Old Sturbridge Village exhibits knives from 19th century to now

Date: 10/30/2015

STURBRIDGE – A new pop-up exhibit at Old Sturbridge Village, New England's premiere living history museum, explores the sharper edge of history with a display of Massachusetts-made knives from the 19th century to the present. The exhibit continues through Dec. 31.

On display in the Visitor Center and at the Bullard Tavern are dozens of expertly-crafted knives and cutting instruments from the nearly two centuries-old Dexter-Russell Inc. of Southbridge.

The story begins in 1818 when Henry Harrington began manufacturing razors, knives and surgical tools in a small workshop in Southbridge. He proudly stamped his work “Henry Harrington, Cutler to the People,” and he included an American eagle insignia. Harrington died in 1876, but his son Dexter took over the business.

In 1834, John Russell of Greenfield poured the fortune he had made in cotton speculation into a factory making chisels and axes. He soon changed over to making knives. By 1870 his “Green River Knife Works” had expanded and employed 500 men.

By 1933, as the Great Depression was at its height, Harrington Cutlery and J. Russell & Co. merged. The new company, Russell Harrington Cutlery Co., converted a woolen mill into a cutlery factory in Southbridge. In 2001, it adopted the name Dexter-Russell. Today they are the largest manufacturer of professional cutlery in the United States.

The Dexter-Russell exhibit at Old Sturbridge Village explores not only the fine craftsmanship of their products, but also the history of these homegrown Massachusetts companies, and the personal history of the families that operated them.

The exhibit includes an example of a Barlow knife, a style originally developed in Sheffield, England, but one that the John Russell Company became famous for, and the product remained popular for decades. Meanwhile, Dexter Harrington took advantage of Massachusetts' burgeoning shoe making industry, adding shoe making knives and shavers to the Harrington line.    

“The ‘cutler to the people’ would be proud,” noted Tom Kelleher, Old Sturbridge Village historian and curator of mechanical arts. “The exhibit includes some of Harrington's tools and both finished and unfinished knives, as well as dozens of historic knives from John Russell's Green River Knife Works, contrasted with many modern adaptions of unique historic designs.”

Admission to On the Cutting Edge of History: Dexter-Russell Knives is included with regular admittance to Old Sturbridge Village; $24 Adults, $22 Seniors (55 and older), and $10 for Youth (3 to 17 years old), and free for Children under 3, and OSV Members. For more information, visit www.osv.org or call 800-733-1830.