"Collecting Knives as Art"PHOTO: The Michael Sword by Darrel Ralph
I have collected custom knives made by well known makers and also by not so well known makers. I like them all. Each has its own individual character. I think of all handmade knives as Art. Sometimes they are mostly appreciated
visually. But sometimes the Art is in balance and grace felt only by the
hand. And there is Art in craftsmanship, functionality, and utility.
I like very well made knives made by relatively unknown makers who
receive little money for their work. And I like knives made by very well
known makers who can make a lot more money for the same or perhaps even less
effort. Sometimes there is a large difference in the quality of work.
Sometimes there is not. It all depends. Generally, there seems to be a more
consistent quality in knives made by the "known" makers. If these makers are
master smiths of the ABS, their work has been repeatedly examined, and
representative knives have been performance tested. It is normal in
collecting Artwork to expect to pay more money for a work by a well-known
artist. It's the same thing with knives.
Part of the Art of knives and knifemaking is line and form. Part of the
Art is in the skill of the craftsman and his use of tools. Part of the Art is
in the understanding the craftsman has about the use of materials and
techniques. Part of the Art is the creation of an optimally functional tool
from optimally functional materials. And the really successful artist also
has to know how to market his work.
A relatively new maker usually has limited command over all of these
facets of knifemaking. This will probably show in many small ways when
examining the knife. A well-known maker has usually learned through hard
work, determination, and inspiration to produce a product that is
consistently excellent. In order to market his work, the maker may have to
spend large sums of money to advertise, attend shows and pay other expenses.
Unless a maker is somewhat well known, the Internet purveyors probably won't
display his work. One should expect to pay more for the work of a well-known
knifemaker. Does this mean that the knife will be better than a knife from a
relatively unknown maker? Maybe. Maybe not.
One of the true joys in collecting knives is finding that special piece
out the hundreds one may see at a knife show, in a maker's catalog, in a
magazine, or on the Internet. These knives appeal to me for a variety of
reasons, including overall aesthetics, workmanship, cost, and utility.
Unfortunately, many good knife makers remain relatively unknown. I think
finding a relatively inexpensive knife by a new knifemaker whose work is
excellent is one of the true joys of collecting.
My favorite knife was forged by a well known maker, who recently became
an ABS Master Smith. I have also collected knives by other well known makers
with great reputations and ABS credentials. But three of my treasures were
made by a relatively new maker who makes the most beautiful knives with
outstanding temper lines in file steel, 5160, and W1 tool steel. He is
experimenting with Japanese clay tempering techniques and his knives are
fantastic. They were made to be used. And priced accordingly. I plan to
watch his work get better and better, and for him to receive more and more
money for his work in coming years. I also have collected a couple of knives
by another up and coming maker. His mosaic damascus is really spectacular and
is priced very fairly considering the amount of work and creativity that goes
into each blade. The work of these new makers may not yet approach
perfection, but it is most definitely Art. I think both of these makers are
committed to the art of knifemaking, and I will enjoy watching their careers
and skills develop over time.
Will I use these knives just because they were less costly than some of
my other knives? Will I just play with them and admire their beauty and
workmanship? Will I someday sell them? I don't know yet. I just know that I
I think you should collect what you like. I don't think that the present
day value or the future value of a knife should be dominant considerations
when deciding what knives to purchase. I don't understand people who collect
knives they don't like just because a famous maker made them. And I don't
understand why someone would not buy a knife they really like because the
maker is unknown. Its fun to discover a really talented maker before their
work increases in value. Some knives are too expensive and precious to use.
Others demand to be used. I try to only collect knives that I can at least
imagine using. Because to fully appreciate the Art of knifemaking, one has to
use one's mind, eyes, hands, and heart.