Knife Collecting, and what “Holy Grail” or “Grail” means


If you will, follow me down a rabbit hole of industry terms and minutia that you might not care about.  Trust me, it’ll help paint a picture.

Speaking of pictures, the knife above is the Zero Tolerance 0777, the overall winner of Blade Show 2011.  In the pic is the premium version with a composite blade.

Zero Tolerance is a sister company of Kershaw, and was created to offer higher level, higher quality, and higher priced knives to the public after Kershaw basically reached its peak with the Tilt and the 3600 Volt.

This may be a bit of a controversial statement for some, but I’d say older models of ZT knives were among some of the finest knives ever manufactured.

The ZT 777 was revolutionary in a number of ways design-wise, and even emulated by Microtech.  This spawned a legal and community battle I will not get into.  I actually regularly carry a custom Marfione Matrix R.

Okay, so what’s the big deal about the ZT 0777?

Well, first of all it features a rare, designer steel for its cutting edge, Vanax 35. Vanax is like unobtanium in the knife world. The spine of the blade is damascus (pattern welded) steel (different steels twisted together while forging that etch differently later, creating patterns).

The Zero Tolerance 0777 was also the first knife that ZT introduced with their patented sub frame lock, which nowadays is on a bunch of models that Zero Tolerance and Kershaw sells.  The sub frame lock is a great lock that lowers the weight of a knife.

With an oversized pivot and a 3d machined carbon fiber handle, this thing was gorgeous and built like a tank.

They originally sold for about $500.  Nowadays they go for $1200-$2000.  (Note: This is really high for a production knife, but not necessarily high for customs.)

“So what’s the fuss?” you might ask.

Well, not many ZT0777s were made.  Two other varieties were produced, but the fancy Vanax version is what actually won the Blade Show prize.  This knife basically represents a glimpse into the history of production knife making, and is arguably one of the very best production designs ever made, or at least one of the most interesting.  It’s rare as hen’s teeth.  Two other Zero Tolerance knives won Blade Show back to back for ZT, the ZT0454, and the ZT0888.

-This is knife collecting-

Like many other hobbies, knife collecting results in enthusiasts filling their heads with terabytes of obscure information.  Many collectors would read this article and be like, “Okay, uh huh.  This is old news.”

Just like how some skateboard enthusiasts can tell you every manufacturer name of quality wheels and bearings, and know the size of a deck at a glance, I have lists of influential makers, quality steels, and innovative new locks all memorized.

This thirst for information about a subject we’re passionate about invariably leads to falling down multiple rabbit holes.  Of course, this can often also lead to wanting something that we can’t get due to finances, or rarity, or both.

For me, the ZT0777 represents my Grail, or my Grail knife.  This is the knife I chase.  So far I haven’t been able to find one for what I consider a reasonable amount of money when I’ve been able to buy.  I may never attain one.  One of my biggest hangups is what the knife originally cost, and that despite its quality, it is /not/ a custom.  It’s a production knife dammit!  Even if I were rolling in money, I think it’d be a bitter pill to swallow to pay so much more for a production knife than what it originally cost.  (Of course, I’m keeping a We Knife Co. Eschaton to sell one day, so I admit that I’m a hypocrite).

Frustrations aside, this is the one for me.  It’s the knife that I’ve had my eyes on, the knife I have had online auction alerts on for years.  Most knife collectors have at least one Grail, and many of us have similar hurdles we struggle with.

There are plenty of cool knives like the ZT 777 out there, and they all have an interesting history, compelling design, and impressive machining.  A lot of collectors just geek out on every bit of it.

When it comes to production knives in general, people are usually collecting either:

A. Rare knives (like the ZT 0777)
B. Looking for the elusive “perfect carry”
C. Collecting different steels or variations of the same knife
D. Following a manufacturer
E. Interested in designs or a designer
F. Jazzed about innovation (like new locks or steels)
G. Some combo of the above

That said, there are also custom knives. This group is more easily explained to a non-knife person since each custom is a legitimate piece of art made by hand.  The prices that custom knives can command are a little harder to explain, but I’ll try.  Again, custom knives are functional art.  Many people will spend thousands, or even millions of dollars on other forms of art, like a painting.  Owning a custom knife is owning art that does something, and (theoretically) can even be carried around.

And custom knives are made by individuals, and they gotta eat.  The better knives they make, and the better they’re known, the more they can charge.

…But some of the higher end production knives really blur that line, or at least the level of quality that customs can achieve. At what point does a tool stop being art and start being a tool, or vice versa?  A growing number of production knives are also actually based upon custom designs by custom makers.  CRKT, Cold Steel, Zero Tolerance, Kershaw, Benchmade…most of the big name knife companies have done collaborations…and even some small ones!

This picture is of three of my knives.  From the bottom to top I have a Cold Steel AD10, a custom Andrew Demko AD10, and a custom AD10 fixed blade.  I love this design (obviously).

With so much variation and crossover in the hobby, you’d likely assume that quite a few knife collectors dip their toes into both production and custom ponds…and you’d be correct.

It can get expensive, but so can anything, right?  Have you seen what some baitcaster fishing reels go for.  Holy crap!  Anyway, knife collecting can be pricey, yes, but some knives actually go -up- in value, meaning that if a collector ever needs to liquidate all the blades they own, they’ll probably recoup at least most of their money, if not make a profit.

I personally think that’s pretty cool. Consider that if someone buys a new car, they lose money the moment it drives off the lot. Meanwhile, I could sell my Spyderco Poliwog for more than I paid for it if I were ever strapped for cash and needed to pay some bills.

*Quick note on knife values theoretically rising!

Collecting knives as an investment or to make money is a really terrible idea.  We never know which knives will rise or fall in value, and trends change…often.  A few years ago, heavy, overbuilt folders were the rage.  Now people want more delicate slicers.  Anything is only really worth what people will pay for it.  Honestly, throwing money at a 401K or IRA is a vastly superior way to invest.  To preserve wealth, buying gold or precious metals is a better idea than knife collecting.

Some collectors call pretty or expensive knives, “Pocket Jewelry,” and I think there is some truth to that.  For many people, tracking down or carrying the perfect knife is a way for them to express themselves, even if it’s not in a way that most people they meet will ever know, nor understand.

–If you’re curious what the picture is at the bottom of this blog, it’s a custom Peter Rassenti full dress Druid.

PS: A note about grail knives…  After actually getting a grail, collectors usually find a new grail.  It can be a vicious cycle.

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