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Mike Haskew

Knife Collecting: 12 Questions to Ask Before Starting Over

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collecting antique knives
Well-made vintage knives by legendary makers can be very attractive to collect. Lloyd Hale does the honors here in a chute knife sporting an ironwood handle with pearl and abalone inlay. (SharpByCoop.com photo)

Eventually, All Knife Collectors Hit Crossroads

You may face a crossroads, a time of decision involving the realization that interests, tastes and possibly buying power change. In such situations, you may decide to begin collecting a different genre of knives, departing from what you have collected. If and when that time comes, evaluating your situation and making informed decisions is crucial.

Some basic questions loom large, from deciding what to collect to getting the best education on what is available, selling or retaining an existing collection, and, if the choice is to sell, then maximizing the revenue generated.

Should You Reboot? Ask Yourself These Questions

Do you have a very good reason for starting over?

Do you sell or keep your existing collection?

If you sell it, how do you get the most out of it?

Are you trying to recover your initial investment or trying to make as much money as possible to assemble your new collection?

Are you comfortable with the effort and costs it will take to build a new collection?

Do you want to make money or collect, carry or use the knives?

What knives should you collect, and how do you best research them?

How available are they and are they of recent vintage?

Are they still in production or limited in distribution, both of which influence collectibility?

If antiques, where can they be found and can they be found without undue cost?

What are the prices typically asked for the knives in collectible condition?

Are you going to collect only mint or near-mint examples, and can you afford to pay premium prices for them?

Guidelines for Going Forward with a New Collection

If, after answering those questions, you decide to liquidate and start over, keep these guidelines in mind.

Collect what you like or even use.

Chasing trends is a fool’s errand. Collecting knives that are hot now means paying top dollar now as well.

Know which knives are collectible in specific geographic locations of the country.

Inexpensive, low-end knives will never appreciate to any degree.

Well-made, fine-condition knives should not lose you any money.

Don’t buy damaged/poor condition knives unless they are very old and collectible, such as antique bowies and rare military knives.

Learn More About Collecting Knives in This Book

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How the Gerber LST Changed Pocketknives Forever

gerber LST best lightweight knives

BLADE Magazine Cutlery Hall-Of-Fame® member Pete Gerber knew he was onto something with the FS1, a knife he remembers as “dandy” and one of three in the Folding Sportsman line that debuted with Gerber Legendary Blades beginning sometime around 1980.

“It was just a little heavy,” Pete recalled. “Blackie Collins was working with us on some projects then, and I asked him for help with it. I said, ‘Blackie, this is a nice knife. How can we take some weight out of it and put some pizzazz into it?’”

The knife engineers at Gerber Legendary Blades had been working with Micarta handle slabs, rather labor intensive at the time since the plastic laminate had to be machined to the appropriate shape.

Gerber bolt action pocketknife
The Bolt Action folders were among the Blackie Collins designs for Gerber that predated the LST. The original Bolt Action is at bottom and the newer Bolt Action hunter is at top.

“We had to mill it out and used brass washers with rivets to attach the slabs,” Pete said. “The original LST was the FS1 in-house design, and Blackie was first given the assignment to put moxie into it using the existing parts. He worked on the design and then put an injection-molded handle on it with nice checkering. Those were his contributions.”

As fine as it was, as long as the slab handles were involved the LST had trouble fully living up to the attributes that provided its name, “Light, Smooth, and Tough.” Collins already had contributed some well-known designs to Gerber, including the Bolt Action folder and the Touché belt buckle knife, and the wheels began to turn in his head.

ultralight knives
The LST, as offered today on Gerber’s website. (Gerber image)

Blackie had a friend in Gastonia, North Carolina, just outside Charlotte, and that friend ran an injection-molding business. Instead of using riveted slabs as handle material, why not try a one-piece injection-molded handle to reduce both the weight and production cost of a knife design that was already selling pretty well? Just to add to the incentive, injection molding would open up the spectrum of handle colors as well.

After some experimentation, the production LST was manufactured with the glass-filled, nylon-reinforced Zytel as the handle material.

“It was the first time a folding knife was made with a one-piece handle, and it worked,” Pete remembered. “The action was so smooth because we went through an operation called ‘match catch,’ where the blade and the catch were kept together until they were assembled and until they were just perfect. When the knife closed, the blade referenced the catch, and it was as smooth as it could be.”

A New Car for a New Knife

blackie collins knife designer
Blackie Collins loved fast cars and motorcycles. When it came time for Pete Gerber to compensate him for his input on the LST, Blackie decided he wanted a Corvette—and Pete made it happen. (Meyerco image)

Almost as sweet as the story behind the LST, which has sold in the millions since the early 1980s, is the back-story of Blackie’s compensation for his input that led to the dynamic little knife’s eventual success. Pete asked Blackie what he wanted in the way of payment for services rendered.

“I didn’t think it could be a royalty knife since it was a modified in-house design,” Gerber explained. “I asked what he wanted for payment, and I suggested that maybe a new car would be something he would like.”

The story goes that the new car turned out to be a Corvette and that Pete’s check for $29,000 made it happen.

Blackie, a Cutlery Hall Of Famer who tragically lost his life in a motorcycle accident in 2011, loved cars and motorcycles and just about anything mechanical, and the idea of new wheels appealed to him. His wife, Jane, remembers well the search for just the right vehicle.

“We went from South Carolina to Jacksonville, Florida, to look at Avanti cars,” she recalled. “He didn’t like the way the new ones handled, so we looked at Corvettes, bought one that was two-tone gold, and drove it home. He owned that car for a few years and then traded it in.”

Pete remembers Collins driving around his hometown in South Carolina in that Corvette with a license plate that simply read, “Blackie.”

