REMEMBRANCES: SEPTEMBER 10, 2010
BOB LOVELESS 1929-2010
His Knives Pioneered Handmade Movement
By STEPHEN MILLER
Bob Loveless created some of the most sought-after knives. But what irked him about his chosen profession was that the soldiers and hunters his tools were meant to serve couldn't afford them.
Mr. Loveless, who died Sept. 2 at age 81, was renowned as a leading member of the small fraternity of American knife makers. His drop-point hunter's knife is considered by collectors to be the apogee of the knife-maker's art.
At his death, the wait time for one of his knives was two to three years, said Jim Merritt, a Loveless assistant hired in 1982, when the backlog stood at more than five years.
"He was the father of the custom-knife movement," said Steve Shackleford, editor of Blade magazine.
Mr. Loveless's knife designs were honed in part by his hunting experiences. During a stint in design school, he also was trained in functional Bauhaus design, making his knives sleek and ergonomic. Collectors say they can identify a Loveless knife in the dark just by the way it sits in the hand.
An Ohio farm boy who faked his papers to join the Merchant Marine at age 15 during World War II, Mr. Loveless's interest in cutlery was sparked by knife fights he saw in foreign ports, he once told Sports Illustrated.
Mr. Loveless made his first knife in a ship's machine shop using a leaf spring from a 1938 Packard automobile, and by the mid-1950s was turning out hand-forged blades sold at Abercrombie & Fitch, then an upscale sporting-goods retailer. His early efforts, created part-time while he worked as a machinist, were big blades patterned after those of another renowned American knife maker, Bo Randall.
But Mr. Loveless tinkered with the designs, making smaller blades that he felt better answered the needs of outdoorsmen—his hunting knife is a mere 3½ inches long. The specialty stainless steel he started using in the early 1970s has since been adopted industrywide, Mr. Shackleford said.
By 1969, Mr. Loveless had set himself up full-time as a knife-maker, and demand grew over the ensuing decade to the point that he once announced he would take no new orders.
Loveless knives also became popular in Japan, where Mr. Loveless said he was honored as a "sensei," or teacher, in a country with a long history of Samurai blades.
Chain-smoking, toothless and sporting a striped cap, Mr. Loveless cut a singular figure, often toiling alone in his Riverside, Calif., workshop until midnight with a .45 sidearm strapped to his belt. But he welcomed fellow knife makers and shared his techniques and designs with them.
"A knife is an atavistic experience," he told Sports Illustrated in 1980. "No matter how sophisticated we become, a knife takes us back to the cave."
Loveless hunting knives, fighting knives and boot knives sell new for $2,000 to $20,000 for the 8½-inch "big bear" combat knife. They gain value in the aftermarket; collectors have paid as much as $150,000 for a particularly rare model. Mr. Loveless professed to hate the markups, despite benefitting financially.
"The kind of American who acquires a lot of expensive things so that he can show them off to his peer group and thereby acquire more status is the kind of American that makes me puke," he said in the Sports Illustrated interview.