Case Knives : The Good, The Bad, The Ugly – Today’s American Pocket Knives, Part I
From time to time a customer will get a knife in the mail and email or call me to ask questions. Like, “This blade has a little play, is that common”, or “I just snapped a thumbnail, it this bear trap normal”. So, it may be time to have a conversation from a dealer perspective on what generally can / can not be expected from the different brands. This document will probably be an ongoing work, but will have more detail than what I want to put in the FAQ’s. Also, this is my opinion and the facts are from my understanding; if someone challenges me I will abandon them completely ;>
Case Cutlery Pocket Knives : The king of the collectibles
Ever since Case Cutlery figured out there was a huge collector market in the 1970’s, they have tuned their brand to not only be a good using knife but THE collectible brand as well. Case has changed hands several times in the last three decades and has had ups and downs, not only in finances, but in quality.
The early 1980’s (circa 1980 – 1987) saw a large push to lower the cost in the production of the Case pocket knives. With that, we got “new grind” and noticeable decreases in quality. Knives from this era are not junk, but you will see looser fitting blades, open backsprings, lower end slabs, etc. For example, this is the point in time that second cut stag was used extensively.
The late 1980’s brought in the Parker era, wherein Jim Parker leveraged his assets and bought W.R. Case Cutlery Company. Jim went to work trying to solve the financial problems by flooding the market with variations and collector sets. The Case Centennial Set was a 100 knife set in a folder that featured red bone, stag, and goldstone composite. There were also a lot of overruns in most patterns that showed up without the etchings or just outside the set itself. For the most part these knives were nice and Jim used some tooling (if not externally made altogether) to add some patterns to the catalog. The goldstone would go on to curl badly on many of the examples. But the new (Parker Cutlery) patterns were only found during the short time Jim owned Case. He went into bankruptcy after owning them a short time.
The early 1990’s shuffled in a renewed attempt to bring the Case XX brand back to a quality and affordable platform. They eliminated the dot dating system (which was re-instated within 3-4 years) and tried a few other changes. But, other than a marked increase in quality, they went back to the build that made Case famous. Meanwhile Jim Parker is taking bids on a huge special run of knives he will have made utilizing Case family trademarks he retained after the sale of the company. Thus, the Case Classics were born and produced in the tens of thousands, most of 1095 and mostly produced by Queen Cutlery via Bluegrass Cutlery contracts. Case Cutlery actually produced only a handful of the patterns made in the Case Classics program (seems like the 88 Congress, the 94 Gunboat, and the saddlehorn).
In 1995 Case started the Limited Edition series. This series continues today, but has grown from a per pattern production of (I think) 1000pcs to now 3000pcs. It has always seemed funny to me that the “Limited Edition Series” was one of their highest count productions. Nonetheless, the Ltd Edition started with a large following, and must still have a lot of fans today or it would have been discontinued. I don’t pay much attention to what is etched on the blades, just keep looking for value in the pattern itself. When you see the knives that wholesalers have to put on clearance, it is usually those with some famous person lasered on the blade. Which means if nobody wants them today, they probably will have little trouble finding them in 10 years.
In the early 2000’s we saw a new downturn in Case Cutlery quality. I don’t know the reason, but may be related to the economy and financial situations. But, the blades width got shrunk on many models (congress and gunstock come to mind) and the blade edge grind went for several years looking like it was done with a stone grinder. Very high cuts and crooked lines on most patterns. On the poor little tiny toothpicks, it about eat up the whole blade. Backsprings seemed to open up a bit and slab gaps as well as blade play seemed to get much more lax.
The mid 2000’s seemed to find another conscious effort to restore the quality that made the W.R. Case name famous. New patterns have started coming out at what seems to be a higher price point. Older patterns have had price increases, but the big jumps seem to be in new patterns that come on the market at 30-40% premiums to knives that look to have similar production costs. But, especially since the 2007+ timeframe, the quality on a pattern by pattern basis seems really consistent. The backsprings have closed up, the blades tightened, and the grinds corrected. They are not perfect, but they are about as good as they have ever been for Case.
Today Case Cutlery is making a very nice knife at one of the best values in the country. We look at each offering closely and work very hard to present what we believe to be the top mix of price / value in the lineup. They are easing the prices up and moving more offerings to MAPP pricing. Also, I have seen some fairly uneven grinds showing up again in the last couple years.
Issues that are common with Case knives:
They don’t spend time trying to get water-tight backsprings, thus don’t let small gaps surprise you.
Blade centering or proud / sunk backsprings do not keep them up at night.
The blades are tumble polished; thus they look great but are rounded on the corners.
Blade play is minimal, but does exist in some patterns.
Backsprings are sufficient, but seldom lend to a gator snap. Dried oil needs to be cleaned out many times.
Pin cracks are uncommon, but not as rare as most other American brands.
Shields are glued, thus they do come out from time to time. Superglu is your friend.