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So just how healthy is the vintage knife market right now?

Since I began seriously collecting old knives, I repeatedly heard folks say the buying market for old knives would eventually die out, especially since the younger knife enthusiasts prefer the more modern knives to collect and carry. This speculation always caused concern, not simply because I had a fortune tied up in old knives, but because the older knives are our windows to the past, a glimpse into the life and times of early American cutlery history. And while not everyone is a history buff, that I understand, there is nothing more interesting to me than to hold an old knife and wonder the tales that knife could tell.

Trying to measure the number of knife buyers for old knives and the health of the market can be difficult. There are a few indicators we can look at to try to get a feel though. Typically dealers look at knife show attendance. Others look at the number of NKCA members. Some even look at the number of folks requesting to be one the dealers' mailing list as signs of the amount of interest in old collector knives. I feel these things do give us a feel for the health of the market, and yet, in today's wired world, there is other important tool we have to gauge the depth and breath of the market.

One of the primary tools we have today is a virtual real time indicator- online auctions. I know the argument against using online auctions for showing us the state of values and buyer interest has always been that most of the buyers for old knives aren't totally comfortable using the Internet to buy through, but that argument is so 1980's to me. The other argument against online auctions as indicators has been that the bidders don't get a true representation of the knife's condition. While others say they don't buy from sellers they don't know. 

After having watched the introduction of online auctions since the start of eBay, and including traditional auctioneers slowly wading into using online auctions, there is no doubt that now, in 2013, most collectors are comfortable 1) using a computer, 2) knowing what questions to ask, and 3) buying through sites and from sellers they trust, to the point that in most cases, online auctions provide a truer indicator of the market than even does a "traditional live auction" conducted in conjunction with a local knife show. Online auctions can also reach a broader geographic market than simply those who take the time to travel to a show.

At the risk of being criticized for self promotion here (I'm selling my collection through an online knife auction right now), I can attest firsthand, the number of states bidders are from for my sale far out exceeds the number who would have attended the sale in person if I'd conducted a live auction.

It is going to be very interesting to see the final results of my auction. And while I expect I overpaid for many knives in my collection, as passionate collectors often do, and will lose money on these, the number of bidders and prices will tell us exactly the state of the market for old knives. Granted, my collection is made up of a single pattern and that will need to be factored in, but regardless, it will give us a real time snapshot of collectors' thinking coming out of The Great Recession. No doubt the other factor contributing to prices paid and number of collectors out in the market is the economy. We have just come through the equivalent of a real depression- they called it The Great Recession, but to me that was an attempt at making us think things weren't as bad as they really were- PR spin is what it was.

It appears folks are now feeling a little better about their future and the state of the US economy. The DOW is up to a record high. The savings rate is increasing. Folks are starting to buy houses again and the unemployment rate continues to drop. So, what's the point? We are going to be able to see exactly where old knife prices have been reset to at this point in the market cycle. Collector knife values do cycle, just like real estate and other collectibles. They go up and down. Collectibles typically bottom out and begin to rise parallel with the economy. Rarely does a particular niche' collectible fall out and never come back..unless it was only a fade to begin with. And in my interviews with Old Timers for my website, I quickly learned for decades now old knives continue to be sought after through the highs and the lows.

As an side here- I attended a collectible auction last week in New York. They sold 69 of 72 lots before a standing room crowd. The total sale was $691 million. No typo here. You read it right. $691 million. The lots comprised of contemporary art, but nonetheless, the art market cycles too, and clearly the life is back in these collectibles. 

Point here is this- online auctions provide us a real time gauge of where values are in the cycle of the market. I believe from what I am seeing already that the trend is once again up. Sure the better condition and investment grade knives held their values through the down market better than the others, but even still, it appears there are plenty of old knife buyers active and wanting to buy knives. Will the values come in at what they were back in the early 2000s? I don't expect they will at this stage in the cycle, but I can tell you already, the old knife market is alive and well. 

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Tags: auction, collection, collectors, health, knives, market, toenails

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Comment by Tobias Gibson on November 30, 2013 at 13:28

don't confuse "collectibles" with "collector's items"

Colectibles are items made in bulk and made for the purpose of collecting.  (Beanie Babies, tin signs,  and such)  Collector's Items are items that were not really made for the sake of collecting but became popular after the fact. Collectibles are not going to go up much in value.  Collectors item will fluctuate over time but will most like go up in value more than collectibles,

Comment by Trent Rock on November 30, 2013 at 12:31

Picasso, St. Gaudens or Lafite: Does Passion Have a Place in Wealth...

See page 7

The correlation between inflation and a "collectibles basket" =.45

Comment by Trent Rock on November 30, 2013 at 12:27

Antique knife values are positively correlated to inflation...IMHO....That is why collectibles (and real estate) are called hedges against inflation.....

In Memoriam
Comment by Robert Burris on November 22, 2013 at 12:07

Scott, thanks for everything you have done for us. I think one day, you will collect again. Once a collector always a collector....lol  Please, find time to come and take part in this great club, that you started.

Comment by Jan Carter on November 21, 2013 at 19:06


It does look about as I expected also.  I was pleased to see the books and memorabilia did well.  Thanks for bringing us with you on this part of the journey as well.  You brought many good aspects to the toenail community and the knife community as a whole.  Stay here with us and visit as often as you can.  You will always have the pics and discussions to remind you of the day you found each of those knives

In Memoriam
Comment by Scott King on November 21, 2013 at 16:20

Gotta come back now that the auction has closed (an hour ago, actually) to report my read on the market was right on. While some of the high-end were a deal, overall the values were in line with what I expected. So, thank you to all who supported my auction, and my knife activities over the years. In many ways it was a bittersweet event for me, as you can imagine. Toenail collecting was my passion and it allowed me to meet all you and others from the NKCA and Blade world. The results are at mclemoreauction.com if you want to see how these old knives did.

Thanks again!


Comment by Ken Spielvogel on November 20, 2013 at 18:04

Yep Robert, that do pose a problem come knife buying time.

In Memoriam
Comment by Robert Burris on November 20, 2013 at 16:19

Well Tobias, I have never heard my theory put like that but I agree. Ken, I'm in trouble, I hate Baloney...lol

Comment by Ken Spielvogel on November 20, 2013 at 13:46

Boy, I am in good shape - I like Baloney and I like Knives. LOL

Comment by Tobias Gibson on November 20, 2013 at 13:12

I share your opinion, Robert.  Unlike governments people have to live within their means.  When it comes down to eating or collecting knives, we like to joke about knife collecting be more important but most of us are not dealers and buy knives with our disposable income.  

Dealers also have to eat and if we're not buying  because we 'd rather eat, then they will lower the price in order to entice us into eating a baloney sandwich instead of a pork chop!  

But when you're already eating baloney it is hard to entice you to switch to "meow mix" just to get a knife.  You can buy a lot of baloney for the price of a single Case Trapper!

White River Knives

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