The purpose of this guide is to help sellers of pocket knives get more money for their knives. When writing an ebay listing, using the proper terminology identifies key features of your knife to potential buyers and will result in your receiving more bids and fewer questions seeking clarification of what you stated in the listing. It also marks you as someone who knows what he/she is talking about. (This is the last time I will write "he/she." I'm an old fart; I use the traditional male pronoun.) In my experience at least half of all eBay knife listings (even many from sellers who sell a lot of knives) contain errors in terminology.
This glossary is a companion to my guide "Selling Pocket Knives on eBay: What Buyers Want to Know." If you are new to selling knives I think you will find http://reviews.ebay.com/Selling-Pocket-Knives-on-eBay-What-Buyers-Want-to-Know_W0QQugidZ10000000001012992 very helpful.
This glossary is not complete by any means. It is intended for the novice pocket knife seller and includes common knife terms you will find in eBay knife listings and will want to use correctly in your listings. It also includes some terms that are frequently misused on ebay. Some sellers feel that using "technical jargon" makes them sound more knowledgeable, but if they use it incorrectly the effect is just the opposite. Also, some features make a particular knife more valuable than one that looks superficially similar. If you specify those features erroneously, you may find yourself with an angry buyer when what he receives is not what he expected.
Many of these terms have endless sub-categories and combinations that collectors use to specify the details of construction or function of knives. For example, there are dozens of different "patterns" of pocket knives, even dozens of different "jack" knives. Don't worry about it! That is what pictures are for. (This glossary is specifically for folding knives, commonly referred to as "pocket" knives. Non-folding, or "fixed-blade" knives have their own terms.) Words that are highlighted are defined elsewhere in the glossary.
At the end I have noted some terms, not specific to knife collecting, that should be used with caution.
Benchmade A knife that is individually produced, usually by a "custom" knifemaker, with considerable assistance from modern technology such as computer-operated grinding machines. Also, the trade name of a modern cutlery producer. See Hand Made.
Bolster The metal tips at the end(s) of a knife's handles. There are dozens of specialized names for the different styles of bolsters. On a jack knife the bolster opposite the blade-pivot end is called the "top", or "head", or "cap" bolster. The bolster at the blade-pivot end is the "bottom" bolster. A jack knife with no cap bolsters is called a "barehead jack." A knife with no bolsters is called a "shadow."
Blade Specifically, a cutting tool attached to a knife; however, when specifying the number of blades in a knife each tool and attachment counts as a "blade."
Cleaned A machinist's term that refers to grinding down the surface of a piece of metal to remove rust and other imperfections. In knife terminology cleaning or "cleaned" refers to re-grinding the surfaces of a blade to remove traces of corrosion and/or improper sharpening. Cleaning removes all the original factory surface, any etching, and sometimes even the original contours of the blade, and substantially de-values the knife for serious collectors. See Mint.
Coined Said of metal handles, typically aluminum, nickel-silver, or brass, struck with a tool (the die) which imparts a pattern, picture, and/or text (like a coin.) Usually souvenir or advertising premiums. See Engraving, Etch, Figural and Stamp.
Doctor's Knife (a.k.a."Physician's Pattern") Generally, a long and thin jack knife, but to be a true doctor's knife the head end (opposite the blade-pivot end) must have a flat, one-piece, "seal cap" covering the entire end of the knife. The sealed end was used by old-time physicians as an emergency pestle to grind up pills, making them easier to swallow when mixed with water. If the bolsters, liners, and springs are exposed at the knife's head the medicine could get impacted between those parts and/or oil from the knife could mix into the medication. Some doctor's knives also have a folding spatula as one of the blades. A long, slim, jack without a seal cap is just a "slim jack."
Easy Open (notch) A pair of large cut-outs in a knife's handles that allow a blade to be pinched between the thumb and fore-finger for opening. A knife with such cut-outs is called an "easy opener." A small groove cut into the inner edge of a liner/handle for access to the pull is called a nail relief.
Engraving Marks made on a surface by cutting into it with a tool, traditionally by hand. Also, the act of making such marks. Markings on knife blades are rarely engraved. They are usually stamped or etched. See Etch and Stamp.
Etch A mark (usually a picture or trademark on the face of a blade) made by using acid to dissolve areas of the metal. Also, the act of making such a mark. See Engraving and Stamp.
Figural Said of a knife that has a handle that is actually shaped like a familiar object, e.g. the popular "figural shoe" knives that have the shape of an old shoe. The handles may be coined or cast in a mold with realistic details. A knife with regularly shaped handles which have an image cast or stamped into them is not a figural knife.
