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What is knifemaking’s future?

February 24, 2011

By J. Bruce Voyles

At the Missouri Auction School we were practicing our auction technique, and each student took a turn in front of the room, auctioning some imaginary item. Some of the students planned to auction cattle, so heads of beef were their imaginary item. The estate auctioneers contented themselves with starting bids at 50 cents for a box of assorted imaginary pots and pans.

Then it was my turn. Since it was imaginary, I started off describing a 52-foot Hatteras yacht, and asked for an opening bid of $250,000.00. The instructor wasn’t happy, and stopped me, questioning my choice.

“You said it was imaginary, so that is what I imagined,” I explained.

“Well I’ll tell you one thing,” the instructor said, addressing myself and the class in a loud voice, “you’ll probably be auctioning a lot more boxes of stuff than you will yachts.”

I couldn’t let it go. “You pick your goals, I’ll pick mine,” I said.  I don’t think that instructor ever liked me anyway.

With today’s knife business and organizations are often splintering into tiny mini-cliques. These specialty groups of interest are often so small that they offer little advancement influence on our business, or at the best a lesser version of what they could be. I venture it is a matter of goals and vision.  Some seem to have the ambition of selling 50-cent boxes of pans rather than Hatteras yachts.

There was once a forger, smith, and armorer who was much respected by his clients.  He was known for being clever and cunning in working with metal. He was fascinated with red-hot glowing coal, the story goes.

He discovered that making the fire hotter with bellows, some stones would sweat precious metals, which he beat into shapes: bracelets, swords, and shields.  It is also recorded that he made pearl handled knives for his foster mother, thus proof he was a knifemaker.

And while mortals bicker and go off in counterproductive directions today, this knifemaker was much focused. His name? According to mythology the Greeks called this knifemaker, Hephaestus, the Romans called him, Vulcan. He is considered the patron god of the forge.

Imagine that–a knifemaker who was reputed to be a god. My how things change.

With the vision of leaders like Bob Loveless, Jimmy Lile, and Frank Centofante every Knifemakers’ Guild member knew the direction and goals of the handmade knife business—at the time the only organization for that market segment was the Knifemakers’ Guild.

At that same time The National Knife Collectors Association led the vintage and modern knife market, and produced most of the knife shows, except for the Guild’s annual event.

In one ambitious show in those early days A. G. Russell and Wally Beinfeld of American Blade Magazine produced a knife show in Market Hall in Dallas that combined the annual show of the Knifemaker’s Guild, the annual Texas show of the NKCA, manufacturer booths for the first time, and at that 1976 show the founding of the Antique Bowie Knife Collectors Association. I was there, and it was that impetus, combined with an early SHOT show, that led Jim Parker and I to found The Blade Show.

Bill Moran’s vision of preserving the forged blade, combined with the input of educator and writer B. R. Hughes, not to mention the legal expertise of the late Paul Burke led to the Bill Moran ABS School of Bladesmithing, and hammer-in educational seminars all over the US.

When I first approached Bill Moran about joining the Blade Show with there-to-fore remote forging and rope cutting demonstrations his one word answer was instantaneous. “Yes,” he said.

Earlier this year the Knifemakers’ Guild offered a plan to invite hand forgers for a special section at the Knifemakers’ Guild show under the auspices of the Bill Moran Museum group in Maryland, headed by Former ABS President (and Knifemakers’ Guild member) Jay Hendrickson.

The painful wail from some ABS members declared that Jay’s being on the ABS Board and working with his Knifemaker’s Guild was a conflict of interest. The cry was so loud that rather than create further conflict Jay was forced to back away from adding a specific Moran Foundation endorsed handforged section to the Knifemakers’ Guild.

Where is the vision in that?

Ron Lake addressing the Knifemakers’ Guild once told the group, “If we want to be a great organization we have to do great things.”

Do you know the positive long term goals that have been set by the officers of the organizations of which you are a member?  It might be time to ask them—and help them elevate their sights to more lofty goals—great things for which to strive, perhaps even mythological goals, rather that wallowing and backbiting in petty jealousies that detract from our entire industry.

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