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Knife Collecting: A Comprehensive Guide

Written by:
Aleks Nemtcev
Updated:
April 24, 2024
knife collector

Knife collecting encompasses a range of activities including the search, acquisition, organization, cataloging, display, storage, and maintenance of various types of knives. Collectors may choose a general approach, accumulating a diverse array of knives, or they might specialize in specific categories such as Bowie knives, pocket knives, or custom-made knives.

Collectible knives can range from antique knives—defined as those over 100 years old—to newer models considered collectibles due to their design or manufacture date. The term “vintage” often applies to older collectibles. Some knives gain collectible status as they become rarities, such as WWII-era tactical knives with zinc alloy handles that have deteriorated over time. While some individuals start collecting in their youth, others pursue this hobby throughout their lives, often refining their focus as their interests evolve.

History of Knife Collecting

The tradition of knife collecting dates back to the 19th century, when individuals began to recognize the value and craftsmanship of various types of knives. As interest grew, formal organizations dedicated to knife collecting started to emerge in the 1940s, providing a structured framework for enthusiasts to share their passion and knowledge.

The late 1960s marked a significant turning point with the advent of the custom knife-collecting boom. This period saw a surge in the popularity of bespoke, handcrafted knives, which were prized for their unique designs and superior quality. This trend not only continued but also expanded in the following decades, reflecting a growing appreciation for custom knives as both functional tools and artistic objects.

Today, knife collecting remains a vibrant hobby with a robust community of collectors who cherish historical pieces as well as contemporary works. Collectors now have access to a wide range of resources, including clubs, forums, and magazines, which continue to fuel the enthusiasm for this enduring pursuit.

knife collecting

Starting a Knife Collection

Embarking on the journey of knife collecting typically begins in one of two ways. Some novices are drawn to knives that visually appeal to them or have a certain allure, and they purchase these items as the starting point for their collection. As they continue, they gradually acquire deeper insights into how to curate a more deliberate and cohesive collection. Alternatively, other beginners—often those who are more cautious or academically inclined—prefer to gain a substantial understanding of the field before making their first acquisitions.

Generally, knives that are not old enough to be classified as antiques but hold significant artistic, historical, or aesthetic value are categorized as collectibles. It’s important to note that being a collectible does not necessarily mean the knife is part of a limited edition; many such knives have been in existence for decades and include various types of folding knives, hunting knives, and custom knives, among others.

Many collectors find value in creating a strategic plan for their collection, blending educational pursuits with practical experience to carve out a unique collecting style. This approach not only enhances their appreciation of different knives but also aids in honing their selection skills. Even those who initially resist the idea of a structured approach often find that learning about the historical and cultural significance of knives, as well as the technical aspects of collecting, enriches their experience and sharpens their acumen in choosing pieces that resonate with their evolving tastes.

knife display case

Image credit: Holme & Hadfield

Strategies for Learning and Engaging in Knife Collecting

For those keen on deepening their knowledge of knife collecting, a variety of resources and avenues are available. Prominent knife magazines such as Knives Illustrated, Knife Magazine, European Blades, and Blade Magazine serve as valuable sources of information, offering insights into the latest trends, historical pieces, and expert tips on collection management. These publications frequently feature articles on everything from the intricacies of knife-making to the history of renowned knife manufacturers.

Attending knife shows like Blade Show Atlanta, Blade Show West, Blade Show Texas, California Custom Knife Show, Art Knife Invitational, and New York Custom Knife Show provides another practical approach to gaining familiarity with the hobby. These events often host seminars and workshops that cover a broad range of topics, including knife making, the history of knife companies, strategies for starting a knife collection, and even advice on insuring a collection. These shows not only offer educational content but also present opportunities to view and purchase unique knives, making them a must-visit for both novice and seasoned collectors.

Blade show

Image credit: Blade Show

Moreover, a wealth of literature dedicated to the art of knife collecting is available. Books like 

– The International Blade Collectors Association Price Guide to Antique Knives, author J. Bruce Voyles,

– The Official Price Guide to Collector Knives, author C. Houston

– The Great Collections: Modern Custom Knives by David Darom

– The World of Art Knives by David Darom,

offer comprehensive information that can enhance a collector’s understanding of the market and different styles of knives.

