Old Slice, New Life

The Pocketknives Of Yesteryear Are Making A Huge Comeback

By Pat Covert
Photos by Chuck Pittman, Inc.

Left: Tidioute Cutlery Big Jack
Right: Schatt & Morgan Jumbo Whittler

You can get a very good idea of what’s hot in the knife world by keeping up with trends on social media, and the pocketknives of yesteryear are on fire! These throwbacks to days past have always had a substantial following but have been grossly overshadowed by tactical folders for over 25 years. No more. Pocketknives are in a full-fledged revival — most likely due to a more gun-friendly administration in the White House which has eased the focus on self-defense and shifted it over to more leisurely interests. Indeed, it was shortly after President Trump’s election win I noticed a huge uptick of interest in traditional pocketknives on social media sites and it has done nothing but grow among both users and collectors since.

Moore Maker 5-blade Sowbelly

Pocketknife Zen

Why a traditional folding knife? There are several very good reasons to carry a pocketknife, even if in addition to your self-defense carry. For starters, many are multi-blades which have different blade styles and sizes, with some being tools. This offers the user much more flexibility than a one-blade carry. Secondly, smaller blades are better suited for finer tasks than are big ones. Try cleaning the grit under your nails with the 4″ beasty blade on your tactical folder — or sharpening a pencil, peeling an apple and opening a letter. You get the picture. Small blades are simply handier for more detailed tasks.

Thirdly, pocketknives are diverse in their various configurations — from handles to blades and tools — so you can tailor your knife to your needs. Want a hard working, straight-edged Wharncliff blade? No problem. A Coping blade for wood carving? Piece of cake. A Flathead screwdriver? Got you covered.

On a final note, pocketknives “just feel good.” There is a warm and fuzzy feeling about holding and admiring an old-time folder a hard-angled tactical knife just can’t touch. There’s a certain magic to those nicely rounded nickel silver bolsters on either side of beautiful jigged bone, stag, exotic wood, and even Mother of Pearl. Pocketknives exude finery, capture the past, and warm the cockles.

Top: Great Eastern Cutlery Bull Nose
Bottom: Böker Knives Barlow

Top: W.R. Case Tribal Lock
Bottom: Schatt & Morgan Sway Belly Jack

Users’ Market

Just for point of reference, there are two basic types of traditional folder patterns: jackknives and penknives. Jacks have a blade, or blades, which open on one end of the handle only. By contrast, pens have two or more blades opening on opposite sides of the handle. There are many hard-use pocketknife designs with the ability to handle tough chores. One of the most common is the Sodbuster pattern, which is nothing more than a big jackknife with a handle in the 4.5″ range — and there are junior versions which average 3.6″. This is the traditional “farmer’s knife.” There are other large patterns such as the Barlow, Trapper, Gunstock, Clasp, Folding Hunter, Texas Toothpick and Whittler handle styles which are also large workhorses. For instance, Barlows, with their long and sturdy bolsters, were specially designed for abuse. The biggest selling pocketknife pattern of all time is the Trapper, which comes in a wide variety of iterations from fat to slim and large to mini models.

Penknives come in all sizes with beefier patterns also available. The Sowbelly is one of these. Typically sized at around 3.8″ in the handle, fat-handled Sowbellies (named for their curved, rotund handle) have a large main blade and anywhere from two to four auxiliary blades or tools. One useful tool is the awl/leather punch, which is a cowboy utensil par excellence. Pocketknives with this tool are often referred to as “Cattle” knives. Other large pen patterns include Congress, Stockman, Moose, Muskrat and Serpentine Pen. All are handy around the farm, oil rig, horse ranch or other locales where a tough, multipurpose folding knife is needed.

Many of the aforementioned patterns are offered in small, medium and large sizes. The beauty of having a wide range of sizes and configurations in pocketknives is you can pick the right knife to fit your needs either for everyday use and vary them if need be. There are even job-specific pocketknives such as for electrical work, fishing, hoof cleaning, skinning game and more. Better yet, pocketknives are available for any given budget, from affordable off-shore production models to upscale, finely manufactured folders which mimicking the quality of those produced by the old craftsmen.

Buck Knives Trapper

The Collector Factor

The collector base among pocketknife owners is, and always has been, huge. By far the largest are R.W. Case collectors but others include Remington, Queen Cutlery and its subsidiary Schatt & Morgan, and Great Eastern Cutlery which also includes the Tidioute and Northfield lines. All three of these companies have an avid following which can, in many cases, make certain models of their knives hard to come by. Buck, Böker and Moore Maker knives are other collectible brands. Keep in mind, these are all very usable knives as well and many buy them as such. In addition to brand names some enthusiasts choose to collect by pattern, handle or blade style, and even scale material. Also, some collectors will only collect vintage knives of a brand or pattern while others are fine with the newer ones being produced — or both.

Typically, most high-end pocketknives are produced in low quantities (some in runs of only 25 or less) so pocketknife enthusiasts have to stay on top of what is coming available on the market to get the particular knife they desire. Even production runs of 250–500 pocketknives sell out quickly. Take this as a fair warning whether you are a user or collector: sometimes you may have to settle on a different handle material than you wanted or pay a little more to a purveyor. Many of the old American brand names have been bought out or licensed to cutlery companies who produce knives offshore, and these are sold today at a very affordable price. While many of these are good, usable everyday knives, do not confuse them with the company’s older collectible fare.

of their knives hard to come by. Buck, Böker and Moore Maker knives are other collectible brands. Keep in mind, these are all very usable knives as well and many buy them as such. In addition to brand names some enthusiasts choose to collect by pattern, handle or blade style, and even scale material. Also, some collectors will only collect vintage knives of a brand or pattern while others are fine with the newer ones being produced — or both.

Typically, most high-end pocketknives are produced in low quantities (some in runs of only 25 or less) so pocketknife enthusiasts have to stay on top of what is coming available on the market to get the particular knife they desire. Even production runs of 250–500 pocketknives sell out quickly. Take this as a fair warning whether you are a user or collector: sometimes you may have to settle on a different handle material than you wanted or pay a little more to a purveyor. Many of the old American brand names have been bought out or licensed to cutlery companies who produce knives offshore, and these are sold today at a very affordable price. While many of these are good, usable everyday knives, do not confuse them with the company’s older collectible fare.

Remington Powderhorn Toothpick

Cornucopia Of Choices

Given the broad range of manufacturers — from high-end, mid-range and affordable — selection has never been better in the pocketknife market; and we haven’t even mentioned the custom knifemakers who offer knives typically selling from five hundred dollars up into the thousands, depending on the maker name and availability.

It’s always better to handle a knife before you make a purchase. The best way to do this is check the manufacturer’s web pages for retail dealers in your area and also attend gun or knife shows when they come to town. The Blade Show, held early in the month of June annually in Atlanta, is the Valhalla of all knife shows. If you want to see everything under the sun this massive event is the place to go. In addition, a lot of firearms retailers carry knives of all types and many will special order a knife if it’s not in stock.

Regardless of whether you are a user or collector, now is a great time to reacquaint or discover traditional pocketknives. There’s a reason these old-time folders get handed down from one generation to another!

For more info: www.americanhandgunner.com/index

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