Thursday, March 12, 2015

Will & Finck Hunting Knife / Bark River Special Hunting Knife

San Francisco, California (active 1864-1932)
Manufacturing Cutlers, Retail Merchants, etc.

Will and Finck were considered the leading business in their line. They produced exceptional cutlery that was purchased by a national and international clientele.
Frederick Adolph Will (1837-1912) was a 22-year-old journeyman cutler when he arrived in San Francisco in 1859. He worked for the pioneer cutlers, Frederick Kesmodel and Hugh McConell, before succeeding Mr. McConnell in business in 1863. The following year he established a partnership with the bell hanger Julius Finck (1831-1914).
In the fall of 1864 the firm donated a “magnificent bowie-knife mounted and cased in solid silver” as a shooting prize to the police guard. Will and Finck were awarded first premiums at the Mechanics Institute, State Fair, and San Joaquin Fair in 1865. They acquired the business of Frederick Kesmodel in 1867.
By 1868, the firm was utilizing steam power and employed 14-15 hands. A reporter noted that in addition to making “carving knives, forks and cork-screws they manufacture a most beautiful and complicated steel box, for card dealing…” They were awarded a premium for their exhibit at the 1868 Mechanics Fair, which included several show cases filled with articles said to, “defy superiority among the best artisans in the world” and touted as “truly superb.” The “plain and fancy bowie-knives, dirks, carving knives and forks,” were noted for their fine ivory handles.
Haynes and Lawton exhibited a display of “bar fixtures” at the 1868 Mechanics Fair that were said to be the work of Will and Finck. It comprised a group of ivory handled lemon squeezers and included a much celebrated gold-mounted, ivory framed example.
Will and Finck were considered the leading business in their line in 1871. They employed 12-14 men year round and operated a branch store at 140 Montgomery Street. Outside of their manufactured stock they imported largely from New York and some from England.
They produced a “splendid” set of carvers for President Grant, which was exhibited at the 1871 Mechanics Fair. It comprised twelve pieces and included a beef slicer, ham, turkey, game and bread carvers, three forks, steel, mutton holder, champagne cutter and corkscrew. On each of the handles is a life-like medallion portrait of the President carved in ivory and on the ferrules is the coat of arms of the United States.
Will and Finck designed and patented a catch in 1872 that was used thereafter on most of their sheathed knives.
Their exhibit at the Mechanics Fair in 1874 included several sets of carvers priced as high as $350 in addition to an “… exquisite display of table cutlery of lemon squeezers, inlaid with silver; cork-screws, so elegant in finish and so beautiful in design that it seems a shame to handle them and deadly bowie knives, glistening and reflecting on the polished blade.”
They were awarded a first premium at the 1875 Mechanics Fair for best and largest display of cutlery and in 1877 best general display of cutlery and best set of carvers of California manufacture. In 1876 they displayed at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition.
Although Will and Finck remained in operation until 1932, the cutlery industry in San Francisco was in sharp decline by the 1880s. An 1882 account of commerce and industry stated: “Our coast has not done much, and for many years to come will probably not do much, in the manufacture of cutlery.”
Frederick Will retired from the firm in 1883. The company carried a line of California knives and cavers through at least 1896 but the years 1864-1880 are considered the firm’s significant years of production.

Vintage Store front ad
Hunting knife

Vintage catalog

Bark River ad of their Special Hunting Knife...a recreation of the Will & Finck bowie.

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