|Collectible Anheuser Busch Pocketknives Unearthed in St. Louis|
Red and black acrylic Anheuser-Busch champagne pattern pocket knife.
As Curator of the Stanhope Museum, I am often called upon to appraise stanhopes and the items they are contained within. A large number of those items are Anheuser Busch advertising corkscrew pocketknives. Giveaways for roughly 100 years, they are quite collectible and very sought after. Having restored the stanhopes in countless examples, over the years I have seen more than 85 variations. Recently I appraised some Anheuser Busch knives for a client in St. Louis and it led to some interesting findings.
The appraisal letter is shown below followed by a second letter explaining some of what was discovered about the history of this lot of AB knives.
Today I have examined several pocketknives for the purpose of authentication and valuation. All of the knives are similar and in the same general condition. My findings will discuss one of these knives and are as follows:
The pocketknife is similar in it's design to earlier Anheuser-Busch advertising pocketknives. It is closely styled to previous 20th century red & black enamel versions having stainless steel blades and made by Kastor & Sons and later Schrade. The knife is a champagne or bartender pattern pocketknife with a stanhope peephole lens in the handle. The scales or handles are clear acrylic over red and black enamel which is housed and adorned in gold (plated or washed and probably over brass) metal. The enamel is most likely paint or mastic enamel rather than the typical cloisonne or colored glass found on most AB knives. It is opaque and lacks the fire of earlier Anheuser-Busch enameled knives. The blades, of which there are four, are of stainless steel. They include both a small and a large knife blade as well as a cap-lifter and corkscrew. The pulls are wider than usual but of the "thin-pull" design. The cap-lifter is serrated. The corkscrew is of the single helix style and gold plated. There is a tang stamp on the small blade only, STAINLESS / MADE IN / GERMANY. The back-springs are split and tapered. The 3 brass pins used to hold the scales have become oxidized and green over time. All of the blades are tight and function well. Pictured in the peephole is an older looking Adolphus Busch. The stanhope in general is inferior in it's photographic quality to earlier versions but none the less visually appealing. In a few examples there was noticeable deterioration of the stanhope and typical crackling and bubbling can be seen. Interesting to note is that the stanhope is oriented backwards in the knife. Instead of looking into the side with Adolphus Busch on the handle to see Mr. Busch, you look through the logo side (back of the knife) to see the image. This is the case on all examples. It is my opinion that these knives are all new in their original leather pouches and packaged in typical Anheuser-Busch white and gold embossed boxes. They are "new-old-stock" of the Anheuser-Busch Brewing Co. St. Louis, MO, made about 1958, and are in perfect mint condition as they came from the manufacturer.
The current market or replacement cost of each knife is $400US*.
*Extremely affected stanhope views may be devalued slightly by collectors and should be valued from $325-$375 according to condition. This letter may be used for insurance purposes by the recipient only.
Michael W. Sheibley
Research Curator - Stanhope Museum
The following is an excerpt from a letter that accompanied the appraisal.
The Stanhope MicroWorks Museum archives contain information including purchase orders, packing lists, invoices, and correspondences between Anheuser-Busch Companies and various pocketknife manufacturers. Among these records is found an Anheuser-Busch purchase order #2105 for a quantity of 5000 pocketknives to be made "like the old style knives" and dated May 1, 1958. It was then amended on May 2, 1958 and revised to 2500 pocketknives and approved on May 2, 1958 pending 6 pieces as samples and those samples meeting with certain requirements. Each knife was to cost $4.00. The promised delivery (due by) date was September 1, 1958. This order was placed with the Imperial Knife Associated Companies of Providence Rhode Island and formerly of St. Louis Missouri. Later that year they were located at 1776 Broadway, New York. The purchase order was once again modified (modification 3) on December 8, 1958 and the PO# changed to 2105 570-7-102. These knives were accepted and delivered to Anheuser Busch on December 9, 1958. The last modification changing the supplier name must have been done in order that payment could be remitted to the new company, Schrade Walden. The knives were most likely produced under the Imperial Knife Associated Companies name however there are no markings on these knives to allow such a determination. I believe this is the purchase order that would concern the knives I have examined today. An earlier purchase order shows similarly described knives were ordered 5 years earlier in 1953. The quantity ordered was much larger and the cost was $5.50 each. The knives ordered in 1953 would have obviously been the more beautiful cloisonne enamel type (without acrylic) that is typical of most Anheuser Busch knives. They would have surely been the last of the cloisonne stainless steel bladed model often marked "Shrade" or "Schrade Walden". The "acrylic over paint" version (discussed here) would have been cheaper to make than the cloisonne versions and thus cost 1/3 less even 5 years later. Another record shows quantities of knives "given out" throughout all of the years and into the late 1960's. It shows that the knives probably remained in the vaults at Anheuser-Busch until about 1962 when they began to be "given out". The trail of these knives ends in 1967 when the last record shows a total remaining inventory of 367 pieces. This also creates a discrepancy between the beginning quantity (2500) and the remaining quantity (367). Anheuser Busch records account only for 1431 pieces of this knife either having been "given out" between 1962-67 or "remaining" in 1967. This would indicate that approximately 1069 of these knives have been unaccounted for since 1967 or possibly earlier.