In addition to these resources, joining a knife collecting club can be incredibly beneficial. National and international organizations, such as the National Knife Collectors Association, Northeast Cutlery Collectors Association, iKnife Collector, and Knifemakers’ Guild provide platforms for networking and sharing knowledge. Many collectors also benefit from joining local clubs where they can meet fellow enthusiasts and participate in club meetings and events. Publications within the knife collecting community often list details of these clubs, including meeting times and locations, which can be particularly useful for new collectors.

For those with specific interests, clubs like the Case Collectors Club, Buck Collectors Club, or The Emerson Collectors Association focus on the knives from particular makers, offering specialized knowledge and networking opportunities that cater directly to enthusiasts of those brands. These clubs often provide exclusive access to limited edition models and insider information from the manufacturers, enhancing the collecting experience for their members.

knife collectors club

Image credit: Shenandoah Valley Knife Collectors

Types of Knife Collections

Knife collections can vary widely, each defined by the collector’s interests, goals, and the themes they choose to focus on. Here are several distinct types of knife collections that enthusiasts often pursue:

Historical Knives: This type of collection focuses on knives that have significant historical importance. Collectors might specialize in blades from specific eras, like ancient civilizations, medieval times, or during significant global events such as World Wars.

Cultural Knives: Collectors of cultural knives seek pieces that represent the heritage and craftsmanship of various cultures and countries. Examples include the Japanese katana, the Scottish dirk, or the Nepalese kukri, each telling a story of the people and the historical context in which the knife was used.

Functional Knives: Some collectors specialize in knives categorized by their specific uses. This includes hunting knives, fishing knives, tactical knives, and survival knives. Collectors might appreciate the technological advancements in materials and design that improve the knife’s utility.

Art and Custom Knives: These collections feature knives that are often one-of-a-kind, created by skilled artisans. Materials like Damascus steel or handles crafted from exotic materials can be highlights. Collectors appreciate the aesthetic beauty and craftsmanship more than the utility.

Brand-Specific Collections: Focusing on specific manufacturers or brands, these collectors might gather pieces from famous makers like Benchmade, Gerber, or historical brands such as Case Knives. Such collections often trace the evolution of a brand’s design and technological advancements over time.

Thematic Collections: These are built around a specific theme, such as knives featured in movies, knives used by famous personalities, or knives that have won design awards. Thematic collections can be quite eclectic, spanning various types and eras based on the theme.

Utility Collections: Aimed at collecting knives that serve practical purposes in everyday life, including kitchen knives, pocket knives, and multi-tools. Collectors might focus on the best examples of each type, such as renowned chef knives or iconic Swiss Army knives.

Each type of collection has its own charm and challenges, appealing to different aspects of knife collecting—from historical significance and cultural depth to functional design and artistic expression.

handmade custom knives

Collectible Knife Price Guide

A cost guide for different types of knife collections involves considering a wide range of factors, including rarity, condition, provenance, and market demand. Below is a general guide that provides a snapshot of the potential investment range for one knife in each type of collection. Note that the values provided are indicative and can vary significantly based on the specifics of each knife and market conditions. Read the related article: Most Expensive Knives in the World.

Type of Collection Cost Range (per knife) Collection Size Investment Range
Historical Knives $100 – $50,000+ 10-100+ A few thousand to several hundred thousand dollars
Cultural Knives $50 – $20,000+ 20-200 A few thousand to tens of thousands of dollars
Functional Knives $20 – $5,000 50-500+ A few hundred to tens of thousands of dollars
Artistic and Custom Knives $200 – $30,000+ 10-50 Tens of thousands of dollars or more
Brand-Specific Collections $50 – $15,000+ 20-200+ A few thousand to over $100,000
Thematic Collections $100 – $10,000+ 10-100 A few thousand to many tens of thousands of dollars
Utility Collections $10 – $2,000 100-1000+ A few hundred to several thousand dollars

While most knife collections are modest, the largest in the world boasts an impressive 2,175 knives.

