Requiem To A Titan

A.G. Russell's Unmatched Contribution
To The Cutlery Industry
12

Simply stated, A.G. Russell was a giant in the cutlery industry whose impact will live forever. On October 12, 2018, Arkansas native A.G. passed away at the age of 85, leaving behind a lifetime of personal achievements unmatched in the history of modern American cutlery. Russell was best known for being an entrepreneur and a pioneer in mail order knife sales, but this is only a part of his story. A.G. was also a walking encyclopedia of knifemaking and manufacturing history. He also possessed an extraordinarily keen insight into knife design and many of his own creations can be found in the volumes of A.G. Russell Knives mail order catalogs and on the shelves of his namesake retail store in Rogers, Arkansas.

They say behind every great man stands a great woman — and in A.G.’s case this is certainly true. Goldie Russell, his wife of many years, has an incredible business mind and was able to grow the company by leaps and bounds while Russell concentrated his efforts on product. Together they took the company’s catalogs to new heights, building a mail order empire unmatched in polish and class.

We recently had the opportunity to talk with both Goldie and Phil Gibbs, A.G. Russell Knives’ chief engineer,who committed A.G.’s designs to CAD and oversaw their production. All of the knives we’ve featured in this tribute are designs created and produced by Russell.

Wharncliffe Lockback India Stag

Sandbox Bowie

The Early Times

We asked Goldie to tell us how A.G. got started in the knife business. “A.G. was born in Eudora, Arkansas, on August 27, 1933.” Goldie tells Handgunner. “He grew up all over the country because his father served in the Army during World War II. He lived in the Houston area, in Fayetteville and Hot Springs, Arkansas, in New Jersey, in California — his father was Provost Marshal for the 6th Army there — and in Hof, Germany where his father was Provost Marshal for the U.S. controlled area.

“He became interested in knives at a very young age when his grandfather put him to forging a blade to keep him underfoot,” Goldie continued. “That interest continued through his young life and his early career. He bought and gave away knives during his years in California and always carried pocketknives. When A.G. moved back to Arkansas in 1964, he started selling Arkansas sharpening stones through small ads in American Rifleman and Guns and Ammo, which gradually led to offering knives in those same ads. That was the beginning of his mail order company.”

Nearly two decades later A.G. Russell Knives would shift gears into the powerhouse it is today. “A.G. and I met in 1982 when we were both recently divorced,” Goldie shared. “We married in the summer of 1988 and I began to work with him full time in January 1989. We made a pretty good team. I had been a high school art teacher with a major in Art and a minor in English. That training has been very valuable in building catalogs and other marketing materials.

“A.G. was bold and creative in designing knives and in promoting knives, his own or those made by others, and also in promoting the cutlery community as a whole. He taught me to write the way he thought, how he wanted his company run, and how he wanted his customers to be treated. He designed knives and worked with the manufacturers who made them. He spent much of his time promoting A.G. Russell Knives and knives in general.”

One Hand Knife

Folding Gents Hunter

Entrepreneur & Designer

A.G. Russell’s exposure to the cutlery industry across the many decades he worked in it gave him keen insight into every facet of the business. There is literally no phase of the cutlery world he didn’t touch in some form or fashion. “A.G.’s knowledge of the planet’s knife industry was, I believe, unparalleled,” stated Goldie. “His understanding of the techniques and methods of manufacturing in the major cutlery regions of the world — from the northeastern U.S. to Solingen, Germany to Sheffield, England and Seki City, Japan — allowed him to choose the perfect project for each factory that produced knives for him. He would then push them to expand their capabilities and to adopt some foreign techniques.”

Arising out of this immense experience came his incredible knowledge of knife design. Russell knew what looked good and what didn’t, what worked and what didn’t — then he took the best of the good and added his own touches. Phil Gibbs explained, “His grasp of traditional knife patterns and blade shapes was astonishing. We studied literally hundreds of them together by importing a sample into CAD. Each time he would then design his own version. Sometimes he would blend two or three antique patterns to produce a totally new one!
“A.G. embraced a ‘What if?’ approach to design,” Phil continued. “He explored how to make traditional knives more tactical, as well as how to make tactical knives more traditional. A.G. was committed to constant improvement. Sometimes we would review a design he had completed several years before and completely redesign it.”

Gibbs added, “He was also passionate to increase the quality of his knives — from using better materials to even instructing the factory to polish the inside of his knives before assembly. It was this constant drive to do better that kept A.G. Russell spinning like the well-tuned top it is today.”

Left:Sting 3 Right: Original Sting

Folding Cook’s Knife II

The Russell Legacy

We asked Goldie to give us some final thoughts on her late husband and where A.G. Russell Knives goes from here. “The things I admired most about A.G. were his honesty and his ethics. He had strong opinions and he stood for what he believed — even when it might have been more financially advantageous to have not. He believed people deserved to be treated fairly. When a situation arose with a customer, he would err on the side of the customer. From the beginning in the late 1960s and early 1970s, he provided a strong influence in setting the tone for what became the knife industry.”

Russell had many accomplishments over the years, too many to name here, but none more important than the fact he is the guy who introduced the public to custom knifemakers — both through his mail order empire and conceiving and helping found The Knifemakers’ Guild, the preeminent organization of custom knife artisans.

A.G. Russell Knives will carry on under the skilled guidance of Goldie and Phil — and A.G. left a lot behind for the company to carry on his tradition. “Over the past several years A.G. worked tirelessly to design and develop new knives, building a library of knife designs which he intended for us to produce. A.G. Russell Knives will continue with those plans. Members of our team have been trained well by A.G.,” Goldie explained, “and the company will continue in the direction he has laid out for us.”

A.G. Russell will be truly missed in the cutlery industry, but it’s heartening to know his unparalleled legacy will carry on for many years to come.

For more info: www.agrussell.com, Ph: (800) 255-9034

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