The other week I was sectioning a rabbit for some rabbit stew. This process uncovered a gaping hole in our arsenal of kitchen tools. We needed a meat cleaver that could easily cut through the ribcage and spine of an animal. The meat cleavers offered by today's knife producers are shiny, modern looking, and expensive. I wanted something with a little more character, something that a deranged ax murder might wield in a horror movie. So we decided to go the antique/vintage route and get an old cleaver. After much searching, I found this Foster Brothers cleaver on ebay (at a fraction the cost of a new one). The cleaver is 17 inches long with a 9 inch blade and weighs in at 3 lbs. It may be a bit overkill for home use, but looks awesome hanging on the kitchen wall.
This is an old knife and I wanted to know more about it, so I put all those years of watching Antiques Roadshow to use and began researching. There wasn't much on the internet, this is what I found....
|Foster Brothers Factory around 1915|
Foster Brothers was started in 1878 by Frank and Allie Foster in Fulton, (upstate) New York. Within a few years all of the Foster Brothers were involved in the business. The Foster brothers were heavily involved in Fulton politics which formally became a city in 1902. JA Foster served as Fulton's first mayor and John M. Foster served as the third. In addition to serving as mayor, the Foster boys were involved in all aspects of early Fulton politics serving on Board of Public Works (JA Foster), Clerk (Langdon Foster), Board of Fire and Police (John Foster, C. Earl Foster, CF Foster), and the Board of Health (JA Foster CF Foster LC Foster).
|James A Foster, first mayor of Fulton|
While researching I stumbled upon this interesting passage from the Documents of the Senate of the State of New York, Volume 1 (1901):
"On December 20th 5 men employed in grinding knife blades at the factory of the Foster Brothers' Knife Works at Fulton went on strike for an advance in wages on certain lines of work. Their employers refused to concede their demand. Several conferences were held, but without result, and on December 26th the strikers gave up their contention and resumed work at the old rate of wages."
No surprise since the Foster Brothers seemed to run things back then.
|Foster Brother's 1928 factory crew|
Dating my knife
According to this old article you can determine the timeline of the company name that would have been marked on the blade. I have confirmed this with some knife collector online discussion boards:
1878ish-1890 FOSTER BROS. (founding name of company)
1891-1904 FOSTER BROS. COMPANY (incorporated under new name)
1904-1953 FOSTER BROS. & CHATILLON CO. (acquired by Chatillon)
1953-1956 FOSTER BROS.
1957+ COLUMBIA CUTLERY CORP uses FOSTER BRO. LOGO, original plant closes
I initially thought my knife was war era based on the fact that they produced so many during that time. But, the trademark on my blade shown below reads "FOSTERBROS" and the only times they were producing under that name was from opening to 1901 and in the 50's. The blades from the 50's that I saw online had much less patina and the engraving was much more pronounced and mechanized looking. Also my cleaver only has two rivets in the handle, most of the war time knives have 3 rivets. And there is detail on my handle that I did not see on many of the knives online. So this leads me to believe that my cleaver dates somewhere in the 1880's. But that's just my uneducated guess....