History of Tuna Valley Cutlery

Warm up the old computer and surf to your favorite search engine. Type in “Tuna Valley,” and the only place you will find a geographical area with that name is in the same county as Bradford, Pennsylvania. You know the place, synonymous with high-grade collectible cutlery of over 100 years and still putting out knives yet today. The Indian name for the stream in this McKean County, Pennsylvania valley, is Tunungwant Creek. That’s too tough for most of us to pronounce, so it was shortened to Tuna Creek many years ago by the locals. The valley this stream meanders through is Tuna Valley, an area of intense oilfield operations during the early oil boom days. Several businesses sported the name back then, like the local Tuna Valley bank. Today we still see remnants of it in such places as the name of the local sportsman’s club.

 

The year was 1904, and business with the Platts brothers’ cutlery operation over in nearby Eldred, Pennsylvania was doing well. Still, the group just couldn’t come together on a direction to take the business. Charles Platts, the grand patriarch of that cutlery empire, had passed away several years earlier, and the five Platts brothers had reached a point of making some crucial decisions. It was time to expand or make significant changes, and to do so would require more capital, meaning the inclusion of investors outside of the family. Meanwhile, Russ Case, related by marriage to the Platts family, moved his piece of the case cutlery dynasty to Bradford.  Henry Nixon Platts and his four brothers agreed to sell their shares of the legendary C. Platts and Sons operation if H.N. would merge with Russ Case. Russ was an outstanding and experienced salesman, and H.N. Platts a skilled cutler. It seemed to be a perfect match for both. Equipment from the famous C. Platts and Sons’ plant in Eldred, Pennsylvania moved to the newly constructed W.R. Case & Sons Bank Street location in Bradford near the banks of the Tuna Creek.

 

A small inventory of finished knives from the two families’ previous businesses helped sustain their place in the market until the factory could be completed and manufacturing commenced. They soon realized that they needed additional knives to help maintain their customer base. It was 1905, and fears of not having enough cutlery in stock prompted them to import a precious few from Europe. At this time, we do not know the exact manufacturer of these knives, but we do know that they came from Germany based on the materials and construction techniques. Each bears the TUNA VALLEY CUTLERY CO. tang stamp on them. One could go so far as to say that an original Tuna Valley Cutlery knife may very well be the rarest of all Case related stamps, as very few of them exist today. It appears that most of them were small pearl-handled ladies’ knives, elegant and dainty to say the least, although a few other patterns are known to exist. A small congress knife with tiny bolsters is just one of the patterns they are known to have offered.

 

As a collector of Pennsylvania-related cutlery items, I have been intrigued by the little-known mystery of the knives for many years. John and Charlotte Goins, in their book Goins Encyclopedia of Cutlery Markings, simply listed the name Tuna Valley Cutlery Co. and no other information. This means that they had seen an example of this brand but did not know anything further about it at the time of publication. In the October 1990 issue of Knife World Magazine, famed knife expert Bernard Levine in his “Whut Izzit” column, drew similar conclusions to the Tuna Valley mystery as listed here. Later in 2008, he said, “these two TUNA VALLEY CUTLERY pearl pen knives from a c. 1920 Case retailers’ inventory seem to answer at least part of the question. They were definitely made in Germany – the style of lettering in the tang stamps indicates this, and one is even marked GERMANY. These were imported knives, probably imported directly by Case, and sold for only a short period of time, either just before or just after World War I. These are the only other Tuna Valley knives I have seen.” Further information on the story didn’t surface until Brad Lockwood unlocked a portion of the secret in this book “The Case Cutlery Dynasty, Tested XX.”

During the research period of Mr. Lockwood’s book, a chance meeting with the former President of the now-defunct NKCA, National Knife Collectors Association, Perry Miller, proved to be a thought-provoking interlude. The discussion turned to Tuna Valley, and Perry found the topic to be fascinating. We, knife historians, love those little-known tidbits of info.  Perry Miller was a West Virginia native whose family migrated to Florida to escape the coal mines. Young Perry was an outdoorsman and loved hunting, fishing, and trapping. It seems you can move the boy out of the country, but you can’t move the country out of the boy. After doing a stint as a commercial fisherman, Perry decided that he needed a better direction in his life, and he chose to become an electrical contractor. He wound up working for the growing aerospace industry near Titusville, Florida.

 

The 1990s found Perry in a store looking over custom knives as a potential Christmas gift for a dear friend. He was so taken with the knives he decided to go back and buy all the remaining stock of them. This passion for knives soon carried over into Case knives, and the advent of the Internet hooked him for good. You would always find Perry at most major knife shows where he was well respected for his knowledge of cutlery, and particularly Randall made knives. He operated a company called Spaceport Cutlery and devoted all his time to knives and such.

 

A well-known knife dealer in rare and vintage cutlery sold Perry an original Tuna Valley knife years ago. Perry, along with fellow knife enthusiast David Mullins, decided that with so many of the old cutlery company names were being scooped up, this rarity surely deserved recognition and to be revived. They worked with an attorney familiar with the detailed process of legally obtaining the name, and soon Perry Miller was the President of the Tuna Valley Cutlery company.

 

The big question now was: who was going to manufacture this revival knife? Perry was a man of many talents, but “cutler” wasn’t one of them. The search was easier than Perry figured, as the folks at Great Eastern Cutlery up in Titusville, Pennsylvania were doing wonderful things with high-quality traditional pocketknives, and Perry liked the product and the way they did business. A stainless steel bladed #73 pattern folder with genuine stag handles and bolsters on both ends was the final result. One word describes this knife, “awesome.”

 

Produced in a limited run of 150 pieces, these treasures became true collector items themselves. Each individually serial numbered knife came with signed certificates of authenticity. The packaging and the labeling were just as unique as a knife itself. Perry wanted to keep the name connected to rarity. In other words, he wasn’t going to flood the market with hundreds of different knives with a Tuna Valley name on them. They were rare back in 1905 and would be exceptionally so in the future.

 

One can only wonder what other old names are still out there just waiting to be rejuvenated and once again graced the pocket of the knife aficionados out there. The revival market is a new and exciting direction for collectors to venture into and at an affordable price. After all, up until now, most of us have never heard of the Tuna Valley Cutlery Co., so let’s see what the next great old name will be. One shrouded with mystery, I hope, cause that’s what keeps this hobby so much fun.

 

But the story doesn’t end there.  By 2012, the Daniels family had acquired the rights to produce knives under this name. However, they kept to Miller’s original view of high quality and low quantity for high-end collectors. Additionally, once a knife has been made, that exact pattern/handle combination will never be made again. Collectors ate these up with every release, and many of the patterns are all but impossible to find in the secondary market.

 

Ryan and Courtney Daniels are the owners of the new Tuna Valley releases.

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