Mint Verses Everything Else
By David L. Anthony (PA Knives)
© 2006: all rights reserved, used by permission
Knife collecting is a hobby that seems to advance in various levels. Nearly all of us have climbed these steps and enjoyed the journey for the most part, learning from our mistakes, always searching for that next piece to our never ending puzzle. You started out with a knife or knives that you either found or were given to you as a gift or remembrance. Curiosity found you digging for answers on age and value and before you knew it, you owned about twenty bone handled stockmans and suddenly realize that you’re a collector. Unbeknownst to you is that your family realized this a while ago because now you go to the flea market every weekend instead of taking them to the movies or mowing the lawn. The collector bug knows no boundaries. You upgrade your search for rarer pieces in hopes of enhancing your collection. One thoroughly enjoys examining in detail an old ivory handled congress made in the early 1900’s, no matter who made it. Craftsmanship from these early companies is simply outstanding.
In my compilation of knife collecting books I recall a particular chapter dealing with where to find knives. It speaks of the days that collectors and speculators would comb the back roads looking for general stores that still had displays and stock of older, Remingtons, Winchesters and Case in factory mint condition. Obviously those days have been gone for quite sometime. Imagine walking into an old hardware store to find a display of Cattaraugus knives still in the wrappers. Not that a rare occurrence still doesn’t happen. A fantastic collection of mint Case knives from the 1920’s was found in the attic of Bradford Pennsylvania family just a few years ago. Now days when I enter any store that may remotely contain an old pocket knife my eyes carefully scan the display selves and undoubtedly I will ask the clerk if such a thing exist in their inventory. For each hundred times they say no, there’s that one time they might say “yes I do believe I have something.”
The reality is that mint condition knives that you and I can afford on our paycheck to paycheck livelihoods are few and far between. Now you must remember that I am speaking of “vintage pocket knives” not those produced since lets say 1970. If knives of this era are your forte than you have a plethora of stock from which to choose from and I encourage you to only acquire the very best condition knives possible. In that situation you are far better off purchasing one mint condition knife than three of lesser condition in the same pattern and age. With so much being available for your collection it is wise to get as many as possible in pristine condition and keep them that way. I should interject at this time to say that one mint Case Tested XX trapper is worth more than 20 mint Case trappers from let’s say 2003. You won’t own very many knives but WOW the one you have is a great piece. There is a purist group of collectors that won’t even consider a knife unless it is in factory mint condition. Mind you, they are willing and expect to pay a premium dollar for these pieces. The value of these investments in the long run will be much higher. Most of us would like to either leave something of value to our loved ones or would like to have a nice little nest egg for our retirement years. I on the other hand plan on taking all of mine to the big guy in the sky to see if he can help me locate those few missing pieces that I have been desperately searching for.
So now you have the conundrum of trying to figure out just where you fit into the puzzle. You can’t afford to purchase very many high end mint knives if at all and the newer ones produced are nice but they just don’t give you the thrill that the older ones do. Welcome to my world. My focus of knife collecting and the limits of my checkbook just don’t seem to match. Fortunately I have a very understanding family that each enjoys some form of collecting on their own. Our trips to antique stores and flea markets are enjoy by each of them and it makes the hunt that much more enjoyable. I must admit it makes it easier and it always helps to have several sets of eyes watching out for something that may be just what I have been looking for. My wife is particularly good at pointing out a single knife lying in the bottom of a box of various goodies. Check them all out as you never know.
Well there is answer to this dilemma that may fulfill your needs and still has some economic value in it. The answer is simple (less than mint knives.) If you check the average collector’s pieces I am sure that you will find that it dominates selections. The reasons are obvious, either one can’t afford to purchase mint knives or they are nearly nonexistent. Remember knives are a tool, tools were made to use. Most were used and some even abused. It would have been a rare character in late 1800’s who went to the store to purchase a knife simply to put away as an investment for the future. So this leaves us with a vast array of knives in various levels of condition from which to choose from. I can’t stress enough that you should strive to purchase ones in the very best condition possible. Sometimes that just isn’t possible.
