Man, I’m thankful for Pickers

You know what a Picker is? You Ol’ Timers do, but I can guarantee most of the young bucks don’t. I’d never heard of a Picker until recently.

First, I want to officially go on record in saying, I’m thankful for the pickers. They’re scattered all across our fruited plain. Their job- scurry through the yard sales looking for “things” of value to resale. Usually they broker to dealers, but now with the web, they can sell directly to collectors too.

This important occupation hasn’t always been looked upon favorably. In fact, here’ a definition straight from Zen in the Art of Yardselling-

Pickers- A term that the yardsale community commonly uses to refer to [unscrupulous] people who turn a profit from reselling yardsale-bought goods. Pros resent being classified as pickers seeing as how it puts them in the same category as lawn gypsies.

You know me I’m all for capitalism. I’m glad someone is up at the crack of dawn sifting through boxes of junk. So what they make a dollar…..or thousands when they score a find.

Pickers have now even been elevated in stature- there’s a TV Show promoting this worthwhile activity called American Pickers.

Why are pickers on my mind today? Cause I’m the proud benefactor of a picker’s discovery.

Recently a gentleman in California contacted me. He is a friend of this particular picker- my hero- who had found a big old odd knife. The friend was helping research the knife and they found my Elephant Toenails website.

The friend wanted me to help give “some details” about it, as well as wanting to know if I’d be interested. Long story short, it was an elephant toenail, as you probably guessed. But it wasn’t just the run of the mill old toenail, instead it was of the Jumbo Swellcenter variety- my favorite.

Now my appreciation for this under-appreciated occupation is at an all-time high. Had this gentleman not recognized my knife as potentially having significance (to me anyway), it easily could have ended up being purchased for what it was originally intended- a hard-core work knife- thrown in a toolbox never to be seen again.

I know you knife collectors are nodding with me on this. I can hear your “Amen” all the way down here in the Heart of Dixie.

Now allow me to introduce my sentimental favorite Jumbo Swellcenter- the fruit of a picker’s labor:

Jumbo Swellcenter- C. Platts' Sons Cutlery Company of Eldred, Pa. 1900- 1905

Oh, I forgot to tell you the kicker- the Picker only paid $14.00 for it.

Kinda makes you want to pick a little, now doesn’t it?

The tale of two knife sales- Conclusion

This is the tale of two knife sales.

Knife #2

The WR Case Jumbo I bought to sell on eBay for a test

In the Introduction, I shared with you rarely do we have a true comparison of two virtually identical knife sales to provide us with the buyers price differentiation between knife grade conditions. And that I bought a knife to put up on eBay to see how it would compare to a better quality one that was already up for auction on the same site.

Then we saw in Part I- the challenges we collectors face trying to value knives and why this test would be so interesting. Part II- established why past sales are the best gauge of value even though it is so rare to have identical knives being sold at auction at the same time.

These auctions will also provide us a snap-shot of value in the current economic conditions and then to be able to compare them to same knife sales of the last few years.

Now in the conclusion of my experiment, I want you to see the knives and the auctions results. Then we’ll end with my observations.

These knives- two W. R. Case  Jumbo Swellcenter Elephant Toenails (sunfish) offered me for the first time since I started knife collecting a real apples-to-apples sales comparison of two identical knives each with a different grade condition and the buyers’ judgment of their price differences.

And now for the knives and their auctions

These two knives represent one of the most sought-after styles of the elephant toenail pattern.

Veteran knife dealer, Mr. Joe Seale said in an interview I conducted with him in June of 2003, that he usually doesn’t keep a Swellcenter for more than two months- even though this style toenail represents the highest price of the three different styles.

In case you have wondered why I chose to run the test on this knife, well, it is my most favorite- that’s why. I have tracked this style toenail closely over the years. This test also allowed me to see what is happening to values as we go through the worst economy since the Great Depression.

The Two Knife Sales

Knife #1- W R Case & Sons Cutlery Co., Bradford, Pa  Jumbo Swellcenter Elephant Toenail. Excellent Condition

Knife #2- W R Case & Sons Cutlery Co., Bradford, Pa  Jumbo Swellcenter Elephant Toenail. Very Good Condition

Note: The significant masterblade wear on Knife #2 compared with knife #1 and yet, Knife #1 is about 87-90% full. Knife #1 was cleaned. Knife #2 is a real example of a used jumbo (they were hard-core work knives, you know).

Auction Results

  • Knife #1-the Excellent condition knife brought $2595.
  • Knife #2- the Very Good condition knife brought $1200.

Wrap up & General Observations

Clearly we find a measurable difference between the conditions of these two knives and their prices/ values. Originally, I thought Knife #1 would go higher, possibly to $3000. My guess on Knife #2 had it bringing $1300 to $1500.