Though not my practice to include folklore with fact, I am compelled, with only slight reservation, to add the following information. Perhaps not completely verifiable hear-say, I believe it to be true or at least likely. As I was presented these knives for evaluation, I was told an interesting story about their history or at least their whereabouts for the last decade. These knives were said to have been stored in vaults or safes in a building owned by Anheuser Busch Inc. That building was demolished about 2000-2002. Before the demolition, and upon inspection of the building, locked vaults were found housed inside. Anheuser Busch was notified of these findings and asked to remove those vaults or desired objects contained in the building. A representative arrived and opened many of the safes. There were two vaults which could not be opened. The AB representative mentioned that the keys to those particular vaults had been lost before he had become responsible for them some 30 years earlier, and that he had no idea what may or may not be inside because they had never been opened during his watch. The decision was made to leave them and the vaults were subsequently left to be destroyed with the building. At some point before demolition, workers of the construction or demolition company removed the vaults, opened them, and discovered a large quantity of pocketknives inside. The knives were packaged individually in their boxes and sheathed in plastic and protected in leather pouches. Each large box was new in appearance and contained either 50 or 60 each or the same pocketknife. They were then divided among several of the workers. Though this information is admittedly somewhat difficult to validate and somewhat circumstantial (at this point), I believe these knives are also the knives discussed in this letter and bought under purchase order 2105 and the related modified P.O.'s. There is no information to determine exactly how many knives were contained in the vaults when they were found, but the estimates that were told to me closely match the amount that remained unaccounted for by Anheuser-Busch in 1967 (according to their own records). These would mark the last true stanhope advertising knives the company would produce. This is probably partly due to the extinction of the stanhope lens. By this time quality in the world of stanhopes was failing as the secrets of manufacture followed their few producers to the grave. By about 1970 the last company to make stanhopes finally closed it's doors. Anheuser Busch later attempted (about 2002-04) to bring back these advertising knives but the "stanhope-esque" magnifier was of very bad quality and the knives were also a low quality "made in China" production. There were four different models that resembled past versions and they were distributed to AB reps who promptly sold them for high prices, mostly on online auction sites like eBay. The first ones sold quickly as collectors were fooled to think they may be buying a rare mint knife or some unknown variation. These knives were not embraced by most collectors due to the inferior quality and today they have little value. High quality stanhopes were reborn in 1996 when Stanhope MicroWorks began producing them in the old style. Stanhopes have gained in popularity once again and though they are no longer a novelty item, they are now used in fine jewelry, pens, pocketknives and other items.
Given the information provided here, it is my opinion that the pocketknives I have examined, and which are discussed in this letter, are original Anheuser-Busch Advertising Pocketknives that were made in Germany circa 1958. They are in mint, like-new condition though a few examples may have somewhat compromised stanhope views and/or oxidation on scale pins. Each example also retains it's original and new leather pouch and white box with embossed gold logo. The current market or replacement cost of each knife is $400US*. *Extremely affected stanhope views may be devalued slightly by collectors and should be valued from $325-$375 according to condition.
Rescued rare & collectible Anheuser Busch Co. pocketknives were nearly destroyed by Anheuser Busch when they ordered the demolition of one of their buildings. Certainly an oversight, an estimated 1069 pocketknives, all with a stanhope peeps showing company founder Adolphus Busch were saved by demolition workers when they removed two abandoned & locked vaults left to be destroyed. Workers eventually opened the vaults to find a cache of mint condition Anheuser Busch corkscrew pocketknives. Each one in it's original package and like a "proof" grade coin, untouched by human hands for 50 years. This type pocketknife is probably the most valuable collector item ever made by Anheuser Busch Inc. and some individual examples can fetch over $5000.
If you would like to own one of these beautiful collectible Anheuser Busch knives you may purchase one while our limited supplies last.
Posted by © Michael Sheibley on 11/11/2013 to Vintage & Antique Stanhopes