For a number of years I searched for a pocket knife stamped (Beaver Falls Cutlery.) Now amongst my fellow collectors I would be known as a “stamp collector”. Not the kind you find at the post office but those few little words or marks powerfully pressed into the tang of knife as it was being made. My focus is in finding particular manufacturers, jobbers and retailers that had their stamp put on the blades. I am guilty of and have been chastised by my fellow collectors for focusing so much on the tang stamp that I was overlooking important features of the knife to determine its true identity. This is a dangerous trap that allows counterfeiters the opportunity to relieve you of even more funds. Bernard Levine, knife expert has preached to all whom travel the path of knife collecting to “read the knife”. This is a simple statement that takes years of education to understand. I will not expound upon counterfeiting as that can be understood better by studying lots of knives and reading the many fine books th at cover the subject. I don’t profess to be anywhere close to an expert yet but with the assistance of the world wide web and sites like www.bladeforums.com, www.allaboutpocketknives.com and many specialized sites like www.elephanttoenails.com you can continually educate yourself among some of the most knowledgeable collectors out there. I strongly encourage you visit these and other related sites regularly. Contribute your knowledge and learn from others. Of course there are the obvious choices like knife World Magazine and many books on the various subjects that they offer for sale. You can’t over educate your self on this subject.
After feeling more comfortable about the knives I wanted, I ventured into the unknown and found a likely candidate. It came from a reputable dealer as recommended by a fellow knife enthusiast. Although my find was far from mint, it was indeed a find piece of cutlery history. I paid a fair price of $195 for and the big wooden handled jack with Beaver Falls Cutlery on the tang is one of my favorites. Sure it is in used condition and I would rate it as such. It has had some sharpening but the main integrity of the knife remains and that is really what I was looking for. One in mint condition would have been closer to $500 or $600 depending on the style and handle material. Sure I would rather have one of those but that darn car payment kind of makes that doubtful.
I have several knives that even have broke blades. I have found that broken blades aren’t as much as a concern to collectors as are broken handles. I really don’t know why that is but it seems to bother us more if the handles are missing a piece. I still consider my knives with broken blades or cracks in the handles as important parts of my collection. I have a rare Coquanco Works congress from Philadelphia that fits that scenario. The ivory handles have two hairline cracks and the main blade is broke off at the tang. I searched for fifteen years for one of these and would have paid more than what I did once I found it. The rarity of the stamp was by far more important to me than the condition. I am one of those romantics that ponders over who owned this knife and how did it end up with me? Where did they buy it and for what reason? The history that these knives have seen and participated in wonderful. I am always fascinated with the knife that George Washington carried and the one that Abraham Lincoln had in his pocket when he was assassinated. I believe that both of these are periodically available for viewing.
But again I caution you to remember that it depends on the focus of your collection. There are plenty of CASE Tested XX knives out there so I encourage you purchase the very best possible. Quality still outweighs quantity in this hobby. As I find better quality pieces I sell off the lesser and then add the higher to my collection. I know that with some of my knives I will probably never find or be able to afford a better example but at least I have one and hopefully someone in the future will appreciate my efforts.
There are plenty of opportunities to add some truly fine pieces to your collection if you are willing to forego the mint requirements. This field in the collecting market is wide open and has plenty of enjoyment and economic benefits for those that are educated. Buy mint when you can but don’t pass up a fine example in excellent condition as the day may come that these don’t exist anymore too.
This article was published in the July 2006 issue of Knife World Magazine. Visit Knife World’s website when you get a chance and subscribe to their great publication. Also make sure to leave them a comment for recognizing Mr. Anthony’s great work. (Their email address and phone number is on the bottom of their home page.)
We would like to extend a special thanks to Mr. Anthony for allowing us to post this article here.