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Old vs. Modern - Tradiitionals only - an unscientific comparison and observation

Discussion in 'Traditional Folders and Fixed Blades' started by DavidZ, Feb 11, 2012.

  1. DavidZ

    DavidZ Gold Member Gold Member

    Oct 30, 2004
    I have over the years, as I am sure many of you have or you would not be on this forum, searched for a pocket knife that was somehow better and more satisfying than one you currently carried. At least I did! It was always very elusive, and things like better fit and finish, smoother action, and improved style and design was just your next purchase away. We all really know however, that the real joy is in the hunt! In this post, I just want to share a comparison between what could be considered the best of the old and the new. In the modern corner, I have placed what I consider what is currently the best of the modern production world in a traditional pocket knife - the Case - Bose series, vs. the Bertram Hen and Rooster's from when A.G. Russell owned the company, before it became what it is currently managed to be. This is not a criticism of the current crop of knives, so please let's stay on the comparison.

    First the Case / Bose:
    I have owned a few, and they are awesome. Fit and finish is nearly high end custom quality, and the designs are time honored classics. The steel is of modern lineage, so performance is outstanding! They have a technical precision about them that is incredible as well.

    Next, the Hen and Roosters that I got, made in 1976.
    Fit and finish is also impeccable. The designs and style are equally beautiful. The steel is certainly the best they had at that time, but probably not equal to the standards of today. They have a high polish, both inside and out, but there is more to it. They have a certain feel about them. The action is much smoother and does not have a robotic - CNC feel to it. The action and the design sort of "flows". They seem to be more than the sum of their parts assembled in a technically perfect way.

    The conclusion? The modern classics of the Case / Bose series of today, as well as many customs, have a technical precision about them that while beautiful in style, and perfect in precision, come off as cold and robotic in nature. Sort of CNC cloned and without a personality or life. It is difficult to describe, but very obvious in "feel". I wish I could command my words to better describe this. As an illustration, here is an incident that happened at work. I have a friend at work that really likes and appreciates nice traditional pocket knives, but is not one who is actively in pursuit like we are. I regularly show him my latest finds. I showed him one of each the other day, and his reaction to the Case was matter of factly "nice knife". The H&R was another story, he studied it and handled it, until I almost thought he was not going to give it back. even he commented about how well it "felt" Anyone else experience this? Here are some pics:




  2. avoidspam


    Jul 2, 2011
    Know exactly what you mean!

    I have a beautiful Moki made knife with near perfect fit and finish but the knife looks too clinical somehow. This is where I think GEC have got it right, don't get me wrong, their F&F is very good but they have managed to preserve that old fashioned feel. Perhaps a lot of that is down to them using old tooling machines but I think it's the whole package:)

  3. bobusx


    Sep 29, 2009
    I think traditionals by their very nature lend them selves to the feeling of "nothing like the old days" nostalgia. There is a certain sense that things were better back before, and I think a lot of traditional knife fans feel that way. As a younger man, I like traditionals because they are classics, and do have a sense of a time when knives weren't hated. At the same time, I appreciate the advantages that modern technology give us. I don't really get a feeling of modern traditionals being cold, or soulless, but I also don't get that feeling from modern one hand folder's either. They have a character and soul of there own, it is just a different kind than the really old traditional's possess.
  4. jackknife

    jackknife Gold Member Gold Member

    Oct 2, 2004
    David, I know of what you speak.

    I have a couple of those old school Hen and Roosters, and they were some of the very best ever produced pocket knives made. Having spent my working life as a machinist, I am at a loss as how to explain it, but the best of the CNC technology may give flawless fit and finsh, impeccable quality, for some reason they just don't have the feel of the old ones. And it's not just knives, but guns and tools, and cars, and I could go on and on. Compare a mint old 1911 made in the pre war period to a late model. Or a pre ww2 Smith and Wesson revolver to a revolver made in the last 30 years. My last BMW motorcycle, a 1992 K75, had a soulless feel compared to my old R80 boxer twin.

    I've got a 4 year old S&W that is as reliable and good shooting gun as I've ever had, but it totally lacks the feel of Karens old K22 from her high school days, or the model 18 I bought in the late 60's.

