Dean Elliott Case, a member of the renowned "Case knife family," talked to a good-sized crowd of well-wishers at his recent book signing, held at the Little Valley Memorial Library. Mr. Case discussed his recently published non-fiction work, a volume with the enticingly gossipy name, "Kinfolks Knives: A History of Cutlery and Cousins." Another Little Valley author and fellow chronicler of the Case family, Brad Lockwood, wrote the foreword to Case's book, and introduced him to the group.
Mr. Case hardly needed a resume as he has visited and corresponded with Little Valley area residents repeatedly, while gathering material for his work. "I was born and raised in Little Valley," he said. "I graduated from the local high school, and I'm afraid I'm still remembered as that kid who drove around town in a hearse. But soon, I fled for my own reasons--in a very fast car."
Case read a few excerpts from his book, which details the various cutlery companies founded by his once feuding and fractured family. A review of the chapter titles revealed that the book doesn't deal exclusively with the steely business of knife manufacture. There is also a chapter chronicling the Case ladies, while another lists several tried and true Case recipes, including a particularly delicious-sounding pecan pie.
“Kinfolks Knives: A History of Cutlery and Cousins,” held by its author, Dean Elliott Case (center). From left: Mrs. Laura Bishop, the author, and Brad Lockwood, friend and collaborator on the book.
Most interesting though, was the author's account of the Case dynasty's eccentricities. "Our family seems to have been really good at feuding," he observed. He stated that thirty-two different knife companies emerged from the original knife-making Champlin family, starting with the marriage of a Champlin daughter to a Case son.
When asked why the family didn't pursue their goal together, he explained that often, as the family grew, impatient sons would leave their fathers' businesses to strike out on their own. In other cases, rival brothers would become angry or jealous and break up flourishing partnerships. Daughters might marry and help their new husbands set up business for themselves. Nephews or cousins working as traveling salesmen sometimes traveled a tad too far, and started making their own wares to sell. It seems the family spawned generations of energetic, ambitious, and often pig-headed progeny.
The namesake of Dean Case's book, the Kinfolks Knife Company, was one such offshoot of the Case family, its name reflecting that relationship. The author recounted the life-changing experience he had when he went onto eBay one day and impulsively bid on a Kinfolks knife. "I got it," he said, "but when it arrived at my house, it turned out to be imported."
With that unsettling discovery, Case, who had never really been personally involved in knife manufacturing, became a man with a mission. He started researching the Case Cutlery Company and learned, to his horror, that it no longer owned any of its patents. "It had been in business for 140 years--since the Civil War," he said. "It was the largest knife company in the world until after World War II-- and now its knives were being made overseas."
Dean Case set out to rectify that situation. Learning that the "guy who held the trademark" had passed away, he applied for it. "And I got it!" he enthused.
"And now, W.R. Case & Sons (in Bradford, Pa.) own their trademark again," he concluded.
Case answered a rush of questions from the audience, many of whom remembered relatives or friends who had once been employed by Kinfolks Cutlery in Little Valley, prior to its closing in the late 1950s. He autographed copies of his book for any who requested.
According to Case, his companion at the event, Brad Lockwood, was highly instrumental in the completion of the Kinfolks book. Lockwood, himself a Case descendent, has written several novels, as well as his own definitive study of what he laughingly referred to as "my strange inbred family." That book was published in 2005, and is titled "The Case Cutlery Dynasty: Tested XX."
The book signing was hosted by the Little Valley Memorial Library. Refreshments were served during the event by staff members.