“I buy what I like.” This, of course, is the mantra of custom knife buyers around the world. In 1984, while serving as an Infantry Rifle Platoon Leader in the 101st Airborne, I bought my first custom knife. I bought “what I liked” with the caveat “that I could afford.” What I wanted was the Sly II by Jimmy Lile. I ended up with a hollow handle fighter by Robert Parrish, an excellent knife in its own right. My first custom knife was bought to be used. The idea of a collectible or an investment with the purchase of the Robert Parrish knife was not something I even considered. As many of you know buying that first custom knife leads to your second custom knife. A fellow Army Lieutenant and knife collector asked if I had ever been to the Blade Show. After responding no, planning started for our “assault” on Knoxville, TN to the 1985 Blade Show. Then; as now, it is three days of heaven for knife aficionados. It was at that show that the hook was set deep. Over the next two years as a collector, I bought, resold, and traded over $10,000 worth of custom knives. I was purchasing custom knives utilizing the mantra. Part of the joy of buying any collectible is that spontaneous rush you feel when you purchase or trade for that object of desire. However, it did sting a little every time I sold one of my collectible knives and lost money on it. Something had to change. I had to attain a better working knowledge of the custom knife primary and aftermarkets. I was going to have to do some homework.
In 1986 I went to the best source for information at the time- Knives 1986. Then; as of now, this book is an invaluable resource. Utilizing the different categories and numerous photos, the book helped me to focus my search. Utilizing the index of makers in the back, I was able to get in touch with the makers I was interested in. Information was gathered; materials, delivery times, and pricing. This allowed me to compare each knife to others in a particular category gaining what I thought to be a substantial level of knowledge regarding the custom knives market. In September of that year, I took the next step and became a custom knife dealer. Nine years later in 1995, I became a full-time custom knife dealer.
In 1993 while working on my Master in Business Administration (MBA), I was fortunate enough to be able to use my business model for many of my course assignments. It was during this time I created my custom knifemaker matrix. Referencing the maker index in the back of Knives ’93, I categorize each maker with the type of knives they made. Pricing for comparable knives was added to the matrix. What became obvious was the pricing was all over the map. To make some sense of this, I started with a base price giving makers additional points for things such as awards, magazine articles, magazine covers, delivery time, aftermarket prices, etc.
With no surprise the top makers of the day rose to the top of the list. However, as we all know each custom knife category can have several hundred makers. My objective for this matrix was to show the position of each knifemaker in a category based on my criteria. Let me stress this was my criterion and the bias that came along with it. The matrix showed me which knives were: overpriced, priced correctly, or underpriced. As you can imagine this information would be invaluable to a fledgling custom knife dealer. This was some serious homework!
Custom knives as investments have generally been received with looks and comments of derision. As I wrote earlier, I was a user who became a collector who embraced the mantra (buy what you liked that you can afford). As I paid for these knives I invested a substantial amount of time and money into them. My introduction to the aftermarket was the investment of $10,000.00. No single person or group of people conspired to create the loss I encountered. The loss occurred because of the lack of understanding of the custom knife market. Perhaps the next few paragraphs can give you a better insight into the market that is custom knives. (see part 2)
About the author: Les Robertson https://bit.ly/3PySsRO