Filework Decorative marks cut (usually by hand) into a knife's backspring and/or the spine of the blade. See Milled.
Fixed Blade (knife) A knife which has a blade that does not fold.
Fruit Knife Before the use of stainless steel for knife blades (ca. 1920) knives specially made for cutting fruit had blades made of (or plated with) silver which will not react with the acid in the fruit juice, as a steel blade does, and cause the fruit to discolor. These knives often have fancy handles made of decorated silver and/or mother of pearl however, those features alone do not a fruit knife make. True fruit knives have silver or silver-plated blades. Some (usually American ones) have an additional "seed pick" beside the blade. Small (2 1/2" +/-) metal handled knives, with a bail for attaching them to a watch chain, are not fruit knives. (They are commonly referred to as "Gentlemen's knives.") Fruit knives should not be confused with Melon Sampler knives.
Full (blade) A blade that has not lost any of its original size or shape due to sharpening is said to be "full." However, if you don't know what the original shape was it is dangerous to claim that a blade is full. Carefully sharpened blades can lose 10% or more of their profile and appear "original" to the uneducated eye.
Guard (Or cross-guard) A widening of the handle at the place where the blade joins the handle, which prevents one's hand from slipping onto the blade if the knife meets resistance while being pushed forward. Some folding knives have a large T-shaped bolster as a guard; others have a "folding guard" pivoted on the blade such that it folds flat against the handle when the blade is closed.
Handle The outer covering of the knife where one grips it. Handles are typically made of stag (deer antler), horn (cattle), bone (jigged or smooth), wood, (mother-of)-pearl (genuine marine oyster-shell), metal, tortoise (sea turtle) and many different synthetic materials.
Hand Made A knife in which the parts are all literally produced and fitted together individually "by hand." Many modern knives advertised as "hand made" are only hand assembled from mass produced parts. See Benchmade.
Hobo Technically, a fixed-blade type kit with a handle and inter-changeable knife blade and hatchet. Today the term is loosely applied to slot knives and folding knives with a fork and/or spoon. See Slot Knife.
Jack Knife A knife in which all of its blades pivot from the same end and on the same side. See Pen Knife and Multi-blade.
Jigging The grooves or patterns cut into (usually bone) handle material to simulate the appearance of stag. Old knife catalogues refer to jigged bone as "bone stag." See Worm Groove.
Ladies Knife Occasionally you may find a knife (usually a diminutive pen knife) with "Ladies Knife" marked on its side. This was a marketing ploy. Just because a knife is small (even the tiny "charm" sized miniature knives), or very fancy, or made of precious materials, does not mean it was specifically made for women to carry. In the 19th and early 20th centuries the well dressed gentlemen often carried a small, elaborately decorated knife in a vest pocket or on his watch chain. Very fancy knives with silver (or silver plated) blades are fruit knives, often given as a love token, but used by men and women.
Lazy A blade that does not walk and talk. See Snap.
Liner The thin metal frame pieces onto which all the parts of the knife are attached.
Lock A safety device; any of a variety of mechanisms that prevent a blade, once opened, from closing without the user taking an additional action to un-lock it.
Master Blade Generally, the largest blade in a multiple-blade knife, but not a tool such as a saw blade.
Melon Sampler (Or Melon Tester) knives are very long (4 1/2" to 6") and thin (about 1/2" wide) and are used by fruit vendors to cut a "plug" from a melon in order to show the interior. They are also used in the meat packing industry. They usually have a single thin blade although sometimes there is a second blade or a small folding fork included, and even a pocket clip. They are often given as advertising premiums but most are not considered particularly valuable by collectors.
Milled (Liners) A decorative effect, similar to the edge of a dime, on the edges of the liners of a knife. Loosely, a similar zig-zag effect made by mechanically crimping the liner's edge. See Filework.
Miniature (My own definition) A tiny, yet fully functional, knife having all the same parts and materials, and functioning in the same way as, a full-size knife; but being too small to be used for practical purposes. Most small knives are just small knives; miniatures are novelties primarily intended as charms or to display the knifemaker's skill. Generally, a folding knife should be less than about one and one-half inches long to qualify. If it is so small that it is difficult to use, it is probably a miniature. I have seen fully functional folding knives less than 1/2" long, closed! A small knife-shaped item that does not have, for example, a working spring or a steel blade is just a toy.
Mint The description "mint" only applies to a knife when it remains exactly as it came from the factory. It must not have had any use, wear, or defects, period! "Mint does not mean shiny." Once a knife is no longer mint it can never be mint again. The phrase "can be cleaned to mint" is just plain stupid!
