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How and Why Custom Knives Appreciate in Value - Part 2

Next came the “Drawing!” No, not a picture, but those events that are now common place at every major knife show in the United States. My first experience with this was in the 80’s watching Michael Walker have a drawing for his knives (usually a single knife.) Anyone who has any experience with sales will tell you “money talks.” It is no different with the custom knife market. What was starting to happen is certain individuals would start to buy every knife on a makers table. Now you can’t argue with the maker for wanting to get paid for their work. However, those who were second, third, etc. in line were a little, shall we say “miffed.” Not having an opportunity to purchase one of the maker’s knives. Once the maker seems assured all their knives would sell they went to the “Drawing.”

It was at the drawing where one could witness an interesting phenomenon. As soon as someone paid the maker for their knife…there was another person waiting to buy the knife from the individual who was just selected in the drawing. Viola, instant appreciation. This is a regular occurrence at every show that has a drawing. Keep in mind many collectors will have driven or flown for many hours to get to the show to get a knife from their favorite maker. A premium of several hundred to several thousand dollars is not going to get into their way.

For decades the way a maker got to the point where their knives would appreciate in value was to work in anonymity for about 5-7 years. They built a collector base primarily through attending the major shows, word of mouth and perhaps an article in knife or firearms magazine. Then after 10 years they became an “overnight sensation” or so it seemed.

In the late 1990’s the custom knife market was introduced to the Internet. Subsequently, custom knives were taken into the 21st Century and the rules changed.

As I wrote in the first part of this article if you ask most custom knife buyers they will tell you, “I buy what they like.” This mantra of the custom knife collector would be put to the test as custom knives entered the 21st Century. While a few web sites popped up towards the late 90’s, information was still obtained primarily through the phone, knife magazines, knife shows or writing the maker directly (usually asking for a catalog.)

Not surprisingly the appreciation of custom knife values prior to the Internet was slower than it is now. The custom knife market has moved from primarily direct sales from the maker to the collector to a series of outlets that allow the collector better access to a potential buyer. Knife magazines stepped in to provide an outlet looking for those who wanted to buy or sell custom knives. Subsequently, the advent of a dealer network gave an additional outlet. Finally, in the 21st century the Internet through collectors/buyers introduced custom knives to a worldwide audience with real time information.

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Comment by dead_left_knife_guy on October 17, 2018 at 20:15

Les, have you noticed any custom knives depreciating in value, such as after the maker dies?  I'm not talking the Bob Lovelesses or Jimmy Liles of the world, but the lesser-known makers (as in, the vast majority of them).

Some may even get a bit of attention & then sort of disappear, for whatever reason.  Or makers who never really got much attention.  For most, it seems that when the makers pass away, their work just passes into obscurity. 

I've given a little thought to this concept over the years.  Knifemakers' works, apparently unlike other artists, seemed to to depreciate after they died.  So I thought.  But as I was responding to your post it struck me -- the vast majority of the works of painters & other artists doesn't appreciate posthumously either.  Most artists don't become prominent -- & this includes knifemakers.

It'd be great to hear your thoughts on the topic of depreciation -- the lesser-discussed aspect of changes in knife values.

White River Knives

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