    I doubt that anyone will ever have another knife that is as nice as those old Hen And Roosters. There will be knives with as good a fit and finish, and will be impeccable quality, but they won't have the feel. To be fair, the high end knives being made now, are some of the best knives ever made But there is a sterile feel to them. I can only think that those Bertram boys had some secret German spirit in their shop. Kind of like old BMW motorcycles. There was an indefinable something there. I can only think that in someway the people working on them put some of themselves in the product. A machine, no matter how perfect, is still just a machine. It will leave nothing behind.

  5. richstag


    Feb 22, 2007
    I agree, thats what I like about them. If you ever check out 'whats happening' on their site its kind of impressive how handmade the knives are. Seems like I see a lot of older gentleman's hands working those tools in the shop also. Guess they know 'how they used to be' :)

    Great thread David. I always thought the Collaboration knives have a cold look to them. Doesn't mean I don't appreciate the precision, but they don't quite have the same look.
  6. Thalestin


    Jul 20, 2006
    I sort of feel the same way. It really does seem the knives of the past have something special going for them. I do think it is a pity that many custom traditionals move towards modern steels and "perfection" so to speak. Dont get me wrong, I think they are very beautiful in their own right, but at the same time something isnt as appealing to me. I have never really been drawn to the custom slip joints but have been very much drawn to the many old slip joint that are posted here. I also find GEC seems to catch some of the features of the older knives I have come to appreciate so much over the years of being part of the forums.
  7. cj65

    cj65 Gold Member Gold Member

    Aug 30, 2008
    I have to say that for Traditional knives, I do like the older ones, and that goes for guns too. Case knives, I like the 70's and older. I guess I am a nostalgic bugger of sorts. New, I would say anything Tony Bose Case collabs. I had a sbj and it was awesome. I gifted it, and wish I had not. I loved that knife, and will buy another one day. Nice thread.
  8. Will Power

    Will Power

    Jan 18, 2007
    Interesting. Possibly it's the use of stainless liners and brushed matte bolsters (kind of matte bone too) on Collabs or some customs that gives this aura?
    Brass or nickel silver liners and polished bolsters give that Old School atmosphere. Of course, when you pay a large chunk of cash for a Collab or a Custom you must expect-or hope for-precision finish.
  9. midnight flyer

    midnight flyer

    Jan 12, 2009
    I know of what you speak David, and I understand.

    But I have a leg in both camps. My first side is that I like all my old knives. I like the knives that my grandfather carried and now recently, the small box of knives that were used by my Dad. I like the fit/finish/sturdiness of the old knives. There were a few little masterpiece knives, but for me (a die hard CASE fan in the 60s - early 80s) they were the top of the mountain for working knives. CASE served three generations of my family, and I just got my Grandad's CASE from my Uncle. Back in those days, you bought a CASE knife and you didn't have to check for all the fit/finish problems we see now. You picked the style you wanted at the hardware or local gun shop, and they let you look at the scales to see if you like one or another of the coloring more.

    You didn't worry about the poor blade snap. You didn't worry about poor grinds, bad finish, loose scales, proud rivets, cracks in the scales or gaps along the back. You saved your money and put it on that knife for a reason; you knew you were getting something of quality, a useful tool, one that could go to work with you every day and last for years.

    When I pick up my mid 70s CASE knives that I bought new, I am reminded of that feeling. I like it. I hate picking through today's production knives like a picky scavenger to make sure I got "a good one". Back in those days, you simply took that for granted.

    On the other hand, I do like some of today's offerings. I like the newer steels, and appreciate the use of the older ones as well. I like a well designed knife that is built with good materials. I think some of my new Queen knives will go on as long as my older knives, certainly outlasting me.
    And I just got a medium stockman in stag that is an absolute jewel. Indian stag, 1095, 99% fit and finish. German made, it was a trip down memory lane when I unwrapped this one.

    Along this same line, I think the most awful trend in pocket knife making is the offering of "pocket worn" knives. Really? Honest? I understand that no one wants to look like a noob, but seriously, isn't that something you should develop on your own? I was surprised at how many stain up their blades to make them look like work knives; but then to buy a knife that the scales have been buffed down to make them look like a well used knife... really?

