Saturday, March 8, 2014

A G Russell - A Giant in the Knife Industry

A. G. Russell was born August 27, 1933 in Eudora, Arkansas, Eudora, a sleepy Delta hamlet located in the southeast corner of Arkansas, surrounded by farms and plantations only a few miles from Louisiana and not all that far from the Mississippi.  A few years later visiting his great-grandfather’s farm he learned to make a forged blade, very crude.
A. G. Russell went on to make knives as a hobby and profession. In 1964, A. G. Russell switched his focus to selling Arkansas whetstones and a year later began selling knives.
A. G. Russell designed and produced the first lineless pocketknife with all-plastic handles in 1970, along with Bill Davis of MO.
In 1969-70 A. G. Russell formed, with Schrade, The Knife Collectors Club and issued the first commemorative knife, the CM-1, The Kentucky Rifle, splitting with Schrade over policy not long after and retaining the Knife Collectors Club.
In 1975, A.G. Russell designed a unique boot knife he called the "Sting", a small knife intended for hunting and personal defense.  In this same year A. G. Russell bought the tiny pocketknife company, Bertram & Sohn of Solingen in Germany.  Having bought them at the point of bankruptcy A. G. Russell managed to keep them afloat until August of 1980 when the trademark was lost to Jim Frost.
A few years later A. G. Russell began having high quality knives made in Japan, only Gerber was before him in this type of knife, A. G. Russell is still making some of his knives in Japan.
In 1987, A. G. Russell introduced the "A.G. Russell One Hand Knife" which was one of the first production knives to use a blade thumb stud for one-handed opening
In November of 1988, his wife Goldie joined the business. Every year since 1988, the catalogs have increased in quality, as well as the number mailed. It took Goldie about two years to learn everything that A.G. Russell had learned in a lifetime of designing and making knives, then learning how to market them. By mid-1990, Goldie had assumed more and more responsibility, to the point that she was actually running the company. She is now the president and chief executive officer of this company, A. G. Russell swears she runs it better than he ever did, and attributes their growth to her leadership.

After outgrowing everything from the kitchen table to an 8000 square foot building, in March of 2002, they moved into new facilities in Rogers located on Interstate 540, just up the road from our long time location in Springdale, Arkansas.
The decision to move some production to China was made. In typical A. G. Russell fashion, this move was made with full disclosure and the concern for collectors everywhere.  The questions were asked, why has A. G. Russell has given up the fight and having knives produced in China?
The simplest and most basic answer to that question is "to stay in business". With the bankruptcy of Schrade and Camillus, and the loss of Arrowhead, any hope I had of continuing to make any substantial volume of my designs in the United States was gone.
Like so many of my customers, I have railed against the movement of the Cutlery Industry to China, however it became obvious that if I wanted to stay in business I would have to produce more and more of my own designs and find a way to offer those knives at prices my customers would pay. The only answer was to find one or more makers in Taiwan and China that I could teach to make the quality I require.
Some people cannot bear to own a knife made in China, some cannot bear to own a knife made outside of the U. S. I understand this. Unfortunately, I cannot solve the problem. The choices are higher prices or "Made in China". The quality we are offering is fantastic; as good as, or better than, can be found anywhere today.
In 1968 he started the first forum for selling aftermarket knives, the A. G. Russell List of Knives for Immediate Delivery, which later became The Cutting Edge. His mailing list was used as a basis for the first two knife magazines, Knife World and The American Blade, now known as Blade. In 1988 A. G. Russell was inducted into the Blade Magazine Cutlery Hall of Fame.

In 1970 A. G. Russell co-founded the Knife Collectors Club and the Knifemakers' Guild, both of which are the oldest continuously functioning organizations of their types.
A. G. Russell was the first member of the Knife Digest Cutlery Hall of Fame and produced the first commemorative pocketknife.

From the early days (1968), knife shows have been an important way for knife makers to share their craft with people who appreciate the tool and the craft. In the 1960s, the only shows available to knife makers were gun shows where there might be one or two knife makers or knife dealers with a table selling knives - sometimes handmade, sometimes factory made.

In 1970 A. G. Russell co-founded the Knife Collectors Club and the Knifemakers' Guild, both of which are the oldest continuously functioning organizations of their types That same year A. G. and a few handmade knife makers worked together to found the Knife makers Guild. The purpose of the Guild was to promote handmade knives. A. G. had a great deal of experience with gun writers (there were no knife writers at that time) and knew that they would be more likely to write about a group of knife makers, than to write about an individual knife maker. He also felt that a group of makers could pool their dollars and their knowledge to garner more recognition for the growing number of makers of very find handmade knives. As plans for the Guild developed, it was decided that the knife makers should organize their own show.

In 1970, the first Knife makers Guild Show organized on a Saturday evening at the Kenny Ligget Antique Arms Show in Tulsa, OK where A. G. had taken 20 tables and encouraged knifemakers to participate in a knife show within a gun show. The first Guild Show was held within a huge Houston gun show in 1971. While knives are still sold at gun shows, that show, and Guild shows held over the next few years, set the bar even for knife shows held today. Knifemakers and knife collectors still talk with awe and longing in their voices of the Knifemakers Guild shows held in Kansas City in the 1970s and early 1980s.

It is the memory of those shows upon which the A. G. Russell Knife Event is built. The excitement of the folks who attended the shows and the interaction between the knifemakers and those who came to see and to buy was electrifying. The long nights of discussion in the lobby bar were informative and educational. If the A. G. Russell Knife Event can be instrumental in furthering that sense of camaraderie in the knife community, we will call it a success.
The A. G. Russell Knife Event grew out of two happenings. The first was the Grand Opening in 2002 of the new A. G. Russell facility in Rogers, Arkansas. To celebrate their explosive growth and the opening of their new, and much larger, store, call center and distribution center, the A. G. Russell staff invited their key knife vendors to Rogers for three days of interaction with knife owners. The public turned out in huge numbers on those hot August days and the event was so successful that those vendors repeatedly asked that A. G. Russell create an annual event.

The second happening was A. G.’s 75th birthday. A 75 birthday is a large milestone and being a leader in an industry for 44 years, an even larger one. It was apparent that the only appropriate way to honor such important accomplishments for A. G. Russell was something that included the entire knife industry. Thus, in 2008, the A. G. Russell Knife Event was born.

When we began our program of shipping packages to the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, the first units we shipped to a Long Range Recognizance Company that had been in Iraq for almost a year and was always remote from services. For each person in the unit, we sent a K-93B (the A. G. Russell Lightweight One Hand Knife?), our new Field Tweezer, Band-Aids, a paperback book and two magazines. For the unit, we added some Leatherman Sideslips, our Field Sharpener and a few other items.

A. G. Russell continues to ship these packages. SOG has donated 150 knives, Case 40 pocketknives, DMT 150 pocket sharpeners; Leatherman sells me Sideslips at half price. The CATO Institute has provided 3,000 copies of The Declaration of Independence and The Constitution of The United States, in a shirt pocket sized book. The NRA, Wolfe Publishing, Krause Publications, Kings Outdoor World, Y-Visionary Group, Morris Communications, Shooting Sportsmen, Sporting Classics, Harris Publications, and The Lane Press are providing us with 200 each month of 22 magazines. The Masune Company has provided thousands of Band-Aids. A.G. Russell’s 93-year-old mother has donated over a thousand paperback books from her library. A have a friend in New York City who knows someone at the big video rental chains and is trying to get us a continuing source of DVD’s.
 The web site for A G Russell: