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The A/F

 

Specs:

Blade Length: 6.25" Weight: 9.5 oz.

Blade Thickness: .3/16"  Sheath: Leather

Overall Length: 11.25" Blade Steel: Most in 440a some in A2

Rc: 56-58

Handle: Lexan

 

 

 

 The A/F  was designed by Col. Rex Applegate with the help of several other folks as an improvement to the old Fairbairn-Sykes knife. I have decided to include this post from a few years back from writer William Cassidy. This post is from the old rec.knives board. Please keep in mind that the views of Mr. Cassidy are not necessarily the views of this site.

    I have added comments in various places to Mr. Cassidy's text to include  information I received from Sheldon Wickersham who was kind enough to share a lot of interesting history with me about the knife and the people behind it. Sheldon along with his wife Edna, are working on a book about the A/F and have  spent several years researching the history of the knife. The Wickershams had an article published in Knife World  about the A/F. The article appeared in September of 2005, and now can be viewed on the site thanks to both the Wickershams and the folks at Knife World. Due to the length of the article I have given dedicated a separate page to it. Applegate/Fairbairn Knife World Article page.

"This is response to the fellow who emailed me privately, but did not supply a valid return address (mail bounced back):

    Let me preface the following by saying that I fell out of touch with Rex Applegate over twenty years ago. We were personal friends for several years, and he assisted me both professionally and financially. I thought highly of him, but Rex had a cruel streak that could (and did) give offense.

    As he got on in years, he engaged in what I personally consider some rather wishful thinking. The last time I spoke with him was about four years ago, and the content of that conversation leads me to think his grasp on reality was faltering.

    In any event, Rex is dead now and unable to defend or explain himself, and I do not wish to be discourteous to his memory. I mention the above only by way of disclosing the sub-text to my particular point of view.

     In the 1970s, Rex hired me to do some work on a fighting knife. He had a prototype that had been made at the old Military Intelligence School at Camp Ritchie in around 1944 or 1945. It was basically a reconstructed F-S knife, but larger, and was meant to "beef up" the F-S concept. I went up to his lodge in Oregon to discuss the matter with him, and proximate to this, I also flew over to England to see John Fairbairn (W.E. Fairbairn's son).

     When I got back to the states, I visited Rex again and while sitting in his den, I noticed a riot baton in the corner. He started explaining why he liked that baton, because of the grooves in the handle, and I then suggested to him that we adopt something similar for his fighting knife [I did look into this claim and it does seem to be true. ed.]. He asked to see how that might work, so I sketched out a handle design almost identical to the one you see in the Boker production nowadays.

    Rex didn't like it very much, and sketched out something different, so I went down to Los Angeles and got a shop I knew to put out a blade prototype. I then went up to the Bay Area, and asked Al Jayne, then a police officer with Alameda P.D., to run up a slightly different prototype. I had a woodworker named Alden Amos run up several prototype grip treatments, as well.

    I took these up to Rex, and we fooled around with them for quite a while, and then we came down to San Francisco to see my business partner, Marc DeTristan. Bob Loveless was at that meeting, and Bob expressed some strong views on the grip issue
[Apparently at this meeting or soon after the feature of the grooves in the handle got the green light at least as far as Mr. Cassidy was concerned. When this happened according to my research, Bob Loveless stated that Barry Wood was the perfect person to make the knife. Mr. Loveless was Barry's mentor ed.].

    The upshot of all this was that Rex didn't care for our approach, so he went his way and we went ours, up until the point where our collective design started to make more sense to him, and then he came full circle. The result was what you see today in the Boker model (although ours was double-edged, not the bayonet grind they put out for legal reasons).

    Now, to call this an Applegate "Fairbairn" is to stretch the truth. Fairbairn didn't have anything to do with it
[This is also the case. In fact Col. Applegate never actually met Mr. Fairbairn ed.]. He was long gone from the 'States when Rex had the shop at Camp Ritchie make the first prototype, and his own ideas for an improvement on the F-S were a far cry from Rex's ideas, as evidenced by the Fairbairn-Millerson design, and Fairbairn's own "Cobra" design for the Cyprus Police.

