Here it is, the final five mistakes that are commonly made by knifemakers. Be sure to check out the first five before reading. Remember, there are no guarantees to knife-collecting success, but avoiding the pitfalls heightens your chances!
Mistake Six: Becoming a Target
If you become known for paying top dollar for hand-forged Bowies with giraffe bone handles, do not be surprised if the supply of hand-forged Bowies with giraffe handles suddenly start appearing at the shows you usually attend. Broadcasting what type of knives you are collecting is not always a good idea.
There was one well-heeled, enthusiastic European buyer who was known for paying more than knives were worth, and as he walked into a Knifemaker’s Guild show, he picked up a knife the maker implied that he had made that knife with the European in mind. There was a $3,200 sticker on the knife.
The European told the maker he wasn’t interested in that pattern. Later in the day he decided to revisit the knife, and when he approached the table, the knifemaker was not there, but the knife was. He picked the knife up to discover the $3,200 sticker had been replaced after his turning down the knife, and the knife was now being offered to others with a $1,500 sticker.
In the shock of reality that he was a marked man, he lay the knife down, walked out of the show, and never returned. And I do mean “never.” That greedy knifemaker trying to play a pigeon cost the other knifemakers, and the industry, millions of dollars of sales in the years following.
One tip: If you hear the words, “I made this knife just for you.” And you didn’t order the knife, then run. RUN!
Mistake Seven: Not Understanding Value
Value is how the success of your collecting is determined. It is the true measure of a knifemaker’s popularity and status. Make no mistake about it. Your knife will belong to someone else down the road unless you donate it to a museum. Your heirs may own it and will likely sell your knives for something that holds more interest for them. How do you gauge the success or failure of your collection if not by value? I do not see a lot of handmade collections displayed at knife shows, so trophies are not the incentive. In the end it must be value.
If the gauge of success is the value of a knife—a collector cannot ignore the aftermarket itself—as that is where the knife will eventually sell. Few knifemakers will take one of their knives back, as they have a table full of their latest designs on their show table. Many makers believe that if they take your knife and sell it for you, even though you may offer them a commission, your knife has the potential to take a sale, and perhaps a new customer, from them.
Mistake Eight: Paying Too Much Attention to the Internet
a. The internet is free. Like it or not, “You get what you pay for” is not just a phrase. The open access of the internet allows a huge amount of information to be disseminated. Unfortunately a lot of misinformation is disseminated as well. I have observed an internet forum thread idolizing a particular maker—and as the thread evolved the biggest cheerleaders revealed they did not own one of the maker’s knives but were saving up to buy one. If you judge a knifemaker’s popularity by his online disciples you may not have an accurate read on value or genuine demand in the aftermarket.
b. How can one determine the balance and feel of a knife by looking at it online, when balance is one of the most important components in a knife?
c. If the internet is your only source of information, you may be only half informed. There is a lot of information presented by qualified writers in knife magazines and books. Information from the internet is not filtered. There are no areas for a poster to list their qualifications to offer a judgement on a knife. Most posters do not even list their names. Some internet dweller will say the posters will police it themselves, but I’ve not found that to be true. A poster with thousands of posts seems to have credibility in that arena.
The reality of that proposition reveals only three things. 1. The poster has a computer. 2. The poster has an opinion. 3. The poster has a lot of free time to spend posting that opinion on the internet. None of these three things gives any indication the poster has a bit of knowledge about what he is posting.
Mistake Nine: Paying Too Much.
In most cases you pay a price to be able to say, “I bought this knife from the maker.” That one phrase will not transfer on the resale market unless you name is being drawn from one of the very few makers maker with a crowd of other collectors standing by to offer you an instant profit on your purchase.
The reason is basic. A knifemaker has to set his price based on his time, supplies, equipment, and profit needed to keep food on the table.
The aftermarket sets the price based on the resale value. That value is based on demand and supply. Those two prices are not usually the same price.
Pricing ONLY based on what the knifemaker charges today without looking at how his knives make it in the aftermarket is folly. Remember, when it comes time to sell, the knifemaker will not be selling your knife for you—it will be either you selling or your agent selling it for you in the aftermarket.
The same rules apply for presentation. A beautiful photo of a nice knife, presented on an elaborate website is nice—but remember you are buying the knife, not the photo or the website. In the end a knife has to stand on its own.
Mistake Ten: Not Having An Exit Strategy
When you buy a knife, you should have in the back of your mind who would buy it. If you like pink micarta handles on a Ghurka knife, be aware that few do. If you have a friend who wishes he had ordered the knife and mentions it to you, make a note of it. If you do tire of that knife he should be the first person you call.
If you plan on sell your knives yourself, and you are not a professional salesman, are you going to start renting a table for several hundred dollars at a show, pay travel and hotel rooms, and have you figured those costs into your plan? If you take those expenses off the profit of your knife investment if you sell them yourself, your profit could vanish quickly.
Will you wholesale to a dealer? If so remember they must buy at wholesale because he is bearing the tables and travel expense. A dealer will pay more for popular knives than unpopular knives. If you disregard staying up with a maker’s popularity, purchased knives based on emotion, or lack of research, now when you really pay the price.
You can consign knives to auctions, or you can try your hand at online auctions. But remember there are percentages that must be paid there as well. If you are auctioning yourself you have to be sure you know how to photograph and accurately describe your knives to their best advantage.
There are no easy answers, but before you lay down your dollars for a knife you might want to think for a moment what will happen to your knives in years to come, and keep that aspect of knife collecting in the back of your mind.
These are the top ten mistakes I’ve observed. Suffice to say there are more! Treat an $800 knife with the research and consideration you would make in buying any $800 item. By avoiding the common mistakes mentioned here, you will increase your odds of enjoying (and reaping the rewards) of the knife collecting experience.
And one extra mistake that I addressed recently in a KI column. If a knifemaker does not put his name on his work, how will anyone in a few years know who made it? And if no one knows who made it, you can bet that will have a negative effect on value.
By J. Bruce Voyles