Vintage Knife Collecting 101

Collecting Vintage Knives Tips

Knives have a mysterious power to resurrect memories from days gone by and pull you back to a time when carrying and using a knife daily was the norm.  Memories of our dads and grandpa’s knives, and knives we used as kids are magical! 

Those memories have the mysterious power to take you back to using and collecting pocket and hunting knives.

If you’ve recently been captivated, or if you’re a little more seasoned to vintage knife collecting, allow me to provide some basic tips.

1). Collect what holds the best memories. 
Most any vintage pocket knife can be found on It’s a knife collector’s gamut of endless options and price points.

2). Schrade, Camillus, Colonial, Imperial are out of business. 
Even though these brand names are still produced today, they’re not made here in the USA.  Older USA made models can still be purchased …..Primarily on ebay.

3). Don’t be afraid of UGLY.
There’s nothing wrong with those darkened knife blades, they’re just stained from use.  That’s how “stainless” knives came to be….the blades were made not to “stain.”  Most seasoned knife collectors prefer a little darkening as long as the blade isn’t eat up with rust. Rust, is another animal.

4). AH-SNAP!
Back in the old days, and still some today (Like Case, Great Eastern Cutlery, Canal Street Cutlery, and others) made slip-joint knives.  A slip-joint knife has no locking mechanism so the blade can come back if improperly used.  What there should be is a reasonable amount of “SNAP” when closing the folding pocket knife into the cavity.  This maybe a little in-depth, but that indicates the amount of the use a knife has seen.  If the snap is very light or not present, it won’t be recreated.  A good hard snap is the MacDaddy when buying on oldie!

If the blade(s), when open, move side-to-side the knife is what we call “loose.”  It’s not the end of the world, but if you plan on using and carrying the knife it’ll only worsen and make for a disappointing cutting experience.  On the other hand, if the knife will be on display, and possibly passed on, then it’s not as vital. 

Yeah, rust….not really good for anything, at least not that I can think of.  There’s a difference between a darkened patina on a knife blade and rust.  Rust destroys and can eat through the metal.  Rust dust assist in creating patina….you just don’t want a lot.  And if the rust is more than surface, there’s not enough WD-40 to remove it.

I personally have a pet-peeve for a knife that has grinding wheel marks on it.  I don’t like it. Some knife sharpeners have used grinding wheels to speed up the sharpening time and usually all it does is create unevenness and grind marks.   Also keep a close eye to the “fullness” of the knife blade and see how much of the original size is missing from sharpening or broken, chipped steel.

Check the overall appearance by looking under the cavity (where the springs can be seen), into the cavity (where the blades are housed), the bolsters (usually shiny metal ends), and tang stamp. If the handles (aka scales) are chipped, cracked, or peeling this reveals a potential handle replacement situation. 

Reading the tang stamp is crucial in identifying a vintage knife.  Most all of the past knife factories identified there knife with a stamp at the base of the main blade.  And in almost all cases, the letters USA were included.  In some cases, those were the only letter stamped at the tang. 

10). DON’T
If you’ve felt the stirring of the knife spirit, DON’T hesitate……answer the call and begin experiencing the purity of collecting vintage knives!


Considering the above tips will help in your decision to purchase a vintage knife worthy of collecting and reliving fond memories, and or a quality cutting experience!


If you like the “traditional” slippy (slip-joint) knives, but wouldn’t mind a current alternative, allow me to recommend a few high quality, American made knives that fit the bill:

Case XX Knives :
There’s a reason they have the largest knife collectors club in the universe.   

Great Eastern Cutlery (and these folks still use carbon steel which is my preferred steel):

Canal Street Cutlery (Even though Schrade USA is no longer making knives, there are folks who worked at the Schrade USA factory and still do today because it’s the same plant where Schrade knives were made )

I’ve personally reviewed knives from the above factories and it’s a pleasure to know the American Spirit of quality craftsmanship still exists today!

Ooooops, almost forgot……I use and highly recommend these 2 books:


Steel Sahlute my Knife Brothers!

Scott Rauber