Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Vintage Knife: Imperial "Kamp King."

Imperial was a great company that was for all intents and purposes one half of the "Imperial Schrade." For many, many years Imperial made knives in Providence, Rhode Island. Later moving overseas to Ireland in the late 80's for economical reasons. Their quality still remained the same, fortunately. Now there is a story behind this knife. This was the first knife my mother ever bought me.

I was I believe eight years old. My school had established an after school program similar to the Earth Service Corps other schools have. Meant to get children interested in the outdoors and the natural world. To make a long story short I needed a new sleeping bag for a camping trip (My first alone.) the program had planned. My mother quite happily took me to Wal-Mart and bought me a new sleeping bag. I somehow talked her into letting me get a new pocket knife for the trip. Convincing her to let me have a new pocket knife for a trip I would be alone, with about twelve other children and a few adults, must have been a feat in and of itself.

Not quite sure how I pulled that off. But I did. Overtime I lost that knife, though. Through the smoke and haze of time I remembered very little about the knife. It became important to me several years ago to find that model of knife and find again for my collection. It signified a few hallmarks in my short life. The fine people at KnifeForums.com and BladeForums.com were very helpful. They knew exactly what knife and model it was.
I was fortunate enough to find a new, in package "Kamp King" for $4.99 on eBay. One actually older than the one I had. This one has a trademark on the package of 1986. Incredible. This pattern is what many call the "scout" or "camper." If you're familiar at all with the Victorinox "Pioneer" and it's military variant the "Soldier" then you know the origin of this design. Imperial/Schrade and other knife companies mass produced this pattern for about 50 years. The "Kamp King" itself dates back to around 1955 or so. Camp knives meant for scouts, basically. It was part of their "Jackmaster" lineup.

It's also a bit of a sad reminder of how things "used to be." Imperial made economically friendly knives for Wal-Mart under their own label and the "Ozark Trail" brand for around two decades. You could walk into any Wal-Mart and find one of these or a similarly badged (Ozark's had red nylon scales) version for about $5. And while they were made "overseas" their quality was still the same beneath the budget friendly die cast metal bolsters and plastic scales. Based on what I remember from my youth the original one I had, eventually had blades turned quite black. Perhaps a mid-level carbon steel was used similar to the "Old Timer" model steel.

For collectors they're both valuable and worthless. Valuable for sentimental reasons and worthless because they made them in fairly prolific numbers. As I said I was able to find one brand new on eBay. It actually only took me 2 minutes to find one. As I type this I did a quick search on eBay simply for "Kamp King." Results popped up with 91 total auctions. Three of which feature brand new in package vintage models. One of which is from the later half of the 1950's with a compass still in a package. So if you're looking, you can find them easily.

They also made a "Super Kamp King" for an unknown period of time. It featured a shifted around pattern with the addition of a pen blade and "beverage can opener" for sodas and juices that required holes to be punched into them prior to the advent of the pull tab. These are rare, but can be found on eBay still.


  1. I found mine in a box of stuff my mother had stashed in the attic for decades. I remember buying mine at a week long scouting trip to Camp Bearpaw. I remember spending most of my money for the entire week for that knife. I pulled it out the that old box and started using it again a few years ago. I've brought it along when I vacation in rural Jamaica, and one of my "pirate" buddies down there has had his eye on it for several years. I would have gladly given it to him as a gift, but I am a sentimental old fart and I just can't part with it. I actually just went on eBay and bought a vintage model for my "matie". The fact of the matter is that this is a great knife, and the blade holds an edge sharp enough to shave with (in a pinch). It doesn't have all the gadgets like a swiss army knife, but it has the important ones and it is a whole lot sturdier. But the greatest value of the knife is that every time I pick it up, I can remember that summer of knot tying, canoeing, and nights around the campfire.

  2. ..they also made a Kamp King Junior, which only had three blades, missing the "awl/reamer", I believe. I ran across an old catalog a while back, and near as I can tell, the made a Kamp King Junior, a Kamp King that was a little smaller than the ones you usually see (but with 4 blades), the Kamp King that we all know and love, which is close to 4 inches, and the Super Kamp King, where the additional functions came off of the back side. Lotsof different colors too, but tough to find where they haven't worn off.