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Sunday, September 15, 2013

Knives

The other evening, I was poking around on the ol’ computer, Ike the dog napping at my feet. It was a very Norman Rockwell-esque setting.  If Norman Rockwell painted laptops in his scenes, that is.
I was taken with the notion to check out the approximate value of some older pocket knives I have. Before the reader thinks I am a bit odd, let me explain.
I have always been fascinated by knives. Not in a weird, malicious, or creepy sort of way. I don’t like the huge or strangely designed knives which have become somewhat popular.  Those are just Hollywood show, flashy impractical gee-gaws. I prefer a practical knife, whether a folding pocket knife, or a fixed-blade sheath knife. Yes, size DOES matter. Too small is worthless, and too large is unwieldy, practically useless in application.
What is most intriguing about knives is their history. When Man knocked two stones together, producing a sharp edge and semblance of a point he took the first step toward balancing the scale of power in his environment. This puny, weak, slow, fang-less, claw-less creature now could both defend himself as well as become a predator in his own right.
The knife was the first tool to elevate mankind above the role of easy pickin’s on the food-chain.  Overtime, crude stone implements became today’s high-tech steels, alloys, and mind-boggling array of shapes, sizes, designs, and specialized uses.
A youngster obtaining their first knife is a rite of passage. The object, whether brand new in the box, or pocket worn from years in Dad’s or Grand-dad’s pocket, was accorded near mythic status. Truly, Excalibur was not as fine a blade as this example of the blade smith’s art!  An inviolate part of the ritual required the one bestowing the knife upon the youngster to utter those Time honored words, first grunted in Mankind’s deep history: “Don’t cut anything!”
Unknown to the adult, these three little words awaken an insatiable spirit heretofore slumbering within the blade, be it steel, or ceramic, obsidian or titanium; the effect is the same.  The thing takes on a life of its own, with the recipient merely going along for the ride.
A no-nonsense, level-headed, dependable youngster finds they are inexplicably carving notches in the piano legs, whittling Dad’s split bamboo fly fishing rod into so many toothpicks, making lateral incisions in chair cushions, and “putting a keen edge” on the blade with a newly broken piece of crockery.
When interrogated about the motives of these actions, the accused pleads the age-old defense which has been offered through-out the eons:  “I dunno.”
These words fall upon the ears of the prosecutor/judge with a tremendous weight. Suddenly, they are transported through the mists to a place and time they would rather forget. With shaking knees, they stood before the bar of justice. The implement of destruction held before them by the formerly benevolent giver of said gift. Wide eyed, and searching for a compelling reason as to why they had cut, carved, sliced, and in general created mayhem with the now mocking blade, the only defense they could offer was a shrug of the shoulders and “I dunno.”
The sentence is as fixed as the Sun rising in the East: The Judge thinks for a moment, and then says “Well…I am just going to hang onto this until you are a little bit older and more responsible.”
Depending upon the kid, this is a time period ranging anywhere from 2 weeks to 20 years. I know of adults who have never had their first knife returned to them. They have had to suffer the shame and indignity of needing to purchase their first real keeper knife.
It was with this in mind I set out to get an idea of my vintage knives’ values.
Surprise, surprise, surprise….
Do you realize…
IF… I had kept the Buck 500 drop point, lock-back hunter in the original box with the sheath pristine, never used, or sharpened…. It would be worth approximately $185.00?
Had I wrapped the red-bone handled, 1973 Barlow knife made by Case in gossamer and squirreled it away with a good coating of oil… I would be looking at two Franklins?
The most eye-opening discovery was to learn the early 1970s vintage Case Cheetah which was cozily resting in my pocket…. The same red-bone handles, the same slender blade, the same swing-out blade guard…had I kept this one in the box, with the packing papers, never used it (even for cutting threads off a shirt), never touched the blade to a sharpening steel…I would have $350.00 sitting there.
Dejectedly, I closed the web-site. I pulled the knife from my pocket, and swung the blade open. The lock made a satisfying “snap”. The blade shows some discoloration here and there; the tell-tale remainders of being used for cutting. The once sharply defined edges of the handle (as shown in the photos of the mint condition one) have taken on a softening and patina where years of handling have taken their toll.
I went upstairs and removed the Barlow from the storage case and the Buck from the dresser shelf. Each showed signs of use; the little chip in the handle received when dropped in a rocky stream, the odd little spot on the blade received when experimenting with a new sharpening implement.
Each told a story as well. I remembered buying the Cheetah in the small family owned hardware store in Bluffton, Ohio. The store owner telling me he has had that knife on the shelf for more than a year, and he was wondering if he would ever sell it.
The small town Georgia hardware store, located on a quintessential Southern home town square came to mind. I was on a business trip, and had some time to kill. Wandering into the store (there is a magic old time hardware stores possessed. The big-box stores will never have the charm and character of a Mom & Pop store) I made small talk with the proprietor while glancing at the Buck knife display. We talked the relative merits of Buck vs. Case, the changes the Buck family had gone through following Charles’ passing away. He saw me looking at the 500. Finally, after taking a draw on his bottle of orange pop, he drawled; “Walll… fer a Yankee, you seem like a good enough fella. How about I knock 7 bucks off that knife for ya?”   How could I say “no” to that?
The Barlow brought back the time my Lovely Bride and I visited a flea market in Lima, Ohio. Amidst the tables of children’s clothing, cookware, Tupperware, and so on sat a man I knew. A patrolman on the Lima Police Department (at the time, I worked at the Lima Municipal Court), he did flea markets on the weekends. Just to put things in perspective, flea markets were something new and pretty big doings in the mid 70s.  Not like today, when every other parking lot hosts one. This gentleman had spread before him a “Guys Table”… tools, knives, flashlights, fishing and hunting stuff.  It was a veritable oasis of Testosterone in a desert of Estrogen fueled stuff!
There, nestled between the old Imperial and Keen Kutter knives was as shiny new Case. A red-boned Barlow, just like the one our local Game Warden carried! I would look with longing eyes at the knife as he would cut open envelopes, trim his finger nails, and in general let anyone who was interested know he  had a bone handled Case.  Oddly, except for the internet, his and mine are the only two I have ever seen.
While my knives, well-used and cared for, may not be valued as highly as those on an internet auction, each told a unique story. Memories of good times, places and good friends poured forth as I handled them.  Closing the blades carefully, I smiled inwardly.  No, my knives are not valued the same as on an auction site. 
Mine are priceless.

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