Log Cabin Chronicles

Bill Gardyne

Digital Image © 2000 John Mahoney

Just Folks: Bill Gardyne
The knife guy

JOHN MAHONEY

Posted 02.07.00
DERBY, VERMONT

Bill Gardyne has a serious thing for old things. But he's really passionate about antique knives -- has been since he was a kid.

Pocket knives. Hunting knives. Bowie knives and bayonets. Daggers, dirks, and the graceful French Laguiole Authentique by Perard et Dassaud.

And, of course, charming "character" knives like the one he owns that has a picture of Popeye The Sailorman printed on the plastic handle.

This little pocketknife sold for half a buck half a century ago. Now it's worth about $150 (U.S.), says Bill whose day job is with Associated Insurance Agencies in nearby Newport.

knife

Twice each day - about 5:30 a.m. and from 9 p.m. to midnight - Bill dons another hat. This one is a virtual hat, made of bits and bytes. When he powers up his computer and ramps onto the World Wide Web, Bill becomes...the Knife Guy at Bill's Blades & Collectibles, able to leap continents at the click of the mouse.

In the past year and a half, Bill says he has sold "more than 300 knives" through his auctions conducted on his web page at "eBay," the world-famous power site for on-line auctions.

His largest sale to date? Five hundred big ones.

I talked with Bill in his workshop/office in the rear of his home, just off Route 5 a few miles south of the Canadian border. Built in 1805, he and Nancy's home was the first schoolhouse in town and is a few yards from the site where pioneer Timothy Hinman built the first log cabin in 1795.

office

His workspace is best described as a welcoming place of creative clutter. Knives, parts of knives, tools in antique engineers' machinist cases, books, and elk antlers for making knife handles.

And, in addition to his two dogs who are insatiable when it comes to pats and head rubs, there is the computer - his lifeline to the Internet and people who also buy, sell, and trade knives.

"I discovered eBay about 18 months ago and I've been absorbed ever since," he says while opening a couple of newly arrived packages. Both contain knives that will end up in one of his on-line auctions.

"There is really nothing else that compares with eBay...it has totally changed the market...and it's an excellent research tool...specialists prowl eBay around the clock, hunting for bargains. The impact eBay has had on selling goods has yet to be realized"

Bill speaks from a lifetime of selling things. After attending Johnson State College some forty miles from home, he sold everything from woodstoves to stereos, moved on to cars, then fourteen years ago joined the insurance agency.

deer foot knife
Antique Austrian folding knife
with deer foot handle

Remember how at auctions, at the tail end, they would bring out the boxes of junk and odds & ends and the stuff would go for a couple of bucks?

Those days are gone, says Bill.

"The 'smalls' (small antiques) and the box lots have gone sky high. People were buying cheap and marketing the stuff on eBay."

It's the old supply and demand principle in action.

tray of knives

Bill sells most of his knives in North America, particularly in the southern and southwestern states, which have traditionally had a fishing and hunting, gun and knife culture.

However, just the other day he received an e-mail from England - the guy wanted to know about a couple of antique Bowie knives Bill was auctioning off.

Where do you get all these knives, I asked, pointing at the walls, drawers, and the collection in the glass case under the antlers.

I have a couple of "pickers," who go door to door, looking for knives and anything else that might interest me.

knifeMy Vermont guy works at it full-time and sends me a box of knives every three weeks or so. My Quebec searcher, a man from Lennoxville, usually comes up with 5-10 knives a week. We have a good working relationship."

His Quebec picker recently produced a classy stopwatch that once belonged to the girls' coach at the now-defunct King's Hall College in the Eastern Townships. Bill thinks it will bring a handsome return on investment. One watch he picked up for $20 happened to be a jewel in disguise - it sold for $500, he says.

Bill posts his new auction material -- 99 percent are knives - on Saturday and Sunday, and runs his auctions for a week. Uploading the digital images of his knives onto his auction site is a bit of a family affair.

His mother-in-law, Barbara Frawley, lives just down the street. A long-time antique dealer, she, too, has discovered eBay and is moving a lot of fancy glass in her auctions. Bill uses her Sony Mavica digital camera to photograph his knives, and Cute ftp software to upload the images.

Quickly establishing trust and a high confidence level are necessary to do business on the 'Net, and honesty and square dealing appear to be his mantra.

'new' knife

"I try to find decent stuff and describe it accurately," he states on his eBay auction website. "If I make a mistake with a description, I usually will offer to buy it back. I have bought very few back and have many repeat buyers."

"I generally require a money order before shipping the knife. For guys I've sold to before, I'll take their checks or if their Feedback Number is high enough. The trust thing rides a lot on the Feedback Rating and as an active dealer, I'll go to most any lengths to avoid negative feedback and have never gotten any yet.

"It allows potential bidders to maintain a certain level of confidence in my products and an expectation that if it's not as described, I'll buy it back."

This claim seems to be borne out by the feedback comments posted by clients on his eBay web page:

"Fast payment...great communication...eBay asset."

"Fast shipment, e-mail...felt I got a good deal. Thanks."

Everything went as promised. Good person to deal with."

The 'praise' comments go on for more than 200 entries.

The oldest knife Bill has handled to date was made between 1870-1880.

"I like anything old," he says. "In this business, knowledge is power." He points to the shelf above his head. "And the key to it is having all the books."

Much of his personal knife collection is under glass. They are lovely Remingtons, which in the 1920s and 1930s was the leading manufacturer of quality hunting knives, Bill says.

He also has a fondness for WWII combat knives, many of which were made by GIs dissatisfied with the government-issue blades. One he showed me has a handle made of stacked pieces of airplane windshields.

tools

Bill also picks up knives at auctions, yard sales, and gun shows - a lot of dealers carry knives as a side line.

You'd think that with a full-time career as an insurance salesman and a parallel part-time career as a blade trader, Bill's life would be completely full. But, no, that's not the way it is.

He's just finishing a four-year term on the North Country Union School Board, and for the past ten years has been president of the Derby Historical Society and a member of the Northeast Kingdom Human Services Board of Directors. Plus, there are all those auctions, yard sales, and flea markets.

What does Nancy, who is a teacher, think of all this?

"Well, she likes the extra money it brings in...we're going on another trip soon."

And what does she collect?

Bill laughs. "Pocketbooks and shoes...don't print that."
 

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