding. If you want a knife to compare today’s makers too, you would not do badly by getting one. W.T. was known as One Hander, Dick signed his in a Cursive Dick Dorough and Harvey had his stamped or engraved. The elephant ivory W.T. was grinding was from an elephant he shot, he was a big game hunter and went to Africa many times; he had tusks under his bed in bedroom. He kept them hidden because of some new laws the Government had passed.

Each state differs from its neighbor in certain ways, but if there is one, which particularly stands out, then it is certainly New Mexico. The contrasts are starling, whether in the landscape, climate or inhabitants, and the various cultures blend together in the most perfect harmony. In fact, it is more Mexico then North America through the architecture, clothes, and decorations. If one exercises the profession of knife maker there then one is sure to stand out from the rest through one’s style and way of working.

Although Harvey McBurnette produces many fine straight knives, it is his folding models that have particularly appreciated. The quality of materials, the precision of the mechanisms, and the robustness of the blades all contributed to his huge renown, but it is the shapes and decoration of Mexican inspiration that engender such admiration. Usually, a knife maker limits himself to just making his knife. If he decides to embellish it with engravings or scrimshaw, there tasks are then handed to the specialists in the material. McBurnette however does it all himself: grinding, inlays, engravings, scrimshaw, etc. An all-round artist, admired by the whole profession, collectors assiduously seek after his knives.

Even when he receives an order for a basic hunting knife, it will always be embellished with the most beautiful grinded finish. If a knife is a McBurnette then it certainly is a beautiful knife that will always be unique, standing out from the others.

Harvey McBurnette and W.T. Fuller are up in heaven, but not forgotten, by me anyway.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Fight’n Rooster

Frank Buster trained Tennessee Walking horses for Waggoner Oil Company in Carthage, Tennessee and in his spare time he would paint the service stations owned by Waggoner. There was one station he wished of owning and before he knew it, he got the chance. He borrowed $1,200 and it cost $1,100 to fill the gas tanks, $50 to have the lights turned on, which left him with $50, no stock and no cash register. The station across the street was doing quite well so Frank asked his buddy Henry Armstrong, a local farmer, what it was that he was doing wrong. Henry told him that the store across the street did not want men sitting around playing Rook; Frank said to bring them over. After that you could find many men sitting around playing Rook, drinking Coca-Cola, throwing horseshoes, and trading knives.

The Frank Buster Cutlery Company was formed in Lebanon, Tennessee, and the first knives stamped with the Fight’n Rooster brand were produced in 1976. Their blades front or mark side tang was stamped with two fighting roosters and the words SOLINGEN or GERMANY underneath. The reverse side tang was stamped FRANK BUSTER CUTLERY CO. GERMANY. The logo introduced by these early knives has become recognized and respected by collectors from most parts of the country. In 1982, the rear tang stamping was changed to FRANK BUSTER CELEBRATED CUTLERY / GERMANY and the front tang stamping retained the logo with the name FIGHT’N ROOSTER above the two roosters. Although the mark side stamping remains the same, knives produced after 1994 are marked FRANK BUSTER & SON CELEBRATED CUTLERY / GERMANY.

The company has been very active in making special knives for a large number of regional knife collecting clubs and in supplying the regular Fight’n Rooster line to collectors through dealers who participate in knife shows and mail order business. Most Fight’n Rooster knives have been made in traditional styles and a large variety of handle materials have been used. Especially significant have been those that have reintroduced colorful celluloid handles such as Christmas tree, Waterfall, and Candy Stripe. A number of limited issues have used old parts that have been found in European factories.

In consideration of the needs and desires of collectors, Buster has kept the quantity of his knives low and the quality high. Recognizing that statistics are important to collectors, the company has maintained records of the numbers of each knife produced and the year of production. Noteworthy among the company’s other activities within the collector market has been encouragement and support of participation by women and youngsters in a hobby that has too often been considered one for men only.

Limited production of each release has been the company’s policy since it’s beginning. The majority of the near 2,000 different knife variations released have been made in quite limited numbers. No small number have been limited to 100 or 150 knives and some have been produced in numbers up to 600, most are limited to 200 of each pattern and or handle. The majority of Fight’n Rooster knives have etching on the master blade. Although some are etched in black with the brand and logo, finding a Buster made knife with elaborate and multicolored blade etching is not unusual. With so many variations of the theme of accepted old patterns, a complete listing is not practical. The company has published two editions of a book listing Fight’n Rooster knives in the early 1980s, describing them and stating their collector values. A more recently published third book pictures and offers collector values of more than 1,500 Fight’n Rooster knives with countless color illustrations. Since values range from tens of dollars to thousand of dollars and their production listing is so extensive, these books are the collector’s best source of exact pricing information.

Fight’n Rooster Celebrated Cutlery has won 10 awards in international competition. These awards included Knife of the Year Award, Best Imported Knife of the Year and Best Investment Knife of the Year.

Frank Buster was inducted in to the Cutlery Hall of Fame in 1987. This cutlery Hall of Fame was started in 1981 by American Blade Collectors and is limited to one to three inductees yearly. The Hall includes such famous people as Dewey Ferguson, Bill Scagel, Bill Moran, Bo Randall, Al Buck, Jim Parker, Henry Baer, Buster Warenski, Maury Shavin, Bruce Voyles, Pete Gerber and others. Not bad for a country boy who lived in a two room country house and drove an old Ford Falcon with holes in the floorboard.