Video credit: The Collector

Online Resources for Knife Enthusiasts

The internet serves as a valuable resource for potential knife collectors, offering access to a wealth of information through specialized discussion forums. These online communities are vibrant spaces where seasoned collectors eagerly share insights, offering advice on everything from successful acquisition strategies to challenges they’ve faced. Many forums also facilitate direct interactions with experts and knife makers, who can provide detailed answers to questions and offer practical guidance.

In addition to forums, a number of websites dedicated exclusively to the sale and trade of knives have emerged in recent years. These platforms allow collectors to manage their collections, compare items, and engage directly with other collectors for buying, selling, or trading. Such resources are invaluable for both novice and experienced collectors alike, helping them to expand their collections and connect with the broader knife collecting community.

Knife Discussion Forums on the Internet

The internet hosts a diverse array of forums that cater to enthusiasts of knives and knife collecting. The largest and most active forums today is BladeForums.com, which boasts over 250,000 members, and Reddit /r/knives/ with 338K members. These platforms primarily focus on production knives and serve as a vibrant hub for discussions, trades, and insights into the latest trends in knife manufacturing.

You can also connect with fellow knife enthusiasts on Facebook Groups.

Additionally, several prominent knife manufacturers, including Cold Steel, Spyderco, and Benchmade, have established their own branded forums. These forums not only foster community engagement by allowing direct communication between the company and its customers but also provide a platform for addressing customer service issues efficiently.

Moreover, some forums extend their influence beyond online discussions. For example, the Usual Suspects Network (usn2.net) not only facilitates discussions but also organizes its own knife shows, creating events that rival those of well-known industry gatherings like the annual Blade Show hosted by Blade magazine. These shows offer a dynamic venue for collectors to meet, exchange ideas, and view new knife releases, further enriching the knife collecting community.

YouTube as a Resource for Knife Collectors

YouTube has become an invaluable resource for knife collectors, offering a wealth of information that spans reviews, tutorials, and product launches. Many YouTube channels are dedicated to knife collecting, where experienced collectors provide comprehensive reviews that can help viewers determine whether a knife fits their collection criteria. These reviews often delve into important details such as the quality of the blade steel, the ergonomics of the handle, and the knife’s price point.

Viewers can interact directly with content creators through comments, posing questions and seeking advice about specific knives they are interested in. This interaction fosters a community environment and provides a platform for exchange between collectors of all levels. Additionally, many knife manufacturers utilize YouTube to showcase their latest products, giving collectors a first look at newly released knives and upcoming trends in the industry. This makes YouTube not only a tool for learning and community building but also a direct line to the latest developments from leading knife brands.

Video credit: Zac in the Wild

Instagram’s Role in Knife Collecting

Instagram has rapidly become a go-to platform for knife collectors, leveraging its visual-centric approach to offer a unique perspective on the hobby. Unlike YouTube, which focuses on video content, Instagram primarily features high-quality photos and short videos (Reels), allowing collectors to showcase their knives in detailed, visually appealing posts. This format is particularly well-suited for highlighting the craftsmanship, design, and condition of knives.

Collectors use Instagram not only to display their own collections but also to follow others in the community, gaining inspiration and insight into various types of knives. It’s an excellent resource for staying updated on the latest releases from both established manufacturers and custom knife makers. Through Instagram, collectors can easily keep tabs on emerging trends and new designs, making it an essential tool for anyone interested in the art and craft of knife collecting.

Understanding the Secondary Knife Market

The secondary market for knives is a dynamic area where the initial retail price of a knife holds significance only at the moment of purchase. Once a knife changes hands, its value is primarily determined by the secondary market, which often diverges from the original retail price due to factors such as depreciation for retail costs including advertising, production, and shipping. In the secondary market, knives may be sold for more, less, or the same amount as their original purchase price, influenced by their condition, age, supply, demand, and other market dynamics.

From the 1960s to the present, there has been significant production of collectible knives, with many purchased not only for use but also as financial investments. The 1990s, in particular, saw the development of a speculative secondary market for many types of knives. Despite being labeled as “limited editions,” the production volumes were often high, leading to an abundance of duplicates and, consequently, lower demand and reduced market values for many of these items.