Offering items other than money for consulting seemed to work well for Pete, who also once paid Cutlery Hall-Of-Famer Bob Loveless with an airplane.

While Blackie burned up the roads in the Corvette, the Gerber-Collins partnership took the knife market by storm with the LST.

“Blackie used to say that the LST revolutionized the knife industry,” Jane recalled. “He did a lot of work for Gerber, and he really reduced the number of parts on that knife and put the plastic handle on it to make it lighter.”

Taking the World By Storm

History of Gerber knives
A box of lockback folders in the Gerber factory in the early 1980s shows the thick nature of the handles. The LST not only was lightweight, it was thin, too, adding even more to its ease of carry.

The new lightweight knife was a sensation, and soon other knife companies were taking notice, working on something similar. It was pure gold in itself—with a grand total of six parts to the whole enterprise. Buyers wanted the light, smooth-action, durable and reasonably priced LST, and competitors scrambled to keep pace with Gerber’s trendsetter.

Soon enough, there were similar offerings rolling off assembly lines and onto store shelves. The introduction of LST energized knife manufacturers in a manner seldom seen.

The LST developed its own legacy among the knives that changed knife history, and it is still being manufactured in Portland, Oregon, and sold under the Gerber banner today.

“It was the first true ultralight knife,” explained Dan Delavan of Plaza Cutlery in Costa Mesa, California, “and Gerber had a high-quality blade in that light handle at a good price. You could throw it in the pocket of your swim trunks and go! Lightweight became attractive, and the LST was thin, too. It didn’t bulge in a suit pocket and the checkering gave it a nice grip, just like an extension of the finger. It was the knife that introduced the ultralight, and we sold a lot of them back in the day.”

Lightweight vs. Airweight

Contemporary to the introduction of the LST, Cutlery Hall-Of-Famer A.G. Russell was producing ultralight knives of his own in the Airweight series. Like other knife manufacturers and designers, Russell also worked with Blackie.

He remembers the concept of the ultralight as the shape of things to come in the 1970s.

“I wanted strength but little weight in a knife, too,” Russell noted, “and my Airweight was using a Micarta handle. Blackie had that great idea of molding the handle instead of shaping it, which would have suited an operation like Gerber perfectly. The LST was extremely lightweight and it sold in the millions.”

LST Materials

Pete Gerber recalls using 440A stainless blade steel in the early LST, and says the knife had a good, husky blade that he never saw break—and it was complemented with a nicely polished tang.

“Many other companies were copying it, trying to figure out what we did and how the LST worked so well,” Pete said. “Many of those companies made knives that were quite similar to the LST long after ours was successful. I don’t believe we had a patent on it at all; I don’t think we could get one. The patent area was out of my expertise, but I told our folks to get one whenever we could.”

An Enduring Legacy

Peter Gerber knives
Peter Gerber was the headman at Gerber when the LST debuted in 1981. “It was the first time a folding knife was made with a one-piece handle,” he said, “and it worked.”

After almost 40 years, the staying power of the LST is undisputed, and its place as a milestone in the progressive development of knife design is secure. Along with other innovations attributed to Blackie, it stands out among its peers with a timeless depiction of design sense and simple user friendliness.

During the past four decades, the LST has been manufactured in several variants.

DuPont recently celebrated the 50th anniversary of its nylon plastic with a commemorative run of LSTs handled in the company’s Delrin material.

Not long ago, Pete was in a company store in Lincoln City, Oregon, and one of the clerks showed him a Mini LST with a bright green handle.

“I had never seen that bright green before,” Gerber laughed. “It just goes to show you that things can develop that you don’t even know about.”

When the LST hit the market in 1981, the time was right. Since then, it has given Gerber and the knife industry a continuing boost.

“It has sold in the seven figures,” Pete reflected, “and I think it gave us a hell of a shot in the arm.”

Gerber LST Specs

The standard LST sells today on the Gerber company website for a modest $23. The knife weighs a remarkable 1.2 ounces with a drop-point 420HC stainless steel blade of 2.63 inches and a closed length of 3.61 inches. The handle is described as tactile, textured and made of lightweight, synthetic glass-filled nylon.

Light, smooth, and tough, Gerber’s LST has earned its place among the elite products of the modern knife industry.

What Other Knives Changed the World? Find Out With This Download

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The Legacy of Bob Loveless’s Dropped Hunter

robert loveless knifemaker

bob loveless knives
Bob Loveless, pictured here, left a knifemaking legacy that continues to influence generations.
“Bob is most likely the best designer to ever produce a knife, as design after design was just right,” John Denton observed.

Too often, it seems, the mediocre is celebrated. Descriptive terms like “legendary” and “timeless” are handed out with reckless abandon. But few would argue that the terms are fitting when applied to BLADE Magazine Cutlery Hall-Of-Fame© member R.W. “Bob” Loveless and the dropped hunter.

Also known as the drop-point hunter or simply the drop point, the knife grabbed the attention of the world of knives more than half-a-century ago and has remained in the limelight ever since.

“Bob Loveless didn’t invent the drop point but he sure made it popular,” remembered longtime merchant, knife advocate and Cutlery Hall-Of-Famer A.G. Russell. “Loveless was different. Loveless was magic. When his knives sold for $650 and other makers’ knives sold for $200, he said his knife was worth $200 but the mark was worth $450.”

Russell points to an article that appeared in Guns & Ammo magazine in the 1960s. It thrust Loveless and his custom knives, along with those of Harry Morseth and Merle Seguine, to the forefront.

“It made Loveless the most renowned knifemaker in America,” A.G. recalled. “In handmade patterns nobody surpassed Loveless’s drop point. Not just because it was copied, but everybody was copying it—kind of like the Randall Model 1 was copied.

