If you are fortunate enough to attend this year’s 40th BLADE Show, when you initially walk into the mammoth show hall of the Cobb Galleria Centre, take a moment and look around you. Every table, every booth, every person and the exquisite atmosphere that screams knives! would not be if not for two people: BLADE Magazine Cutlery Hall-Of-Fame® members Bruce Voyles and Jim Parker.
It was Bruce and Jim who organized the first BLADE Show—advertised early on as The Blade Magazine 1982 Knife Show—at the Drawbridge Motor Inn in Fort Mitchell, Kentucky. (At the time, Jim and Bruce co-owned both the show and BLADE® Magazine.) Just across the Ohio River from Cincinnati, Ohio, the event drew 7,000 attendees, by the standards of the day a huge amount of folks for one knife show. Even now, other than the BLADE Show, few if any knife shows attract that many people.
Remember, this was all done long before there was an internet and social media to generate pre-show interest. Pre-show advertising was basically all print—mostly in BLADE—and by word of mouth. Add the fact that the knife industry itself was a shadow of what it is today in terms of numbers of factory knife companies, custom knifemakers and, most importantly, knife enthusiasts, and attracting 7,000 attendees is even more remarkable.
Bruce and Jim, the latter founder of Parker Cutlery, were nothing if not visionary marketers of knives and venues in which to market them. They knew that to make the BLADE Show really stand out, they would have to make it the focal point of all things knives. To do this, they had to establish the event as the be-all/end-all knife show.
One of the things that set the BLADE Show apart even back then was it gathered all segments of the cutlery industry—factory, handmade, antique, knife collections, etc.—all under one roof. While the concept had been tried before, it had never continued in an annual fashion the way the BLADE Show was about to do it under the direction of Jim and Bruce.
Another way to make the show unique was to establish awards that would be the factory knife industry’s equivalent of the movie industry’s Oscars. The awards would be the standard to which all factory knives and knife companies would aspire. The BLADE Magazine Knife-The-Year® Awards were the result, and they remain the most coveted factory knife honors to this day.
Bruce and Jim had the Knife-Of-The-Year concept covered, but what about a way for the show to memorialize its pioneers, the movers and shakers that made the knife industry the dynamic entity that it had been and would become even more so? The solution: the BLADE Magazine Cutlery Hall Of Fame®, with the latest members enshrined each year at the BLADE Show. Created for the 1983 event, it remains the industry standard to this day.
Jim and Bruce would continue to grow the show, moving it to the Holiday Inn & Convention Center in Knoxville, Tennessee, in 1984. In only its third year, with over 30 booths and almost 500 tables, it was vying for the title of the world’s largest knife show—if it wasn’t already.
Bruce bought out Jim’s interest in both BLADE and the BLADE Show in 1986, and moved the show to Atlanta and today’s Renaissance Atlanta Waverly in 1992. Bruce sold the show and the magazine to Krause Publications in 1994, and the event moved to the adjoining Cobb Galleria Centre in 1997, eventually evolving into the monster it is today, now under the ownership of Caribou Media Group LLC.
Jim passed away in 2004 but Bruce remains active in the knife industry as an auctioneer, show coordinator and author, among others. As of this writing, he had reserved BLADE Show booth No. 608. Unfortunately, he might not be able to attend this year’s show and if he does not, his beautiful wife Debbie and equally beautiful daughters Heather and Vanessa will be there to woman the booth. If he somehow is able to attend, he can answer any and all questions you have about knives, as well as the early history of the BLADE Show. Oh, and pack a lunch. He would have more tales to tell than a little bit.