Read this before deciding whether to change the types of knives you collect. (Written by Mike Haskew and excerpted from the March 2013 issue of BLADE®).
You may face a crossroads, a time of decision involving the realization that interests, tastes and possibly buying power change. In such situations, you may decide to begin collecting a different genre of knives, departing from what you have collected. If and when that time comes, evaluating your situation and making informed decisions is crucial.
Well-made vintage knives by legendary makers can be very attractive to collect. Lloyd Hale does the honors here in a chute knife sporting an ironwood handle with pearl and abalone inlay. (SharpByCoop.com photo)
Some basic questions loom large, from deciding what to collect to getting the best education on what is available, selling or retaining an existing collection, and, if the choice is to sell, then maximizing the revenue generated.
First, the decision to make a change deserves due consideration. “You should have a very good reason for it,” remarked Peter Gill, who has been collecting knives for 15 years, “no whims.”
“I believe a collector who is going to start collecting another type of knife should buy and collect what he’s attracted to,” reasoned Ken Potolicchio, who bought his first handmade tactical folder, a large Tighe Pan by Brian Tighe, in the fall of 2001. “In other words, buy something you would like to own, handle or even use. Research the new type of knife to be collected and be comfortable with the effort and costs to start a new or additional collection.
“If you’re going to start collecting another type of knife, buy and collect what you’re attracted to,” reasoned Ken Potolicchio, who bought his first handmade tactical folder, a large Tighe Pan (above) by Brian Tighe, in the fall of 2001. “In other words, buy something you would like to own, handle or even use.” (Brian Tighe photo)
“Ask yourself why you want to collect the new type of knife,” Ken continued. “Is it simply to make money, to carry and use the new knives, or is it in the pursuit of desirable knives of a new type? What if you change your mind? You need to be very sure, especially if the sale of your current collection is a factor.
“As to resources, I would recommend reading the magazines and contacting purveyors you may have dealt with, trust and have a relationship with, or that deal in the type of knives you’re planning to collect. Direct contact with the makers of the knives to be collected is a good idea. I’ve found that most are willing to talk about all aspects of their knives.”
Though you may be financially capable of retaining your current collection, you may have to liquidate your existing holdings to be able to afford to collect something new. Opinions vary on the best way to sell, and some experts tend to think that holding on to what you have already collected is the best of all options.
“Don’t buy knives that are damaged or of poor condition unless they are very old and rare, such as [antique] bowies, Civil-War-era knives, and rare military knives,” Marvin Clyncke commented. Ed Fowler’s dad carried this World War II-era Ek Model 3 during World War II. (Fowler photo)
“If you decide to shift gears and like another kind of knife, you might consider the following,” advised Pete Cohan, a serious collector since the early 1960s. “Trade the knives you have for those you now wish you had, but be sure you know who you are trading with and be firm when it comes down to the final details. You could try to sell your old collection to somebody you know, but don’t let anyone talk you out of a few pieces. You may be left with the rest and can’t hardly give them away.”
If you are an informed collector, you have a solid sense of what your collection is worth and what you will take for it. Unless such a solid base is in place, the hazards of selling or trading are substantial. Tactics also will vary depending on your motivation—simply to recover your initial investment or to make as much profit as possible to plow into the acquisition of your newfound favorite knives.
Though selling your knives as a collection may move the transition process forward more rapidly than selling in ones or twos, there is a trade-off. Marvin Clyncke’s father worked for Western Cutlery in the late 1930s, and Marvin has been a collector for more than half a century.
“If you want to sell your existing collection, you should sell on eBay, as you reach the whole world there,” he recommended. “Selling as a collection is not a good idea unless you have a specific buyer who is willing to pay a good price. Selling as a collection, you are essentially eliminating a lot of folks who may have some of the same knives and don’t want to buy a whole collection just to get a few that they need. Also, the price of the whole collection could eliminate many buyers, especially if the collection is large. Selling individually definitely would realize top dollar for each piece.”
• Collect what you like or even use;
• Chasing trends is a fool’s errand;
• Collecting knives that are hot now means paying top dollar now as well;
• Know which knives are collectible in specific geographic locations of the country;
• Inexpensive, low-end knives will never appreciate to any degree;
• Well-made, fine-condition knives should not lose you any money;
• Don’t buy damaged/poor condition knives unless they are very old and collectible, such as antique bowies and rare military knives.