“It wasn’t his best or most useful model. It was simply the most popular. His best was the semi-skinner, with a better point and belly,” Russell opined.

Global Impact of Loveless Knives

bob loveless custom knife sheath
Adding to the desirability of any Loveless dropped hunter—and any Loveless knife, for that matter—is an original Loveless sheath. Loveless prided himself on the quality of his sheaths almost as much as the quality of his knives. (image courtesy of John Denton)

John Denton is one of the world’s foremost authorities on Loveless knives.

He has been an avid collector for decades and a purveyor of Loveless knives for many years, following in the footsteps of his late father and purveying legend J.W. Denton.

“The first time I saw a drop-point hunter was in BLADE® Magazine in the ’80s,” he recalled. “If you didn’t get BLADE Magazine, you did not know about anything in the knife world. Also, it seems that every time I liked a knife I saw in a photo I would read below it, and it would say, ‘made by R.W. Loveless.’ So there must have been something special if a photo catches you over and over in books and magazines.”

bob loveless knife shop
Loveless and his knives were immensely popular in Japan, and John Denton surmises that the drop point was the catalyst for the Loveless explosion in the Asian market. From left: Loveless, Denton and knifemaker/Loveless’s long-time assistant Jim Merritt in the Loveless shop in Riverside, California. (image courtesy of John Denton)

Loveless and his knives were immensely popular in Japan, and Denton surmises that the drop point was the catalyst for the Loveless explosion in the Asian market.

“The fact is that the drop point was meant to be a using tool, just like Hamada Pottery. It was utilitarian and useful. That’s the reason he was so huge in Japan, his simple design, and nothing was wasted, and the fact that it was so well balanced in the hand—never square—so that you did not feel any [unnecessary] sharp surface when working with it. Pure brilliance!”

Cutlery Hall-Of-Famer B.R. Hughes met Loveless through A.G. Russell, who had met Bob a year earlier while on a tour in 1967 that included stops at the shops of several custom knifemakers, including Loveless’s in California.

“I first saw a Loveless drop-point hunter in the dead of winter in 1968,” Hughes smiled, “when my good friend A.G. Russell called and told me that he was hosting a California maker named R.W. Loveless, who was doing some pretty special stuff with his knives, and invited me to come up for a visit.”

The roads between Hughes’ home in Texarkana, Texas, and Russell’s business in Arkansas were covered with snow at the time, but Hughes prevailed on a friend, Bill Murdock, who owned a plane and flew him over to the airport in Fayetteville.

“A.G. and Bob picked us up at the airport, and we drove to a small diner, where we had coffee and ate,” Hughes recalled. “Bob laid out several of his knives on the table and he talked. I was most impressed with the workmanship and the design of the knives, notably the extremely thinly ground blades, the full tangs, the handle design, and the tapered tangs. The overall workmanship was some of the best I had seen up to that point. Indeed, the only knifemaker of that period I would say was comparable in terms of workmanship would have been D.E. Henry.”

bob loveless drop point hunter
Denton calls this the “essential Loveless drop-point hunter” with a Micarta handle and engraving by Dan Wilkerson, whom Denton indicated engraved more Loveless knives than anyone. The gold in the engraving, including the arrowhead, is 18k. (image courtesy of John Denton)

Loveless evidently struck a chord when he revived an old design and added his personal touch. The result was an utter phenomenon. His authorship was unmistakable and his mark became prized the world over.

“The drop point is not hard to make,” Denton noted. “Loveless told me that he did not like making sub-hilts because by the time he made one sub-hilt he could have made 10 or more drops. But that’s what makes his double grinds so nice. They are rare and took time to make. But Bob said 90-percent plus of his production was some sort of hunter, and of those, [mostly] the drop. He went years sometimes never making a Big Bear [sub-hilt].

“Bob is most likely the best designer to ever produce a knife, as design after design was just right,” Denton continued, “the Big Bear, the boot, New York Special, Hideouts, Chute knives. All amazing. He is much like the Ferrari of the knife world. He did it so well that everyone copies it and wants to make a drop-point hunter when they start out making knives, or they want to certainly own one if they collect knives. I just recently sold a Loveless knife to rock legend Eric Clapton. So, Loveless designs are known all over the globe.”

Schrade Bob Loveless knives
An actual 1970s Schrade reproduction of the Loveless drop point (above) and the original Loveless Lawndale model on which it was based (right) appear here. “A.G. Russell put Loveless in touch with Uncle Henry Baer of Schrade and the rest is history,” John Denton stated. (image courtesy of John Denton)

According to Denton, Loveless started making hunting knives in the 1950s and conceived his additions to the genre.

From there, John says, the rest is history. By the 1970s and ’80s, Schrade, Gerber and Beretta were among the companies offering reproductions of the drop-point hunter, so the knife’s influence captured the mass-production market as well.

Bob Loveless: Larger than Life

bob loveless hunting knife
Denton said Loveless once told him 90-percent plus of his production was some sort of hunter, and of those most were drop points.

Cutlery Hall-Of-Famer D’ Holder treasures his personal relationship with the late Loveless.

“I had seen Loveless drop points in several magazines in the late ’60s,” Holder said, “but saw my first up close and real in 1973. Dan Dennehy was raising money for his move to Del Norte, Colorado, and had a Loveless drop point on his gun show table for sale. It was at the Yuma, Arizona, gun show and he was asking $125. It had stag handles and a gold escutcheon on top of the blade with [Loveless’s] name engraved in it. On the side of it was engraved, ‘To my good friend Dan, from Bob.’”

D’ bought the knife that day and owned it for 15 years before selling it to Al Williams, a renowned Loveless collector, for $1,800. Holder says he should have kept it and that it would bring at least $10,000 today.

