Craftsmen, Knifesmiths and Blacksmiths from around the world have shown off their skills through the centuries by moving rigid steel with heat and brute force. Many have told their lives' stories in their knives, swords and cleavers. Their steel products have stood the test of time, for generations of people to enjoy for the ages.
THE Zoomorphic Cleaver Collection
by Allan Detrich
Zoomorphic Cleavers - cleavers that portray animals, humans or other living forms - were not made as only a utilitarian tool for the butcher but also a work of art. Blacksmiths in the late 1800s to early 1900s forged these cleavers to show their skills and creativity. Foxes and birds were most common. Many think the cleavers were made to pay tribute to the animals that the butchers were parsing out to their customers from behind the counters of their meat stores and at the local open-air street farmers markets.
Gothic styles are consistent with older cleavers in Italy and eastern Europe. Over the years, most of those were made by the local village blacksmith or sometimes even by the farmer or butcher who first intended to use it. Regardless of its manufacturing origin, there can be no disputing their sheer beauty and utility. Hand-forged from some very fine carbon steel these cleavers are second to none in terms of design, materials, craftsmanship and performance. Profound respect was often found expressed in the construction of the tools used to accomplish work, especially in the trades, to which butchers once belonged. Besides reaching the pinnacle of craftsmanship, these cleavers are intricate pieces of folk art. I'm not one to put much faith in the talismanic power of inanimate objects, but these cleavers do tempt one to reconsider. In every respect they are a truly great find for chef or folk-art lover alike and the kind of antique heirloom you'll be proud to pass down to your heirs.
I have been heavily into barbecue for the past 10 years. I have created several apps for barbecue -- The Sauce Shop -- and this eventually led to Que Finder, which has a BBQ restaurant locator featuring more than 6,000 BBQ joints around the world. I published an award-winning book in 2019 called BBQ Culture in America, featuring 10 years of photos from my BBQ adventures around the country. I have gotten to know some of the best Pitmasters in the world including Myron Mixon, Chris Lilly, Wayne Mueller, Tyler Frasier, Robert Sierra, Mike Mills and many more. I have worked with Operation BBQ Relief in the aftermath of hurricane Harvey in Houston, Texas. I have also been doing BBQ here locally in Ohio for many years and have built a 300 square foot smokehouse onto my garage at my home in Fremont, Ohio. I have helped consult with a few local restaurants.
As a result of my obsession with barbecue, I have acquired a number of smokers, grills and different ways to cook outside, as well as numerous knives and cleavers. Then I began watching the TV show, Forged in Fire. I was in awe of how the participants took old rusty pieces of metal and created elegant knives and cleavers right in front of my eyes. They used fire and hammers to draw out the thick metals to create knives with razor-sharp blades -- blades mimicking historical weapons and everyday kitchen knives and butchering tools.
My collection started with an old military cleaver I bought from eBay. It weighed nearly 3 pounds and had a Naval Anchor stamp on it. It also had Toledo, Ohio, forged into the blade. I consulted an expert on old cutlery and asked about sharpening the blade. He told me to never sharpen the antique cleaver, which he speculated was forged from a very large wrench. He gave me an estimated value, $750. To my great surprise, I took his advice and went home with my treasure. I paid a mere $200 for the cleaver. The hook was set. I was combing the internet for cool and unusual cleavers for my new collection which consisted of one antique military cleaver. My next acquisitions were from a knife-smith in the Ukraine. We became friends and he made me several Damascus bladed pieces. One was a knife and one cleaver with Texas flag handles. I later found a very unusual cleaver on eBay that was labeled “Zoomorphic.”
Zo·o·mor·phic - adjective - Having or representing animal forms or gods of animal form.
As I was browsing, I came across a cleaver that had a dragon head and was said to come from a blacksmith/folk artist in the Appalachian region of America. The open mouth has many sharp teeth and the head has deep set eyes and curly ears or horns. The heavy little cleaver is a valuable piece of folk art/history. I again was the buyer of a valuable piece for a fraction of its value.
The hunt was on. I found an auction of seven cleavers on the website, charish.com. They sold for nearly $5000 -- way out of my price range. I kept scouring eBay and Etsy and began to find some of the same style cleavers I saw in the expensive auction for prices ranging from $45-$150. I began to buy cleavers from the former Soviet Union, Ukraine, The Czech Republic, France, England, Bulgaria, Poland, Germany, Hungary and many other places.
I have amassed the “World’s Largest” collection of Zoomorphic Cleavers. Some of their forms include deer, foxes, horses, beavers, dogs, cows, pigs, birds, and the creepiest of all, the human form. I now have people contacting me when they find a zoomorphic cleaver and offering it to me before it ever goes onto the open market. My collection now stands at nearly 500 cleavers, valued at nearly $125,000.00.