Collecting vintage and antique pocket knives is a hobby enjoyed by many enthusiasts. Prices will vary from a few dollars at a yard sale to thousands for a rare early piece. One of the most important aspects in knowing what you should pay for a good vintage pocket knife is who the maker was. Without knowing who manufactured a pocket knife, it will be impossible to place an accurate value on it.
Look carefully for any company names or identifying hallmarks. Most knives were marked on the base of the blade or on a small metal plate in the handle of the knife. Many pocket knife manufacturers used a full name like Shrade stamped in the blade. Others have a hallmark. Opinel, a French pocket knife maker, uses a hand with a finger pointing at a crown as a hallmark logo. A good guidebook will show many makers marks and variations of identifying marks companies used in different eras. Sometimes a change in font type of a name also can date the knife.
Become familiar with styles of pocket knifes made by different manufacturers. Some companies, like Imperial Knives, made advertising pocket knives for many large and small businesses. Some of these are not marked with any manufacturers marks for identification, but an experienced collector can tell by the style that Imperial made the pocket knife. Material used like brass or plastic in a handle can vary in type and look from one company to another. Handle as many knives as possible at antique stores, flea markets and in private collections. The more you know the look and feel of certain pocket knives, the easier it becomes to identify the maker. Ask sellers questions. Those who collect and deal in pocket knives are a ready source of free information. Collectors and dealers are almost always willing to teach a beginner and give tips to educate their potential customers.
Obtain as many good guidebooks and price guides for pocket knives as you can. Even outdated price guides can offer a wealth of information. Comparing old prices with current prices can help a collector know what brands increase in value and what brands are no longer as fashionable for buyers. Often price guides educate you on manufacturers and their markings. Guidebooks for pocket knives may show photos of identifying marks and have information on characteristics of certain pocket knives. Many have full colour pictures or diagrams of parts and show where to look for hallmarks and makers' names.
Join pocket knife collecting clubs or online pocket knife forums. Other collectors will gladly answer questions and help you learn to identify valuable knives. Many have newsletters with articles on collecting and histories of brands. Clubs hold swap meets and collectors fairs with tables of dealers' wares to examine and learn about. Other enthusiasts can help you identify an unmarked find or decipher a mark that has worn away.
Look for repairs and damage. Prime condition to a collector is much more valuable than repaired or damaged pocket knives.
Beware of altered or repaired pocket knives. Many were repaired simply to be made useful again. Others have been altered to fool inexperienced collectors into paying for a supposedly rare knife made of mismatched parts or repairs are hidden to make a knife look in better shape than it is.