Some factory-sponsored knife collector clubs have been formed out of necessity. The KA-BAR Collector Club (now defunct) initiated the first such club in the cutlery industry to advertise its name and spur interest in its products during a slumping sales period. Camillus also tried this approach but it was unfortunately too little too late.
We know that by 2002 Camillus was having a hard time surviving in the cutlery business. In the first quarter of 2003 (I believe it was February) Camillus formed the Camillus Collectors Club. James Furgal was the President of Camillus and Rick Roney was designated the club president.
Charter members were solicited and the club offered regular, life and junior membership status. Junior membership was free if you signed up two youngsters. Dues were $12.00/year and $100/year for life members.
The Camillus Connection was the club newsletter and it was to be published quarterly. VOL. 1, Issue 1 featured the new CUDA Maxx Stiletto. It was 5 1/2“overall, D2 steel, titanium handles, frame-lock with a pocket clip and zippered storage pouch. The newsletter profiled an employee and had a Knife Exchange column whereby club members could post free classifieds. Six such ads appeared in the first issue. Camillus tee shirts and baseball caps were offered as was a 3 ½” (closed) drop-point lock back (made in NY) etched with “Camillus Collectors Club” on the handle. Price was $14.95 plus shipping. Members were given the current Camillus catalog (including product info on the Western and Becker K&T lines) along with an MSRP list of all the items.
An interesting article about the US Marine Corps Stiletto #5677 appeared. It seems the USMC wanted a Fairbairn-Sykes style design so Camillus made 14,000 in 1942. Of that amount a small percentage were parkerized black and went to the Canadian Airborne. Camillus re-introduced the knife in 1990 and claims that in today’s market (2003) it was valued at about $250. The original in excellent condition, with the etching on the blade, would command $1000-2000.
Around this same time Onondaga County, NY proceeded to work with Camillus to place it in what’s called an Empire Zone. Such a zone came complete with tax breaks and NY state offered a $200,000 grant for equipment. Camillus didn’t accept it and withdrew from the process.
The Camillus Collectors Club (CCC) offered their members a 2003 Charter Member Club knife (see picture below). It was a jagged-cut, amber bone jumbo trapper with nickel-silver bolsters and a brass ferule and pins. These knives would be serialized and came in a cherry-stained, laser engraved box. Cost was $69.95 plus shipping. Needless to say it is stunning!
2003 was a pivotal year for Camillus. Kevin Pipes of Smokey Mountain Knife Works bought out Camillus’ share of his business for $12 million. Was this why Camillus withdrew from the New York Empire Zone? What happened to the $12 million? Did it go to pay back the family members who owned Camillus and had made generous loans to the company to keep it afloat?
In 2004, the first CCC knife was offered (see picture below). It was a large “natural bone stag handle” barlow with its blade etched “2004 Camillus Collectors Club” and a Camillus nickel-silver shield (in script) on the handle. This edition had nickel-silver bolsters and pins; it was also serialized and came with a leather zipped pouch. The offering was $62.95 plus shipping.
Subsequent issues of The Camillus Connection featured old pictures of the factory, current pictures of production stations like buffing, etc., old ads and pictures of members’ collections. One member wrote an article about the humble but durable MIL-K (government spec four-blade utility knife). In fifty-five years over twelve million were produced! The new Robo Powered Assisted Opening , 4 ½” “Heat” and it smaller cousin “Sizzle” (both designed by Darryl Ralph) were featured in another article. What is doesn’t say is that these were produced in Taiwan.
Vol. 2, Issue 3, (late 2004), would be the last issue. Camillus apologized for not publishing four newsletters so they made a special offer to club members. It was a list of knives at special prices. Some of the offerings were:
Hornady 2-blade (HORN2) Trapper @ $34.10; Yello-Jaket Peanut (710Y) @ $12.91; Yello-Jaket Whittler (72Y) @ $21.99; Gran’Pa 3-blade Stockman (CGP34B) @ $18.40. The Gran’Pa was a new series just unveiled with carbon blades, derlin handles and a special shield.
In Rick Roney’s letter to the members he opened up with “Hello everyone! There’s so much going on, I don’t even know where to begin.” How prophetic that statement was to be!
By 2005, Camillus was in dire straits. It couldn’t buy raw materials, it couldn’t pay its designers, it couldn’t meet its pension obligations and it couldn’t satisfy its customers. New York jumped in and fined the company almost $12,000 for non-compliance concerning employment issues.
