Levine's Guide "5" — What's Going On Here???

  Edited excerpt from Knife World, July 2001. To read the complete text click here.

          by Bernard Levine

A few weeks ago I received a copy of Levine's Guide to Knives & Their Values, 5th Edition, from Krause Publications. I had nothing whatsoever to do with the production of this "new" edition, so I was curious to see what had changed. Krause had acquired the rights to Levine's Guide back in 1997, when they bought its original publisher, DBI Books. The 4th edition was just going to press at the time of the transition.

Krause's new 5th edition has serious deficiencies and omissions. Because of these defects, I will not be selling copies of the 5th edition. Even though I will be earning royalties on sales of this "new" edition, I cannot in good conscience recommend that anyone purchase it.

In the interim, I will continue to sell the remaining copies of the 4th edition until they are all gone. The 4th is the last complete, authentic, and authorized edition of Levine's Guide. If you want a copy, either your first or a backup copy, order quickly before they are sold out.

So now the new 5th edition has arrived. But what is it? Well, in most respects it is identical to the 4th. Unlike my extensive detailed revisions to the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th editions, Krause did not change any of the text or lists -- no updates, revisions, additions, or corrections. But when they got to the "Pocketknife Brand List" they made a bizarre modification. They left out the "$" column, the V H M L value ratings (Very high, High, Medium, Low) of all the different brands. With their full array of value ratings, LG's 1, 2, 3, and 4 functioned as universal pocketknife price guides. The price chart system enabled you to estimate the value of just about any pocketknife ever made.

4th Edition Pocketknife Brand List

Not with number 5.

5th Edition Pocketknife Brand List

And not only did Krause delete the value ratings, they even eliminated all of the percentage adjustments for construction, handle materials, condition, and so on, as shown in this example -- all gone from the 5th.

4th Edition typical price chart

Then it got worse. Krause hired a pocketknife dealer to "update" the individual prices of the knives pictured in the pocketknife pattern chapters (jack knives, pen knives, multi-blades). What he did is very disturbing.

The original purpose of those pictures had been to show examples of the price charts in action. In my four editions of Levine's Guide, every individual pocketknife price was derived from the charts -- and the numbers in the charts were derived from the actual marketplace, based on lengthy discussions with active dealers and collectors. In each new edition, every price was recalculated.

Since the 5th edition has no value ratings, there was nothing to calculate. Instead the price "fixer," or whatever you want to call him, simply picked a price out of the air for each knife illustrated.

His numbers are amazing. Most of them are between three and six times higher than the knives are actually worth in today's market. I suppose he thought he was raising the "value" of his pocketknife inventory, or perhaps he was anticipating the future price increases that he hoped his work would inspire.

This type of wishful anticipatory pricing in a guidebook can ruin a hobby and kill a market. It encourages sellers to over-price their knives, prompting buyers to seek out another hobby to spend their time and money on. I hope he has not done fatal harm to knife collecting, but the danger is very real.

As to the rest of the book, a few random and inconsequential new chapters were tacked on at the very end, without any connection to related chapters in the rest of the book. The new material was not fitted into the middle because, I suspect, no one involved wanted to take the trouble to change the page numbers in the index.

No additions, corrections or other changes were made to the brand list, except to eliminate all the V H M L value ratings. No additions or corrections were made to the custom maker list, the bowie knife list, the kitchen knife list, the history chapters, etc.

A lot has changed in the world of knife collecting in the past few years -- changes in collecting fashions, newly discovered historical information, new knife companies, new knife makers, and even new types of knives. None of these changes is reflected in the 5th edition, as they would have been if I had prepared it.

A few new names were added to the dealer list at the end of the 5th edition. The "price fixer" added his own name, and the names of some of his pals. He deleted my name and address to make room for them, which I appreciate, since I do not want to be associated with his work. However none of the other dealer listings were updated or corrected, although many of the telephone numbers and email addresses have changed.

And so now I hope you understand why I will not be using, selling, or recommending the so-called "5th edition" of Levine's Guide.

The only good news in all this, is that since the "5th" edition contains no improvements over the 4th, only diminutions, the 4th edition is still the best all-around knife book you can buy. My original contract with DBI Books allows me to purchase all remaining copies of a discontinued edition, and this I have now done. I will continue to sell brand new copies of the 4th edition, both directly and through Knife World, until they are all gone. After that there will be no more, since Krause owns the copyright.

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Some reader comments from Bladeforums, Knife World, etc.:

I have just had the pleasure of purchasing the recently released 5th edition of Levine's Guide to Knives and Their Values. The present edition does not live up to quality of the previous editions. While many sections of the book are identical to the prior edition, other sections have been seriously degraded - for instance no longer do we get a weighted value grade for production brands (the column has simply been omitted). Other price sections have been wildly adjusted with seemingly random price swings of several 100%.

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I'm a damn fool. Despite our moderator's advice I bought LG5. It in no way compares to LG4 or any other previous edition. It will be up for sale on Ebay this week. Low starting price.

* * *

I reluctantly thumbed through my copy, and I agree the thing is totally useless. Some of it is plain daffy. Under the swell center congress whittlers the photos and descriptions remain as they were in the 4th edition, but the prices have changed dramatically:

    Case Tested XX was $95, now $550
    H. Boker was $37/42, now $125/150
    Remington File blade was $108, now $400

Granted prices do change, but never this dramatically without an explanation.

Similar price updates are randomly scattered throughout.

The illustration of Randall's model 18 (Vietnam era) has a price of $1500-3000. Which may be possible with the very early extended tang crutch tip examples; unfortunately the illustration shows a threaded butt cap?!

Other sections like the Foreign, Exotic, Primitive, Historical Fixed Blade Knives remains a verbatim copy of the section in the fourth edition.

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Thank you so much for the info regarding the 5th edition of your book. I was able to cancel my order with Amazon on-line, as it had not been processed yet.

Although I don't know you at all (I talked to you once on the phone a few years back for some advice on a knife) I totally respect your ethics based on your comments and position regarding this 5th edition. I'd do the same.

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I have just finished reading your column in the most recent Knife World [July 2001] and wanted to share some thoughts with you.

First, let me say that each edition of the Guide has been a faithful servant and a great help to me. I have learned from each of them, and they must be the most used tool in knife collecting. One need only look at the knives in antique stores or on eBay to see how much the general public relies on you for their information.

I saw a copy of the fifth edition a week or so ago in a bookstore in Raleigh. I looked through it but did not buy it, and don't plan to. I was very disappointed, and can understand your feelings. Like you, I am very concerned about the damage that this may do to the hobby of knife collecting in the long run. I will try to be optimistic, but because of the status of the earlier editions this will certainly be a damaging blow.

It is a sorry thing that the situation has degenerated to this extent, but you can be proud of the work you have done and continue to do to advance the hobby.

Last, I appreciate your honesty and openness in sharing all this in Knife World. I imagine that there are a number of people who would just as soon not have had this published.

Thanks for doing such a great job over the years to advance the hobby of knife collecting through your writing, research, and general hard work.


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