History of the National Knife Collectors Association

The following information was written and provided during a chat session on iKnifeCollector.com in 2014.

The National Knife Collectors Association began when a group of collectors, who had been working the gun-shows in Tennessee and Kentucky, turned to knives following the Gun Control Act of 1968. They began to recognize the growing number of knife enthusiasts and held the combined opinion that organizing and promoting the growing trend would expand their new hobby, as well as their own businesses. The economic side of things was not ignored, as the new club was first called the National Knife Collectors & Dealers Association. The “& Dealers” was dropped a couple of years later for tax considerations.

The first elected president of the new club was the leading knife dealer of the time, James F. Parker. The year was 1972, and within two years, the organization had a small newsletter and had signed several hundred members nationwide. In 1974, Parker proposed that the new club knife produce a collector’s knife exclusively for its members as an incentive for membership. He chose an Anglo-Saxon whittler based on the most desirable Case pattern, the 6391 whittlers. No U.S. manufactures were interested in producing this small run, so Parker approached Howard Rabin of Star Sales in Knoxville, Tennessee, the U.S. importer of German made Kissing Crane knives. Rabin’s company was a major supplier of knives to the emerging knife collectors’ market, and he was eager to make the 1,200 knives that the organization needed.

In the brief history one can find about the NKCA, this all sounds like things went smoothly, but the reality is different. When Parker first presented the club knife idea to the NKCA board of directors, one of the board members remarked to a crowd following the meeting: “Oh my God, Parker has just bankrupted the Association.” The club knife program at the time was an audacious move since the NKCA did not have 1,200 members. In the initial offering, the knives were sold at $12 each, and a subsequent mailing altered the one-per-customer rule, allowing each member to order up to three each at $15 per knife. The #0001 knife was put up for silent auction, and was purchased by the late Jim Koch for $150. Afterwards, numerous collectors said they would have paid more than that had they known that was all it would bring.

Thus the beginning of the club knives as a promotional tool and fundraiser for collector organizations began. The record of what followed within the NKCA can best illustrate the initial success of the ventures. Within six years, the 1975 NKCA club knife what sold for $12 would sell for $600. The 1976 Club knife, a Case 4380 whittler, with a production of 3,000, would sell out. The issue price of $15 would peak at a value of $250. Five thousand of the 1977 Kissing Crane stag-handled gunboat canoe would be produced, followed by six thousand IXL/Wostenholm green bone handled three blade canoes in 1978. The peak would be reached in 1981, with an issue of 12,000 NKCA club knives, made by Queen.

From that high point the NKCA membership declined, as did the number of annual club knives produced. Part of the burnout of investing in club knives came from the massive growth of regional clubs, who each wanted their own club knives for their members. This demand for unique designs soon encompassed all the rare unusual patterns, and a rare vintage pattern that had not been reproduced by a club became almost impossible to find. Many remedies were attempted: changing handle materials, shifting blades around, adding blades to existing patterns, changing the size. But nothing worked as well as the early revival of long discontinued vintage patterns, as originated by Parker and the NKCA. The number of club knives soon made it impossible to collect them all, a goal that many collectors tried when the club knife phenomena began. The oversupply stifled growth of value, and in many instances values fell.

The 1975 NKCA club knife that sold for $12, peaked at $600, and can now be purchased on the collector market for less than $400. That is not to say that all club knives have not been good investments, provided the collector purchased them at issue price, but the trend has become one of valuing a club knife entirely based on the brand, the pattern and the handle material. A Case bone handled trapper on the resale market is about the same price across the board, no matter if it is a small club making 50 or a large club making 200. Club knives do have their appeal, often unique or resurrected rare designs, popular handle material, and usually etching on the blade that readily identifies the club, the year and the quantity made. The irony is that the knives have rarely captured the enthusiasm of the vintage knife collectors, which was the original market for which the knives were intended.

NKCA Club and Youth Knives

In 1975, the NKCA began producing limited edition Club Knives for members only, which increased in value over the years. In later years, only the knives that were pre-ordered by members were produced. The lower quantity of knives in later years made it much more difficult for non-members to find these knives in the open market, which resulted in a higher collector value and a greater demand. Also, occassionally in the past the NKCA had offered 2 different Club Knives in the same year to give members an option to choose from. 2 knives were offered from 1989 through 1996, and then again from 2004 through 2009.

