Case Knives, now owned by Zippo, has an interesting knife museum in Bradford
Pennsylvania. The museum has samples of the early knives and the stories behind them. My nephew, Tim Pike accompanied me since he has been a knife fan for years. His grandfather, Thomas Pike, used to have Fort Tuscarora on Route 172 in Lisbon Ohio. History, guns, and knives runs in the family.
My quest for the best pocket knife was easy at the Zippo/Case Museum, because of the abundance of knives there. This place is open to the public, and I highly recommend it to knife collectors. These pictures were taken in 2006, so things might have changed since then. According to their website, the place is open 7 days a week, and boasts of 100,000 visitors per year, from all over the world.
How do you choose the best pocket knife? Some of the new tactical knives have really cool designs. But, since they don’t have a history of popularity, they can’t be considered in this contest. They may be popular now, but that might be short-lived.
The winner must have a history of popularity for many years. How about 1964? If a knife style was invented in that year, like the Buck 110 Folding Hunter, would that be a long enough history? What about the 1600’s? That time frame would certainly be a long enough history. That’s 400 years, or 4 centuries. If a pocket knife style is still as popular now, as it was 400 years ago, that would make it the winner. So that’s how I came up with the winning knife. If you don’t agree, please post your comments here.
I believe the Best Pocket Knife of All Time is the Barlow Knife. Once used by George Washington, and Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer.
The famous Barlow Knives are well-known by people who appreciate a well-made, quality business gift. They were originally made in the USA by Barlow, a company that was based in Los Angeles CA from 1930 to 2005. Barlow made pocket knives, key chains, and money clips and imprinted the customer’s logo on them. This was very popular for businesses to promote themselves to their customers. Barlow products had a lifetime Warranty. If the if the items broke, or failed, the end user could just mail it to Barlow for a repacement. The shipping both ways was paid for by the end user. After 12 years, we still get inquiries about this warranty, which is no longer available.
In 2005 the promotional product industry giant, Norwood bought them. Production was kept in China, where Barlow transferred it in 2003, just 2 years before the sale.
Then in June 2009, the Great Recession forced Norwood Promotional Products Holdings, Inc. to declare bankruptcy. So the Barlow Knives brand was once again sold. This time, BIC Graphic North America, another giant, bought Norwood at auction for $162.5 Million. BIC kept the Norwood brand and the little Barlow brand.
Probably the inability to make enough profit forced BIC to sell in June 2017. HIG Capital bought BIC Graphic North America and its Asian sourcing Division for a mere $80 Million. The sales at the time were over $300 Million, according to Bizjournals.com. So this is the third time that the Barlow brand was sold. HIG Capital of Miami FL is a huge company with $21 Billion in equity capital under management. Promotional products are not new to them. They bought Halo, a promotional product distributor, in 2003, and sold it in 2007. The selling price was $62.5 Million. So the $80 Million price it paid for BIC was a real bargain.
It is expected that HIG will continue the same service and products, and do well in this market. Hopefully, the Barlow brand will continue.
When people ask me about the barlow knives, I ask them to let me know which “barlow” they want to know about. The word barlow has 2 meanings. The first meaning is the name of an American company that used to make pocket knives, tape measures, and key chains. They were all high quality, and made in America. USA-made items were very popular, and still are. The Barlow company was sold to another company in 2007 approximately. Then that company was sold to a third company shortly after.
The second meaning of “barlow” is a style of pocket knife that dates back to the 1600’s in England. This is the knife that George Washington used. It still gets a ton of Google searches today.
It is these barlow knives that I am showing you today. These have 2 stainless steel blades, a slightly teardrop-shaped handle, and a large metal bolster.
When you hear the words “barlow knives”, most people think about the old fashioned knives that were invented in England in 1670. More of their background is shown here on “History of Barlow Knives“. These knives were built rugged, with an over-sized brass bolster, so the blade was firmly secured in its cradle. They were, and still are, 3 3/8” long closed. Their familiar slight tear-drop shaped makes it comfortable in the palm of your hand when using it. They come in all prices, and are made by many knife manufacturers around the world.
But here are 9 Barlow knives that you may not have heard of. They aren’t fashioned after the famous barlows. They used to be made by the Barlow company in Los Angeles, California until the turn of this century. Barlow was bought out by another company, which kept the trade name. This company, Norwood, was bought out by Bic Graphic about 10 years ago. These Barlow knives, some of them renamed, are sought after by people who remember the original LA company, and like their quality and economy. So here are the 9 popular Barlow knives that you may not have known existed until today…..
When was the first time that someone used pocket knives to deliver an advertising message? When was the first Logo actually put on a knife, a logo not belonging to the knife’s manufacturer? What is an old advertising knife worth today? All these questions are answered in a unique book, ADVERTISING CUTLERY, by Richard D. White, c. 1999. It’s published by Schiffer Publishing Ltd, Atglen, PA.
It’s an amazing book to me, but I’m partial to company logo knives. I sell them for a living. I’m glad Mr. White decided to assemble this valuable information and present it in a fun, easy to read way. You can tell he loves knives, and has been collecting them for a long time. The book divides the collectible knives into categories:
Advertising on knives began about 100 years ago. That was long before laser engraving. According to Mr. White’s pictures (and the book is loaded with color pictures), the early logo knives were imprinted with the die-struck method. That’s when a heavy stamping machine forces the imprint from the die into the metal handle. This imprinting technique is still used today on name plates and key tags. I haven’t seen it used currently on knife handles.
Die cast was another early way to advertise on a knife handle. This provides a 3 dimentional look that is very impressive.
Then hot stamping and screen printing were used. Hot stamping uses a heated die, which pushes the color of a foil ribbon into the plastic handle of the knife. The heat makes a slight indent into the partly melted substrate. This method is still used today, but not so much on knife handles.
Screen printing is familiar to most people. That’s when the ink, or paint, is pushed through the porous areas of a screen onto the knife handle. This is still very much used today on knives.
Today we use laser engraving, machine engraving (like a jeweler’s), electro etching, screen printing, pad printing, and laser engraving followed by a color fill.
If I had a quarter for every time someone has emailed me that question, I’d be rich by now. Mr. White’s book has these guidelines for determining the answer to your question.
THE 5 FACTORS WHICH AFFECT THE OVERALL VALUE OF ANY COLLECTIBLE CUTLERY ARE:
The advertiser is also a factor. If it was a company that used to make asbestos, or any other obsolete product or service, that knife has more appeal to a collector. Barlow style knives have their own special appeal.
Do you have an old advertising knife? Tell us about it, and email a picture. I’d be happy to see it. So would everyone else. Thanks.