The knives were razor sharp and they wrapped their thumbs with the old style electrician’s tape (friction tape). Each night they would set around and sharpen their knives.
NOTE: This was originally posted in 2014. This update changes the name to”Tools of the Lost Trade”, referencing the long gone broomcorn industry. This update also adds additional details about this important part of Baca County History.
When I first posted this back in 2014 I began thinking of a little conversation heard around my house growing up. I always heard my dad was born with a cow teat in one hand and a broomcorn knife in the other. That must have been something, but the reference is similar to the experience of Baca Countians of my parent’s generation.
This wasn’t going to be my next post but with the many comments about broomcorn knives I began thinking of a little sayin’ that I heard around my house growing up. I always heard my dad was born with a cow teat in one hand and a broomcorn knife in the other. That must have been something:) and there must a been a whole lot of broomcorn cutting going on. In my foray into the topic of the broomcorn knife I discovered that in 1910 and 1911 there were 3 patents issued for broomcorn knives. I have provided the applications drawings and references. Like many who have commented I also have a few of these knives sitting around. Which one of the models mentioned in this post do you have sitting around?
ABOVE: Ray Currant’s Broomcorn Knife Below Courtesy of Shirley Close. Shirley tells us. “This is my Dad’s ( Ray Current) broom corn knife. Used in the Edler community in the late 1940’s and 1950’s. He started cutting broom corn when he was a child in the Lone Star area, and was earning a man’s wage at the age of 14. He was tall and skinny and worked like a horse. Around 1947 he and wife Eunice bought a farm north of Edler and farmed broom corn. He would hire men brought up from Oklahoma in the back of people’s trucks. We would cook three big meals a day for them. Homemade bread, pies, chicken and noodles, lots of potatoes and gravy, beans, corn, green beans fried chicken and things I’ve forgotten. We shooed out the flies with tea towels. The men were dirty and dusty. There were water sacks and containers of water at the ends of the broomcorn rows. It was hot dirty work. Daddy would have to take a bath before he could sit down in the evening because he itched so much. We housed the men in the basement, in the garage, and in a new barn Daddy built. He would take them to town on Saturday and bring back as many as he could. Some of them he would have to get out of jail because they got drunk and rowdy. They would buy shaving lotion to drink during the week. We wouldn’t allow alcohol. They would throw the empty shaving lotion bottles down the hole in the outhouse. Some men would come back year after year. Daddy was glad when he could farm other kinds of crops.”
ABOVE: Elmer Briles Broomcorn Knife Below Courtesy of Elmer Briles
ABOVE: Dave Peters’ Broomcorn Knife provided by Melody Espey
Broomcorn Knife Patent # 1
BROOM CORN KNIFE.
APPLICATION Hum 111111.24, 1911.
Patented July 18,1911.
UNITED STATES PATENT OFFICE.
PRITCHARD STEWART, OF CHICAGO, ILLINOIS, ASSIGNOR TO HIBBARD, SPENCER, BARTLETT & COMPANY, OF CHICAGO, ILLINOIS, A CORPORATION OF ILLINOIS.
To all whom it may concern:
Be it known that I, PRITCHARD STEWART, of the city of Chicago, county of Cook, and State of Illinois, have invented certain new and useful Improvements in Broom-Corn Knives, of which the following is a specification.
My invention relates to knives for cutting the heads from broom corn and has particular reference to a knife for this purpose which shall be of a construction especially adapted for this use and which, in addition, shall be of simple construction and cheap to manufacture.
The matter of providing a suitable knife for cutting the heads from broom corn has been a serious one for many years among manufacturers of cutlery. The peculiar requirements of such a knife have made it difficult to design a construction which would relieve the hand of the operator from undue strain and enable the use of the knife for extended periods without the hand becoming cramped or chafed.
After many attempts I have produced a construction which has been found to be eminently adaptable to the work in question.
My invention will be more readily understood by reference to the accompanying drawings, wherein,
Figure 1 is a side elevation of a knife constructed in accordance with my invention, the hand of an operator being shown in dotted lines, and Fig. 2 is an end view of the knife.
Referring more particularly to the drawings, it will be seen I provide a knife blade 10, the knife edge 11 being curved and the opposite edge or dull portion being also slightly curved, the curve not being as pronounced as that of the edge 11. The shank of the blade 10 is seated in a handle 12, and to this handle is attached a leather loop 13, and a leather guard 14. The leather loop 13 lies underneath the heel of the blade 10, whereas the guard 1 1 lies over the dull upper edge of the knife blade and provides a seat for the hollow of the hand, as will be seen in Fig. 1.
Specification of Letters Patent.
Application filed March 24, 1911.
Patented July 18, 1911.
Serial No. 616,771.
In the operation of my improved knife, the operator places the third and fourth fingers through the loop 13, extends the first and second fingers downward in a straight line parallel with the blade, the guard 14 being seated in the hollow of the hand and between the thumb and first finger. It will be seen that in this way the knife may be used for long periods of time without the hand becoming cramped and also without the possibility of chafing through contact wit-h any of the metal or wooden parts.