    All of my knives have to earn their ugly looks. Blade scratches, missing shields, grayed carbon, cracked scales, loose or missing scale pins... that's all part of using a knife for something besides cutting oranges and opening mail. I guess it is like factory washed faded jeans, why put the time in if you can simply buy it?

    I think soon knife makers will be offering not only scale over-buffing, but blade graying, bolster scratching and maybe even authentic scuffs on the blades so when you buy a new knife, it will look not only old, but like you use it.

    That being said, none of my new knives will ever hit the wear mark of my oldest CASEs. When I bought those knives, one every few years, I was a starving construction worker and only owned 3 - 4 folders for years. My large Copperhead Jack went to work on the job site with every day for almost 10 years. Now I have too many knives; if I carried each one in rotation for the next 20 years, they would all look new.

    But seriously... buying an aged knife? Part of the whole romance of the old knives for me is the fact they earned their way into the knife drawer and weren't traded off or sold for one reason or another over the years. Their stained blades, smoother scales, deep scratches, lazier snapping blades, and other battle damage make me like them the most of all my knives because I feel like we are old partners since I put every single bit of that wear on the knife. I know it sounds dumb, but it is like having an old friend, one you worked with for years, one you knew you could rely on.

    That may just be me, though. If there wasn't a market for a knife that looked used even though it wasn't, they surely wouldn't sell it. I am trying to think of my old Grandad's reaction to buying a brand new knife posing as a "pocket worn knife". THAT makes me chuckle.

  10. thawk

    thawk Basic Member Basic Member

    Oct 28, 2006
    I much prefer the older knives. Old knives are like old buildings to me. I do appreciate it when some of these craftsman on this site show new knives, made from the old patterns. But nothing beats carrying an old knife. I really like carrying the ones that still have good action.
  11. pwcb2005


    Jan 2, 2011
    i agree with you 100%. I'll just add that GEC offers "new aged" knives that already have a patina!
  12. TLARbb


    Jan 24, 2010
    I think much of the phenomenon we are discussing here comes from the fact that the older traditionals have connection to our family of the past. Also, for me at least, it is hard to carry a high dollar knife around for daily use; they cost a lot and, while probably being more capable of handling abuse or hard use, I just can't seem to get past the fear of damaging a custom blade. A while back someone posted a Tony Bose custom that had been put to a lot of use and it was in good shape. I applaud the person able to do this. I think that knife after the use it got, probably felt more like an older traditional than it would have otherwise.

    I agree with the comments relative to GEC. They have managed to capture the essence of the older traditionals in a new production knife without an exhorbitant cost.

    Ed J
  13. 300Bucks

    300Bucks Moderator Moderator

    Apr 19, 2005
    Carl and all, I know what it is.

    Back then someone finished a knife, held it up in the light at arms length, studied it over, glanced over at the guy next to him who looked from his work, nodded his head once and went back to work. Thats when the spirit enters.

  14. rprocter

    rprocter Banned BANNED

    Jan 19, 2007
    Quote 300Bucks: "Thats when the spirit enters."
    Yes ! It is as though some knives have a 'spirit' or personality. It can be experienced but not measured. It is not transmitted by pictures.
    I experience this with many of my vintage knives and some of my current custom knives. It is as if through the intense concentration on every little step and the determination to get every one just right, implants some of the knifemaker's energy or spirit into the knife.
    This is why i only want custom knives that the knifemaker felt inspired to build, as this leaves a warm and compelling feeling in the knife. Knives built simply to fill an order may be technically superb, but do not give you the feeling that makes you want to keep holding it, rather than put it down after a minute or so.
    Also, each knifemakers' work seems to possess an energy or spirit unique to each knifemakers' knives. For example, a group of various pattern knives by say, Ken Erickson, will all give a similar feeling, and this feeling is different from a group of knives made by, say, Tony Bose.
    Once you start collecting custom folders you eventually find the makers whose knives 'speak' to you in the manner you like best. This aspect of knives is actually more important to me than technical perfection. That said, most of the custom knives i own are very close to technically perfect, but not all feel like they are my buddies.
    Last edited: Feb 13, 2012
  15. ken erickson

    ken erickson

    Aug 27, 2004

    For me, your post summed it up very well with some great points. Here is a quote from a George Wostenholm and Son reprint dated 1885 that pretty much mirrors your opening comments.