In 1990, the NKCA began offering a special Youth Knife design each year, similar to the Club Knives, but sold only to members 18 years old and younger. As with the Club Knives, a different manufacturer and pattern was chosen each year, and the quantities were much smaller, resulting in greater demand and a greater increase in value. The intent of these knives was to bring the hobby to a new and younger generation. In later years, the NKCA allowed any member to order these knives, with the hopes of purchasing them to give to young knife collectors.

In addition, the National Knife Collectors Association, and the National Knife Museum, have offered many Commemorative Knives throughout the last 35+ years. Examples include Show Knives, Anniversary Knives, Holiday Knives, and Grand Opening Knives. They also vary greatly in pattern, handle material, and manufacturer. Some of the earlier low quantity Show Knives are extremely rare and hard to find. You can view all the knives offered over the years by viewing the knives section.

NKCA Magazine

In 1977, the NKCA began producing a bi-monthly magazine called The National Knife Collector magazine, showcasing different knives, and containing many informative articles written by various authors. Frequent articles were about NKCA and NKM events, specialty made knives, extinct knife company's history, profiles about custom knifemakers, knife show reports, history of patterns, military or government knife use, questions answered about knives, and upcoming news from different current knife companies. These magazines were commonly referred to as the NKCA magazine, throughout the entire life of the magazine. In 1980 the magazine began being produced every month, with very high quality photography on the front and back covers, and more variation in articles. In 1983 the name of the magazine changed to The National Knife magazine, but all staff and formatting remained the same. The magazine continued through mid 1996 with the same formatting, and frequently included articles from past, current, or future NKCA presidents. Due to financial reasons, in mid 1996 the magazine stopped producing any color photographs inside or on the covers, and turned to a black and white print magazine. Subscriptions dropped, and the last magazine publication was in May 1997. A note in the last issue magazine states that writers and staff were working in a joint effort with Knife World newspaper, and that the same great stories and black/white photographs would continue in that publication. In 2016 Knife World changed format and name, now known as Knife Magazine. It is a full color large format magazine, showcasing a lot of knife photography, and is still producing exceptional columns and articles. You can subscribe to the magazine, and have it mailed to you by Clicking Here.

Many knife collectors have frequently cited these NKCA magazines as a source for cutlery information and knowledge, as well as documentation of knives that were being produced during the 70's, 80's and 90's. They are very collectible and consistantly hold value of 3-10 times the original selling price. You can view the magazine covers in the NKCA Magazine section.

NKCA Past Presidents

James F. Parker
Jim Sargent
Col C. J. Hyde
Bob Cargill
Peter Cohan
Clarence Risner
Perry Miller
Gary Kennedy
Lisa Sebenick

The NKCA Today

Sadly, in October 2015, after over 40 years in business, the NKCA closed it's doors. Years and years of back debt were too much for the organization to handle, due to dwindling membership numbers and lack of funding. The knife collectors, manufactures, authors, and the knife industry in general needed a common and strong voice to represent them all, and that is what the NKCA was striving to be. Hopefully at some point in the future, the NKCA (or another organization with similar interests) can sprout up and grow with this purpose. The goal is to have members that are knife collectors, custom knife makers, large knife manufacturers, and small local knife clubs, that can make their voice heard regarding any issues that involve knives, whether within the US as a whole, or each of the individual 50 states.

The NKCA was owned and supported by the members that it was made of. It was an organization that actively promoted knife collectiing, and supported our rights to own knives, and the ability to have the famous "knife shows" around the country, where the public and the dealers could view, learn about, and buy/sell/trade knives with each other, and find fellow people from around the country that share in the same hobby. Although the NKCA is gone, luckily these knife shows are not, as they are still quite common and doing well in various parts of the country.

The value of the knives that we collect can only hold value when there is an active industry of people and organizations that seek them out, collectors that recognize the craftmanship of each knife, and the honest transactions between those looking to expand their collection, and those who are ready to let one go. Without the knowledge of what the NKCA was, and what it did, being passed down to the next generation, these fine examples of American made knives from many different manufacturers would lose their value. It is imperative that even though the NKCA is gone, what it stood for and the knives made for 40 years should not be forgotton.

Additionally, many former NKCA members are active at iKnifeCollector.com , where you can talk with them, learn about knives, view photos of others collections, and make some new friends. If anyone has a question for me regarding the knives or this website, you can join iKnifeCollector and message me. Thanks.