R.W. 'Bob' Loveless, maker of exquisitely crafted sporting knives, dies at 81

R.W. Loveless once groused that his knives had become collector's items. "I make 'em to be used," he said.
R.W. Loveless once groused that his knives had become collector's items. "I make 'em to be used," he said. (Blade Magazine)
By Valerie J. Nelson
Wednesday, September 15, 2010

R.W. "Bob" Loveless, who made some of the world's most coveted sporting cutlery by refining knife design to high art, died Sept. 2 of lung cancer at his home in Riverside, Calif. He was 81.

To many hunters, collectors and fellow bladesmen, Mr. Loveless crafted the best handmade knives in the modern world. He was known for fixed-blade knives with unsurpassed workmanship.

"He is pretty much the Picasso of the knife world and the father of 20th century knifemaking," said John Denton, an authority on Loveless knives. "His design is what made him famous."

In 1953, Mr. Loveless was a seaman on furlough when he tried to buy a blade by master knifemaker W.D. "Bo" Randall at sporting outfitter Abercrombie & Fitch. Told there was a nine-month waiting list, Mr. Loveless later said he thought, "It can't be so hard," and decided to make his own.

Returning to his ship, he created his first knife from the steel spring of a 1930s Packard automobile, forging the blade on a galley stove.

He sold his first knives for $14 apiece to Abercrombie & Fitch in 1954. When Mr. Loveless died, he was selling his knives for $5,000 to $20,000, said Edmund Davidson, a Virginia knifemaker.

Mr. Loveless's most popular blade was a widely imitated drop-point hunting knife, "a modern-day classic which many consider the most attractive knife design of all time," American Handgunner magazine said in 2006.

He liked to say his knives were aimed at "the working man," but their beauty and craftsmanship made them highly collectible, Denton said. A major dealer of Loveless knives, Denton once sold one for $50,000 that resold three years later for $150,000.

"A knife is a tool, and I make 'em to be used," Mr. Loveless groused to the Los Angeles Times in 1981. "It burns me up that most of them wind up in velvet boxes and display cases, priced so high your average deer hunter or cowboy can't afford 'em."

Robert Waldorf Loveless was born Jan. 2, 1929, in Warren, Ohio. At 15, he doctored his birth certificate and joined the merchant marine during World War II. The knife fights he witnessed in foreign ports intensified his interest in the weapon, according to Sports Illustrated.

In the early 1950s, he studied at the Institute of Design in Chicago but left after a few months. One lesson from the Bauhaus movement seemed to stay with him: Form follows function.

Back in Ohio, he attended Kent State but soon dropped out to work on a tanker, where he became familiar with Randall knives.

Once Abercrombie & Fitch started buying his tools, Mr. Loveless settled in Delaware before moving to California in 1959. The next year, he began working in machine shops while making knives on the side in his garage.

By the late 1960s, he owned enough machinery to craft knives full time. He was the first to use the corrosion-resistant steel that became the industry standard, said Davidson, a board member of the Knifemakers' Guild, an industry organization Mr. Loveless helped found in 1970.

For decades, Mr. Loveless had lived in Riverside, creating knives that were so popular that a five-year wait for one was not uncommon. Since 1982, he had made knives with Jim Merritt, who will continue the Loveless line.

-- Los Angeles Times

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