A FOOL’S ERRAND
In the continuing debate of present vs. future value, collectors heading down a new road are regularly challenged with a values proposition. Collecting what is hot today by no means ensures an appreciation in price down the road, while collecting something that is under the radar now provides no assurances on an increase either.
“A collector should only collect what pleases him or her,” reiterated Gill. “Chasing trends is a fool’s errand.”
Cohan advised, “What is hot now and what will be hot in the future is the classic question asked by every stock market trader. The question and its answer in the case of pocketknives or knives in general is further complicated by such things as the geographic location of the collector. What is hot on the West Coast and what is hot in the South are often very different. This can provide opportunity as well as risk for the collector who is starting in another direction. It is still, in my opinion, better to collect knives that you like for whatever reason. The collectibility of knives and their ‘rarity’ at some future date remains an elusive projection.”
Potolicchio leans toward the long view and collecting for the future rather than some notion of today’s “hot” commodity. He provides an illustration of future value with a firearm that he bought some years ago. “I gave my son a Ruger 10/22 rifle that currently [fetches] about $275, and I have the original receipt for the rifle when I bought it new for $38.50,” he laughed.
What’s hot in the West and South are often very different, Pete Cohan observed. This can provide opportunity as well as risk if you’re starting over. For instance, at the G4 Show in Las Vegas, tactical folders such as those by Jeremy Marsh (including the one at top just above photographed by Mike Searson) turned heads. In the South, antique pocketknives such as those by New York Knife Co. (immediately above) remain collectible.
According to Clyncke, collecting knives that are hot now means paying top dollar now as well. Whether such knives will even hold their value or simply become yesterday’s fad is anybody’s guess. He does, however, see the thrill and allure of collecting something reasonably priced today that may in fact appreciate in the days to come.
“It is a guessing game,” Marvin warns, “but quality is everything. Cheap-made, low-end knives will never appreciate to any degree. Well-made, fine-condition knives will surely not lose you any money. Again, research is a big help.”
Sources To Use
• Read knife publications and websites you trust;
• Contact purveyors with whom you have dealt, trust and deal in the types of knives in question;
• Have direct contact with the makers of the knives in question;
• Let as many people as possible know what new collectible you want;
• Ask your friends to be on the lookout for examples.
One of the best ways to research what is best to collect is to read publications you trust, such as the new KNIVES 2013.
Experienced collectors may already have a feel for the do’s and don’ts of collecting a new style of knife. However, it pays to remember lessons learned and to benefit from the experiences of others.
“Don’t buy knives that are damaged or of poor condition unless they are very old and rare, such as [antique] bowies, Civil-War-era knives, and rare military knives,” Clyncke commented. “Junkers are a dime a dozen and will sell for a dime a dozen in 10 years. I would let as many folks know as possible what you’re looking for. Never tell them what you will pay, just what type of knives you want. If you tell them what you will pay and they’re surprised at the price, they may just keep the knives as an investment. Some good ones may pop up right away. It never hurts to have friends looking for you.”
Potolicchio added that research is a key element before the final decision to switch the type of knife being collected. Without investing enough time to understand the market for the new type of knife, you may never find your comfort zone, particularly if you have liquidated your existing collection in the process.
For Cohan, the collecting transition should be something of a soul-searching process. He advises considering several aspects of embarking on a new frontier in collecting.
“How available are the knives that you now fancy, and are they of recent vintage?” he asks. “Are they still in production or are they a ‘short run,’ which may or may not permit a wide distribution of the knives, directly affecting their collectibility? If the knives are antique, where will they be found and can they be found without undue cost? What are the prices typically asked for these knives in collectible condition? Are you going to collect only the mint or near mint/excellent examples, and can you afford to pay premium prices for this type of knife?”
Questions YOU NEED ANSWERED
• Do you have a very good reason for starting over?
• Are you comfortable with the effort and costs it will take to build a new collection?
• Do you want to make money or collect, carry or use the knives?
• What knives should you collect, and how do you best research them?
• How available are they and are they of recent vintage?
• Are they still in production or limited in distribution, both of which influence collectibility?
• If antiques, where can they be found and can they be found without undue cost?
• What are the prices typically asked for the knives in collectible condition?
• Are you going to collect only mint or near-mint examples, and can you afford to pay premium prices for them?
HAVE/EXECUTE A PLAN
Early in the collecting transition process, there may actually be more questions than answers. Nonetheless, if you plan appropriately and execute the plan, you continue to find your passion for knives rewarding, whatever type you seek.