Back in September 2011, a column was titled “This Old Spoon.” It started as a riff on looking as brandmarks on some family keepsake spoons in the kitchen odds and ends drawer, then segued to not particularly valuable collectables, such as Indian clubs or ice tongs. The column has been reposted to www.maynardlifeoutdoors.com.
The spark for this week’s column was Thanksgiving, a bird to carve (Cornish game hen for two rather than the traditional turkey for ten), and a close look at a carving knife and fork that have been in the family’s possession since 1961. And not new then, but rather a kitchen drawer find in a purchased Pennsylvania summer cottage. Viewed through a magnifying glass, the knife’s brandmark reads “LAMSON Stainless Steel, Made in USA.” The mark includes an oval with the company’s symbol – a ship’s anchor entwined in rope.
|Silas Lamson, holding scythe handle|
By the time of the Civil War the company had become one of the largest cutlery manufacturers in the country, employing more than 500 workers to meet demand for its products. The company’s annual purchases exceeded 200 tons of steel. Its catalogs depicted a vast variety of items with ivory, horn, bone or exotic wood handles. In 1869, a dinner set of 62 pieces was gifted to President Ulysses S. Grant, with half of the pieces set in mother-of-pearl handles and half in ivory.
During the post-war westward expansion, L&G knives went to fur trappers, buffalo hide skinners, sheep farmers, cattle ranchers, cowboys and the U.S. Calvary. The U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs bought thousands and thousands of blades for treaty reparations to western tribes. If someone were to ask what the most common knife found in the hands of a Plains Indian warrior would have been, odds were very high that it was from Lamson & Goodnow.
|Lamson logo, 2020|
|Lamson antler-handle carving set. Click to enlarge|
There is history, and there is history. Researching “Lamson” as a business unearthed the information incorporated into the text above. But researching “Silas Lamson” as a person yielded an entirely different take on the backstory. Silas “became known as an eccentric for his religious beliefs and personal appearance.” That is an understatement. He was an avid abolitionist and anti-Adventist. He cultivated a long white beard, took to wearing only white clothes, at times white robes, and was passionate to communicate his "firmness of purpose to unveil and ridicule all that he deemed ridiculous in law, custom and religion," preaching his beliefs wherever he could. He often brought a scythe with him when he spoke, causing concern amongst those charged with escorting him away from the podium so that others could speak.
Silas did not approve of government oversight. He was routinely placed in jail for failing to pay his tithes, and finally, due to his constant preaching, was condemned to the Worchester Lunatic Asylum for several years, until a court decision proclaimed his incarceration as a lunatic was illegal. Released (he said “The angels let him out.”), Silas continued sharing his beliefs with others at every opportunity. Meanwhile, his son Ebenezer, who was only 23 years old when the knife company was founded in 1837, charted its course to its phenomenal success.