Knife Collecting 101: What is a Knife’s Provenance?

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Custom knives American Bladesmith Society test
SharpByCoop photographed this set of ABS test knives made by Zack Jonas. Professional photography is a great way to demonstrate provenance, but a quick pic on your smartphone is still proof enough. Stick a signed business card next to your purchase for even more proof. (SharpByCoop photo)

Keep a Record of the Custom Knives You Buy!

If you’re lucky enough to attend a knife show in-person this year, take advantage of the time to use your smartphone—or even a camera, heaven forbid—to help establish the provenance of the knife you buy.

A provenance that not only can you show proudly to anyone and everyone who might be interested in the cool little enclave of makers that comprise the knife industry, but also to help increase the knife’s value.

What Is “Provenance?”

Provenance, in case you don’t know, is defined by Webster’s as “place or source of origin,” and proof of it is something those who deal in the world of collectables value almost as much as the collectable itself.

Such is the case in the world of edged collectables, where the knives of certain makers can be extremely valuable. Being able to prove beyond almost a shadow of a doubt that one of those makers made the knife you assert he or she has made can mean hundreds if not thousands of dollars of difference in the amount of money you can get for it—if and when you decide to sell it.

In later years, if you keep the knife and its provenance together, it can mean even more money and prestige than that.

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What Forms of Proof Count as Provenance?

DO ask a maker's permission before picking up a knife from his table at a knife show.
Even if you can’t make it to a knife show in 2020, such as this scene at Jerry Van Eizenga’s table during a past BLADE Show, you can still request signed business cards, specs, receipts and photos from the knifemaker through the mail. A notary public isn’t out of the question, either. (file photo)

Provenance can take any number of forms, including dated written and signed documentation, sales receipts, product boxes (with the overall condition of those boxes playing a large part in value, too), etc. The more legitimate examples of proof you have, the better the provenance is.

Among other forms of such proof are photographs, and such photographs can come in any number of renditions.

For instance, once you buy the knife from the maker at his or her table, you might ask if it’s OK if you:


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  • photograph the knife on the maker’s table, perhaps even with his/her autographed and dated business card situated next to the knife;
  • have your photograph taken with the maker, with you and/or he or she holding the knife; and
  • any other image you can think of to date or memorialize the occasion.

And you don’t have to stop there. You can keep the maker’s autographed business card from the photo, any kind of signed and dated receipt, knife specs (including name of knife, steel, blade length, handle material, lock, any unusual facts or descriptions of how the knife was made, etc.) and so on, and store it all with the knife.

If you feel even more enterprising, bring a recorder and record the maker’s answers to questions concerning the knife.

Of course, you will need to ask the maker’s permission for all of the above beforehand, but, if you’re paying the maker’s asking price for the knife, chances are he or she is going to be more than happy to comply and help you establish the knife’s provenance.

Provenance Benefits Both Ways

After all, the more money you get/more prestige you establish for the knife is probably going to benefit the maker’s ability to get top dollar for/reinforce the collectability of his/her knives, too.

Besides, it helps you establish a better rapport with the maker and is all kind of fun to boot.

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