Early Years FYI
What many people do not realize and until now I have now included on the site is the fact that BlackJack actually started out importing and marketing knives for Chris Reeve when Chris was still located in S. Africa. Below is an excerpt taken from Chris Reeves web site as it pertains to his companies early years and BlackJack. I suggest checking out the rest of his fine companies history by going to his web site and checking out the page about his companies history.
" When the sole proprietorship “Chris Reeve Knives” began trading in January 1984, it was from the single garage attached to the house in which Chris was living. He worked by himself, making and selling various designs of knives, including the early models of the one-piece design, in the local South African market. Early in 1985, he received his first inquiry from the United States. Shortly thereafter, a shipment of one-piece knives was exported to Moteng International in Los Angeles.
Because of the promise of regular and substantial orders from Moteng, he moved into a home with a larger garage in July 1985 and hired a young assistant. All the time, Chris was working at improving production methods and increasing production capacity. In November of 1985, he received an inquiry from American Manor House in Baltimore, MD who, during the next 12 months, made significant purchases.
The business had the potential for growth and because the South African market was limited, the growth had to come from export. Chris decided the best way to approach the export market actively was to exhibit at a Custom Knife Show in the United States. He applied for, and received, a table at the New York Custom Knife Show in November 1986. This show presented an opportunity for which Chris had been waiting a long time - to see how his work compared with the best in the world. It was very gratifying to see that his work was well on par; he made fairly good sales and met a vast number of new contacts.
Among the people he met was Mike Stewart who, together with a young South African, Steven Lewis, formed a company called Blackjack Knives early in 1987. Blackjack Knives took premises in Los Angeles and their plan was to import and sell the Chris Reeve range of one-piece knives as well as develop their own range. Between April and November, Blackjack purchased a large quantity of one-piece knives and they did an excellent job of promoting the product. However, the company was poorly managed and almost went bankrupt at the end of 1987."
On this page I would like to provide some basic background information on the early knives and history of the company. Here is part of a response from Jason Stewart when asked for information about the company's history. With a few notes added by me. This portion of Jason's reply deals with the pre Effingham years.
"Blackjack was the brainchild of Mike Stewart, back in 1986. After consulting with many of the most respected individuals in the knife industry, the venture was finally started in early, 1987. Originally to be called Excalibur knives, but that name was already trademarked within the industry. So....Blackjack Knives was born. The root of the name is even a mystery to me, the founders own son.
Mike and an investor were the original owners, but the investor did not have the discipline for business and shortly exited the partnership. " ( note. BlackJack started out in Chatsworth California. )
"Besides Mike and the original investor, there were only 3 full time employees; a secretary, a marketing guy and a sales guy. The first knife to be released was Mike Stewart's famous Mamba, that was panned by some as an oddity but praised by users for it's purity in cutting power, utility and fighting potential. These were all ground by Mike and the logo's were chemically etched on to the blade by Mike's secretary, Lodi.
At this time, as well, Blackjack Knives was also a distributor for Chris Reeves knives. You may actually run across some old adds in knife publications that mention this." (note. This was when Mr. Reeves was living in South Africa.)
"Blackjack quickly began to expand its line and began to import heavily from Japan. Some of these knives included the Blackmoor, Highland and Tartan Dirks, Anaconda I and II, the Marauder series, the Viking Raider Axe, Folding Mambas and stilettos, some VERY impressive Warner-Moran Bowies, the Safari Classic, The Loveless Warner, the mini-mamba (both full production and hand made Koji-Hara limited editions), the Jaeger, the Tracker, ZFM III, folding Kukri, Reinhardt Kukri and a few more that elude me, right now.
Though there was much praise given to the quality of these products, it was not that profitable to import from Japan, as the dollar was quite weak compared to the Yen, at that time. There were also qc and design issues that Mike had with the Japanese; He would send a design to Japan and NOT get exactly what he designed and sometimes the quality would be less than par.
Eventually the Japanese knife makers also began to allow European companies access to the tooling used for some of the models (namely the Blackmoor Dirk, Marauder, and Wasp (Hey...there's another model)). This created a flood of Blackjack knock-offs that were being sold at a fifth of the price of the Blackjack knives.
The time had come to move production to the US. Mike had a vision of reviving American manufacturing in the knife industry. Though rarely credited for it....when he took a chance and did this, others followed suit. Today the American knife industry is stronger than ever.
In 1991 (now in Van Nuys, CA) a group of un-solicited investors approached Mike Stewart about investing in his still relatively small operation. The proposal was sound and it afforded Mike the opportunity to give his family a better way of life. So, in late October of 1991, Mike and his family packed up and headed to Effingham, IL."
The knives that were made in Japan were done by The Kencrest Corporation in Seki city Japan, Harumi Suzuki, and of course there were the customs made by Koji Hara.
Before the company moved to Effingham IL they were located in the following locations, Chatsworth , CA circa 1987, Canoga Park, CA circa 1988, and Van Nuys, CA circa 1989-1991.