    Rex incorporated Fairbairn into the project because he held Bill Fairbairn in very high regard, and he was always looking for ways to help Fairbairn's daughter, who by this time was a retired pensioner living in the South of England. I held similar ideals, so when I republished Fairbairn's books, I always used to send her royalties even though we had no legal requirement to do so. I therefore understand his thinking on the subject, and I consider it a noble gesture on his part
[While the above sounds very noble, the Col. also wanted to capitalize on the now famous Fairbairn name by crediting him as being a co-designer. This of course has had a very positive effect on the sales of A/F's over the years.]

    Still, in the interest of historical accuracy, you must understand that the design of the so-called Applegate-Fairbairn was a collective effort by many, many different knife designers and knife makers, each of whom made their own little contribution, and Fairbairn had nothing to do with it at all
[Some of the folks that were involved are as follows, Col. Applegate, Bob Loveless, William Cassidy, Barry Wood, T.J. Yancey, Al mar, and Bill Harsey. I am sure that over the years others have had an influence on the design ed.].


    A few small points: the Boker A-F is flawed because you cannot orient the blade in the dark. The original design is double-edged. The quillion treatment is wrong (with all due deference to the late Al Mar who, I believe, is the author of that), and the serrations under the thumb and forefinger work against you, not for you. We had that issue managed with stippling or cross-hatching in those same areas, but I guess it was a production call.


    If you want to come close to the "purest" state this design ever had, regrind the Boker blade as a double edge, use a straight guard, file off the thumb and forefinger serrations and sharply stipple (or cross-hatch) the resulting depression.

    As it stands, Boker's Applegate knife (as I call it) is an expression of Rex's vision, because ultimately, it was the one he liked in production
[At the time of the Col.'s death I believe he was still happy with Boker's efforts. They have the distinction of being the only knife company out of all the companies that made the A/F over the years to have satisfied the Col. ed.]."

Here is a follow up to the above post. His initial post generated quite a lot of interest and a lot of questions which led to this second post.

    "In response to those several collectors who wrote to me asking for photos, documentation, etc. reference my previous remarks on the Applegate-Fairbairn, I have placed a few items on the web at http://209.1.162.247/fairbairn.html (This url is no longer active.)

    I also went back through my files and extracted all the correspondence that passed between Applegate and myself; it did help to jog my memory.

   
The custom knife maker who built the first prototype for me was Barry Wood. He did a fine job, as the photos illustrate [There are other blade blanks and parts that were made at the time that the knife shown below was made. ed.].



    Thereafter, Rex took the project to T.J. Yancey, of Estes Park, Colorado [It is my understanding that the last custom knife maker that was involved with the A/F project and the Col. was William Harsey.]. Rex distributed the Yancey version on his own, for $350., including a copy of a book I wrote entitled Complete Book of Knife Fighting (autographed by himself).

  
 I now see it was T.J. Yancey who first used the quillion treatment and the thumb notches, not Al Mar (although for some reason my memory tells me Al
had something to do with it).
 

     I have decided to add an additional page with more of Mr. Cassidy's musings, which cover a variety of knife related topics, especially regarding  Mr. Sykes, Mr. Fairbairn and, Mr. Applegate as well as others well known in the world of knives. I have also removed massive amounts of information that are somewhat related to the history of the A/F, Rex Applegate, and W.E. Fairbairn. This information can now be found on a separate page titled A/F Related History by clicking on the link.

   
    The BlackJack made examples  were first introduced in 1993. Most of the knives had blades in 440a There were approx. 1500 to 1700 with A2 blades.  I have recently learned that the switch to A2 was done late in production. I have been told that it started being used at about 4200 or so.  The length of the blade is 6". The knives came with at least two different sheaths. One was a leather sheath and one was a nylon sheath. I have seen early knives with both types and later examples with both. According to vintage factory literature there was also supposed to have been an optional quick release sheath which was supposed to become available in the Spring of 1994. The sheath was describe as being  Kydex lined  Povior Suede. I have never encountered one of these though I have seen a picture of one. The handles on these tended to develop cracks around the thong hole. Also I do recall there being a problem with the lead weights that were used in the handle to improve balance. In one large batch the weights were loose in the handle and they rattled a bit if you shook the knife. One very important thing to keep in mind when collecting these is the fact that the serial numbers do not necessarily indicate when the knife was made. The company jumped around a bit on the numbering of these.

