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Oct 28, 2012 07:53 AM

Older Cleavers - Anyone Know Anything About These?

I recently bought these two cleavers at an antique/flea market. I don't have any knowledge of cutting tools or cleavers and was hoping someone here might know something about these. I couldn't find much online so where else would I ask but here?:)
The larger one is marked Foster Brothers / Solid Steel / 2190 , has 3 rivets and is about 15 inches long. The smaller one is marked with a stamped USG between the first two of three rivets. The handle is leather. On one side of the blade it is marked USA and on the other what looks to be either the number 11 or the letter H, with Chicago USA underneath in a semi-circle (small lettering).
I'm sure they are not of any great value, but was just wondering about their age and who might have made them. And if anyone can tell me how best to sharpen them, that would be great as well. Currently they are pretty sharp and I must say that the smaller one made quick work of two chickens I was chopping up this morning.
Any information anyone can give me would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

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    1 Reply
    1. re: Mothership

      I have an old cleaver stamped FOSTER BROS. under that SOLID STEEL.

      But the distinguishing thing are the initials LC above C2190.

      I have not seen this type of marking anywhere in my research.
      Also the upper edge appears to have been hammered.

      Do you have any info or thoughts? I thought it might be the mark of LC ( Langdon Clark.) Foster (1864-1944) If this is the case, with that name, it would date back to 1878-1890.

      I have attached a few pictures.

    2. Hi, mothership:

      I, too, have a Foster Brothers cleaver.

      As for history: Foster Brothers was started in 1878 by Frank and Allie Foster in Fulton, (upstate) New York. Within a few years all of the Foster Brothers were involved in the business. Foster Brothers was acquired by Chatillon around 1900, but continued to produce knives in the Foster factory. Around the turn of the previous century, they mechanized the factory adding modern tools like power hammers; all knives prior were hand worked at an anvil. At the height of pre-WWII production they made over 500 different sizes and styles of knives the largest being a splitting knife for meat packers that had a 2 foot long blade and a 2 foot long handle (I have one of those, too). During WWII Foster Brother's production focused on cleavers and butcher knives which were used in the military's food supply chain. They produced more than 250,000 meat cleavers during the war. The factory was closed at some point during the early 50's because Chatillion decided to liquidate the Foster Brothers properties.

      You can determine the timeline of the company name that would have been marked on the blade. I have confirmed this with some knife collector online discussion boards:

      1878ish-1890 FOSTER BROS. (founding name of company)
      1891-1904 FOSTER BROS. COMPANY (incorporated under new name)
      1904-1953 FOSTER BROS. & CHATILLON CO. (acquired by Chatillon)
      1953-1956 FOSTER BROS.
      1957+ COLUMBIA CUTLERY CORP uses FOSTER BRO. LOGO, original plant closes

      My "small" one is an 1190 (9" blade, marked "FULTON BRAND MADE BY FOSTER BROS), so I'm not sure about how old it is. thought my knife was war era based on the fact that they produced so many during that time. But, the trademark on my blade shown below reads differently and the only times they were producing under that name was from opening to 1901 and in the 50's. The blades from the 50's that I saw online had much less patina and the engraving was much more pronounced and mechanized looking.

      How to best sharpen? These are *supposed* to be convex ground like an axe. I took mine to my bladesmith friend Bob Kramer, who rehandled it to match the custom hunter he made me. (On sale now on eBay!!!) Bob touched up the edge on a 2x72 belt machine using the slack-belt technique. You can approximate this at home with emery fabric tape to "shoeshine" the edge.

      Hope this helps.


      5 Replies
      1. re: kaleokahu

        PS There's also this. If you follow the "splitting knives" link at the left, there are 15 PAGES of photos of Foster cleavers

        1. re: kaleokahu

          You see, this is why I love Chowhound. Thank you for all this information. And I will be following the link to learn more. I love having older items like this is my kitchen - generally they do the job better than new and they just have so much more character. The smaller cleaver was just too cute to pass up too.

          Mahalo Nui loa, Kaleo
          (Hope I used that phrase correctly - I spent many vacations in my youth at the Royal Hawaiian) - but that was quite a while ago...

          1. re: Mothership

            E Mothership:

            A'ole pilikia. 'Ae, pololei 'oe on your phrasing.

            One advantage of these old-style kine cleavers is their weight. In most cases you don't as much swing them as let them drop. You see them all the time with near-pristine edges, yet with badly battered spines, evidence of them being cudgeled and hammered through stuff and holding up perfectly. My "splitting knife" (4 feet long) was used in my dad's slaughterhouse for several decades on hogs and mutton--no signs of appreciable wear. Needs to come out for Halloween, I think!

            Have Fun.

            1. re: kaleokahu

              I'd love to find a monster old splitter like yours.

              Ancient cleavers usually need tons of work to fix them. Rust, dried handles, years of sharpening all sorts of angles and grits make an edge that is a mess. I had to gut an Old Hicory that had massive pitting everywhere.

              I have a 9" blade old Lakeside cleaver to work on. Makes a nice attention getter. :)


          2. re: kaleokahu

            I recently came across a Foster cleaver. It said Foster Bros. Under that was the word Trade. Under that was an arrow with feathers pointed left. Under that was the word Mark.

        2. I have recently came across an old cleaver. The marking on it said "Foster Bros" with the word "Trade" then under that was a stamp that looks like an arrow point to the left, shaft, and feathers. Then under that was the word "mark". Has a wood handle with three rivots in the wood handle (good shape), and the top of the blade dosen't look hammered. Anyone make any sense of this?

          1 Reply
          1. re: Oldblademan

            Oldblademan, on here trying to date my cleaver.yours is identical to mine.mine also has the number ten stamped under the word mark. I'm pretty certain that is the blade length.good luck dating it,I sure would love the history on this old jewel.

          2. Anyone know anything about his?


            1 Reply
            1. re: creo420

              Hi, creo:

              I believe what you have there is a kindling splitting hatchet.

              That steep, 1-sided, RH bevel is meant to pop the split piece of kindling off to the right, while leaving the larger chunk of wood standing on your splitting block.


            2. Your Foster Bros cleaver was definitely made by Foster Bros Cutlery in Fulton, NY. My husband worked there and made them until 1962. They did not close in early 1950's but sometime after 1962.