The manner of holding the knife in the hand also provides for the exertion of a maximum force, the force being applied where needed without leverage such as is developed when a knife is grasped by its handle.
It will be obvious that changes may be made in the exact construction herein sh own, all without departing from the spirit of my invention.
- A broom corn knife, comprising a blade having a curved knife edge and a handle, a loop associated with the knife and extending underneath the blade in contact with a portion of its cutting edge, and a guard above the blade extending along the back of the same in contact therewith, substantially as described.
- A broom corn knife, comprising a blade having a curved knife edge, a handle, a loop secured to said handle, a portion of the loop extending beneath said knife blade to cover the heel of the blade and a guard also secured to said handle and extending along the back of said blade, substantially as described.
- A broom corn knife, comprising a blade, a handle within which said blade is seated, a loop secured to said handle and extending beneath said blade and adapted to accommodate the third and fourth fingers of the hand, and a guard also secured to said handle and extending above said blade and adapted to provide a seat for the hollow of the hand, substantially as described.
- A broom corn knife, comprising blade,
extending under a portion of the cutting edge of the blade.
Witnesses ELMER G. ELFRING, I. M. STEWART.
a handle, a strip of suitable material ex- tending along the back of the blade and secured at one of its ends to the handle, said strip extending over each side of the blade and forming a rounded seat for the palm of the hand and a loop of flexible material secured to the opposite side of the handle and Copies of this patent may be obtained for five cents each, by addressing the Commissioner of Patents. Washington, D. C.
Broomcorn Knife Patent No 2
Patented 0ct. 11,1910.
INVENTOR WITNESSES UNITED STATES PATENT OFFICE.
GUSTAF W. HANSON, 0F MARQUETTE, KANSAS.
Application filed July 11, 1908, Serial No. 443,040. Renewed April 16, 1910.
Specification of Letters Patent.
Patented Oct. 11, 1910.
Serial No. 555,932.
T 0 all whom it may concern:
Be it known that I, GUSTAF W. HANSON, a citizen of the United States, residing at Marquette, in the State of Kansas, have invented a new and useful Broom-Corn Knife, of which the following is a specification.
My invention relates to a new and improved knife for cutting or stripping broom corn, and also a. harness which is in most cases used in connection with the knife, for holding it in the hand.
The knife is provided with a guard which fits the hand between the thumb and forefinger so that the knife will not slip downward in the hand in cutting. The harness is constructed and arranged so that when the knife is in position the hand may be freely opened to grasp the corn without danger of the knife being displaced.
The accompanying drawing shows an exemplifying structure embodying the invention. It is to be understood, however, that the invention is capable of being embodied in many different forms.
I describe my invention as adapted to use in cutting or stripping broom corn but it is, of course, understood that I contemplate any other uses of the invention to which it may be adapted.
Figure 1 is a perspective view of the knife in use, from the front of the hand. Fig. 2 is a similar view from the back of the hand, and Fig. 3 is an enlarged perspective view of the knife detached from its harness.
Reference character 1 designates the handle and 2 the blade, of which 3 is the edge. The knife is provided with a guard 1 which may conveniently be an extension of the handle. This guard is shaped to conveniently fit the hand between the thumb and forefinger as shown in Fig. 1. In cutting broom corn pressure is applied to the edge of the blade in the general direction of the arrow shown in Fig. 1. The guard therefore, as shown, is constructed and arranged to resist the tendency of the knife to slip down in the hand during the cutting. The end of the handle is provided with an eye 5 and the end of the guard is provided with an eye 6.
The knife in some cases may be used alone, as shown in Fig. 3. I generally provide a harness to hold it securely in the hand so that the hand may be opened without danger of the knife becoming displaced. The harness will now be described.
Wrist band 7 encircles the wrist of the user and is held by one or more straps 8 and buckles 9. At a point which is about at the base of the thumb when the harness is in use, a loop 10 is secured to the band. At the back of the wrist, buckles 11, 12, are secured to the band. A strap 13 is secured in buckle 11, passed first through the eye 6 in the guard, then around the base of the thumb, through loop 10, through eye 5 in the end of the handle and is then passed through buckle 10 and drawn up as snug as is desired and secured in the buckle. The harness thus constructed and arranged holds the knife very securely both when the hand is opened to grasp the corn and during the cutting action.
It is to be noted that the perforated straps and buckles afford means for adjusting the apparatus to hands of various sizes.
Having thus described my invention what I claim and desire to secure by Letters Patent is– The combination of a knife including a blade, a handle and a curved guard fitting the hand between the thumb and forefinger, and a harness comprising a wrist band, and an adjustable strap connected to the wrist band and passing through eyes in the end of the handle and the guard and serving to retain the knife securely in position in the hand.
GUSTAF W. HANSON.
- L. BUZZI, E. W. ANDERSON.
Broomcorn Knife #3
E. A. PETERSON. “KNIFE FOR CUTTING BROOM CORN.
APPLICATION FILED 111111.18, 1911.
998118. Patented July 18,1911.
EMIL A. PETERSON, OF FALUN, KANSAS.
KNIFE FOR CUTTING BROOM-CORN.
Specification of Letters Patent.
Patented July 18, 1911.
Application filed March 18, 1911. Serial No. 615,335.