“I would sit in my easy chair and fondle that knife for hours trying to figure out what was so special,” D’ mused. “I never came up with a clear answer other than it was a Loveless.”

For years, D’ stopped by Bob’s Riverside, California, shop while on his way to one of the West Coast knife shows.

They exchanged varying opinions of topics of the day, and even when those opinions diverged they shook hands and looked forward to the next visit.

collecting bob loveless knives
According to A.G. Russell, the drop point was not Loveless’s best or most useful model. It was simply the most
popular. “His best was the semi-skinner, with a better point and belly,” Russell opined. (PointSeven image)

“The last time we had our usual discussion and it came time to leave, I extended my hand as always,” Holder said, “and he brushed it aside and gave me a big hug, and told me how much he appreciated the visits. Several years later he came to Phoenix and spent the day with me in my shop. It was one of the highlights of my career. He was a perfect gentleman. I miss the opportunity to visit with him. I miss his personality, his gruff exterior and his friendship.”

Hughes agrees that the drop point was not the most difficult knife to make, but its impact has been enormous. He recalls Loveless taking a moment during that first meeting at the diner in Arkansas, running the edge of one of his knives against pressure. As he moved it, the edge actually rippled, something B.R. had never seen before.

american bladesmith society
B.R. Hughes—at left here with Bill Moran—agrees with John Denton that though the drop point is not the most diffi cult to make, its impact has been vast. (Buddy Thomason image)

“Subsequent events indicated that it was not too difficult to turn out knives of this style and quality,” Hughes remarked, “because in a relatively short span of time at least half the stock-removal knifemakers in America were turning out pretty close copies of Loveless knives. He had an instant impact on knifemaking, almost overnight. My article on Loveless and his knives appeared sometime later in the long defunct GUNsport Magazine, of which I was shotgun editor at the time. Other articles appeared in other gun magazines. Remember, there was no BLADE, no Knives Illustrated in those days.”

In the pantheon of great custom knifemakers, Hughes says the knives of Cutlery Hall-Of-Famer Bo Randall were the most copied until Loveless came along. Then Loveless and Cutlery Hall-Of-Famer Bill Moran became the most influential cutlers in America and perhaps the world.

“Moran virtually singlehandedly saved bladesmithing from extinction, and Loveless transformed stock-removal knifemaking,” he concluded. “Anyway, that is my take.”

The drop-point hunter stands out among the rest because of the times, the look, the feel, the mark, and of course, the source of it all—larger than life—Bob Loveless himself.

Discover the Secrets to Bob Loveless’s Knives

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How George Washington’s Penknife Saved the United States of America


Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in the July/August 1994 issue of BLADE magazine.

Knife History: George Washington’s Penknife

On display at the Alexandria Masonic Lodge in Alexandria, Virginia, is a simple penknife. Its closed length is 3 inches; its handle appears to be mother-of-pearl. the single blade is 1 3/4 inches long.

The claim to fame of this otherwise nondescript cutlery antique is that it was in the possession of George Washington for 56 years. More significant than the knife itself, however, is the story it inspired, a fascinating tale of devotion to duty and strength of character.

George Washington knives history
Gilbert Stuart Williamstown Portrait of George Washington.

Following the death of his father in 1743, a young George Washington, then only 11, went to live with his half-brother, Lawrence. While repairs were being done to the family estate at Mount Vernon, George stayed for a time at Belvoir, the home of William Fairfax, a close friend of the Washington family and also Lawrence’s father-in-law.

“William Fairfax became very fond of George and gave the young man access to his elaborate library,” explained Dr. Claude Harris, archivist of the Alexandria Washington Masonic Lodge, which is located in the George Washington Masonic National Memorial. “Through the influence of his brother and the Fairfax family. George obtained a commission as a midshipman in the [British navy].”

According to Jack Rudell, curator of the replica room of the George Washington Masonic National Memorial, Martha Ball Washington, George’s mother, corresponded with her brother, John Ball, who lived in England.

“John Ball said that the British navy was a floating hell,” commented Rudell. “So [Washington’s mother] was convinced not to let George go.”

Though the details had been worked out and all preparations made, young George respected his mother’s wishes, surrendered his commission and returned to the study of mathematics and surveying.

George’s mother ordered supplies from England annually, and in her next order was a request for one good penknife, which she intended to give to her son as a token of appreciation.

“This she presented to young George as a reward for his submission to her will with the injunction, ‘always obey your superiors,’” remarked Harris. “He carried the token with him through life as a reminder of his mother’s command.”

The Penknife Steps into History

George Washington Valley Forge
A painting of Gen. George Washington and Lafayette at Valley Forge. (John Ward Dunsmore)

Later, during the Revolutionary War, Washington supposedly recounted the knife’s history in a conversation with one of his most trusted subordinates, Gen. Henry Knox. It was Knox who would later play a key role in Washington’s military future.

As the commander-in-chief quietly deliberated over the situation that bleak winter at Valley Forge, it could scarcely have been more critical. His soldiers were fighting for their very lives against the mightiest military power in the world. If they failed, then along with them would perish an ideal.

“When a timid Congress failed to provide food for his starving and ragged army, in desperation yielding temporarily to his feelings, and in sympathy for his men and disgust with Congress, Washington wrote his resignation as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army and summoned his staff to notify them of his actions,” remarked Harris. “Among the officers present and sitting in the council was Knox, who reminded him of the knife and his mother’s injunction ‘always obey your superiors. You were commanded to lead this army and no one has ordered you to cease leading it.’”

Washington paused and said, “There is something to that. I will think it over.”

Half and hour later he had torn up his resignation, determined to fight to the end. Thus, a penknife may have meant the different between life and death for the USA.

As True as the Cherry Tree Story?

