A coveted ST-24 by Blade Magazine Cutlery Hall-Of-Fame© member Bill Moran in wire inlay and checkering comes with a classic silver-half-moon leather sheath. Moran used the “W.F. Moran” stamp starting in 1980, typically on larger knives. It is not seen much anymore. (Dave Ellis photo)
By Dave Ellis
I still see Blade Magazine Cutlery Hall-Of-Fame© member Bill Moran each time I hold one of my many Moran knives. I miss visiting with Bill at the BLADE Show and the Art Knife Invitational. I miss showing him my latest Moran acquisition and watching his eyes light up as he explained how the knife came about.
I have collected a wide variety of Moran knives over the past 30 years. The one I have found the easiest to resell because of their collectibility and historical importance, in no particular order, are the ST-24, cinquedea, Southwestern bowies, 50-year anniversary editions, his damascus pieces, folders—he made fewer than 50—and quillon daggers, especially those in damascus.
In general, the more contemporary the Moran knife, the greater its value and collectibility. However, the cinquedea is an important exclusion to this rule. Bill made only about seven of them and most or all have Lime Kiln stamps, which indicates the knives were made sometime between the mid-1950s and 1973. I have sold a Moran cinquedea for over $30,000.
Some of the features that increase Moran knife values are wire-inlaid handles and sheaths, accompanying display boxes made by Bill, the knives that appear in the book written by Cutlery Hall-Of-Famers B.R. Hughes and Houston Price, Master of the Forge, the 50-yrs. stamping, and the newer raised-leather-style sheaths.
Since Bill’s passing in 2006, his knives have had a slight increase in value, though nowhere near the jump that will occur down the road. Many of his pieces are finding their way to China, Russia and other countries. Bill was never a prolific maker, so with the limited number of knives he made, those that hit the market are coveted by collectors and dealers alike.
Damascus Moran knives are in a class of their own. Bill is recognized as the father of modern damascus and his pattern-welded blades are highly prized, and can range from a low of $7,000 to upwards of $60,000! His damascus fighters and bowies seem to be the most desirable, followed by daggers and hunters.
Curly maple is a common Moran handle material, so when you can buy one in stag or other materials, it typically costs a premium.
The knives from the 1990s are probably among the finest to leave the Moran shop. They are lighter and quicker in the hand than Lime Kiln models and usually come with the newer-style sheaths. If you are lucky enough to find one with the 50 yrs. marking, you will see that it demands a premium.
The future looks very bright for those collecting Moran knives. You can still pick up a great example at a reasonable price and rest assured that it will increase in value down the road.
Bill made his knives one at a time by hand, no apprentices, no newfangled tools. His forge, anvil and hammer should reside in the Smithsonian!
For more information on Moran knives and their values, contact the author at 760-945-7177 or visit his website, exquisiteknives.com.
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Moran Knife Values
Carbon steel hunters $4,000-$10,000
Carbon steel fighters (ST-23 and ST-24) $10,000-$25,000
Carbon steel bowies (Southwestern bowies can bring the upper range, $6,000-$35,000
especially with composite stag handles)
Carbon steel folders $15,000-$25,000+
Damascus hunters $7,000-$20,000
Damascus fighters $18,000-$70,000
Damascus bowies $18,000-$40,000
Damascus folders (extremely rare) $20,000-“to way up there”
*All values are the author’s. Features such as matched sets, gold wire inlay—which is especially rare—special stampings and logos, handle materials and blade materials can have an impact on value.
Moran Tang Stamps
Most of Bill Moran’s knives can be valued based on their tang stamps. The rule of thumb is that newer Moran knives bring higher values. The author values each stamp using a star system, with five stars being the most valuable, four stars the next most valuable, etc.
•Damascus—Bill started using this stamp in 1973 and discontinued it around 1979. It was always used along with the MORAN stamp: 4-5 Stars
•50 yrs.—Starting in 1989, Bill began his 50-years knife project. The stamp appears only on 50 knives celebrating his 50th anniversary of knifemaking: 4-5 Stars
•WFM—Bill’s first stamp used in the late 1940s: 4 Stars
•MORAN—He started using this stamp in 1973 and still uses it today: 3-4 Stars
•M.S.—Denotes a master smith with the American Bladesmith Society, first used by Bill in 1981: 3-4 Stars
•W.F. Moran—Bill used this stamp starting in 1980, typically on larger knives. It is not seen much anymore: 3-4 Stars
•Moran (small print)—Bill used it on his miniature knives: 3 Stars
•By W.F. Moran, Lime Kiln MD—This is a common stamping first used in the mid-1950s and continued until 1973: 2-3 Stars
Depending on materials used and how they are made, the sheaths can add significant value to a Bill Moran knife. The author values each sheath using a star system, with five stars being the most valuable, four stars the next most valuable, etc.
•Wooden sheath with silver wire inlay: 5 Stars
•New style wood-lined leather sheath with raised leather design: 4-5 Stars
•Wood-lined leather sheath with throat and tip (steel or ivory is better than brass for fittings): 4 Stars
•Wood-lined leather sheath: 3-4 Stars (rating varies depending on the quality of the half moon and other accouterments)
•Leather sheath with a silver half moon: 3 Stars
•Wooden sheath: 3 Stars
•Plain leather sheath: 1-2 Stars