By Carol Cowan
Most folks regard their family heirlooms with more than a touch of nostalgia, counting items of lasting value – whether sentimental or otherwise – among their most prized possessions.
Since 1987, one Tennessee designer and craftsman has staked his entire business on that reality. And he’s accomplished much success.
“I got to thinking about family heirlooms,” says Col. Garry Littleton, proprietor of Col. Littleton, Purveyor of Fine Accouterments in the Americana Tradition. “There are no more swords, no more pearl-handled pistols, no more pocket watches. So, I thought of a pocketknife. If you had your granddaddy’s pocketknife, what would you take for it? Probably nothing. And that’s where I started.”
In fact, every heirloom-quality knife the company sells is accompanied by a card bearing the story of how Littleton’s own grandfather gave his pocketknife to 9-year-old Littleton – a gift he still carries.
Today, Col. Littleton knives are crafted with mother-of-pearl and bone handles and Damascus steel blades. His knives, along with leather apparel and accessories ranging from picture frames to flyswatters, are sold at retailers, in catalogs and online, as well as at the Col. Littleton store in historic downtown Lynnville, population 327.
Company headquarters and works, including Littleton’s unique field-tent office and artifact-filled research and development department, reside on his Foxfire Farm on the edge of town. It might be easier to run the business from a metal building in an industrial park somewhere, Littleton acknowledges, “but the farm is part of the philosophy of what we’re about.”
A major Lynnville employer, the company gets its leather from a small tannery nearby. “We use all-American steer hide,” Littleton says. “If you want some fancy black Italian leather, you’ll have to buy it somewhere else. We’re a brown company.”
Furthermore, all his products could have been made in 1890, he says, and some actually are based on designs of that era. Many of the tools used to manufacture them have changed little in the past century.
Even “The Colonel” himself, sporting a mustache and flowing gray hair and speaking with elegant country wisdom, seems like a throwback to less complicated times. “I think everybody wants to believe there’s still a Mayberry somewhere where life’s simpler,” Littleton says. “That’s pretty much the way it is around here in Lynnville. It’s just real simple.”
To order the leather products, call 800-842-4075 or visit Col. Littleton’s website.
Celebrities Love Col. Littleton
Some of the famous people who own Col. Littleton products include:
• The last five governors of Tennessee
• President Bill Clinton
• President George Bush
• President George W. Bush
• Actor Robert Duvall
• Country music star Alan Jackson