The region surrounding Cattaraugus County was once home to nearly 200 cutlery companies, although today there are only a handful left. The point of The American Museum of Cutlery, therefore, is to preserve this area’s sterling heritage. But the museum also has niche displays of cutlery from all eras and locations, including pre-Columbian artifacts and 17th-century implements from Massachusetts.
The museum was created by Patrick Cullen, whose vision requires that the knives on display tell personal stories of their usage and owners rather than be merely objects qua objects. One example is a knife once owned by local resident John D. Merritt, who donated the Kinfolks knife he kept strapped to his leg while flying his Grumman Torpedo Bomber Fighter in the Pacific theater during World War II. Another is a pocket knife carried by a local Civil War soldier who served in the 154th New York Volunteer Infantry at the battle of Gettysburg.
But pride of place is taken by a lead came knife used by Dr. Rudolph R. Sandon, who used it to create the stained glass windows commissioned by President George H. W. Bush for the chapel at Camp David. Sandon was not only a well-known stained glass artist in Europe, but also was reportedly a former body guard of Benito Mussolini and was exfiltrated from Italy by Wild Bill Donovan and later decorated by Charles de Gaulle.
Cleaving to the policy that the knives on display must have compelling personal stories adds much to the additional exhibits of local cutlery manufacturers like the one dedicated to the Cattaraugus Cutlery Company. Founded by William Case of the now famous W.R. Case and Sons Co., the knives produced in Cattaraugus were chosen by luminaries like Admiral Byrd, who took them on his expedition to the South Pole.
Next time you are passing through New York’s Southern Tier, be sure to carve out some time for this museum. You’ll be dazzled by tales of bare bodkins in this enchanting hamlet.
Know Before You Go
The museum is open Thursday through Sunday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.