"Case Trappers" by Tony Foster

[from the December 1998 KNIFE WORLD] Tested trapper
In the thirties, a brand-new Case Tested trapper cost pennies. Today, a pile of hundred dollar bills bigger than this wouldn't do it! Robert Deweese collection.

If there is any pattern more popular than Case trappers I would like to know what it is. Practically every Case collector has collected trappers at one time or another. At one time there was the Case Trapper Club. Many knife clubs have used this pattern as their club knife year after year. There have been more Case trappers etched and boxed after market than all other patterns combined with room to spare. A 100 car freight train could not contain them. There are probably 50-100 different John Wayne trappers alone. Bear Bryant should not go unnoticed here. They can be found with anywhere from one to five blades. I once saw one that had been customized with 10 blades. There was talk of one with 100 blades- comes complete with a wheelbarrow to tote it in. Not recommended for a knife fight because you would be cut to shreds before you could get it open - but enough foolishness!

Case has probably made trappers with every handle material known to man: several different woods, lots of compositions and bone and stag dyed every color in the rainbow. They even made a set in recent years called the Rainbow Set.

No pattern has been counterfeited more (with the one exception of whittlers) than the trapper. I have seen them with every handle material and tang stamp imaginable. This article will not delve into fake trappers (suggested reading is Counterfeiting Antique Cutlery by Gerald Witcher, available from NKCA or Knife World) but rest assured that they are out there in numbers, some good - most bad. The two most - asked questions I hear are: 1) Is this a muskrat blade?, and 2) Is this a First Model? Maybe after reading this article you will be able to tell the difference yourself and pass this information on to others.

First I will discuss Tested trappers (1920-1940). Authentic Tested trappers are truly a thing of beauty. The whole knife just drips with character. The master blade is very pointed and has a real long “swoop.” The frame has a narrow neck and the bolsters are much more narrow or thin if you wish. Any knowledgeable collector will surely be impressed when viewing a tested trapper in mint condition for the very first time. The spey blade is not nearly as impressive as the master blade and does not differ a whole lot from the spey blade of a dotted trapper.

To my knowledge the trapper was not made before the Tested XX stamp. I believe it was introduced at some point after 1920 because it is common knowledge that early Tested knives had all blades marked and usually had the pattern number on one of the blades. I make this statement because the Tested trapper does not exist with the spey blade marked and never has a pattern number.

Sometime during the early Tested era, Case discontinued using the pattern number on its knives and a little later on stamped only the master blade. There are a few exceptions to this loose rule, but beware of any Tested trapper that has the spey blade marked.

Tested trappers were handled in winterbottom bone (very rare), greenbone, early Rogers bone, redbone (beware), stag, red stag, yellow composition, cracked ice and a very striking red second cut something. The jury is still out as to whether it is second cut stag or second cut bone. I vote for bone. Your guess is as good as anyone’s as to which one it is, but you can rest assured you will be impressed when you gaze upon one of these beauties. I have never seen a complete collection of mint tested trappers but I am sure it would be a sight to behold.

Next, we will take a look at Case XX trappers. Nothing causes more confusion among collectors than Case XX trappers. Tested Frame?, First Model?, Muskrat blade? These are the most frequently asked questions. Personally, I don’t believe there are any Case XX trappers with a muskrat blade. These are reserved for USA trappers. I must admit that I have seen a few with blades much slimmer than normal but I believe these were just ground a little more than usual, and are not a true muskrat blade.

The earliest XX trappers are what are referred to as the Tested Frame variety. Tested Frame trappers are exactly the same as Tested trappers except for the tang stamp. It is as if the Case employees came to work one morning and changed the tang stamp and nothing else. Tested Frame trappers have the same pointed master blade with the long swoop and the frame has the narrow bolsters. Like Tested trappers, you will never see a pattern number on these knives.

The enclosed photo will show the evolution of the the bolsters on the Case XX trappers. The bottom photo is that of a stag tested trapper. (Knife courtesy of Robert DeWeese of Starkville, MS). A Tested Frame XX looks exactly like this. Just above is the First Model variety and the top knife is a regular Case XX trapper. Notice as time passed the handle material got shorter and the bolsters became thicker.p> Now a word about shields. Earlier Case shields had a closed “C” and are referred to as Tested Shields. Later shields had an open “C” and are referred to as XX shields. These shields also had a tall “S” even newer shields had a shorter “S” and are called USA shields. These were used up until recently.

Shield variations

Top to bottom: Tested shield, XX shield, USA shield.

You will see Tested trappers with both the closed and the open “C” shields. Both are OK and right as rain. Most Tested frame XX trappers will have the earlier closed “C” shields. The reason for this remains a mystery to this day. It is one of these things that make you go Hmmmmm. I can’t for the life of me figure this one out and haven’t found anyone smarter than me who can explain it to me to my satisfaction. Just accept it as fact and let’s go on.

Tested Frame XX trappers can be found in all the same handle materials with a few exceptions. I have never seen one with winterbottom bone, cracked ice or yellow composition. That doesn’t mean they didn’t make them, it just means I’ve never seen one.

