The Olsen Knife Company is a classic American knife making brand. They originated in Howard City, Michigan and have roots going back to Lee Olsen, Jr., who began making knives there in 1950. The designs were unique, with the fixed hunters having an upward swoop and prominent yet thin finger guards.
A contemporary to other period knifemaking companies such as Buck, Moran, and Randall, Olsen is considered one of the better -known knives from the 1950s-1970s. Their fixed blade hunters were very popular and can still be found across the nation at knife and gun shows. Olsen also made the models 510 and 511 folders in the USA. These lockback folding hunters featured an art-deco-like brass bolster that curved from the front bottom around/over to the top at the center of the handle.
Schrade also made knives for the Olsen brand, with many standard pocket knife designs like you would see from Schrade during the 1970s. In the 1960s Olsen also began producing their knives in Solingen, Germany and continued to do so for about a decade.
Around 1978, the main exporter of knives in Seki, japan approached Olsen and offered to manufacture their designs in Seki for much less cost than it was to make them in the United States. The two agreed and Olsen began manufacturing knives in Japan. The quality was excellent since they were made by Seizo Imai, who also made knives for Parker, Frost, Lakota, Condor, and more. From our connection in Japan we learned that Olsen made Japan production knives from 1978 to 1982.
We recently acquired a limited number of the Olsen 162 Lil Brassy from the closed factory of Seizo Imai. These are great little lockbacks featuring the unique art deco brass bolster of the Olsen company. Although they also produced a similar folder in the earlier period, this one dates from the Japan manufacture era.
The 162 Lil Brassy is 3-1/2” long and has a very sharp blade made of 440 Stainless. These knives may have remained in Japan due to the fact that the blades are rather tight and need help closing, or perhaps there is another reason they were “left behind.”
Unfortunately, the Olsen company faced disaster circa 1978-1980 when a fire destroyed their factory. The fire started when shaping a plastic handle for one of their knives and hot pieces of it went into the dust collector, starting the fire and stopping them from using plastic handles. But they rebuilt and according to one Olsen knife expert “they rebuilt and sold the company in 1982 to 3 investors from Grand Rapids, MI who ran the company until 1985 and then filed bankruptcy. Olsen retained the Olsen OK stamp and sold them the Olsen Knife Company with a banner trademark that they used on their kitchen cutlery line. So the Olsen fixed blades out there with the banner etching were made between 1982 and 1985″ (source).
Olsen is an iconic American design and its collectability is gaining momentum. They made some high quality knives during the golden age of American cutlery. They were useful yet elegant. Their designs live on in the memory of those who grew up using Olsen knives.