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Old And Sold Antiques Digest Article

Keen Kutter Cutlery and Tools

Author: Jerry and Elaine Heuring

Has a stop to an old hardware store ever made your day? Has it left you with that relaxed, glad I took the time feeling? In our travels we make it a point to visit small towns and drive through the main sections hoping to find an old hardware store. There are many stories behind those doors just waiting for you. We hope upon entering to find something old, but that rarely happens. Our greatest hope though is to find a long-time employee who will talk about the old days of operation. When Jerry asks if this store ever sold Keen Kutter tools, their eyes just light up. When we tell them we collect Keen Kutter, they really begin to melt, and then I know our ten-minute stop will last for hours. They always remember those huge catalogs and how great they were to order from compared to today’s computers and automated telephone systems. They always relate to how easy shelves were to stock versus today’s bar coded packaging systems. Even though most of them do not operate with computers, they have been affected by them. But those stories of how they threw the catalogs away just make you frown. The final stage is when Jerry tells them he has something to show them and heads for the truck. He brings in our Collectors Guide to Keen Kutter and then the memories really start flowing. They usually look through it with a story for every page especially when they get to those showcases and catalogs.

Collectors Guide to Keen Kutter contains 192 pages with over 750 color photos of thousands of Keen Kutter items from our personal collection all identified, described, and valued. As with any value guide, the condition of the item is critical in determining its value. If the Keen Kutter name or logo is battered or unreadable, the value is decreased. We have sections on advertising items, axes, braces, calendars, catalogs, chisels, displays, electrical tools, farm tools, files, hammers, kitchen items, levels, padlocks, paper goods, planes, pliers, pocket knives,rules, tape measures, saws, scissors, screwdrivers, showcases, squares, miscellaneous tools, tool chests, wrenches, lawn & garden items, tap & die set, and miscellaneous items. You will probably find items that you didn’t know were associated with Keen Kutter. In addition to the listings we have a section on history, trademarks and mottos, reproductions and fakes, Val-Test items, and Tool Club memberships.

The Reproductions and Fakes category in Collectors Guide to Keen Kutter already needs to be updated. It is amazing how fake items keep appearing almost daily and are being sold as authentic on the Internet. This is not only true of Keen Kutter but other collectible categories as well. One needs to be skeptical and ask questions in detail. Items are being guaranteed as old. An example is the Keen Kutter door knobs. The door knobs themselves are old but the logo has been etched on recently. There is also a brown jug and a brown glass oil bottle. The jug and the bottle are old, but that logo is not. The same holds true with many showcases. They are usually old showcases with a new etched logo in the glass. Then there are the items that are just now being produced, many in cast iron, which can be purchased cheaply through import houses. An example is the broad head hatchet with the name Keen Kutter raised and written in a slant. These are appearing on the Internet, some being sold as old and some being sold as new. Some are easy to detect such as the round thermometer. On the new one the degrees go from -60 to 140. On the original they go from -30 to 120. A lot of the metal signs will have the name of the sign company on the front edge. The brass plumb bob is another example because no solid brass plumb bob was ever known to exist. There are many logo shaped watch fobs in circulation. The original will always have the letters LE on the bottom back side. The padlock being reproduced is very crude. The thing to look for is the barrel type key with a hole in the middle. One of the most common reproductions is the poster “The Dog Doesn’t Mind He Knows It Won’t Hurt — It’s A Keen Kutter.” There are two sizes, 27" x 22" and 17 1/2" x 21 1/2". Many of these are framed and being sold as authentic. There is an authentic postcard of the scene as well as a magazine ad. Some of the earliest fakes and reproductions were the cast-iron match holder done in red or green and the small waffle iron with wooden handle being sold as a salesman’s sample. There are also alarm clocks being passed as Keen Kutter containing a paper dial with two Keen Kutter logos. Beware of paperweights; many people are putting pictures of the puzzle, clock, letterheads, or logos in them. There is a marble for almost every collectible item so why not Keen Kutter. If you are ever unsure about whether an item is authentic Keen Kutter don’t hesitate to either e-mail or call me and I will give you my opinion. It is very upsetting to see these reproductions and fakes being sold as old at the ridiculous prices they bring not only on the Internet but at shows and malls.

In Collectors Guide to Keen Kutter we have written about the history of the Keen Kutter companies. Here is a brief version:
  • 1847 — Shapleigh, Day & Co. Established
  • 1863 — A. F. Shapleigh & Co. Established
  • 1870 — Keen Kutter name chosen by E. C. Simmons
  • 1872 — E. C. Simmons & Co. Established
  • 1874 — Simmons Hardware Company Established
  • 1922 — Winchester - Simmons Co. Established
  • 1929 — Simmons Hardware Co. Reverted back to original status
  • 1940 — Shapleigh Hardware Co. Established
  • 1962 — Val-Test Distributors Buying Group still in existence

Also inside Collectors Guide to Keen Kutter you will find examples of the different logos that were used throughout the Keen Kutter era.

We are members of three clubs associated with tool collecting. These clubs have provided a real education in tool collecting. Not only are they a good means of obtaining tools, but they are also fun, relaxing, and a means of making many new friends. If you would like information on any of these clubs, contact us and we will send you the necessary application. The clubs we belong to are Mid West Tool Collector’s Association, Inc. (M-WTCA), The Hardware Companies Kollectors Klub (THCKK), and The Early American Industries Association (EAIA). Included with your membership are interesting magazines and newsletters.

Our Keen Kutter collection, along with our Collectors Guide to Keen Kutter, has become much more than just a hobby. It is providing us hours of enjoyment. Slow down and take time to share your story or collecting interests with someone else, you’ll be glad you did! Visit that old hardware store and see what stories unfold for you.

Happy Hunting!
Jerry & Elaine Heuring
28450 US Highway 61
Scott City, MO 63780

P.O. Box 3009, Paducah, KY 42002-3009
Phone: 270.898.6211 | Toll Free (Orders Only): 1.800.626.5420 | Fax: 270.898.8890
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