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Out of Pocket - Collecting Pocket Knives

Dec 27, 2007
Pocket knives (that are sometimes referred to as Jack Knives, Pen Knives, Folding Knives or Multi-Blades) have been manufactured commercially in America since about the middle 19th century.

Different Blades Today -

The blades themselves are pretty much the same as they were then, with slight variations depending on where you find your knife. Two different finishes were used on older knife blades, glaze and crocus. A glaze finish, the abrasive glued onto the final polishing wheel so that the edges and lines look clean. Inexpensive blades are polished by drum tumbling, which produces a very respectable looking finish that is almost impossible to fake.

Glaze Finishes -

For a glaze finish, the abrasive glued onto the final polishing wheel was of a very fine powdered emery. A true glaze finish, sometimes called a 'blue glaze', looks like a series of very fine, even parallel lines at right angles to the main cutting edge of the blade. There are collectors and dealers who fail to recognize this as an original finish and insist on buffing it out.

Crocus Finish -

For the crocus finish, the abrasive on the final wheel was crocus of iron, an extremely fine-powdered iron oxide. A crocus polish is known as a mirror finish. It's smooth and shiny and shows undistorted reflections. By contrast, a rag wheel polish yields a wavy surface and distorted reflections.

Don't Be Fooled -

To avoid being fooled by a reworked knife, it's important to understand that no old-time commercial knife factory ever used rag buffing wheels. An old knife blade or handle that shows the softened edges and slightly wavy surface produced by rag wheel buffing has certainly been reworked.

The glaze finish was standard on all low-priced knives, including most plain jack knives and a crocus polish was sometimes used all around on the very finest pearl-handled dress knives, often referred to as "Sunday go-to-meetin' knives".

Collecting Pocket Knives -

If you are hoping to be a serious collector, it is essential that you learn to recognize authentic crocus and glaze finishes. An experienced dealer or collector could show you the difference. A picture on the Internet or in a book will only take you so far in knowing what the difference between a real and a fake pocket knife is and what it will do to your collection.

There are many different handle materials to choose from for your pocket knives. The most popular is the pearl or mother-of-pearl handle, which is made from the inner lining of certain mollusk shells. A similar one is the abalone shell which is made from the inner lining of a gastropod shell.

What Handles are Made of -

Now on the endangered list and are not supposed to be hunted, ivory handles are hard to come by. There are faux ivory handles available. Walrus ivory, because of its crystalline appearing core, is only popular with handmade knives and is also rare a find, mostly in Alaska and the Russian Arctic.

Tortoise shell, Black Buffalo horn, and Gray or Green Buffalo horns all make beautiful handles and are a little easier to come by than the ivory.

A Genuine Stag is by far the most common pocket knife handle there is, cut of deer or other animal antlers. Sometimes the color is enhanced with dye, which can give off an orange hue.

The shin bone of cattle makes a Smooth White Bone and can be readily distinguished from ivory by its many tiny pores and lack of grain.

Cheap Handles -

Hard rubber is not usually used on pocket knives and celluloid is probably the cheapest and most often used today to cut the cost of pocket knives down. Celluloid was the first molded synthetic plastic, and can be made in many colors. It can also be fabricated to simulate most natural materials, including ivory, horn, pearl, tortoise shell and wood. This amazing celluloid can also be made transparent to cover photographs laid on the pocketknife, such as an Indian warrior or a hunting dog.

The recent sharp increase in prices for antique pocketknives, as well as other antique knives, has made clever counterfeiting a profitable business.

Counterfeit Knives -

The majority of counterfeit knives are real knives; however there are some knives that aren't even knives at all! Their blades have never seen heat, their edges never sharpened. Nonetheless, counterfeit knives are all about the markings, the finish and the handle materials. Remember, a low-quality knife with a high-quality name or marking is almost always a fake.

There are many sources, such as books, magazines and the Internet which will show you the real McCoy verses the counterfeit pocket knives. Caution and skepticism should be your tools when beginning and maintaining your collection of pocket knives, but they should not ruin your enjoyment of this fascinating hobby.
About the Author
William "Cole" Doggett is a knife expert and owns an Internet knife shop, Knife & Supply Company, LLC at Pocket Knife | Hunting Knife | SOG Knife. His website is devoted to all things pocket knives, swords, kitchen cutlery, sharpeners, machetes and a wealth of information. Stop by! Check out the Fighting Knife Blog | Collectible Knife for knife reviews and much more.
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