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Sears pocket knife prices in 1897...

Discussion in 'General Knife Discussion' started by PocketKnifeJimmy, Oct 21, 2018.

  1. PocketKnifeJimmy


    Aug 4, 2013
    I enjoy occasionally going through my reproduction 1897 Sears & Roebuck catalog. It's facinating to see the items & prices of this long ago era.
    Anyhow, I was glancing again at the pocket knife section, them having prices in the average of about 25 cents. We all know that those prices are so low because wage earnings were way much lower too. But, with that said, these knives, (probably mostly made in the US & Europe), were still such a bargain back then. That $.25 back then was equal to about $7.60 today, so the knives were very reasonably priced compared to today's pricing, (and of course those original knives had undeniable old world craftsmanship). Cool stuff to look at... Again, I find such history to be fascinating :)

    Last edited: Oct 21, 2018
  2. TheEdge01


    Apr 3, 2015
    Interesting thread, thanks for sharing. Back then knife collecting was probably a rare hobby, so cutlery was far more reasonably priced in those days. Its hard to imagine a good quality pocket knife being sold in the same price range as a screw driver.
    PocketKnifeJimmy likes this.
  3. cbach8tw

    cbach8tw Gold Member Gold Member

    Jan 9, 2006
    Cool thread, that was also a time when carrying a pocket knife was a necessity and many around.
    PocketKnifeJimmy likes this.
  4. 22-rimfire

    22-rimfire Gold Member Gold Member

    Nov 20, 2005
    It is fun to look back at old catalogs for both the things you're interested in as well as stuff that you simply can't buy any more. Prices were consistent with the value of the US dollar and the cost of manufacture just like today for the most part. Sears and Montgomery Wards were trusted retailers that provided many "city things" to country folks much like Amazon does today. Sad to see what is happening to Sears right now.
  5. Peter Hartwig

    Peter Hartwig Gold Member Gold Member

    Feb 29, 2008
    They need the Web to drive up the prices with it's mania
    PocketKnifeJimmy likes this.
  6. 19-3ben

    19-3ben Gold Member Gold Member

    Jul 27, 2015
    They were horrifically mismanaged and made some pretty bad business decisions. Just like Toys r Us, this was a long time coming.

    Besides, their catalogue and their expansion made them the first of the “big box” type threats to local individually owned hardware stores.

    As for their slipjoint knives, anyone know who made them for Sears? I’m assuming it was the usual deal where some were made by Camillus, some Schrade, some Buck, and basically Those three all made deals with each other to cover the load?
    PocketKnifeJimmy likes this.
  7. 22-rimfire

    22-rimfire Gold Member Gold Member

    Nov 20, 2005
    In 1897, America was primarily rural. No telephone. Many rural areas had no electricity. There were no cars for the most part. That came a bit later. People road the train to "go to town" or walked or road muscle powered transportation to their local General Store which were typically a mix of hardware, clothing, food, and whatever is available to sell (and sells). Things were a lot different then as compared to now. Sears and Montgomery Wards were absolutely wonderful for the common man. I doubt Sears put many General Stores out of business.... when you need a nut and bolt, do you order on the big river site? No, you go to your local hardware store or big box store such as Lowes.

    Sears wants to stay as a brick & mortar retailer. The young of today simply don't shop at Sears for the most part unless they are looking for an appliance, lawn mower, and so forth. I suppose you could have done better in terms of business decisions? The Big River and Walmart killed Toys R Us because their prices were consistently too high.

    I agree that whatever knife manufacturers were around then provided Sears with their stock. The Sears name actually stood for something.
    PocketKnifeJimmy likes this.
  8. Jocephus1


    May 30, 2007
    Thank you for sharing that. I've always been fascinated by the history behind knife distribution, etc. Its cool seeing an old sears catalog like that...Sears is where I bought my first pocketknife as a kid.
    PocketKnifeJimmy likes this.
  9. Larrin

    Larrin Gold Member Gold Member

    Jan 17, 2004
    It looks like a new Case jack knife is about $35. So not $8 but I wouldn’t call today’s prices unreasonable. Maybe the price difference is due to economic growth rather than purely inflation. Of course you still can buy a knife made in another country for less but that’s a separate issue.
    PocketKnifeJimmy likes this.
  10. 22-rimfire

    22-rimfire Gold Member Gold Member

    Nov 20, 2005
    Once the malls hit America in the 60's, I loved visiting Sears, Kmart, JC Penney and so forth. Now malls are fading away. Things will change again. To a kid, Sears had guns and knives.... fantastic place!