Mother of Pearl (MOP) Arguably the most miss-used knife term on eBay. Usually referred to (incorrectly) simply as "pearl", it is the nacreous material an oyster deposits on the inside of it's shell and can be cut and polished to a glass-like luster. It often displays iridescent colors and fascinating patterns that have tremendous "eye appeal." Through the ages it has been the premier handle material on high quality knives. It is brittle, easily damaged, and breathing the dust generated by cutting it causes lung disease. As a result there have been many attempts to create synthetic substitutes for mother-of-pearl. Most of the knives advertised as having MOP handles are in fact handled with some form of plastic. See Pearl
Multi-blade Usually, a knife with many blades or tools, such as a "Swiss Army" knife. (FYI: by international law the only companies that could legally use the phrase "Swiss Army Knife" in their advertising were Victorinox and Wenger. Victorinox has purchased Wenger.)
Nail Nick See Pull.
Pattern Generally, the profile or silhouette of a knife. However, sometimes details of the construction or the specific purpose of a knife determines the pattern name. There are hundreds of pattern names and combinations of names.
Pearl Technically, only the loose pieces of nacreous material produced by certain shellfish, to surround irritants inside their shells, are referred to as "pearls." However, the term is often substituted for "mother-of-pearl" when referring to anything made from mother-of-pearl; as in "pearl-handled knife." Sometimes referred to as "marine pearl." See Mother of Pearl
Pen Knife A knife that has blades that pivot from both ends. See Jack Knife and Multi-blade.
Pin Any of the thin metal rods, or rivets, that form the pivot for the blade, hold handles onto the liners, or hold the entire knife together. The often encountered "pin knife" is a misspelling of "pen" knife.
Pull The indentation in a blade that allows the user to open the blade with a fingernail. The variations are: Common pull, or "nail nick" - a short crescent-shaped indentation; Long, or "French" pull - a long straight channel, up to half the length of the blade, and ending at the tang; Match-striker, or "dentate" pull - a long pull with the appearance of saw-teeth within the channel.
Shield A small metal plate attached to a knife handle for decoration or as a place for an inscription. Shields come in many different named shapes.
Slot Knife A folding knife, fork, and/or spoon combination which can be taken apart into two or three pieces for use. Typically there are studs or extensions of the liner on one part that fit into "slots" in the liner of the other part(s), holding the pieces together for carrying. See Hobo.
Snap On eBay, when a knife "walks and talks," the blades are said to "snap." e.g. "The large blade snaps but the small one does not." See Lazy.
Split-(Back)spring (Whittler) Read Whittler below (this term is a permissible exception to the definition because it is the antecedent technology to modern whittlers.) Some whittlers have their springs lying side by side, touching each other. Other whittlers have a tapered divider between them so that at the two-blade end the individual springs are held apart. However, a true split-spring whittler has ONE solid spring that is literally split into two parts for about half of its length (from the two-blade end.) I have seen only a few split-spring whittlers in 30 years and they were all mid-19th Century English knives.
Stamp A mark made in metal by striking it with a pre-cut tool (the "die"). Also, the act of making such a mark. Manufacturer's information is usually stamped on the tang of a blade. Solid metal handles are sometimes struck with a die (die-stamped or coined) to create text or pictures. See Etch and Engraving.
Tang The flat un-sharpened area of a blade where it pivots in the handle. This area is usually stamped with the maker's information. (On a fixed-blade knife the unsharpened area at the handle is called the "ricasso." The tang of a fixed-blade knife's blade is the part inside the handle.)
Tang Stamp The information (brand name, trademark, pattern number, etc.) stamped on the tang of a pocket knife.
Walk & Talk When a pocket knife blade is approximately 90% open or closed it should quickly "snap" the last 10% or so of the way under the power of the spring, without having to be pushed. Collectors say the blade "walks and talks." See Snap and Lazy.
Whittler A whittler is a knife with two springs and three blades, and very specific construction details. At the two-blade end each blade works on a single spring. At the other end there is only one blade but it works on both springs at the same time. Any other combination of springs and blades is not a whittler. I do not acknowledge the legitimacy of the terms "three-spring" or "half" whittler. See Split-(back)spring Whittler
Worm Groove Some manufacturers cut long, extra-wide grooves into their bone handles in addition the basic jigging. These grooves are supposed to represent channels made in the bone by "worms" (or insects), and supposedly are a desirable characteristic. (Rarely, and usually on barlow pattern knives, you will find a wide shallow groove which is the inner surface of the bone where the marrow was. I think it adds character.)