To all whom it may concern:
Be it known that I, EMIL A. PETERSON, a citizen of the United States, residing at Falun, in the county of Saline and State of Kansas, have invented certain new and useful Improvements in Knives for Cutting Broom-Corn, of which the following is a specification.
This invention relates to knives for cutting broom corn and its object is to produce a knife of this class that is simple in construction, durable and efficient.
With the foregoing and other objects in view the invention consists in the combination and arrangement of parts to be hereinafter fully described in the following specification, pointed out in the claims and illustrated in the accompanying drawing which forms a part of said specification and in which Figure 1 is a side elevation of the knife. Fig. 2 is a plan. Fig. 3 is a cross section on line 33 of Fig. 1.
Like reference characters indicate corresponding parts throughout the several views.
2 is the handle of the knife provided with a stout blade 3 having a cutting edge C and provided with a plurality of apertures 4. A suitable thumb rest 5 is provided on the upper extremity of the handle adjacent the blade and upon its under side a piece of resilient material 6, secured to the handle at 11, is bent to form suitable finger rest and extended beyond said rests as at 7 to engage an auxiliary blade 8 which is provided with a series of vertical slots 9 in alignment with the apertures 4c of the main blade 3 to which blade the blade 8 is secured by screws 10 fitting in the aligned apertures in a manner to permit independent vertical movement of the blade 8 with relation to the blade 3.
The blade 8 is provided with a scalloped cutting edge B which edge is very thin and adapted to cut the leaves of the broom corn. In operation the knife is taken in one hand of the auxiliary while the corn stalk is taken in the other. When the knife is brought in contact with the growing broom corn the first thing encountered is the leaves and to cut the same the fingers of the operator resting in the finger rests are pressed away from the handle which will draw the cutting edge blade 8 below the cutting blade 3 to cut the leaves; when the leaves are cut away to the stem the pressure on the resilient finger rests is removed when the blade 8 will be forced into the position shown in Fig. 1 which permits the stout main blade to sever the stem when the auxiliary blade may again be drawn into operative posit-ion to cut the leaves beyond the stem.
What is claimed is 1. In a knife, a handle provided with a thumb rest, an apertured main blade secured to said handle, a slotted auxiliary blade secured to said main blade and resilient finger rests connecting the knife handle and the said auxiliary blade for moving the latter independently of the main blade.
- In a knife, a handle provided with a thumb rest, an apertured main blade rigidly secured to said handle, an auxiliary blade having vertically disposed slots in alinement with the apertures in the main blade, screws connecting the two blades through the medium of their alined openings in a manner to permit the independent vertical movement of the said auxiliary blade and resilient finger rests connecting the knife handle and auxiliary blade for actuating the latter member. I
In testimony that I claim the foregoing as my own I have hereto affixed my signature in the presence of two subscribing witnesses.
EMIL A. PETERSON.
edge of the main Witnesses:
- T. JOHNSON, WALFRED JOHNSON.
Copies of this patent may be obtained for five cents each, by addressing the Commissioner of Patents, Washington, D. C.
More broomcorn knives
Since I originally posted about broomcorn knives I have found more. Although none have Baca County origins, there is one which comes from Boise City OK in Cimarron County which borders Baca County to the south.
1339282 May 4, 1920 Cutter for broom-corn, maize, and the like. NOTE: This is a hand cutter as shown in image below. John E Pelnar of Deerfield KS
155831 January 23, 1974. Improvement in Knives for Splitting Broom-corn Frederick Gerling & William Broderick of Cleveland OH.
700058 May 13, 1902 Broomcorn knife. Gustaf Arvid Larson, John Emil Johnson of Wilcox NE
1586396 May 5, 1925. Broomcorn knife. Homer E. Bellomy of Boise City OK.
687342 November 26, 1901. Knife for cutting broom-corn or the like. William Salter of Hardesty, Oklahoma Territory.
998118 July 18, 1911. Knife for cutting broom-corn. Emil A. Peterson of Falun KS.
4 responses to “Tools of the Lost Trade: The Broomcorn Knife”
While doing a web search, I stumbled arcross your 2nd corn knife pic as being a scaled down version of a pic of my uncle’s knife i posted elsewhere– It was family lore that he had handmade it– After seeing the photo you posted, I did some further digging with a magnifying glass and discovered a very faint OVB marking on the obverse blade, similar to one I found on an old Hibbard, Spencer, & Bartlett hand saw- My uncle passed in 1963 and the corn knife had seen obvious long use before that– BTW, My uncle grew broom corn in Bethany, IL, 32 miles from Arcola IL, a major broom corn center.
Thanks so much for sharing John!
Baca County was created by the Colorado legislature on April 16, 1889, out of eastern portions of Las Animas County . Baca County was named in honor of pioneer and Colorado territorial legislator Felipe Baca .
Thanks for the helpful Information on Broom tying Knives, I’ll be doing some forging of a couple of these Tools for my Family’s Broom Tying Activity’s sometime this Winter 2022 – 2023. I’m a little curious about the Blase with a 45 Angle, is it for trimming the Finished Broom?
Replies made to Ray @ email@example.com