 

 

Here is the page on the AF from the 1993 catalog. 

 

 

    Below is an example of the standard version with the leather sheath. This is number 6669. The lowest numbered black handled examples are 00000 (there may be more than one of these), and 00000P (there are a few of these with that same number). Those two numbers were used for knives that were part of a three knife set. The sets consisted of one Green handled knife, one black handled knife, and one with a white handle to round out the set.  There is at least one set that was marked 00000 and a few sets numbered 00000P. It is believed that all of these sets originally went to the designer of the knife Col. Rex Applegate. I believe most of these sets were presented to a select group of individuals by the Col..

 

 

    First up is this rare green Lexan handled example. The green as well as white Lexan was supplied by the designer of these knives Col. Rex Applegate . According to information I have received the green Lexan was used up on the first 20 or so A/F's. To clarify the first 20  knives do not all have the green handles. I am not sure at this time just how many of those first knives were made with this color handle. I do know that numbers 00000, 00000P (there are a few with that same number), 00003, 00007, 00010, 00011,  00019, 00020, and 00025 (originally though 00025 now has a black handle) do. I also know that numbers, 00001, 00002, 00017, and now 00025, have the standard black handle. The knife pictured below is number 00010 and the sheath is the nylon version. Fellow collector Mark Miller contacted me recently and told me that number 00025 also had at one time the green Handles. Below is what Mark had to say about that knife.

    "Some years ago, '94 or '95, I bought an AF by mail order. Maybe from Knives Plus. When I received the knife, I was surprised that the handle was green, and cracked at the lanyard hole. Not knowing any better, I returned the knife to Blackjack for warranty repair. They explained there had been problems with cracking, but did not comment on the rarity of the green handles. A black handle was put on the knife. When I got the Knife back,  the handle did not line up real well. By that time, Boker had taken over production of the AF, and I bought one of theirs also. The fact that the handle on the Blackjack Knife did not line up got on my nerves and I sent it back again. They acknowledged receipt of said Knife and said it would be awhile. I never saw the knife again......AF serial no. 00025 was not sent back to me."

     If anyone knows what happened to that knife please email me. I am interested in knowing if the handles were once again replaced and if so what color the present handle is.




 

 

Now here is a real tear jerker to a collector. This is number 00019. As you can see from this series of pictures this knife is plagued by not only the usual cracking that occurred on most examples of this model, but is the worst case I have seen to date. This creates quite a dilemma as there are extra black handles sets floating around. In fact the owner of this particular knife has a set. So the question is do you have the knife re-handled or not? I myself would not due to the scarcity of the green handled BlackJack made A/Fs. But it is a tough choice!

 

 

 This page seems to receive more updates than any other page on this site. Luckily for us collectors there is a lot of information out there concerning this particular model. When I first added this page to the site it appeared that only one of the BlackJack A/Fs was  made with a white Lexan handle. This was  number 00000 shown below. That knife is part of a three knife set that share the same serial number in each of the three handle colors. As you have read in the description of the green handled knives above we do know that 00000 (there may be more than one of these), 00000P (there are a few of these with that same number),00003, 00007, 00010, 00011, 00019, and 00020 have the green handle and 00001, 00002, 00017, and now 00025  have the black handle. I suspect that numbers, 00004, 00005, 00006, 00008, 00009, 00012 - 00016, and 00018 could have white handles. Several prototypes were made that were not numbered. There are at least 17 (I am pretty sure there are more),  with white handles that were not numbered. There is a sales sample that has a white and black handle (I don't count this one as being one of the 17), which is also not numbered. However I am quite sure that some of those knives have the black handle. If anyone has one of those knives please contact me and let me know what handle color your knife has.

    At one time fellow collector's Edna, and Sheldon Wickersham, (Currently working on a book dedicated to Col. Applegates designs, especially the A/F.), And I thought that this was the only White handled A/F Blackjack that was still in existence. The serial number is 00000.

