Articles appeared in Esquire Magazine, The Wall St. Journal, and many other sources that trumpeted this new found craft and beginning art form. This new interest attracted large numbers of collectors to custom knives. What had begun as a using knife business was now encouraged to branch out and works of fantasy and pure art began to evolve. There was still a direct connection between the maker and the collector, but inevitably the prices began to rise and the waiting times for delivery lengthened. This spurred even greater interest, but there was a problem. The makers were limited in the number of quality pieces that they could produce. Predictions of dramatic profit potential swirled around and investors began to look at the market. New makers were encouraged to devote themselves full time to knifemaking and for a time the supply almost kept up with the demand.
Professional photographer, Jim Weyer introduced the first book in his series on custom knives, Points of Interest, and with stunning photographs, captured the times. It was followed by books II, III, IV and V. The books documented an era of creative work and preserve as a historical reference what will in the future become a significant collectible.
I think the first and golden rule of collecting anything is to buy what you like. Many folks when they first start collecting knives go on a feeding spree, but after a bit they settle down and begin to educate themselves on the business. Today there are major custom knife shows in nearly every major market area in this country and Europe. Attending a show will give you a chance to look at the work first hand, talk to the makers and get a feel for the market. The makers themselves are a good resource for learning about knives. We have several good magazines devoted to knives and they can be found on most good news stands. The Blade Magazine, Knives Illustrated, and Tactical Knives are well done professional magazines will lots of photos and informative articles.
All collectibles follow a path of development that leads to stability and creates a mature market with investment potential. With edged collectibles, one can look at the extraordinary growth in the Japanese sword market. Even closer to home is the dramatic increase in value of early American knives as witnessed by the prices brought at the recent Butterfield auction of early American arms. In custom knives, the work of the early knifemakers such as Scagel and Ruana are in big demand.
The aftermarket for current makers work has traditionally been soft. Most knives have been bought directly from the makers and been kept in private collections, rarely traded unless under duress. There is a growing number of reputable dealers in the business. The expansion of custom knives into the internet has opened whole new worlds for custom knives.
While there has been very little after market for custom knives in the past, I believe that we are on the cusp of a dramatic change. In the early days there simply weren't enough knives in existence to supply a larger market, the makers were selling all they could make and collectors were holding onto them. Today there is a large body of collective work out there.
Custom knives today are still an undiscovered treasure, the quality of the work is exceptional and timeless, it has been documented historically through archival quality books and photographs and following the precedent of other similar collectibles, it is a maturing market.
What factors will create the next level? First, unfortunately many of the early makers are at the end of their careers or have died and their production is severely limited or stopped entirely, making their output a fixed commodity that can not rise to demand. Second, unlike in the past, there is a body of work out there that is large enough to satisfy larger market interests and major collections will becoming on the market in the next few years. There is also an interest among knowledgeable collectors to begin to promote their collections and position themselves for an awakening market. Custom knives as a collectible is following its natural cycle and I feel it is about to mature in ways that none of us can imagine.
If you are interested in what you have seen and would like to know more follow my links or Email me directly. Check out the bookstore to find books related to custom knives.