The collapse of Sheffield company Nickel Blanks four years ago posed a new and serious threat to cutlery manufacturing in the UK, until Carrs Silver rode to the rescue.
For years, Nickel Blanks had supplied more than half of the ‘blanks’ cutlery companies turn into finished knives, forks and spoons.
Nickel Blanks owned knife blade forgers Jessop and Smith, handle makers and knife assemblers Beatson Drake, blade grinders and polishers Rutland Cutlery and polishers and platers Classic Cutlery.
It also owned Osborne Tableware, founded in 1709, manufacturers of traditional sterling silver, EPNS and stainless steel cutlery, with its own franchise in Harrods
The choice for Carrs’ was stark, as managing director, Richard Carr, makes clear.
“We had to decide whether to stay in cutlery and buy them out, or to get out and do something else,” he says.
Alex Ross, head of the commercial services team at Bell and Buxton Solicitors, which brokered the deal, had no doubts about its importance to the cutlery industry at the time.
“If Carrs hadn’t stepped in, future generations would only be reading about Sheffield cutlery in the history books and we would lose the skills built over three centuries,” he said.
The truth of that can be seen from the fact that Carrs continues to support the cutlers that were Nickel Blanks customers, in addition to picking up new customers as far afield as Africa.
The Nickel Blanks acquisition fitted well with Carrs’ ethos of being as self sufficient as possible, making it one of maybe only two “start to finish” cutlery manufacturers in the UK.
As part of the deal, Carrs acquired 12,000 sets of tools and dies, for more than 125 separate cutlery patterns, including one designed for diners to use on the Titanic, which “took a hell of a long time to sort through,” says Richard Carr.
Carrs’ now offers 26 of those patterns as part of its standard range and uses some as the basis for its bespoke collections.
“If people want something different, we can delve into the archives and give them something special, without having to invest thousands of pounds,” says Richard Carr.
The company has invested in additional tooling to complete the range for one pattern – which has since become a major seller in Harrods - and to extend ranges to cater for different markets.
“In the US, they use a spoon which is between the size of a tea spoon and a desert spoon,” explains Richard Carr.
“In the Indian market, people in vegetarian regions use a spoon that is the size of a fork, instead of a knife, so we have created pieces of flatware especially to meet those requirements.