 

    Here we have the only other white handled BlackJack that I know of at this time, other than a salesman's sample that is white on one side and black on the other. If you know of another one please email the webmaster. Note the that this knife does not have a rubber washer between the guard and the handle thus there is quite a gap. If you ever wondered why they used those washers now you know. According to Bill Adams who was kind enough to sell me the knife, all the handles not just the green and white ones were supplied by the Col.

    The reason that Col. Applegate did this was so he would know exactly how many knives were made. This meant he would know how much he had coming to him in the way of royalty fees. I don't know who made the handles but they were not made to the spec's that were supplied to BlackJack. The blades blanks were made according to the supplied specs. Thus the tangs of the blades were to long for the handles. I don't know why they just did not shorten up the tangs but I am guessing that it has something to do with the cost and the time that would have been involved to do so. So the quick fix ended being those washers. The only marking on the knife is Prototype. There is no serial number on the guard. Also there is no thong hole tube. Though clearly there is a thong hole which was molded into the handle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

    There were quite a lot of  blade blanks left over from these knives after production of the A/F had been stopped by Col. Applegate. Some of these blades were used for an Ek dagger. I know of two variations of these knives. One used Coco-bolo for the handle material and one employed buffalo horn for the handle material. All told there were only about 25 of these made. Both knives used brass guards and brass pins.

 

 

 

 

 

   

                                                                        

   

                                                                                                               

   

                                                                                                                                                                          

 

    Rex Applegate's estate was auctioned off on Sunday September 26th, 1999, by the fine folks at J.C. Devine Inc. http://www.jcdevine.com/ . The folks at J.C. Devine have been kind enough to allow me to post photo's and text from the auction catalog here on the site.

    Mr. Applegate's collection was interesting to say the least. Rex collected knives and firearms. The firearms are very interesting because the theme of that collection was "Guns of The Famous Shooters". The famous shooters were legends such as Ed Mcgivern, Ad Topperwein, Elmer Keith, Charles Askins, Bill Jordan, and Gus Peret. Many folks are familiar with most of the men in that group with the exception of Gus Peret. Gus was an exhibition shooter for Remington/Peter's and also is Col. Applegate's Uncle. Gus is probably the one that taught the Col. how to handle firearms, and may have been the one that first introduced him to fine cutlery.

    The Col. inherited his uncles collection of both knives and firearms.  Apparently Gus had quite a collection of Remington knives which is not surprising. While I realize many people who collect knives do not care much for firearms I do know many who do. I myself was an active collector of firearms for several years until I got hooked on knives. There were so many interesting pieces in these collection of both guns and knives that I have decided to eventually include everything that was in the auction on the site. I believe this will give folks an idea of what Rex Applegate was like and what he was interested in. I will start by adding the BlackJack's from his collection and will add the other items over time. Special thanks to Patrick Mullen who is the Consignment Coordinator and J.C. Devine.

 

BlackJack made A/F's

 

Page showing a 1-7

                   

Valkerye axe

 

A/F Displays

 

 

A/F Proto Etc. by Boker

    

                                                      

 

 A/F proto, SOF ,Etc. By Boker

    

 

                    

            A/F's and a Smatchet             

                                

                           

 

Applegate books and Smatchet Display board

                                                              

           

 

O.S.S. Proto and a Custom made Smatchet

                                                                           

        

 

 

                                Custom Smatchets by William Harsey                        

                                                

                    

                                                                                                                        

 

    Smatchet Prototypes

        

        

 

      

 

      Smatchets by Buck Knives 

       

   

  

                                                                                                                            

 

American Historical Foundation 6 piece set made by Wilkinson Sword

        

       

                                                                    

                                                                   

          F/S knives and Applegate book

             

             

                                                                                                                                                      

                                                                                                                                                                                                             

 

Smatchets by Al Mar

   

                                        

 

    A/F's by Al Mar

 

                                                                                                             

                                                                                                                       

              

 

Mini Smatchet Prototypes by William Harsey and a First Production A/F by Boker.

                                            

             

                                                                                                                           

 

Prototype A/F Folders Handmade and Factory made.

                                                                                                                                                                       

                                                     

                                                                        

 

 

                                                

 

 

                                                                             

 

 

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