Penknife george washington reproductions
According to “The ABCA Price Guide to Antique Knives,” by J. Bruce Voyles, several reproductions of Washington’s penknife were made in 1932. On the handle of the larger size is the injunction given Washington by his mother; on the scales of the smaller size is Washington’s signature. Clockwise from bottom left are repros by Camillus; unknown; B&B of St. Paul, Minnesota; Robeson; Remington; and Camillus.

Whether events actually transpired as recorded is as much a matter of opinion as appraisal of fact, but indeed the story of the knife should rank in American folklore with that of the cherry tree and the famous phrase, “I cannot tell a lie.”

Love History and Knives?

Load up on more stories like this one with BLADE‘s collection of back issues. One download gets you 25 years of magazines, all conveniently presented in PDF format.

Knife Collecting: The Allure of Bowie Knives

why do people collect knives
Chris Nolen’s collection of custom repros of antique bowies tops 200. Here are some of them
in his 7×14-foot display vault made of alderwood, including 18 drawers full of bowies at the
bottom. (All images by Chris Nolen unless otherwise noted)

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in the February 2018 edition of BLADE. Download the issue here.

A Bowie Knife Collecting Obsession

The trail of the fabled bowie knife is long and winding. From the Sandbar Fight to the Alamo and beyond, its fact, mystery and myth have become the stuff of legend. The trail extends nearly 200 years, and for half his life Chris Nolen of West Monroe, Louisiana, has traveled down it.
For sure, he’s gone further than most.

At 65, Chris remains heavily engaged in a custom embroidery and screen print business called Reflections with his daughter, Lori Rockett, while another daughter, Lindsey Sanders, lives in Chattanooga, Tennessee. A retired telecommunications worker, he has sought and bought knives since his days mowing lawns for money so that he could run to the local hardware store and buy the knives that caught his eye.

“My mother still kids me about not having any money in those days because I was always buying knives,” he smiled.

Chris married his wife, Linda, 40 years ago, and shortly afterward his knife interest literally got bigger. He collected several large hunting knives by BLADE Magazine Cutlery Hall-Of-Fame© member Bo Randall and still owns a dozen of them, but he isn’t alone in the lure of the brawny bowie.

collection of bowie knives
A close-up of Nolen’s display is a bowie buff’s delight.

Cutlery Hall-Of-Famer Jim Bowie’s legendary encounter at the sandbar, his final hours at the Alamo, the association of numerous knives that bear his name with the history of Texas, its link to the Civil War, and its stretch across the Atlantic to beginnings in the cradle of quality knifemaking—Sheffield, England—made the bowie irresistible.

“It seems like every time I went to a show I was attracted to the big bowie knives,” he recalled. “Sometimes, you might say, ‘What are these good for?’ but I saw them as art in steel.”

Today, the Nolen collection of bowies tops 200, and a fortress-like display room keeps them safe and allows their owner to show them to visitors. One of Chris’s primary pursuits has been the history of the bowie along with a desire to own reproductions of some of the most significant bowies in history. He has worked with several top-notch custom knifemakers, pored over documents and traveled to various locations, the results of which are nothing short of spectacular.

famous bowie knives
A look at a different angle down into “The Bowie Knife: Fact-Myth-Legend” display reveals custom repros of classic antique bowies. From lower left to right: Jesse Clift Knife; Bart Moore Bowie; Noah Smithwick Bowie; Huber Steel Bowie; Searles-Fowler Bowie; Musso Bowie; Bowie No. 1; Berrera-Campbell Bowie; Schively-Perkins Bowie; Juan Seguin Bowie; and Edwin Forrest Bowie. Across the top, from left: Caiaphas Ham Knife, Madame Candelaria Knife and James Black Knife. At top: the Iron Mistress.

Among his bowies are repros of the Searles-Fowler bowie (the original of which is on display in the Alamo), the Joe Musso brass-back bowie, the Iron Mistress, the Jesse Clift bowie, the Juan Seguin Bowie and Bowie No. 1, to name a few.

“No Turning Back”

In 1986, Chris contacted knifemaker Jerry Berry of Natchitoches, Louisiana, after sketching a bowie. He asked if Berry could actually make the knife from the drawings. Of course, the answer was yes.

“That knife has a 9.5-inch blade with a slight recurve,” Nolen said, “with brass and nickel-silver trim and a solid stag handle with a hidden tang. The blade is ATS-34 stainless steel. That is one of my favorites because it was one of the first. Once I got it there was no turning back, and for the last 30 years I have pretty much stuck with the big bowies. Robert Blasingame of Kilgore, Texas, helped me get started on the making of copies of antique knives before he passed away in 2010. He was quite a historian.

Bringing Bowie Knife History to Life

“It was about 10 years ago that I got this wild idea to track back the bowie and its origin,” Chris continued, “and Linda and I visited 12 museums and met curators, who were all such nice people who even let us hold some of the original knives that were associated with the Bowie family.

“For example, we went to the Alamo and actually got the dimensions of the original Searles-Fowler knife. Now, we’ve researched and had reproductions made of pretty much every knife associated with the Bowie family.”

history of bowie knives
Nolen’s “The Bowie Knife: Fact-Myth-Legend” glass display with a statue of Jim Bowie atop it at left. The framed magazine pages on the wall are from a story that included Nolen as a source in a past issue of BLADE®.

Through the years Chris has developed a reputation as something of an expert on bowie knives, resulting in his traveling exhibit aptly named, “Bowie Knife: Fact, Myth, and Legend.” In 2014, he traveled to the Historic Arkansas Museum in Little Rock, where more than 200 genuine bowies were on display.

