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Who Was J.B.F. Champlin?

Who Was J.B.F. Champlin?

Without the influence of the very likeable John B.F. Champlin we may never have heard the familiar names of several great knife making companies such as Cattaraugus Cutlery, Case Brothers, WR Case & Son, Little Valley Knife Association or Kinfolks, just to name a few.

After working more than 16 years on the road as one of the industry’s most successful cutlery salesmen, JBF Champlin could have easily retired at the ripe old age of 40. Instead he established his own cutlery firm in his adopted hometown of Little Valley, NY, hoping to stimulate the local economy and provide young men in the area with a chance for employment.

In 1879 he began construction of the three story, Champlin Opera house in Little Valley. He set up his offices on the ground floor, once the building was complete in 1880.  The top floor of the building was large and used for performances or concerts. It was also available free of charge to any benevolent societies or for any religious functions.

It wasn’t long before the new jobbing firm of JBF Champlin had a team of skilled and successful salesmen on the road.  Eventually, that included three of his wife’s brothers, W.R. (who went by Willie), John and Jean Case.  By 1882 the name of the firm had been changed to JBF Champlin & Son.  When his son Tint Champlin turned 15 in August of 1881, he came to work full time with his father. His  four uncles, the Case brothers,  joined the company about 1885.

JBF’s wife Theresa Mary Case, had long encouraged him to include her brothers in a business venture.  After all they were family and, had been close all those years he was on the road selling for other firms. As such, they were not unfamiliar with his line of work.  Theresa was eager to see them prosper and do well as she and JBF had.

With the Case brothers on board, JBF’s family business continued to flourish and expand.  As early as February 1885 they were working under the new name of Cattaraugus Cutlery.  The company was officially incorporated in Feb. of 1887 with the following 7 people listed as directors:

J.B.F. Champlin, Theresa Champlin, Tint Champlin, Jean Case, John D. Case, Hannah L. Kuehl, and W.R. Case. The familiar name of Andy J. Case also appears on the documents, but not as a director.

The four Case brothers did not stick around for long, and as they say,… “The rest is history”.  Much has been written elsewhere concerning their history and endeavors by other authors.

Only a few of the original JBF Champlin knives have survived to delight modern collectors and historians.  Most of these sturdy knives that were made for the hard working men and women of that era have long since disappeared.

J.B.F. Champlin

J.B.F. Champlin

 

 

Cattaraugus Letterhead dated 1899

Cattaraugus Letterhead dated 1899

 

 

The photo below shows J.B.F. Champlin with his team of Cattaraugus salesmen.  J.B.F. has his grandson on his knee (J.B. Francis Champlin).  Since the boy looks to be about 4 and he was born in 1892, that would date this photo about 1896.  One of the salesmen is holding an over sized display knife from the factory’s trade show collection that would be displayed at Pan American Exposition in Buffalo in 1901.

JBF Champlin with Cattaraugus salesmen

J.B.F. Champlin with Cattaraugus salesmen

Tint Champlin is standing at the far left of the photo and A.E. Darrow is seated in front of Tint.  Photo courtesy of the Champlin family.

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