Cutlery History- Case Brothers Cutlery Company Wood Knife Box

My mind’s on knife history right now. I’ve always heard if you think on a thing a lot you develop ruts in your mind and your thinking tends to run along those lines, so I guess this is why my last few post have related to cutlery company history.

The second reason cutlery history is top of mind for me right now- I found a knife box at Parkers Knife Show yesterday. This knife box is different from the typical old paper box commonly found. Yep. This is a wood knife box. Rarely will you find a wooden knife box.

On top of that most knife boxes are made for a single knife, whereas this knife box was used to contain up to at least a dozen knives. How cool is that?! But wait- it gets even better!

Wood Case Brothers Knife Box c.1907/1908

Case Brothers Cutlery Company

This knife box was used by Case Brothers Cutlery Company (c.1900- 1914). You probably already know Case Brothers is one of my all-time favorite old knife companies. This box is guesstimated to have been used around 1907/08 based on its reference to their Kane, Pa. factory.

Marked Pattern No. 6250  1/2 Dozen

Oh yeah, I forgot to tell you this particular box contained a half dozen of their 6250 pattern (their “bone stag” handle material number) knives. Do you know what knife that is? The answer is what we call the Elephant Toenail, of course. As we’ve discussed in Pieces of cutlery history travel down through time together, you know anytime I can link ¬†items from cutlery history I am ecstatic, and particularly, when one of the items is my favorite knife.

1904 Case Brothers Cutlery Co. '50 catalog listing

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-

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W R Case & Sons Cutlery Co, Bradford, Pa

Jumbo Swellcenter Elephant Toenail (sunfish) knife

Condition: Excellent

Knife #2-

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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.