If the EX brought two times plus more than the VG one, that the grade condition discount is 50%. I’m not willing to go that far and apply that ratio across the board.

While the demand historically has been strong, Mr. Seale also shared with me that only 2% of collectors buy knives over $500. This tells us these knives have a limited buying market than a more affordable pattern or style. I tend to agree with the position he holds regarding high-end knife buyers-

“High-end knife collectors as a group have the where-with-all to be able to purchase the rare ones in the best condition.”

Translation- The discount for less than EX is going to be greater for high-end knives, not just in dollars, but as a percentage. I believe this was evident in this test. There is weaker price support for knives in “marginal” collector condition. This may, or may not, be the result of the heavy emphasis on the “Buy Only Mint Condition” mantra I have seen preached and heard ever since I started collecting. But I don’t know.

The result of this test provides good news for knife owners and potential sellers. It demonstrates there is good demand and price support in the market right now.


FYI- I know of a Near Mint condition W. R. Case Jumbo Swellcenter with the exact same handles and jigging that sold for $4000 in 2004.



The tale of two knife sales- Part II

Part II of The Tale of Two Knife Sales

If you are just joining us, we are looking at an experiment I ran recently with a knife I purchased to auction at the same time an identical knife was also being auctioned. I wanted to gauge the prices for the different grade conditions for this 100 year old knife pattern, as the only difference between the two knives was mine was in Very Good condition and the other Excellent.

In Part I of The Tale of Two Knife Sales, we examined the challenges collectors of old knives have when trying to gauge values, especially between the different condition grades. Today, we are bringing it all together and setting the stage for this controlled experiment, in addition to explaining why an auction is the best environment to run this test.

Tracking sale prices

In Part I, we concluded price guides offered us little help in determining values for 100 year old knives and their variations, including condition. The prices are for Mint condition (as in new out of the box) knives only. They are out of date once printed and then, those preparing the guide may not be experts on many of the brands or patterns in the book, unless it is a specific brand guide.

So that leaves collectors needing to track actual sales. Sales are the best gauge of value at a given point in time. And yet, obtaining actual sale prices on private transactions (non-auctions), is virtually impossible. So, auctions tend to be the most readily available price information.

The differences among the same pattern

The differences among the same pattern

We also want to understand the variables affecting a knife’s value. A challenge we face is there aren’t enough of a given pattern sold to include all the different variations, in order to gauge price differences of each variation. For example, the knives are of a different era, different handle material, different brand (but same pattern), condition grades, or something else that would cause the results to be unquantifiable.

What about the sales method used?

What about the price difference between a knife sold by private negotiation compared with an auction? Being a lifelong fan of auctions, it may surprise you to know I believe you can sometimes realize a higher price via private sale than by auction, like when you have a highly motivated buyer and an unmotivated seller, for example. I realize auctions can achieve a higher price on occasions too, but you need as close to equally motivated bidders to run each other up.

voylesauctionAuctions take several factors out that are present in private sales, like the negotiation skill, or lack thereof, of the buyer or seller. Auctions provide for an equal playing field. Furthermore, the seller is not in the picture and it is down to the bidders to compete in order to determine the winner. This finality simply isn’t present in a negotiated sale.

Personally, I believe a legitimately run auction will realize true market value, more so than a one-off privately negotiated sale.

Running a controlled auction experiment

800px-ebay_logosvg1To control this experiment let’s take the two knives- two knives as close to being identical as can be found, their condition being the only difference. Then let’s put them on eBay. The auctions will run at the same time, with one closing a few days before the other. And, yet the bidders will see both knives for most of the time.

The knives are-

  1. Sold in the same market conditions (not one sold two years ago during the days of excessive exuberance and then the other one sold in today’s turbulent economy, for example)
  2. Sold at the same time (both closed within a couple days of each other)
  3. The same pattern
  4. The same brand
  5. Manufactured in the same time period
  6. The same handle material
  7. The same jigging pattern
  8. Sold by the same sales method
  9. Sold on the same terms of sale

Suffice to say, all the factors are as close to the same as they will ever be. It is very rare to have a situation like this. So, the very day mine came in I listed it. There was still several days left on the better condition knife and it was important for me to get mine listed so buyers could consider and evaluate both, and then factor in the difference.

Introducing the subjects of the experiment:

Knife #1-

frontclosed1

W R Case & Sons Cutlery Co, Bradford, Pa

Jumbo Swellcenter Elephant Toenail (sunfish) knife

Condition: Excellent

Knife #2-

frontclosedresizedweb

W R Case & Sons Cutlery Co, Bradford, Pa

Jumbo Swellcenter Elephant Toenail (sunfish) knife

Condition: Very Good

Tomorrow’s edition will provide the results, concluding observations of the experiment and additional photos to demonstrate the differences in their condition.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.