As for pricing, Tested Frame XX trappers will bring almost as much as Tested trappers- maybe a couple hundred dollars less but still quite expensive in mint condition and they, like the Tested trappers are quite rare. You seldom see them offered for sale these days.

Next on the agenda will be First Model Case XX trappers. They were made later than the Tested Frame variety and are really fairly common and can be obtained without a great deal of difficulty. Most all of these will have a pattern number, but I have seen a few without it. All will have the “XX” type shield. The master blade is not as pointed as the Tested Frame and does not have the long swoop. The bolsters are a little wider (see photo). Handle materials are bone, redbone, greenbone (a few), early Rogers bone (even fewer), stag, red stag, yellow and flat yellow. Since they are so common they are not nearly as expensive as the Tested Frames. I will admit that red stag , redbone, greenbone and early Rogers are over $1,000, but most of the rest can be found for about $500 or less.

Trapper frames
How to tell trapper frames apart, left to right: Tested frame, First model XX frame, Regular XX frame. Note the differences in bolster width.

The Regular Frame Case XX trappers have a more contemporary look about them. Their bolsters are thicker and handle material is shorter than on the First Models. They are not much unlike their newer USA cousins. Handle materials are very much like the First Models except I have not yet seen one with red stag and have seen only one each in greenbone and early Rogers, both of which are very rare. All have the XX shield and all have the pattern number. Again, none have the muskrat master blade.

USA trappers look very similar to the Regular Frame XX trappers but handle materials do differ somewhat. Gone are the redbones, greenbones and early Rogers bones. They were apparently discontinued several years before 1965. What you will find is the introduction of second cut stag and second cut bone. There has been much debate about these two handle materials. From all that I have read or heard from collectors and old time traders, second cut stag came about when the outside natural texture of an antler was cut away you would have a piece of stag that had no natural texture left on it. This stag was then cut into pieces looking much like bone. This was then jigged and dyed a pretty orange color. Knives with these handles were usually stamped with a 5 number to designate genuine stag. They can be found on trappers, large congresses (88 pattern) and the big 75 pattern stockman. Apparently some of this material was dyed an unusual brown or maroon color. Knives with this handle material were stamped with a 6 pattern number, designating bone. It is found only on USA trappers. There are still some other USA trappers with what appears to be second cut bone handles. The color is different from the above mentioned material and looks exactly like regular bone except for the jigging pattern which is exactly like second cut stag. All three of these materials are found on knives with both regular and the muskrat master blades.

Stainless trappers were first introduced during the USA period. The first stainless trappers had a brushed finish and were etched “Case XX Stainless” lengthways on the master blade. All of these had what I call a flat grind. All other USA trappers were hollow or concave ground, both stainless and carbon. The next stainless trappers had a brushed finish and were etched “Case XX Razor Edge” on the master blade. These are known as regular USA Stainless trappers. They also made stainless trappers with polished blades. Handle materials were bone, stag, yellow composition, second cut stag (orange color) second cut stag (maroon color) and second cut bone. All can be found with the muskrat blade, both in carbon and stainless steel (polished and brushed). The lone exception is the First Model Stainless. I have never seen or heard of one of these animals.

It is an unusual thing that Case only made trappers with muskrat blades during the USA era. No XX’s and no 10 dots. That is only one of the many questions I will have for Case employees who made decisions during this period when we meet in the hereafter.

muskrat blade or not?
Master blade variations on U.S.A. trappers: at top is the wider "regular blade," at bottom the more narrow "muskrat blade." Muskrat-blade trappers are rare and command higher prices than those with the regular blade.

10 Dot trappers are very much like USA trappers. Several varieties of USA’s were discontinued by 1970. There are no muskrat blades or polished stainless. Second cut stag was used only on a very few 10 Dot trappers, probably less than a half dozen. I have owned only one. I have also owned one second cut bone 10 Dot trapper. That specimen is the only one I have ever seen or heard about. I know of two more rare 10 Dot trappers that deserve mentioning. First is the large stamp stainless. These are seen most often with 8 dots but almost never with 10 dots. Rare knife. Second is the gut hook variety. After the blade is stamped out they are ground down to accept a cutting edge. The gut hook appears on the spey blade. This particular variety is ground down to approximately 1/2” from the end to provide a blunt end so it will be easy to skin an animal without cutting the “innards.” It is reported that Case made only six of these as prototypes but must have decided it was too much sugar for a nickel. These last four rare Case 10 Dot trappers all reside in Florida with the largest 10 Dot collection I know about. He has over 280 different variations at this time. 10 Dot collectors, eat your heart out!

Three trappers
Top: XX trapper, regular frame. Middle: XX trapper, first model frame. Bottom: Tested trapper.

Much can be written about Case trappers and I have made a feeble attempt to answer a few questions and clear up some misconceptions that might be nagging some of you collectors. I have no doubt made a few mistakes here but you know what they say- if you don’t make a mistake once in awhile you ain’t doing nuthin’! Trappers are a very good pattern to collect because there has always been a great demand for choice specimens. Now go out there, shake the bushes and find a nice rare Case trapper to add to your collection. Till next time, God Bless.

Copyright 1998, Knife World Publications

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