Words that should be used (and read) with caution The following words are bandied about with reckless abandon, contributing little or nothing to the accuracy of the item's description. Think before you use them.
Antique: There is no longer a generally accepted minimum age that qualifies an item to be an antique (originally it was 100 years). Calling an item an antique does not tell the buyer anything.
Collectible: A totally irrelevant word. There is no discernable quality that makes something collectible. In fact, if there was a characteristic that made things un-collectible, someone would collect those things.
Early: Another term that is meaningless unless it is used within a specific context. For example: a silver bowl cannot be described as simply an "early silver bowl" even if it was made in 1810. If it was, it is an "early Nineteenth Century bowl," but if it was made by Paul Revere (who worked from ca. 1775 to ca. 1815) it is not an "early Paul Revere bowl." Relative to the dates of Revere's career as a silversmith the bowl is a "late" Paul Revere bowl. Usually, one cannot say "early" without some additional qualification. An exception would be, for example, "early automobile" which suggests an auto from ca. 1890, i.e. near the beginning of all automobiles (although some purists claim the origin of self-propelled vehicles was over 200 years earlier!) An "early knife" would be from the Stone Age.
Civil War: Oh, the great inflator of value; any humble knick-knack becomes an objet d`honore' if it can be associated with the great War Between the States. Many things existed before and during the Civil War, but that does not (or should not) have anything to do with their value. A hammer made in 1863 might be worth something as an old tool but it is hardly a "Civil War Hammer." Items that are not known or documented specifically to have been associated with war-related activities, military campaigns, or specific soldiers or personalities, are just things that have survived for 150-or-so years. It's all about provenance (and gullibility); without it a pen is just a pen, a knife is just a knife, regardless of what one says about who used it when. If you want to pay more for it because someone said it was used in the Civil War that's your business; just don't expect anyone else to give you a premium price if you decide to sell it.
Salesman's Sample: Generally, a highly accurate working miniature of an item too large or heavy to be easily transported by a traveling salesman. Ladders, double-hung window frames, and other bulky wares were meticulously reproduced as functional miniatures to show a potential merchant the features of the manufacturer's product. They are usually covered with advertising and the manufacturer's name. (Do not confuse patent models with salesman's samples.) Any product small enough to be carried easily (such as a knife) would not have been produced in miniature. Most diminutive sizes of already-small objects are toys, novelties, or advertising premiums. The full-size products a salesman carried to display his company's wares are correctly called "salesman's demonstrators". Mass-produced display miniatures are referred to as "trade-stimulators." Give-away items, usually with advertising on them, are promotional items or "premiums." According to Schroeder's a salesman's sample must have a carrying case.
Rare: Use with caution. Rare is a relative, and somewhat subjective, term that often reflects only your personal lack of familiarity with the item. If you have been selling or collecting in a category for years you probably have a good feel for what is rare in that category; if not, simply because you have never seen one before does not mean it is rare. Many things that were once "rare" are now fairly common on eBay. Also, just because something is rare does not make it valuable; there needs to be buyers who want it and are willing to pay a lot to get it.
Vintage While not specifically a knife term, vintage is so egregiously misused that I feel it is necessary to define it. eBay has used the term to denote items made before a particular, and random, date, e.g. pocket knives made before 1970 are "vintage" according to eBay. The phrase "vintage pocket knife" by itself, is meaningless. Vintage is not synonymous with "old." It means "of, or associated with, a specific time or recognized historical period." For example: flapper girls are associated with the "Roaring (19)20's." A "flapper dress" is a recognized style of clothing that originated during, and is specifically associated with, that time period. If one says she has a flapper dress, she is only referring to the style of the dress, not when it was made. Likewise, an "old flapper dress" might be a dress in the flapper style, made in 1955 ("old" is a totally subjective term.) However, if she says she has a "vintage flapper dress" she is specifying that the dress was made in the 1920's. It is a "period" dress (like vintage, period specifies that the item was made during the time with which its style is associated.) "Vintage 1920's flapper dress" is redundant.
P.S. I do not claim to be an expert on anything, including knives. However, I have accumulated a lot of knowledge over the years, which I am happy to share. Don't be afraid to ask uncle_ron(at)comcast(dot)net a question. If I know the answer I'll tell you. If I don't, I'll tell you that, too. U.R.
Copyright By Ron Bucher, a.k.a. "Uncle Ron" (Uncle*Ron on eBay)
(C) 2006, 2007, 2008, 2013 All rights reserved