What is Winterbottom Bone?
To the person that is not a collector or enthusiast of antique cutlery, the words “Winterbottom bone” must seem a strange pairing of these words. However, to those who love the old cutlery, those two words are very familiar and bring an instant picture to mind of distinctive and unique liner grooved and stained bone handled knives. The very distinctive visual character of Winterbottom bone was used for knife handles of some by America’s oldest cutleries; it was a bone handle material for pocket, hunting and table cutlery during the first half of the last century. Queen Cutlery of Titusville, Pennsylvania was the principal user of Winterbottom bone handle material, but it is also known that Case, Imperial, Camillus, Cattaraugus, Ka-Bar and others also produced some knives with Winterbottom Bone handles.
Who developed it?
John Winterbottom, Mr. Winterbottom’s father, was born and died in Sheffield, England, and was a bone-cutter by occupation, his trade linking his name with the world famous cutlery manufacturers of that city. The family has followed similar lines of activities in England one hundred and thirty years.
Samuel Winterbottom was born in 1857 in Sheffield, England, and in early life became employed as a bone cutter and manufacturer of handles of all kinds for knives, in association with his father. Then coming to America, he located in Philadelphia, where he was employed for a year and a half by Joseph Hayes, a manufacturer of parchment paper. Mr. Winterbottom acted as a buyer of rags and other materials which go into the manufacture of this fine quality of paper. Next going to Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, Mr. Winterbottom took charge of the Hayes Mill for eight months, then came to Egg Harbor City, where he became identified with Jacob Eiselstein in the manufacture of paper. After about a year and a half Mr. Winterbottom established his own business in 1891, securing a desirable location between Norfolk and New York avenues. One year later, however, he was able to better himself in the matter of location and removed to South Liverpool Avenue, at its junction with the Reading Railroad. Starting with one employee, Mr. Winterbottom was able to employ four men when he entered his new quarters and before the close of the year added a small wing to the building. He developed the business constantly until now he has a fine two story building, 200 x 150 in ground dimensions, and employs about 100 people. The line of manufacture includes many kinds of novelties in the way of amber and tortoise shell handle for pocket knives, manicure sets and so forth, special handles for table cutlery and various novelties in this general group.”
“The Daily Union History of Atlantic City and County, New Jersey,” published in 1900, noted that in 1899 “Winterbottom, Carter & Co. in South Egg Harbor employ about twenty-five hands in the manufacture of bone handles for knives.” At the beginning of WWI in 1914, “The Industrial Directory of New Jersey” noted that Winterbottom, Carter & Co. had 58 employees and in 1918 at the end of WWI they employed 85 persons. Samuel was the factory superintendent while Carter handled the office and booking duties. During the war the factory was supplying bone handle material for knives and bayonets and Carter, being a Quaker and a pacifist, objected and resigned from the company. Carter retained his share of ownership of the company until 1919 when his interest was purchased by Winterbottom for $9,000.
Samuel and Martha had four sons, Harry, John, Ernest, and Fredrick, all of whom worked in the Company. At some point the company name was changed to Samuel Winterbottom Sons.
Queen Cutlery Company
Following the end of World War II, Queen City changed its name to Queen Cutlery Co. They registered the Big “Q” trademark in 1946 and in 1947 published their first catalog after the war. Queen Cutlery began using the new Winterbottom bone handles on four of their hunting knife patterns that appeared in this catalog. They named this Winterbottom bone “Genuine Frontier bone stag” in the catalog. Queen transitioned from Rogers bone to Winterbottom bone over the next few years as their primary bone scale. By 1954, most bone handled knives, with the exception of most Barlow patterns, were produced in Winterbottom bone. Queen had been using Rogers bone from Rogers Mfg. Co. as a handle material since the 1920s, but must have decided to transition to Winterbottom bone after the war. They were the principle users of Winterbottom bone during this time from 1947 until the late 1960s. Fred Sampson, who was the materials manager at Queen during this time, told me that on many occasions Queen purchased that bone directly from Brazil and had it shipped to the Samuel Wintertbotton Sons Company for cutting, jigging and staining. Queen continued to use Winterbottom bone until the late 1960s when demand for bone dust from other industries forced the price of bone product higher. This event caused an increased cost for Winterbottom bone which in turn had a cost impact on Queen’s cost to manufacture cutlery. Queen sought new material to replace the genuine bone handle material.
Sampson remembers that about this same time, Queen sent some of the Winterbotton bone handles to Rogers Mfg. Co. who made molds of these real bone scales and began producing synthetic handles now known by collectors as “imitation Winterbottom bone”. Bernard Levine, in a 1990 Knife World magazine article noted: “In the 1950s, cost-conscious cutlery manufacturers began to discontinue the production of bone handled pocketknives. Rogers Mfg. Co. changed with the changing times, and began to offer synthetic pocketknife handles. Mr. Bitel, who started with Rogers in 1955, was involved in the transition. He states that Rogers Mfg. Co. was the first firm to produce pocketknife scales made out of Delrin (a DuPont acetal resin).” Queen’s transition from genuine bone to Delrin marked the end of the use of Winterbottom bone as a standard handle material in the late 1960s.