I was born in Norwalk, Ohio on April 29, 1951. My father told me that I came into this world at dawn after the passage of a violent thunderstorm. He and his best friend Leo were sitting on the front steps of the old Memorial Hospital watching a glorious sunrise through the receding clouds when they got the word. I sometimes wonder how this event would have been interpreted had it happened in a hut beside the Huron River ten or more centuries earlier!
Even as a young kid I felt that I was somehow different, I believe that those around me referred to it as "odd." My love for history and things-old manifested itself very early, and indeed, my great grandfather Floyd Hill was a collector of all sorts of relics, old swords and guns mostly, with a few arrowheads thrown in. Perhaps I inherited his "bad gene". I still have a worn out drill made of shiny black Coshocton chert that my grandmother gave me when I was about 8 years old. She told me it was all that was left of his great collection.
I never did very well in grade school, too much daydreaming about cavalry and Indians, racing chariots in the Circus Maximus, sailing with the Vikings, or the occasional caveman versus mammoth scenario. By the time I managed to make it to Jr. High, I was totally "wacked out". The summer of 1965 saw me experimenting with a nail trying to pressure chip beer bottle bottoms into some kind of point I could haft on a dowel rod and shoot with a bow I made from strips of split bamboo. To say the least, my parents were none too happy about the way things were going and just short of severe lashings and solitary confinement, did everything they could to discourage me. Don't forget, this was the mid-1960's and if a father had a good business going, his son was expected to follow in his footsteps. After all these years those who have come to know me couldn't possibly imagine me as a maker of rubber stamps working in a dingy little factory in New London, Ohio. My stubbornness saved me from that fate, along with some help from the "wrong crowd" of fine people I hung out with, rockhounds, Indian relic collectors, and old gun cranks.
In high school I reached the "height of academic achievement" when I took my science fair project "Early Man and his Tools and Weapons" all the way to the state level with perfect scores. I bribed the judges with arrowheads I made during my presentation. Obviously my flint working skills were improving! The only "higher" education I received came from two years as a part time student at the Firelands Campus of Bowling Green State University. There I took a few courses in English composition, Geology, and Anthropology, hoping someday to transfer to a bigger school that offered a degree in Paleo-Anthropology. By then my interest in archaeology had pretty much won out over all the others due in part to my flintknapping in which I now had progressed to where I could make a passable replica of just about any point type found in my home state. However, this dream never came true. My family had disintegrated in a nasty divorce and while working for my dad I was moonlighting in the flintknapping business, the profits of which I could not ignore. And, it soon became evident that I could make it on my own practicing the trade I had taught myself.
In April of 1974 I married Val, my best friend and confidant. If she, with her patience and talent as a fine artist, had not been with me those early years would have been very lonely and a lot tougher. I was 23 and she was 19 when we packed up the old Hornet and headed for the Ozarks of southwestern Missouri. Here was a place where old time craftsmen were respected for who they were, and mine was the oldest craft of all. There was plenty of free raw material to boot. Those hills were loaded with chert, a rock the locals hated. In some places there was more of it than soil, and they told me I could have it if I took it all and left the dirt for them! Of course, only a small fraction of it was workable and that came in angular blocks of odd shape, the same as the old Flint Ridge material. So I didn't have much trouble with it, and it was eagerly added to my stockpile along with the Ohio stuff and the cantaloupe size Indiana Hornstone nodules I used to have delivered to my booth at Friendship, Indiana. Up until the advent of the first knap-ins this was the big muzzle loading shoot we used to attend along with a few of the smaller rendezvous.
As a "base camp" we rented a booth at Wilderness Settlement on Hwy 76, it was then at the edge of the city of Branson. We worked in the "The Flint Shop" for about a year and a half, and finding out how cheap the tourists were we supplemented our income with mail order and more trips to shows. Our first catalog featured a tin type of the wife and I on the front cover. Finding out that there was already a Flint Shop in Texas that made gunflints from sawed slabs, in order to avoid confusion we had to change our name. The Hopewell Mound Builders were my favorite prehistoric people who did a lot of fine artwork and traded extensively, the same thing we were doing. So we became Mound Builder Arts and Trading Co. Shortly after our name change, we came out with our second catalog, and published the first edition of "The Art of Flint Knapping" under the Mound Builder Books label. Over the years this book was to go through four more revisions and today it is a affectionately referred to as "The Flint Knappers Bible" by those who first learned to chip using it as their only reference.
"The Art of flint Knapping" was followed by "Flint Types of the Continental United States" in 1976, and we moved to our own place ten miles east of Branson in 1978. The moving and rebuilding of a 150 year old log house and the construction of other outbuildings occupied a lot of our spare time. So it wasn't until 1985 that I wrote the first edition of "The Art of Making Primitive Bows and Arrows," and Val finally finished the drawings for "Story in Stone." This volume went to press in 1987, replacing the first flint types book. Now out of print and a collectors item as well as the early editions of our other books, this one set a new standard for lithic illustration and made Val famous in that field.
Furthering our endeavors in the publishing business we took over Ray Harwood's newsletter, "Flint Knapping Digest," and in 1989 we renamed it "CHIPS." From humble beginnings it became a full fledged magazine that effectively served the flint knapping community for 23 years until its last issue came out in October, 2011. Due to competition with the internet, the economy, and declining subscriptions it was no longer profitable to keep it in print. However, all the magazines are still available on three CDs in The Complete CHIPS Archives, and the "The Best of CHIPS" series has been revised and reissued, keeping in print the most useful and entertaining articles. Look for them in the Books and DVD pages of this site.
With the advent of inexpensive home video cameras and recorders we also entered that field in 1989, making a couple of knap-in tapes which we had to copy one at a time. This got old when we had to make multiple copies of our first instructional tape, "Caught Knapping." Not to be confused with Craig Ratzat's later production this one was made in 1992 on old VHS equipment. When we went to a local "dubber" to have multiple copies made we ran into technical problems with time codes and quality control. So we had to get a new Super VHS camera and accompanying editing decks, a considerable investment at the time. With this new equipment, we produced "The Art of Flint Knapping Video Companion" in 1993. This was designed to accompany the book and has become something of a "cult film." In 2006, it was digitally re-edited and re-mastered and is now available on DVD. We have a complete suite of production facilities that allows us to make multiple copies all in house so we have total control over the process.
Also, with similar advances made in Desk-top publishing all of our writing, editing, typesetting, graphics, layout and some of the printing is done in-house so the costs are kept down and the savings can be passed on to our customers who have found our publications to be well done and reasonably priced.
Since losing Val to a brain tumor in April 28, 2005, and retiring from "CHIPS" magazine in 2011 I am busier than ever running the business trying to maintain the quality of service you all have come to expect. However, I still manage to find time to do some chipping, and I am doing more of it! To view the pieces I have currently available click on the Flint Jacks Gallery page. By the way, the original Flint Jack, AKA Edward Simpson, was a well known English flint Knapper in the 1850s, who learned how to reproduce early stone tools for a then thriving relic market. However, unlike my predecessor, since 1983, my work has been signed with my initials, two digit year date and a serial number for that year. The daggers and axes I make are numbered consecutively from 1983 and bear D or A prefixes.
Now, I hope you will be pleased with my latest effort, this new web site! And, remember to keep logging in to check for new items, especially in the Gallery where things are changing constantly. Enjoy. DCW
This product was added to our catalog on Tuesday 10 September, 2013.