Blackie Collins brought The American Blade to an audience thirsting for knife news.
Editor’s note: This year marks BLADE®’s 50th anniversary. In recognition of that milestone, we are presenting a series of stories celebrating our half-century birthday. This time, how Blackie Collins founded the magazine then known as The American Blade.
Whether designing a new knife, making a knife of his own creation, flying along on a motorcycle—or starting a magazine—BLADE Magazine Cutlery Hall-Of-Fame® member Walter Wells “Blackie” Collins was a risk taker.
Fifty years ago, Blackie spearheaded the first issue of The American Blade, the original name of today’s BLADE® Magazine. It’s unlikely he ever thought his creation would endure as it has, or that it would grow to become the World’s No. 1 Knife Publication. But back then, the time was right to give it a try.
“I was in business with a friend of mine buying and selling knives, and Blackie would supply us with cutlery. He was an excellent custom knifemaker,” remembered Roger Aiple of New Orleans. “He was a close friend and you might say he was thinking about producing a magazine. He asked me what I thought about it, and, knowing Blackie and his dedication to knives, I said it was a great idea but that producing a magazine was not the easiest thing in the world.”
Aiple introduced Blackie to Mal Mele and Sonny Molenaar, the owner of Molenaar Printing Company, in nearby Metairie, Louisiana, and the three men worked out a deal. Apparently, Mele and Molenaar were willing to share some of their insights on how magazine production worked, including printing, distribution, and other nuts and bolts items. Then, of course, there was editorial content to produce, copy to be written, and photos to be taken and reproduced for the new publication.
Blackie devoted energy and ideas to The American Blade, and there were two very good reasons for his drive to see the magazine concept become a reality. “Can you think of a better way, if you’ve got knives or knife designs, to get with other knife companies and everybody in the business?” reasoned Susan Collins, Blackie’s sister-in-law and wife of his brother, Michael. “The American Blade opened the door for him to walk into a shop or factory and say, ‘Let me do an article on you or on this or that subject.’ Blackie knew everybody, and it helped to make him very successful and Michael, too.”
While Blackie was putting The American Blade together, Michael was working away in the brothers’ shop. He knew Blackie was up to something but wasn’t sure exactly what was going on.
“I was working on knives and grinding blades, and he wouldn’t tell me what he was doing,” Michael smiled. “It was a surprise to me, but he got it done and it turned out well. Sometimes Blackie would do things and people would wonder why. He did a really good job of putting the magazine together and getting it published, and I sat back and watched it happen.”
Michael related that the two knives that graced the first cover of The American Blade were both his creations. After all, something had to go on that first cover, right? “He would set his mind to something, and that is what he was going to do,” Michael said of his industrious brother. “Sometimes, he would go a while before he would tell you what he was doing.”
Voice Of American Knifemaking
Cutlery Hall-Of-Famer Bill Adams, owner of long-time knife retailer Atlanta Cutlery for many years, was responsible in large part for the excitement that surrounded the knives of Sheffield, England, in the magazine in the early to mid-1970s. Sheffield was a center of knife production in Europe, and the quality of its cutlery was unsurpassed in the factory setting from the late 18th century until the early 20th century. After Bill put in long hours and travelled to Sheffield to search through the old local knife factories and make some key purchases, he had become an authority on Sheffield knives and co-wrote/wrote two articles on the topic in the first two issues of The American Blade. He later advertised Atlanta Cutlery in the magazine, too.
“There was something happening back at that time, and I thought The American Blade was an important development in the knife field,” Adams explained. “Up to that time, there was practically no news or information about custom knives, factory knives, sales outfits, or anything else if you were interested in collecting. Seems like I did write some articles for the magazine, and we probably swapped payment for advertising.”
Adams was right. There was something happening in the knife world in the 1970s, and The American Blade made information available to an ever-widening readership. Longtime knife-and-gun writer and one of the founders of the American Bladesmith Society, Cutlery Hall-Of-Famer B. R. Hughes, once said, “In the latter part of the 1960s, A.G. Russell supplied me with a list of all the custom knifemakers he knew at that time. There were 21 names on the list. The American Blade appeared in 1973, and there are literally thousands of known makers in America today. This is due primarily to BLADE’s features on knifemaking, prominent knifemakers, techniques, materials and the like, as well as information on knifemaking schools and expositions. This dramatic explosion of custom makers would never have occurred without BLADE.”
