I recently finished a trial involving an exotic and rare car. The work I did on that case introduced me to the world of high end car collecting and the expert appraiser we used is one of the best in the world. That peek into the rarified air of car collecting led me to rethink collecting in general and specifically knife and gear collecting.
For a long time I resisted the label of collector. I am and wanted to think of myself as a user of gear, not a collector. But as time as progressed and my Gerstner chest has gotten crowded the label seems more and more appropriate. At some point I stopped fighting the label and started thinking of myself as a collector. The reality, however, is that I am not. I am a hoarder motivated by FOMO.
During the trial I came to see that true collecting has three primary elements, none of which are found in my gear.
First, collections generally have a theme. Few people can afford to collect everything. So aside from truly stupendous collectors like Jay Leno in the car world, some collectors focus on one or two themes. David Lee, another well-known car collector, is famous for his collection of Ferraris. As an equivalent, some real collectors in the knife world focus on Loveless knives or Randalls. Alas, my stable of stuff has no theme or organizing principle. It is just stuff I like.
Second, collections usually have items that are purchased for purposes of appreciation in value. It might not be the case that collector intends to sell an item, but they certainly want to target stuff that will increase in value over time. Other than my Scott Sawby Swift, I doubt any piece of gear I own will increase in value over time. They are, for the most part, production knives (some of which are rare, but rarity is a relative term—there are a few cars that exist in ones and twos…a lot fewer than “rare” production knives). Even the customs I have aren’t particularly noteworthy, again, other than the Swift. They are nice and I like them, but I can’t see them being chase items for others once the fadish nature of their design is no longer in favor. Stuff that appreciates in value is timeless; the vast, vast majority of knives aren’t.
Third, collections usually have obvious value to others. This is the difference between a collection, like the one the MFA has, and your kid’s stick collection that lives just outside your front door. For most collections, the stuff we have matters to us and to no one else.
In a recent discussion I had on an IG group, we talked about a Shirogorov Neon Zero and whether it was price justified. You can guess my answer (no). But then one of the participants mentioned that the price difference was because it was collectible. I pushed back on that idea and noted that it was unlikely that the Neon would be collectible.
I am, of course, not certain of that. It could be. But if you had to guess whether something was going to be collectible or not the safest answer is always no. Even if you don’t know what the item is. And that is because it is hard to anticipate what will have value to others, especially when those others are in the future. There are too many Shiros out there for a production version to have value.
While there are some tactical style custom knives that have produced large sales numbers, very few are in the stratosphere. A Rexford will break $5,000, but few if any custom tacticals have hit $10,000. None, custom or production, to my knowledge, have sold for what a Walker does. With one exception—this one. At $35,400 the CQC6 that went on the Bin Laden raid is a truly remarkable piece. This is a perfect example of a knife that has value to others. It has historical significance. And as nice as the drop shut action on a Shiro is, it is not historically significant.
I am a gear hoarder and I like what I like. I have a collection not a COLLECTION, and I am okay with that. Its my stuff and I like it. But I suffer no delusion that it is valuable, that it has historical significance, or that it will appreciate in value. Nor do I try to justify purchases on such grounds. I have bought knives more expensive than the Neon, but I do so because I like them. I never buy something out of some theoretical possibility that they could be a collector’s item. And when you have lunch with the guy that appraised a few 250GTOs, you understand just how hard to swallow that justification is. None of our knives are collectibles. And if they are, they are for reasons we probably don’t yet understand or appreciate.
But this doesn’t mean that being a gear hoarder is a bad thing. People derive a lot of joy from knives, as is evidenced by this site. And people derive enjoyment from buying a specific knife they have wanted for a long time. The Neon Zero is a great knife. I am sure it brings people a lot of joy. But it is probably not a collectible and there is nothing wrong with that. Let’s face it—a lot of us have collections that are more akin to my son’s stick collection than David Lee’s Ferrari collection.