Royal Reels: Gambling


This unpretentious cover is addressed to W. N. Jno. Baker, Culter (sic), 3 Hunter Street, Sydney, N.S. Wales. The correct spelling for his occupation should have been ‘Cutler’. The ‘Four Corners’ blue 2d Queensland stamp is cancelled with the illegible rays of ‘214′ or ‘626′, both used at Toowoomba. Cutler is one who makes, repairs, or sells knives or other cutting instruments (Figure 1).

The reverse has a confirmatory postmark of TOOWOOMBA/ 7A/ MY 28/ 09/ QUEENSLAND (Figure 2).

The firm of W. Jno. Baker of Sydney was founded in 1888, and is described as the biggest Australian mail-order knife firm of the twentieth century. He marketed a vast variety of multi-blade pocket knives and cutlery items. It was located at the ‘House of Steel’, #3 Hunter Street in Sydney. In its 1927 catalogue the company promised to ship post-free if the remittance was included in full with the order. The company claimed that the design of knives offered were the result of special knowledge of Australian requirements combined with good steel and workmanship. Knives were produced either in London or Sheffield, and there is unsure evidence that the company produced knives in Sydney.

A quote in the 24 September 2007 copy of Knives Australia stated that the company marketed multi-bladed pocket knives in the late 1800s culminating in model ‘184 Bakers Six’. It contained spear-point, clip-point, drop-point, sheep foot, lamb foot and a castrator. A view of the flamboyant cover of this journal is seen in Figure 3.

The company was a prodigious advertiser particularly in The Sydney Morning Herald , and the first advert found was dated 18 February 1896, which was unillustrated, and was only 5 lines in length. On 23 October 1925 the advert was too long to print on a single page. It shows the kangaroo and emu of Australia and that the company was founded in 1888. It describes the knives as Old English Pattern Sheffield Plate. The last advert for the company was seen in The Sydney Morning Herald on 25 November, 1954. The 1925 advert is shown as Figure 4..

 To date I could find no biographical data on Jno. Baker but The Sydney Morning Herald gave his company column space on 14 December 1899 which was a free form of advertising. An abridged version of this article follows: There is not much doubt that Mr. W. Jno. Baker is a master cutler in New South Wales, whoever may be so in Sheffield. His establishment in Hunter-street has for many years been famous for skilled workmanship and high-class stocks. Elaborate designs in knives decorate their window for Christmas. There are assorted scissors, a great variety of carvers, cases of razors, one for each day of the week, pocket knives, tobacco knives, cigar cutters, farmers’ and gardeners’ knives, sporting knives, and corkscrew knives. Mr. Baker holds a gold medal and first prizes from the Royal Agricultural and other shows. The column ends suggesting that his printed sheets of illustrations of his manufacturesare extremely useful to clients who live in the country, and cannot visit his store.

I am not sure when the Jno. Baker company shut down at 3 Hunter Street Sydney and there is another company with the identical name in Dubbo, N.S.W. mostly promoting a farming and veterinary knife & instrument business. My aims are to find biographical information on Jno. Baker, and to show the relationship between the original Sydney firm and the Dubbo, N.S.W. firm.

A composite picture of a shaving blade clearly shows the inscription on the blade of W. JNO. BAKER/ 3 HUNTER ST, SYDNEY, and these and other company knives are still highly collectable (Figure 5)

Addition (December 2010):  I  communicated with the Quakers Society in New South Wales and Judith Pembleton rapidly replied that William (Jno, known as Jack) Baker was the son of William John Baker, the prminent  Quaker.  She sent my email to Jenny Madeline of the Sydney branch that had access to Quaker archives, and she rapidly gave me proof of the family association of the 2 William Bakers, as follows: 

William John Baker was born on 1 April 1857 and died on 27 July 1930.  William John Baker married Lucy Eliza Pottie (born on 27 November 1872 and died on 28 December 1954).  They had 4 children, the first born was Aenone Marjorie Baker (1895-1966);   William Jno (Jack) Baker (30 September 1901-30 July 1961) and he married Molly Grizell Graham Iliff (9 January 1903-18 September 1997);  Logan Tangye Baker (28 March 1906- 4 June1977) and, Struan Ruskin Baker (7 November 1910- 20 August 1974. 

Jenny Madeline has kindly agreed to give me information about William John Baker’s will, and this will be of considerable interest as to whether the father William John Baker passed on the cutlery business to his first born son, Jno (Jack) Baker. Alas, never received any such communication!

Addendum (April 2011):  Have seen another cover sent to W. Jno. Baker, Cutler, 3 Hunter Street, Sydney, N.S.W.  It has a pair of the orange ‘Four Corners’ 1d Queensland stamp with an indistinct Queensland cancellation (Figure 6).

The reverse shows a distinct originating TOOWOOMBA/ 5.30 JE 12/ 09/ QUEENSLAND duplex with a barred numeral ‘647’ as well as another indistinct Queensland postmark Fig 7 .

Addendum (January 2007):  I have received from Jean Jones a scan of a box, which would have contained cutlery items, and it had the Australian insignia of a Crown as well as figures of a kangaroo and emu.  It was inscribed ‘W/ JNO. BAKER LTD./ 3 HUNTER ST./ SYDNEY/ AUSTRALIA’ (Figure 8).