    Most of the Case slip joints I look at all exceed $50 these days for the most part. Even my little peanut was more than $50. Basically for me, there is Case pricing and if you want less$, you think Rough Rider for a fairly decent slip joint.
    W. Anderson and PocketKnifeJimmy like this.
  11. PocketKnifeJimmy


    Aug 4, 2013
    Here is my only "Sears" knife, a Barlow with the Craftsman brand name.
    It is probably a 1960's item...

    W. Anderson likes this.
  12. 22-rimfire

    22-rimfire Gold Member Gold Member

    Nov 20, 2005
    I chuckle at this.... a kid today would say "Who in the hell was Ted Williams?" I know just "google it", right. I purposely buy at Sears when I can.
  13. James Y

    James Y

    Feb 18, 1999
    It wasn't so much that pocketknife prices were considered such a bargain back then; it's more like money was worth a lot more, and people worked hard for a lot less. There was a time when 25 cents was a good amount of money to most people. In a more recent decade, when I was a kid, I remember when Marvel comic books went from like 15 cents to 20 cents, I wasn't happy about it. Then when that price jumped to 25 cents, then 30, then 35 cents. Nowadays, I think a single standard-sized comic book (if they still make them) is several dollars to get a lot less. Those 5 cent price increases seemed like a lot back then.

    When I started buying pocketknives, you could get a high-quality, brand-name folder for between $10 and $15 at Sears, the hardware store or sporting goods store. When I finally got my first Buck knife (a Cadet), it became what I carried and used most for a good while, and I remember thinking, "I'd better take care of it because I spent a whole $15 on it."

    unklfranco likes this.
  14. 22-rimfire

    22-rimfire Gold Member Gold Member

    Nov 20, 2005
    I think my first good knife was a Case Barlow. As I recall it was around $20-$22 at the local hardware store. That was a hell of a lot of money to me then. Loved that knife!! Sears stores weren't exactly handy for me before I learned to drive and even then, I didn't consider $0.29/gallon for gas cheap. Things really change.
    W. Anderson likes this.
  15. dirc


    Jan 31, 2018
    that model 14858 sounds quite awesome, brass liners instead of 'iron' lol :) I'd really like one, and notice how much better they look with long pulls instead of nicks? Add in the fact it's stag handles and wow... it's approaching the 2018 bladeforum special ; -)

    I'm impressed, thanks for sharing 121 year old catalogue history

    I'm guessing the steel was a plain 1050 or 1060ish type steel? wasn't 1055 fairly common for all knives and axes back then?
    19-3ben likes this.
  16. cbrstar

    cbrstar Gold Member Gold Member

    Sep 7, 2015
  17. 22-rimfire

    22-rimfire Gold Member Gold Member

    Nov 20, 2005
    Suspect the difference other than nearly 55 years is US made Camillus versus Chinese made Camillus. But generally speaking I am not familiar with that particular model. In 1965, there was a lot of Japanese production. This is about the time when Japan was getting past the transistor radio stage and producing good stuff.

    I love browsing through these old catalogs. The old Herter's catalogs are a lot of fun as everyone knows if it had their name on something, it was the "best".

    100 year old catalogs can get quite pricey. I refer to Colt Firearms as a reference point unless you just luck out.
  18. PocketKnifeJimmy


    Aug 4, 2013
    I used to have a reproduction 'Bannermans Island' catalog... And the goodies that they sold out of that place were amazing. Us guys liking knives, swords, and such, would have had a field day with such a selection of goodies. They were mostly a military surplus dealer, but I don't know if anything ever compared to what he had amassed. I have been down the Hudson River on boat tours that take off from West Point, and have seen the remains of "Bannermans Castle". Good ole days that can atleast be discussed and learned about, (the repro catalogs are certainly a great source for such info) :)
    WinchesteRalox likes this.
  19. SharpieB

    SharpieB Gold Member Gold Member

    Oct 31, 2017
    This stuff fascinates me.

    I bought a bunch of old National Geographics at a flea market (1912-1940’s) and just love looking at the old ads... a B&W 16” RCA TV equated to about 3 months pay, $1/min transatlantic phone calls, etc. Just amazing stuff IMO...
  20. PocketKnifeJimmy


    Aug 4, 2013
    As a comparison of prices on items found in the Sears 1897 catalog... Bicycles, which were definitely NOT cheaply priced back in the late 19th Century. The bikes offered ranged from 30'ish to 60'ish dollars. One of the mid tier bikes was priced at $43. That $43 would translate to $1,307.82 in 2018. So, in my opinion, a $.25 pocket knife was one heck of a bargain :)


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