“They had my reproductions at the entrance there in a big black case,” he remembered. “There is probably more legend than anything surrounding these knives. Jim Bowie didn’t leave us much to go on, and I have studied him for years now. His brother, Rezin, was a big promoter of the bowie knife and gave a lot of them away as gifts. These reproduction knives have been everywhere, and I get a kick out of it.”

Along with the history lesson that the bowie repros convey, visitors can begin to grasp the tremendous skill that is required to produce a high quality bowie.

“It’s hard for a maker in today’s time to get into the head of a maker from 180 or 200 years ago,” Chris offered, “and most of them want to put their own artistic spin on a knife. But along with Jerry Berry, I narrowed it down to Rich McDonald and Mark Banfield who do a lot of work for me, and Cowboy Bob Giles of Whitefish, Montana, who has probably made 15 of them for me. These men are unbelievable artists.”

Musso and Musician Phil Collins

joe musso bowie knife reproduction
The Joe Musso Bowie repro by Mark Banfield with the brass back and “S” guard on the stand serves as a centerpiece for one section of Nolen’s display.

Mention of the Musso Bowie conjures some of the theory and conjecture surrounding its authenticity.

According to Chris, Joe Musso sold the original knife to Phil Collins of the rock music group, Genesis, who in turn donated the original to the Alamo, where some metallurgical testing has been done and some believe the “JB” mark on the guard ties the knife to Jim Bowie.

“That is one of my favorite reproductions because Mark [Banfield] went the extra mile and even copied the stains on the blade,” Chris commented, “and it is the only authorized true copy of the Musso knife. I have some Samuel Bell copies and one of my favorites was just done by Giles. It is an exact copy of the Charles Congreve knife done in Sheffield around 1835, a big swayback bowie trimmed in silver.”

samuel bell bowie knife
Among others, Nolen is a big fan of 19th-century bowie maker Samuel Bell. Mark Banfield reproduced this Bell bowie.

A “Dazzling Display” of Bowie Knives

A couple of years ago Chris and Linda decided to build their dream house on a tract of land they had owned for a while. The move brought to light several knives that had been packed away for 20 years or so. Thinking about the future of his collection, Chris decided to make space available to display it properly.

“I always wanted to have a secured room to display the knives in,” he remarked, “so we designed this room 20 by 18 with no windows, solid brick, and with concrete next to the brick. It would take a tank to get into this thing. There is also a solid steel security door, so it is pretty much a vault. Lori’s husband, Marc, owns a custom cabinet shop. He cuts wood with a laser, and he cut out an entire wall and put in a cabinet for guns to go on each end and 18 drawers at the bottom. You can pull out the knife displays. There are two center panels, and the display is 14 feet wide and 7 feet tall. The center panels have 32 pewter hangers in a fleur-de-lis design that hold 32 bowie knives. At the bottom is a 3-foot shelf that holds about 40 bowies.

“It isn’t everywhere that you can see 70 or 80 bowie knives in the open,” Chris added. “People come in and they have to catch their breath. I also have a coffee table with a glass-top display that holds about 20 knives and is kind of my dedication to Davy Crockett. The other side of the room is a glass display of the ‘Fact, Myth, and Legend.’ The cabinetry is all of alderwood.”

collecting knives
Chris Nolen holds the first bowie for which he drew the pattern. Knifemaker Jerry Berry reproduced the knife for him in 1986. In the background are the paintings by Mark Lemon of the deaths of Davy Crockett (left) and BLADE Magazine Cutlery Hall-Of-Fame© member Jim Bowie (right).

To complete the dazzling display, Nolen commissioned three paintings depicting the epic of the bowie knife during the desperate, heroic stand at the Alamo. The first painting depicts the death of Jim Bowie, slashing defiantly at Mexican soldiers from his cot.

The second depicts the death of Crockett, a death which is surrounded in controversy. The artist allows the viewer to decide Crockett’s fate, depicting the legendary Tennessee long hunter and adventurer standing but exhausted.

The third depicts the death of Col. William Travis, commander of the doomed Alamo garrison.
Although it might seem to the casual observer that the Nolen journey down the bowie trail is complete, such is not the case.

Chris continues to add to his collection. Mark Zalesky, editor of KNIFE magazine, recently pitched in to assist with the recreation of a Samuel Bell knife located in Knoxville, Tennessee, and Mark Banfield completed the addition.

The road goes on forever.

Make Your Own Knives

make a knife
Learn how to make a knife.

Bowie knives are one of the first projects new knifemakers undertake. Get started with this collection of hand-picked books from BLADE.


The Blue Chips: Collecting Swiss Army Knives

popular swiss army knife models
In 1897, Victorinox founder Karl Elsener created the Officer’s and Sports Knife (above). It evolved into
the model known today as the Spartan, the most popular Swiss Army knife.

Rarely does a single brand, style or look set the standard for an entire genre in the knife industry, let alone hold its place for decades with no sign of a loosening grip. Just say the words “Swiss Army knife” and the image is clear and constant.

The classic red handle emblazoned with the shield and cross of its land of origin render the Swiss Army knife (SAK) instantly recognizable, while its multifunction versatility makes it indispensable for those who carry it and rely on it in a variety of situations.

Cut, slice, tighten/loosen a flat- or Phillips-head screw, punch, file, open a can or bottle and even sign your name, the pride of Victorinox and the trademark of the Swiss Army is the versatility that is found nowhere else.

Origins in the American Market

world war two swiss army knives
The consensus is that the Swiss Army knife gained widespread appeal during and after World War II as Allied soldiers brought them home, and those who saw them clamored for one of their own.

Like every icon in any field, the SAK is surrounded in legend and lore. The consensus is that the knife gained widespread appeal during and after World War II as Allied soldiers brought them home, and those who saw the knives clamored for one of their own.

American military personnel came to further love the SAK when it became available at the nearest base PX (post exchange), and sales are said to have exploded.

