by Pat Covert
Rebooting collections works wonders. OK, so not everyone does it, but many who have done it one or more times seem to enjoy their collecting more.
Chris Nolen has successfully rebooted his knife collection several times since he started collecting. He began in his pre-teens, fueling his cutlery appetite by mowing lawns, and he even wrote a term paper on hunting knives.
“I was married at 24 and started collecting handmade hunting knives. Most were stag drop points or skinners,” Chris recalls. “I met a great local maker named Jerry Berry of Natchitoches, Louisiana, who got me interested in not just the handles, but the steel in the blades. Of course, I would buy BLADE® and other knife magazines, and I would always find myself looking for big bowies.
“One day I was sitting at my desk and drew out a large, sort of re-curved, stag-handled bowie. I mailed it to Jerry and realized it was time to reboot my collection of maybe 40 knives. And reboot I did! I sold most of the old hunters to make money for my new passion for large bowies.” Nolen is an avid collector of fine bowies to this day and is as enthusiastic as ever.
J.T. Oldham is a long-time folder collector of the modern tactical type and has rebooted his collection on occasion.
“I was a regular customer of the House of Blades in Fort Worth, Texas, where I found many great knives, and also bought up all of the back issues of BLADE I could lay my hands on,” Oldham states. “Production knives were just a way to whet my appetite, as I soon realized that what I wanted to collect was custom knives—and those knives had to have damascus steel.”
As a result, J.T. rebooted and started collecting upscale custom folders—and does to this day.
“At the ICCE [International Custom Cutlery Exposition] show in Kansas City last year, I bought a knife from my No. 1 knife hero, Ralph Turnbull. He was the knifemaker who really started it all for me. I remember looking on his website and in the pages of BLADE Magazine and thinking, ‘If I could only someday own one of Ralph’s knives I would really be a true collector.’”
Since retiring, however, Oldham has tempered his budget a bit. “I no longer have the disposable liquid capital I once enjoyed, so my purchases are now somewhat limited,” he lamented. “However, I follow the custom knife industry with the same interest that I focus on my retirement investments.”
Conversely, rebooting collections is something Kevin Jones has never tried.
“My preference for knives hasn’t changed over the 15 years I’ve been collecting,” Kevin relates. “I started out collecting American Bladesmith Society hunting knives and bowies, and that’s still what interests me. I consider myself a custom knife collector and investor. I’ve found to be successful on the investor side it helps to limit your area of interest so as to become very knowledgeable on both the knives—and the particular knife market—for the knives you collect.”
To REBOOT or NOT to REBOOT?
Why should you consider the concept of rebooting collections?
“Many collectors end up rebooting collections early on as a result of buying their first knives on impulse prior to them acquiring the knowledge and exposure to determine what type and style of knives are going to hold their interest long term,” Jones observes.
Before rebooting, you need to answer questions concerning not only your preferences and current status, but outside realities as well.
“I guess one of the first things to consider is, are you really ready and willing to reboot your collection and take it in an entirely new direction? Has your perspective or your interest changed? Is this an artistic response or a reaction to market trends? For me, a complete reboot means to liquidate your current collection and re-invest in another direction,” Oldham notes. “Are you no longer happy with your knives? Has there been a downturn which has you concerned your collection has lost value? Are you eager to participate in the latest trend?”
Rebooting collections also raises questions as to whether you should sell your current knife collection to finance a new one.
“I feel that’s up to the individual collector,” Jones opines. “However, many need to sell knives in their current collection to help finance them rebooting. I always recommend that while selling an entire collection through a purveyor or auction may be quicker, selling or liquidating piecemeal via a variety of methods will result in a better return.”
Nolen offers a word of caution he discovered after selling off his first collection to reboot.
“Back then I put ads on internet boards and in the newspaper,” he recalls. “I see some knives on eBay that go for hundreds of dollars now that I only paid six to 12 dollars for back in the ’60s and ’70s. I wish now I had most of those back!”
BEST WAYS to LIQUIDATE
What is the best way to liquidate knives if you do decide to sell off your current collection to finance your new one?
“I feel it’s best to use a variety of methods in selling custom knives,” Jones advises, “including contacting other collectors who are interested in the type knives you are selling, selling some on the better knife purveyor sites, and I’ve been very successful selling knives on my ‘collector website.’ It’s very important to have good photos of your knives listed on the internet. You are basically putting your knives out there for the world to see.”
“I, for one, would never consider using eBay. Not for my collection,” Oldham states. “And there are just too many trolls on the knife forums! I know that there are decent knife forums, but I simply would not regard that as the right place to offer my knives. I would work one-on-one with certain interested parties—and those individuals may be found on forums. This is all said from my perspective and the knowledge I have of certain individuals with whom I have dealt with in the past. I have a rather large and reliable network of purveyors and collectors whom I trust. A good resource for purveyors is BLADE and the KNIVES annual for a comprehensive listing of those who are associated with the knife community.”
Studying and researching the professionals who deal in knife sales, and then determining who among them are the most knowledgeable and reliable for advice is a must.
“Your purveyor of choice is your best ally in determining what would be in your best interest,” Oldham continues. “If this reboot is purely for financial or investment purposes, no one knows the value of knives better than those who actually determine the value of knives on a day-to-day basis. While they may be able to provide a rough ballpark estimate for your collection, values are subject to change. Be prepared to be presented with values which may be far less than you expected or you’re willing to accept. Be willing to make compromises in order to achieve your goal and obtain what you are truly after, as in any business deal.”
Also keep in mind that when selling to purveyors it is important to remember they are in the business to make money, so they must have a profit margin built into the knives they buy.
IS IT TIME?
As you can see from the comments of our seasoned aficionados, collectors are a distinctly different lot—but that’s what makes the whole avocation of cutlery collecting interesting. As human beings we all have a level of curiosity to see what’s on the other side of the door. Once we have opened it we can either leave or explore. Keep in mind a reboot does not have to be an overnight decision. You can always wade into another genre or style without a full commitment. Whether you wish to upgrade your collection, totally switch gears or seek an investment, there are fresh new knives out there to satisfy any desire.