    "but it is by their use only that articles such as ours can be rightly appreciated; it is manifestly impossible to estimate their worth from pictorial illustrations, however well such may be executed."

    I also agree that makers will develop a "style" for lack of better term of making knives, just as the old cutlery companies did. After looking at a bunch of vintage knives, you start to get a feel for whom may have made a knife, even without opening it up and looking at the tang.

    As far as comparison between old and new goes, I think that comparison can be taken back as far as one wants to go. If you compare a 70's vintage Case (which many say, has a soul etc) to a turn of the century Sheffield or American made knife you can draw the same conclusions as the Bose/Case to the 70's vintage knives. Some day in our future the Case/Bose collaboration knives will be held in very high esteem(not to say they are not now).
    Last edited: Feb 13, 2012
  16. quattromori


    May 7, 2011
    I'm not sure I am "entitled" to give a decent answer, for the reason that I've never had an old traditional, apart from Sardinian traditionals, which are all hand made, so their quality and F&F would depend more on the maker than on the year of production. I've seen old SAK's and new SAK's, but that's another story.
    I don't know about old production knives, nor of how some factories have changed their quality level in time...so I will have to trust your opinions on this.
    Still, since Robert (midnightflyer) introduced another aspect of the same topic, I will add my two cents on it.
    On one side, I'm interested in old knives, and I like to browse this forum, look at old, worn, used knives, and like them. But, mainly, it's because they remind me of my uncles' knives, or the knives I often saw when I was a child, in the hands of shepherds here. That's where the appreciation comes from. They bring back memories of old times and people who are not here anymore. And I wish I had my grand-grandfather's knife, and maybe someday I will be lucky enough and find it.
    But, I don't think I would buy a used knife for myself. I prefer to buy a new knife (no matter if made in 2012 or in 1972), and use it myself. Then, any scratch will feel "mine", I will remember when and where it fell from my hands and got that crack, or how it developed a patina, and so on. That's what I've done so far, and I like it this way.
    I love used knives...but I prefer those used by me. :)

    Last edited: Feb 13, 2012
  17. DavidZ

    DavidZ Gold Member Gold Member

    Oct 30, 2004

    willgoy - You may have a point here - the nickel silver and the polish does play a part. The satin stainless does have a clinical look to it. However, it is more than that too. A feel, that even though the new top of the line knives are perfectly executed, they are missing it.
  18. brownshoe

    brownshoe I support this site with my MIND

    Sep 6, 2002
    Well for a completely different perspective, here comes me. I like the construction of Case/Bose knives because they update the patterns with modern materials...which are better. The 154CM steel holds an edge better than Case TS and Case CV. The steel liners and bolsters provide much better structural integrity. I have seen many nickel silver and brass lined knives with structural problems after hard or extended use. The brushed steel bolsters are easy to keep sharp looking with a little steel wool. I've seen many blades sharpened to next to nothing which will not happen as quickly with 154CM at 58 rockwell. Since most of you don't even use your Case/Bose collaborations, how can you judge?

    As far as "it is as though some knives have a 'spirit' or personality. It can be experienced but not measured" I believe this is just tomfoolery by knife people to justify buying a new knife. :) Sure, knives talk to me and I put them in my pocket, but it is still just an object and I know I am crazy :)
  19. avoidspam


    Jul 2, 2011
    Interesting angle on it. I haven't had any of my GEC's long enough to see real wear and tear yet (trust me though, several of them will, safe queens they aint:)). One sign of a custom knife is the use of thicker liners, often stainless. I'd quite like to see a knife made with nickel silver bolsters and brass liners but with the liners the same gauge as a custom knife....

  20. on_the_edge

    on_the_edge Gold Member Gold Member

    Jan 31, 2006
    I'm sorry, but I must have missed the factual basis for this statement that you have no doubt referenced somewhere. Could you please point it out to me? I cannot seem to find it.

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