The secondary market plays a critical role within the knife collecting community. It allows seasoned collectors to refine and upgrade their collections by selling older pieces to fund new acquisitions, thus providing liquidity and stimulating market activity. This market not only facilitates monetary appreciation but also helps new collectors enter the hobby by making quality previously-owned knives available. Learning about the history and heritage of knife collecting through these transactions can add immense value to the experience.

Custom knife makers with strong followings often see their pieces appreciate in value almost immediately after sale due to high demand and limited supply, with secondary market prices potentially reaching 200% of the original value.

Price guides, whether online or in print, are essential tools for collectors. These guides, often updated annually, help collectors estimate the potential resale value of their knives, providing a vital resource for navigating the secondary market effectively.

Author: Aleks Nemtcev | Connect with me on LinkedIn

Main image credit: YouTube channel The Collector.

References:

The Knifemakers’ Guild is a prestigious organization that brings together skilled artisans, bladesmiths, and knife enthusiasts. Founded in 1970, the guild serves as a hub for those who craft exquisite knives, daggers, and edged tools. knifemakersguild.com

National Knife Collectors Association (NKCA): A Community for Knife Enthusiasts and Collectors.

iKnife Collector is an online community for knife collectors, where enthusiasts come together to discuss knives, share their passion for sharp objects, and explore an arsenal of survival tools and skills. iknifecollector.com

The Case Collectors Club® has been a beacon for knife collectors and enthusiasts worldwide since its establishment in 1981. casecollectorsclub.com

The Buck Collectors Club (BCCI) is a passionate community of Buck knife enthusiasts who share a common love for collecting and displaying Buck Knives. buckcollectorsclub.org

The Emerson Collectors Association (ECA) is a vibrant community of knife enthusiasts who share a deep appreciation for Emerson Knives. emersonknives.com

BladeForums.com is a vibrant online community for knife enthusiasts. bladeforums.com

Reddit’s /r/knives community reddit.com

The USN community fosters discussions on a wide range of topics, including knives, gear, and related interests. usnv2.net

Spyderco Forum is an online community where enthusiasts gather to discuss Spyderco’s products and history. forum.spyderco.com

The World of Art Knife Makers and Art Knives is a vibrant Facebook group with over 60.OK members. It serves as a hub for blade enthusiasts, where they can share their passion for knife making and admire exquisite art knives. facebook.com

The Blade Show Atlanta, the world’s largest knife show, is a must-attend event for knife enthusiasts and collectors. bladeshow.com

Blade Show West, is the largest Western knife show. bladeshowwest.com

Blade Show Texas, presented by BLADE Magazine, is a two-day celebration of knives and cowboy creations in the heart of Texas. bladeshowtexas.com

The California Custom Knife Show (CCKS) is a remarkable event that showcases handmade knives crafted by some of the finest makers in the world. r1promotions.com

Art Knife Invitational – Where Best Makers and Collectors Meet. aki.show

New York Custom Knife Show (NYCKS) fiftyfiftyproductions.net

“The International Blade Collectors Association Price Guide to Antique Knives” by J. Bruce Voyles is a comprehensive resource for knife enthusiasts and collectors, covering pricing information for 40,000 knives from 1800 to 1970.

“The Official Price Guide to Collector Knives”, author C. Houston.

“The Great Collections: Modern Custom Knives” is a book authored by David Darom12. Published by Chartwell Books, Inc. on May 15, 20081, the book showcases over 650 high-end art knife treasures, many of which have never been photographed before.

“The World of Art Knives” is a book authored by David Darom. Published by Dr. David Darom on January 1, 201011, the book presents a detailed, fully illustrated study, exhibiting more than 520 of some of the most sought after modern knife art creations.

TheKnifeJunkie channel focuses on knives and knife collecting. youtube.com

Nick Shabazz’s channel offers a mix of knife reviews, disassemblies, and philosophical discussions about knives. youtube.com

Noblie Custom Knives is a treasure trove for knife enthusiasts and collectors. youtube.com

Holme & Hadfield display cases Holme & Hadfield

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