The Shop

These Handcrafted Kitchen Tools Are Worthy of the White House

Beloved by a former president, Lamson’s cutlery is now on view at The Smithsonian.

July  5, 2019

Lamson has been around for a long time. It was founded nearly two centuries ago, in 1837, in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts. That makes it the oldest cutlery manufacturer in the United States, and surprisingly, little has changed since its inception. While precision machinery can now render a perfectly finished steel tool, Lamson products are still meticulously handcrafted. In a sea of automated manufacturers, this preservationist mindset is an important business decision, and a source of great pride.

One of the few things that have changed is that it has moved, and even then, only a few towns South. It’s all part of why—according to Lamson Operations and Production Manager Jim Morrissey and Customer Service Manager Terry Mclelland—when you buy Lamson knives, you’re not just buying a highly functional tool, but a piece of continuous history.

Interestingly, those knives still begin their journey in Shelburne Falls, where the steel is sourced and laser cut. They then travel to Westfield, where Lamson’s production team works its magic, making sure they are perfectly level before polishing, grinding, cleaning, and laser marking the blades, as well as hand-finishing their handles. It’s a process completed with care—and a bit of grit. "They take something—essentially a dirty piece of steel—and turn it into a work of art. What you have at the end of the day, when you’re done, is something beautiful,” Jim says.

The structure and style of Lamson knives are classic, having stayed on course since the 1830s. The reasoning appears simple: the product was great from the get-go. Sure, improvements have been made over time—like the substitution of one material for another, or tweaked rivets and laser marks—but at the end of the day, it’s still the same high-quality, forged steel. “And that stands the test of time,” Jim says. “We have a long legacy of making great knives, and we take that very seriously.”

That legacy includes a former president. Upon Ulysses S. Grant’s 1869 election, Lamson sent him a generous gift: a 62-piece dinnerware set bearing handles of ivory and mother of pearl. Needless to say, the gift went over well. Terry—considered the unofficial archivist of Lamson—reports that the president responded with a “lovely thank-you note”. It marked Lamson’s ascent to best-in-class cutlery manufacturer, a distinction underlined by the fact that pieces from the set are now on view at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.

Of course, most Lamson knives aren’t made with ivory or mother of pearl—but they are crafted carefully, and need to be treated as such. Jim’s advice is to always hand-wash and dry with a soft cloth. “Steam is the enemy of a fine piece of cutlery,” he says. “You'll get patinas on the blades and the handle material won't react well.” What will work for the handle is applying a bit of mineral oil every few months to keep the finish looking new. And be sure to store it somewhere safe: You could go for a magnet in your kitchen drawer to keep it in place—that’s what Jim does—or use a knife block or wall magnet.

Jim and Terry are confident that every new Lamson customer walks out a happy one. "You've got a well-balanced, handcrafted tool that's going to be your go-to knife for a lifetime,” Jim says. And Terry hopes they also connect with the history of the company: “You’re holding a knife that harkens back to craftsmen who arrived from England at the turn of the 19th Century.” In many ways that’s exactly what great craftsmanship is about: artistry, integrity and provenance.

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Emily Kochman

Written by: Emily Kochman

Food52 Community Outreach Manager

2 Comments

Amy B. July 8, 2019
Oops. Sorry - wrong dates. Husband says his Dad worked for Lamson in the late 1930's, early 1940's, prior to entering the service to fight in WWII.
 
Amy B. July 8, 2019
My husband's family is from that part of the world. My father-in-law worked for Lamson during the 50's and early 60's. Always had high praise for the company and its products.