Buying old rare knives under the influence

Now that I have your attention- here’s the deal. When we lock in on a knife to buy…sometimes our emotions can override our common sense. We are under the influence at that point; we are intoxicated. We are buying under the influence.

Keep your wits

When you finally find one the one and only knife you’ve been looking for don’t get carried away with emotion. Keep your wits about you before you pull the trigger.

While we all have gotten swept up in the tide of “I got to have this knife,” when in that situation there may be good reasons for not buying it. It could be it is a counterfeit and your gut is telling you to run; it could be the seller is of questionable reputation and the knife is too good to be true or it could simply be due to the knife’s condition the price that is way too high (then it’s just a “business decision”).

Word to the wise

My point here is not to be suspicious of every knife or seller you meet, but, on the other hand, I had a wise man once tell me…

“you have a gut feeling for a reason….so you had better listen to it.”

Most knives and sellers are fine, but if your gut screams at you….LISTEN. If you don’t feel you have enough experience then get a reputable dealer’s opinion.

Many knives are just too expensive (I’d rather say, “Valuable”) to throw all reason and logic to the wind. Yes, values continue to increase, but if you have reason to question a deal…then question it. Don’t blow it off by telling yourself that it is probably OK, when in actuality your gut is letting you know there is something that doesn’t feel right.

Take the heat

You may take some heat for your decision. I once had a dealer try to sell me a “Near Mint” toenail for a really big price. It was a Case Brothers with a really nice etch on the blade. And you had better believe he wanted a big wad of cash for it, so I gave that toenail a very close look. The etch was VERY APPEALING. I was under its influence…intoxicated by that knife. There is no doubt I would love to have a CB with an etch that nice.

But, in the end I passed. I overrode my emotions. There were a number of questionable “things” about that knife that told me it was possibly a rework and it was simply too much money to risk. In the end, I listened to my gut feeling. I took heat too. That dealer told me I didn’t know a good knife when I saw one. He was P O’ d (that told me I made the right decision too, incidentally).

Why are you offering it to me?

Also, the other thing to think about is this- If a dealer is offering you a “one of a kind” killer knife (now don’t take this wrong, OK?), but, this is the way I think…if it is so great, why is he/she trying to sell it to me? Dealers have a Rolodex of buyers, so if you are offered a knife that is so rare…so good, then why didn’t he just pick up the phone and call one of his regular buyers? Instead he is now offering it to you, or me.

Most knives are fine. And if it is a moderately priced knife then that is one thing, but if it is a price you know is a near record price, then ask yourself this question-  “Why does he still have that knife and is now trying to sell it to me?” You may have just gotten lucky- at the right place at the right time- but, maybe not, so just step back and don’t get caught up in the moment…under the influence. Don’t buy drunk.

I promise you, in most cases, if the knife is that rare and authentic…you and I would have never even known it was available.

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Published in: on January 8, 2010 at 8:28 pm  Comments (4)  
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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.

The tale of two knife sales- Part I

In the Introduction to this post, I discussed running a test with the sale of two identical 100 year old knives.  Again, the only difference between the two was their condition- one was in Excellent, and the other, Very Good.

Allow me to start off Part I of The Tale of Two Knife Sales with this question- How would you go about determining value when two knives are the same, except for their condition?

oregonknifeclubshowYeah, we know if a dealer had both knives for sale at a show, he would price them according to their condition. That I understand, but how exactly is the discount for the lower condition knife figured?

I know it isn’t an exact science, but even still it is all over the board out there. I’m also a believer you can sell anything at a price if you are willing to wait long enough, but a one-off sale doesn’t necessarily represent market value as supported by the market.

Challenges we collectors face in determining a knife’s value

You know the problem all collectors face on a daily basis- Different dealers, and sellers, value knives differently, which poses a challenge when trying to stay abreast of where values are and how much a knife is worth.

Yeah, there are “price guides” out there, but I’m not going to say these guides are an actual reflection of where value is, as opposed to attempting to forecast where values are going, otherwise, the guide is out of date the day it is published. And price guides indicate MINT condition value. Depending on how young the knives are you collect that may work just fine, but if you collect 100 year old knives, a MINT condition value is worthless, cause there ain’t none of them out there.

On top of that, how do you know what the “discount” off of a MINT antique knife is in order to deduct it for the different conditions, ie., Near Mint, Excellent, Very Good, Good, etc. I know folks have opinions on the various price levels based on condition, but I want to test how actual buyers value them.

prismLet’s do the experiment

Two weeks ago, I noticed a particular knife on eBay. Right at the same time I had a chance to buy the identical knife, except the one I bought was in VERY GOOD condition and the one on eBay was in EXCELLENT condition. Other than that the knives were identical. Same pattern. Same brand. Same era. Same stamps. Same age. Same desirable handle material with the same jigging.

So, I bought the one I was offered to put it on eBay while the better condition one was still up for auction. These two sales are an experiment to see a current snap-shot of their values- as determined by actual buyers and how they judge the condition value (or discount) between the two.

We could use past sales to do a comparative analysis, but are 2, or even 1, year old sale prices still relevant in today’s market conditions? But even still past sales of different knives won’t quantify the price difference by condition grade of two identical knives. That’s also why I wanted both knives sold to see their real-time value established by auction.

testresults2The test results

Typically, I devote an entire post to a single article, but The Tale of Two Knife Sales was simply too long. For this reason, I decided to break this story into parts. In Part II, we’ll examine the two knives and their sale results, as well as why an auction was the best environment for this test.