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

PickersA 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?

My knife’s mystery handles and the history of the Polymer Industry

I’ve got to come up for air. I’ve been deep in the bowels of the web on a quest for knife handle material history.

That’s right. I spent my entire Sunday afternoon trying to determine the handle material on my new C. Platts’ Sons Jumbo Swellcenter. Yeah, I know they are over 100 years ago and the likelihood of “discovering” exactly what these handles are, well let’s just say- remote. But you know it is driving me crazy.

In addition to exploring the web, I also posted for help. Then I got my other two black handled C. Platts Jumbos to contrast and compare- and yes, one is the same material, but the other I’m almost positive is ebony. I even got out my super duper magnifying glass to look at this mystery material close-up.

The knife dates between 1900 and 1905. So grabbing a Platts catalog from a book shelf won’t get it. Nope- I can find little info about their particular handle materials going that route- very little info remains about the Platts operations to help me. Instead, I ran every rabbit I could think of relating to handle materials, foreign substances and the history of plastic.

Here is where I am-

  1. They ain’t glass (there’s a pin crack). That was a joke….
  2. Not celluloid either (no shrinkage or chemical smell when tested).
  3. They look like a rubber substance (like Gutta Percha). They are hard and yet, sound like bone or wood when tapped.
  4. Don’t think they are Bakelite cause the knife was made before that patent was granted, but who knows.

What I’ve learned though is-

1899 Gutta Percha & Rubber Co

1) Gutta Percha dates back to at least the 1600s. It was used in a crude form by the natives of Malaysian Archipelago for making knife handles, walking sticks and for various other purposes. A John Tradescant noticed the natives putting it on the handles of their machetes and took it back home in 1656. He called it “mazer wood.” Its Malay name is gutta percha and as a resin, it is plastic and mouldable, yet hard, making it suitable for the manufacture of knife handles.

2) Bakelite (a plastic-like substance) was patented in 1907. Just about anything made of it is a sought after collectible today, like radios and jewelry. “Bakelite” molding compounds incorporate other filler materials, like wood, powdered glass or asbestos.

3) Celluloid and its predecessor Parkesine have been around for a long time. As early as the mid-1800s Celluloid served as a replacement for tortoise shell.

4) In 1851, N. Goodyear was granted patent on Ebonite, a hard thermosetting material. Ebonite was a man-made substitute for ebony wood.

5) And all this stuff is called the history of the Polymer Industry, particularly as it relates to synthetic polymers, but in the end, I’m still no closer to knowing what my knife’s handles are than when I started.

And after all of this- I’m not sure they aren’t simply jigged wood or bone dyed black either.

Published in: on January 10, 2010 at 7:55 pm  Comments (1)  
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