The History of Swiss Army Knives

carl elsener
Carl Elsener III

Of course, there was a tinge of controversy related to the “first” Swiss Army knives. In 2005, Victorinox went a long way in closing the book on that discussion with the acquisition of rival Wenger, followed by the consolidation of the two brands into the single Victorinox label in 2013.
Victorinox Global Chief Executive Officer Charles Elsener likes to tell the story of his family’s development of the early SAK.

“In 1897, founder Karl Elsener created his ‘Officer’s and Sports Knife,’” Charles explained, “and registered it legally June 12 of that year. He also was responsible for the iconic design, which has not changed to this day. From 1897 to 1937, the handles were made of red fiber. Functions of the knife included big blade, small blade, can opener, corkscrew and reamer. The name of this model today is the ‘Spartan.’”

swiss army knives evolution
An evolution of the Officer’s and Sports Knife by year and feature, top row from left: 1897 (fiber grip); 1909 (fiber grip/cross and shield); 1937 (celluloid grip); 1946 (new can opener); 1951 (new can opener and Alox dividing layer); 1961 (new awl and invisible rivet); and 1968 (ring instead of bow bail). The same for the Soldier’s knife, bottom row from left: 1891 (wood grip); 1908 (fiber grip); 1951 (fiber grip, stainless steel); 1954 (fiber w/rosettes); 1961 (red Alox); 1965 (silver Alox); and 1980 (silver Alox w/Swiss flag).

In 1937 the knife handles changed to celluloid, and since 1971 the material used is Cellidor. The red color was probably chosen for the red in the Swiss flag and also for the Swiss canton [district] of Schwyz—and probably to help the owner find his treasured possession when it falls on the ground!

Popular Swiss Army Knife Models

swisschamp swiss army knife
The flagship SAK is the SwissChamp, introduced in 1986 with a grand total of 33 functions.
swiss army knife production
Today, Victorinox produces 60,000 SAKs
per day and a staggering 13 million pieces annually.

According to Elsener, the most popular SAK in the company’s early days was the Spartan. In 1902, a wood saw and scissors were added. The new model with scissors was christened the Climber, and the Huntsman included both the wood saw and scissors.

As more and more tools were added, the flagship knife became the SwissChamp, introduced in 1986 with a grand total of 33 functions.

“The fourth bestseller is our smaller Classic keyring model,” Elsener added, “and these five bestsellers have been the same since their introduction.”

Charles confirms that American soldiers popularized the SAK during World War II and are responsible for its name today since they had difficulty pronouncing it in German as the “Schweizer Offiziers-und Sportsmesser.”

Today, Victorinox produces 60,000 SAKs per day and a staggering 13 million pieces annually, achieving these numbers consistently.

A Humble Knife

BLADE Magazine Cutlery Hall-Of-Fame© member Tim Leatherman, developer of the popular Leatherman Tool, gave the introduction speech when Charles Elsener’s father, Carl, was inducted into the Cutlery Hall Of Fame in 2011.

Charles told of a modest, unassuming man who wore a workman’s smock while at the company.

“One day Carl happened to be at the loading dock when a truck pulled in and everyone else was at lunch,” Tim smiled. “The driver saw Carl and said, ‘Hey you! Help me unload this truck.’ Without saying a word, Carl did. Only when another worker returned from lunch and saw what was happening did the mortified driver realize what he had done. But Carl took no offense at all. He was still his humble self.”

An Unassailable Knife

The humble knife the Elsener family put together also has risen without unnecessary fanfare to the height of fame and cutlery glory. Leatherman sees an unassailable place in knife history for the SAK.

“Victorinox with the Swiss Army knife anchors the knife industry,” he asserted. “One category of products within the cutlery industry is ‘pocket-carried knives,’ which has three subcategories—common pocketknives, tactical knives and multipurpose pocketknives. And deservedly so. The design deserves every bit of recognition it has received. I know firsthand how hard it is to make a knife or tool without a cosmetic defect. And I have never seen a cosmetic defect in a Swiss Army knife. The Swiss Army knife is recognized and coveted worldwide.

“I was very much aware of the Swiss Army knife as I was designing the Leatherman Tool,” Tim continued. “So much so that in one of my prototypes I cannibalized a pair of scissors from a Swiss Army knife to put in my tool. However, my design diverged away from the Swiss Army knife because in a Swiss Army knife the blade is the central feature, and I wanted a pair of pliers to be the central feature of my Leatherman Tool.”

The Swiss Army Knife Collectors Society

While satisfying the needs of the businessman, blue-collar worker and outdoorsman, the SAK also has cultivated a devoted group of collectors. Doug Dillman, owner of Freeport Knife Co. in Freeport, Maine, leads the Swiss Army Knife Collectors Society, which was founded in 2000 by avid collector Dan Jacquart.

“The club currently has about 150 members,” Dillman commented. “Our objective since the beginning has been to encourage and support collectors who share a passion for both collecting Swiss Army knives and educating members about the many changes to the product and the factory’s history since its creation in 1884. We largely accomplish this through the publication of a biannual newsletter. We try to offer articles about changes to the many models over the years, new product introductions, and special-edition models. Our last issue included a tang stamp chart to help members determine the age of a knife.”

Insights for Swiss Army Knife Collectors

Swissflame knife lighter
SAKs highly desirable for collectors are often models made for only a short time, such as the Swissflame series from the late 1990s and early 2000s. The model included a butane lighter.

A collector for 30 years, Dillman has seen a number of SAKs appreciate in value.

