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Why Buy Antique Pocket Knives? Your Guide to the Vintage Pocket Knife

A close look at various different pocket knives.

If you are looking to complete your collection of antique paraphernalia, you should complete it with a beautiful antique pocket knife. Here's everything you'll need to know before buying one.

When discussing the purchase of antique and vintage items, the conversation should go far beyond simple aesthetics and class. Vintage treasures come with a storied past, and that can be felt when you visit an antique barn (they’re everywhere in New Hampshire) or being told of its significance from its previous owner.

When a belonging feels special, it’s more likely to be respected and kept in good shape. This is great for one’s own personal satisfaction (have you ever tuned up your own bike? It feels amazing) and it ends up being the absolute most respectful way to consume for the planet.

Once Upon a Blade…

In a previous article I touch on the story of a knife that has been passed down to me, and today we’ll get a little more into it. I’ve never been a person who has felt the need to carry around such a tool. I have my multitool for camping and hiking, but the blade on that is a literal joke — thankfully I’ve never been in any sticky situations where I truly needed a sharp knife.

One day when whittling wooden spoons with my father, an activity that’s been passed on through generations in our family, he whipped out this gorgeous leather sheath. Inside was a folding knife that his father had weld when he was a teenager, which he passed down to my father when he was a teenager.

The summer had been spent restoring the knife — regaining the perfect edge, restoring the handle, oiling the folding mechanism. I was completely enthralled by this little tool and I immediately wanted it. After all, I was far past due to the honor of this inheritance.

A pocket hunting knife with a gray handle on a tree.

This simple penny knife has evolved into an heirloom throughout the years. The efforts made by my grandfather, and his son, is a tradition I hope to carry on as well. Items like these are quite frankly irreplaceable, and the care was shown for them subconsciously transfers to taking great care in the task at hand.

Identifying Your Vintage Make

If you’re looking to determine the make of your pocket knife, a manufacturer’s hallmark is usually etched into the base of the blade, or on a small metal plate on the knife’s handle. Welding is an extremely old profession, and tons of knife manufacturers are still in operation today. That way, you can browse newer models and try to match characteristics with your old one! There are plenty of available guides that aid in knife identification.

A close look at a vintage pocket knife with a blade that has serrations.

Due to their age, it’s common for an emblem to be completely worn down and indecipherable. Luckily, there are tons of clubs on craigslist and the like who are antique knife collectors, who would enthusiastically help you identify the make. Here you can even send a photo of your antique knife and they’ll appraise it.

What’s the Difference?

The main difference between modern pocket knives and vintage ones is the type of steel that is used, and the type of locking mechanism. Before the 1980s, 440C (C is for carbon) steel was used. This steel is a relatively high carbon, as well as quite a corrosion resistance. Most antique knives you find will be made from 440C steel, as it is resistant to wear and has survived the years.

This is an antique pocket knife with intricate details on its handle.

Through time, welders have gotten better at combining metals to make them more wear-resistant, for that minimal effort owner. The newer blades do keep their edge for longer and tend to be extremely tough, but the same goes for vintage knives. It all comes back to how often you’re willing to sharpen it. Learn about different steel options here!

Let’s Get Environmental!

Certain manufacturing practices of today prioritize quantity over quality, which let’s face it, is pretty much the only option considering the staggeringly enormous human population. An average of 250 babies are born every minute, and that folks, is what we call exponential growth. In order to combat the practice of creating more and more junk (ever heard of garbage patch?) it’s important to buy used when we can. (Take it from Kurt Russell, look how happy he is!)

This is a vintage pocket knife with a wooden handle and a rusty blade.

Why? Because we simply don’t need to keep creating, consuming, and wasting all this material that has such a short life. I don’t know about you, but it pains me to drink a cappuccino in under a minute, then to throw out that cup that had such a short lifespan. This rule can be applied to almost everything. Furniture? Go to Facebook Marketplace! Clothes? The greatest fashion comes from your Aunt Petunia who wears two different kinds of polka dots! Cars? Okay, maybe it’s better to invest in an electric car…

Buying vintage items end up saving you money in the long run. Now that I think of it, in the short run, too. They’re often made with quality over quantity in mind, it’s usually an adventure obtaining these goods, and they’re simply less money than new stuff! Here are some places online where you can purchase vintage pocket knives:

Otherwise, visit your local antique store! Drive to another town and visit theirs! Go pay Uncle Larry a visit, he probably has an entire bucket filled with tools that are ready to be loved again. Larry will thank you for it, and so will the planet.

FAQ

How do I identify a vintage pocket knife?

Join an online club! Enthusiasts are everywhere, and they are willing to share their knowledge. There are online appraisers who will identify the make for you. Or, do your own research! The more you get involved with the history of your vintage pocket knife, the more you’ll adore it.

How do I clean a vintage pocket knife?

Something as simple as WD40 can take that rust away, but if it needs a serious reparation job, these guys have a very detailed guide.

Is an antique pocket knife better?

That’s up to you to decide. If you stumble upon an old pocket knife in a drawer and it’s still looking sturdy, showing it a little love will make it work as new. The short term investment of sharpeners and oils will save you money in the long run.

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