And the big idea for The American Blade belonged to Blackie Collins. The magazine debuted with the May-June 1973 issue, and soon enough there was a buzz building up among knife people. Some of the most recognized custom makers in the industry were appearing with regularity in the pages of the magazine. D. E. Henry and Cutlery Hall-Of-Famer Bill Moran were members of its “Board of Editors,” while Bob Dozier made a knife that was given away in one issue to a lucky winner, a Mr. T. L. Cox of League City, Texas. Dozier, Moran, Lloyd Hale, Ted Dowell, Pat Crawford, Chubby Hueske, Herman Schneider, Cutlery Hall-Of-Famers Bob Loveless, Ron Lake, Buster Warenski, Wayne Goddard and Billy Mace Imel, and a host of other great custom makers were featured in one way or another in the succeeding issues. Dowell, Michael Collins, John Nelson Cooper, Jim Small, and Hueske also contributed giveaway knives that generated quite a swirl of excitement among early readers.
Bringing Knifemaking To The Masses
Blackie wrote a series for the magazine titled, “Understanding Fine Cutlery,” and did his best to spread the word on how to make knives, providing tips and pointers to up-and-coming makers. “There were a lot of people who wanted to learn how to make knives,” recalled Jane Collins, Blackie’s wife. “He had written a book about how knives are made, and he wanted to put the magazine out there to help new makers, too. It was so everybody could learn from it. He had learned from other people, and other people had learned from him.”
Jane remembers Blackie’s drive and commitment to various projects throughout his life, and The American Blade was an all-consuming endeavor for a while. “It caught on well. He was a writer, and he wrote and read constantly. He had the most interesting way of thinking about stuff,” she recalled. “He might be riding a motorcycle and have something come to mind and stop and write it down with a pencil and paper he carried. Sometimes, he woke up in the middle of the night and would run out to the workshop to make notes.”
Blackie always seemed to have a formula to make something go. His dedication to The American Blade in those early days was as intense as his new knife designs that always seemed to be in high demand.
“The magazine was such a good idea then because of our love of cutlery,” Roger Aiple observed. “We knew all of those first custom knifemakers, and the magazine was intended to promote knives. Blackie didn’t have any idea how to publish a magazine back then, but when I introduced him to Mal and to Sonny, they worked it out and helped him get it printed to start things.”
Soon after The American Blade got off the ground, Blackie must have felt that old familiar tug to move along to some new project. He had been listed on the magazine masthead as managing editor, editor and publisher, and of course, he had written articles as well. Some of the details from those days gone by have literally been lost to history, but it is safe to say that Blackie’s energy got things going, gave the publication the push that it needed, and set the stage for something that would have a far-reaching impact on the knife world.
“Blackie was the kind of guy that would put things together, make some money and move on,” Aiple observed. “He was a great custom knifemaker, but his heart was in designing knives and having someone else make them. He did sell the magazine. I think he had gotten tired. It was taking up too much of his time, and it does take a lot of time to put a magazine together, writing articles, getting advertising, having photos prepared.”
Blackie resigned from The American Blade within months of the magazine’s launch, and an announcement ran in the November-December 1974 issue. The new editor, William L. Cassidy, noted that his predecessor was moving on and commented on Blackie’s important role in establishing a solid foundation and tapping into the knife community so well. “Blackie is, after all, the fellow who began this magazine—who lived with it through triumph and failure alike—and for this we all certainly owe him a debt of gratitude,” Cassidy wrote.
Blackie worked on the first seven issues of The American Blade in 1973-74. He saw his creation grow and prosper, becoming the icon in the knife publishing world that it is today. After half a century, BLADE’s staying power is proven. It still delivers on the desire of its founder to spread the good word about knives, and its message is as enduring as one of Blackie’s great knife designs that so many people have carried and used with pride through the years.
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