Wow! What an unpleasant question. Most of us don’t like to think about estate planning, much less passing on to our final reward. According to my limited research, approximately 55% of adult Americans do not have a last will and testament or any type of estate planning. I seriously doubt most of us knife fanciers are any better prepared. This is unfortunate, as for many of us our knife collections probably represent major assets in our estate.
It is relatively easy for many collectors to accumulate a $30-$50,000 knife collection. I know of many collections in my area of the country that would exceed 6 figures in value, and most, if not all, of those are owned by old guys like me.
One of these elderly gentlemen passed away recently leaving his wife to dispose of a rather large pocket knife collection. This poor lady had no understanding of his collection or the least inkling of its value. He had been collecting for over 60 years! Having never discussed the value of the collection with her, she planned to give away these knives to friends and family members. Lucky for her, one of her deceased husband’s local knife club buddies came to her aid and contacted a person he knew who was employed at an honest firm engaged in buying knife collections. These folks flew in an appraiser and when he left town he had written the lucky widow a check for $112,000.
Now this story had a wonderful ending. Unfortunately most such stories I am aware of do not. I’ve found over the years that most knife collectors do not even keep records on their collections, much less include them in their estate planning. Rarely do both the husband and wife fancy knives and collect them (I do know of a few-but they are exceptions to the rule), so the non-collector spouse usually knows less than nothing about the collection.
Upon reaching senior-citizen-hood, and having a fair-sized knife collection, I began to give serious thought about the issues and problems associated with final disposition of such a specialized collection. It seemed to me that recording everything known about my collection was a logical first step. After all, who knows more about my collection than me? I had already been keeping my firearm collection inventory on MS Excel spreadsheets for over 15 years. I reasoned that using a similar Excel format to record information on my knives would make sense. I’m sure there are other systems that will also keep such records adequately. I like Excel as it allows me to sort the list by several criteria (e.g., type, brand, price and even type of steel, etc.).
My list has the following columnar headings: 1) Type of knife (e.g., Tactical Folder, Tactical Fixed Blade, Axe, Sword, Multi-Tool, etc.—and I use the same abbreviation for each of these categories); 2) Brand, 3) Model No. and Name; 4) Blade Length; 5) Type of Steel; 6) Method of opening (e.g., Thumb Stud, Hole, Flipper, Assisted Opener, Automatic); 7) Estimated value; 8) Comments (includes the best description you can come up with; acquisition price; MSRP; Designer info; and any notes about special collector value or family heirloom info). You can probably come up with column headings that will suit you better.
Detailed, descriptive comments in the final column are extremely important and will serve you well over the years. I don’t know about you, but as I cheerfully roll into my dotage (I’m 66 years of age these days), my memory is less sure as time passes. I can remember every detail associated with knives I purchased over 35 years ago, but maybe nothing about a knife I acquired last month—go figure. The “Comments” column has saved my posterior many times over the years; especially, as I have begun to thin out my collection. Let’s face it-it’s extremely difficult to keep all the details in one’s head regarding nearly 600 knives-even for a young guy.
Locating all my knives and doing the data input to the spreadsheet was quite a task, but well worth the effort. Now I know exactly how many knives are in my collection, how many of each brand, how many of each type (e.g., tactical folder, tactical fixed blade, automatic folders, etc.), and the approximate value of the collection by total and individual blade-all very useful information.
Recently I decided to thin out my collection and put approximately 420 of my knives up for sale (I’m keeping approx. 175). It’s also very important to keep the list up to date as you acquire new additions (I’ll probably still be buying or trading knives as my eulogy is composed) or sell or trade knives already on your list. The problem once you have organized your collection information is to figure out how you plan to dispose of the collection when the time comes. This decision will be different for every collector. You may decide to keep your collection intact till it’s time to leave this mortal coil-or like me, you may decided to dispose of part or all of it well before death (hopefully).
Research auction firms and see if that method of disposal is right for you and your heirs. You can select one and leave the information regarding who to contact with your heirs. Once you have recorded useful data on your collection, your heirs will, at least, have a good idea of the value of the collection. Just remember, auction houses will take a pretty hefty cut of overall value of the collection in return for doing all the work that is necessary to arrange the auction.
Since no one knows more about the collection than the collector, I chose a different route. I decided to dispose of the large fraction of my collection by attempting direct sales. While this is likely more difficult, in the long run, I expect to recover most of the value of the items sold. How does one sell a large number of knives? Use some contacts you’ve made over the years in the community of knife people (I think the whippersnappers call this “networking”). I have a trusted knife buddy who has a small knife business and attends most all regional knife and gun shows. He and I reached an equitable agreement wherein he agreed to sell many of my knives on a consignment basis. I pay him a fair percentage on each knife he sells for me and he has the advantage of being able to place some knives on his tables at the shows that sell in a much higher dollar category than his usual stock. He also has an eBay store and uses that venue to market any of my particularly valuable knives. I also sent my “For Sale” spreadsheet to various knife and gun (most gun guys are also knife guys) buddies all over the U.S. and asked them to disseminate the list to their pals.
If this strategy is effective, then I will have turned a significant number of my knives to cash and save my wife from the onerous task of figuring out what to do with these knives upon my ultimate departure (she really appreciates this).
Make no mistake-knife collecting is very a specialized hobby. Very few of the general population are knife collectors and would faint at the prices we collectors sometimes willingly pay for our knives. This dearth of collectors is one of the major problems associated with disposing of a large number of relatively valuable knives. Sure, on a nation-wide basis there are thousands of collectors; unfortunately, they are spread all over creation with very few usually residing near the collectors’ home turf.
Whatever you decide to do, it’s time to assess your collection, record the necessary information, and get busy creating your will and other estate planning relating to your collection. After all, you probably spent a lifetime accumulating your collection, you can, at least, spend a few days figuring out how to dispose of it when the time comes.