“Old-style Soldier’s knives prior to 1954 can be found anywhere from $100 to more than $1,000, depending of course on condition,” he commented. “Very early ones from the 1890s with black-stained oak handles are certainly the most valuable. Many people also try to collect specific Soldier’s knives with specific-year date stamps. Knives that are highly desirable for collectors are often models made for only a short time, such as the Swissflame series from the late 1990s and early 2000s. These were unique in that they included a butane lighter.”

Other highly prized collectibles include the Scientist, produced in the 1980s and ’90s, and the Motorist with its metal inlay of St. Christopher. Knives made first as presentation gifts for four American presidents sell for $50 to more than $100.

Chris Lubkemann wrote The Victorinox Swiss Army Whittling Book, published in 2015, which already has been translated into Swiss, German, Dutch and Spanish. His use of the Swiss Army Tinker for carving led to the research and the publication of the book.

Actually Lubkemann carved for many years with an assortment of other knives.

swiss army knife tinker
The Tinker SAK led Chris Lubkemann to write “The Victorinox Swiss Army Whittling Book,” published in 2015, which already has been translated into Swiss, German, Dutch and Spanish.

The Tinker had been given to him as a gift and stayed put on a shelf. As he recalled, “My [previous knife] developed a lot of play between the handle and the blade, to the point where it was no longer a viable carving tool. I’m sure I could have gone out and bought another, but conservative spender that I am, I decided to pull out my Swiss Army Tinker and see how it worked.

“The rest is history. Not having any personal previous experience with Swiss Army knives, I was immediately impressed with the tool. While the blades were stainless they took an edge well, and for my special purposes maintained the edge well.”

Chris met Brian Huegel of Country Knives in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and Brian in turn knew Carl Elsener. At Brian’s suggestion, Chris contacted Carl, who demonstrated an interest in the whittling book, which became a reality with the support of both Victorinox and Fox Chapel Publishing.

“I was a fan of the knife long before I had any contact with Victorinox,” Chris concluded. “The more I used my Swiss Army knife the more I liked it and recommended it, especially the Tinker model, which is widely available, reasonably priced and incredibly useful—for much more than carving!”

“The Value Given is Much, Much Higher than the Price Charged”

Tim Leatherman remembers a trip to Europe that he made about 30 years ago.

“I had occasion to be near Ibach, Switzerland, so, uninvited, I parked well away and walked up to the entrance of Victorinox’s headquarters and factory. I was totally in awe,” he said. “I felt like I had found the Holy Grail. I remember they had a display on the outside wall of a Swiss Army knife broken down into its components. I must have studied it for an hour. I was too awestruck to knock on their door. The key to the success of any knife is that the value given be more than the price charged. With the Swiss Army knife the value given is much, much higher than the price charged, and the price is very reasonable.”

All images courtesy of Victorinox.

Find Swiss Army Knives at BLADE Show 2018

best knife show to go toThe world’s largest and foremost knife show, BLADE Show, is taking place June 1-3 in Atlanta. You’ll find the planet’s most innovative knifemakers in one spot. Learn more about how to attend BLADE Show 2018 here.

Two Handle Materials to Watch: Richlite and Raffir

Knifemaking handle materials
Synthetic materials from the Danish company known as Raffir include Raffir Fossil.

Richlite and Raffir: Two Synthetic Materials on the Rise

Synthetics continue to surge in light of the growing scarcity of some natural materials.
According to Chris Hartman, a 37-year veteran in the family business at Masecraft, the buzz about two synthetic materials, Richlite and Raffir, continues to grow.

“These product lines are totally different from each other, and they work like other materials that our customers already use, so the transition is easy,” he maintained.



Synthetic knife handle materials
A few examples of Raffir Fossil. (Image courtesy of Santa Fe Stoneworks)

Distributed domestically by Santa Fe Stoneworks, Raffir is a resin-preserved material used in jewelry and other products also.

“It works well in fine handles and accessories in which aesthetics are of great importance,” Chris advised. “There are several categories. The first, Raffir Fiber, is a composite material of neutral plant fibers cast in resin.

“The second, Raffir Metapol, has aluminum fillers shining through a deep resin matrix. Raffir Noble is a composite material with fine brass and bronze-mesh layers encapsulated in a translucent epoxy resin. The last two categories, Raffir Fossil and Raffir Wood, are genuine rare fossils and fine-grained wood blocks that have been filled with a unifying and strengthening resin through a high pressure process that stabilizes the materials.”

The finished Raffir fossil and wood materials maintain the original structures of the untreated substance while obtaining the mechanical advantages of the homogeneous resin compound.
The Raffir materials are worked with the same tools that most knifemakers already own, therefore little or no additional investment is required.


Types of knife handle materials
An example of Richlite. (Mark Newman image)

Richlite is a durable, versatile and sus-tainable material made from recycled, resin-infused paper and pulp derived from trees that have been harvested responsibly, Chris says.

Complete with Forest Stewardship Council Certification by the Rainforest Alliance and GREENGUARD Certification, it is also antimicrobial, which is a benefit in food preparation.

“Richlite is tough enough to build skateboards and skateboard parks, so it will take a beating and hold up to the elements,” he added. “Richlite is made in the USA and actually costs less than other like materials. It is similar to working with Micarta, G-10 or carbon fiber, and many of our customers are familiar with them. Customers appreciate that they are no longer inhaling carbon-fiber or fiberglass dust, which some of our customers just don’t like dealing with.”

Other Synthetic Knife Handle Materials

New composite laminates and hybrid materials are on the horizon, and their growth is steady.

“Even though they are mass produced,” Chris said, “they can still be individually unique. They are stable and available in sizes that can easily be used in CNC cutting for production, or can still be cut and worked with standard tools and be handmade.”

BLADE 2018 Knife Guide

Download knife magazineRead more about hot knives, knifemaking and collecting in the BLADE 2018 Knife Guide. Download it here.


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