Probably by now Camillus couldn’t even afford to print the newsletter. Everything began to disintegrate. We all know that after Christmas, 2005, the company went on a four day work week. Customers were puzzled about the four day work week when they couldn’t get their orders. We all know about the strike that happened. Needless to say the CCC wasn’t even an afterthought by then. When the strike ended a little more than a dozen union workers were retained.
Top management at Camillus brought in a consulting firm called Delta Strategem, Inc. (out of Rochester, NY) in an effort to salvage the company. Anthony Mangione was a “lean manufacturing technique” guru and one of the consultants. Anthony liked what he saw at Camillus. He drew up a business plan to buy the company, import the cheaper knives and produce the best knives in New York. In March, 2006, the bank that held Camillus’ loans rejected it.
Now here’s an interesting fact. The Heat and Sizzle models mentioned above were evidently still produced. The picture of the Sizzle was produced in 2004. The enclosed literature has the copyright date (though this is not always a production date) and the company address as Camillus Cutlery Co., 54 Main Street, Camillus, NY 13031. The box has the trademark term “Robo Power Assisted Opening” on it; mentions Darryl Ralph and says the blade is AUS-8 stainless steel. The knife came with extra screws and a star-head wrench. The Heat that is pictured was made in Spain of 440 stainless steel. The box trademark is “Assist Power” and does mention Darryl Ralph. The inside literature is not dated and the company name and address is listed is Camillus Blades – ATI, 100 Airpark, Rochester, NY 14624. Evidently these were produced AFTER 2004.
The Camillus owners hired a consultant to sell the company. No takers and then the Bank of America stopped Camillus’ credit. The doors closed on Feb. 28, 2007 and about three dozen union and non-union personnel walked away. Finis!
The CCC lasted about two years in the public’s eye, maybe longer in the vicinity of the company. Personally I have never seen offered for sale any of the club items: baseball caps, tee shirts, newsletters and especially any of the club knives. I wonder what they would command in today’s market (even the $14.95 Camillus Collectors Club drop-point)?
I’ve been carrying a knife with me, every day, since 1968. As a kid Camillus was a little out of my price range, Imperial Schrade did the trick just fine. As an adult I always looked at Camillus first and picked up a couple over the years and they served me well. When I went to another EDC, I cleaned the Camillus and put it away. I always noticed that their fit and finish was superior to others, especially some of the highly recognizable brands that still exist today. Camillus knives snapped; they opened correctly! This was in the 1980s.
I kept my eye on some of the “top-of-line” Camillus knives. These would never be EDC! Their traditional pattern knives were so good that I thought they would be around forever. Because of this I always kept putting off obtaining the ones I wanted to “collect.” Then one day Camillus was gone.
References I used were Wikipedia, copies (and photocopies) of The Camillus Connection, boxes and accompanying literature and a 2007 article written by Charley Hannagan entitled “How things went wrong at Camillus Cutlery”. You can read this article at www.collectors-of-camillus.us.
POST-CAMILLUS AND SOME SIDEBARS
On Sept., 2007, Acme United Corporation acquired the Camillus brand and relaunched the line two years later. Acme United is also one of the long term survivors in the “cutlery” business but instead of knives their original core products were shears and scissors. The corporate HQ in in Fairfield, CT, which is a few towns away from where I live.
Acme was founded up the road in Naugatuck, CT in 1867. In 1880 it moved down the road to Bridgeport, CT and was known as Acme Shear Company. My Uncle Adolf, aka “Al”, worked for them in the late 1930s and 40s. In those days factory workers who had a gripe with a co-worker didn’t go to the shop steward. In a place where blades were everywhere, Uncle Al told me some harrowing tales of fights he saw.
The Wheeler brothers made Acme Shear into the world’s largest scissor maker by 1946. As a kid I remember playing baseball in the deserted Wheeler mansion’s yard. Today an interstate goes through there.
Acme United has 135 employees in the US, Canada, Germany, Hong Kong and China. Today its major scissor competitor is FISKARS.
DID YOU KNOW…
The Kaufman and Schwartz families (descendants of Albert Baer, Camillus’ founder) also owned Schrade Cutlery which closed in 2004. To run any business is a “brutal” business to say the least. Look at the famous brand names that aren’t made in America any longer: Schaeffer pens, Bulova and Timex watches, GE small appliances, etc. Dare I say this but “technically” the iconic Ford Mustang isn’t “made in America”. When I read this it hit me like a sledge hammer! The article, I think it was in Consumer Reports (but I’m not positive), talked about percentages of American made parts, percentages of sub-assemblies and percentages of final assembly. It turns out that the Toyota Camry is more “made in America” than the Mustang!
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