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Collecting for a worthy cause

By Glen Liford, Editor 9/29/2017


The Co-op 4-H/FFA knife set through 2016 includes the following knives: first column, top to bottom: 2001 trapper (6254), amber bone; 2002 trapper (6254), red bone; 2003 mini trapper (6207), smooth bone; 2004 stockman (6318), amber bone; 2005 stockman (6318), magician’s knife, blue and green bone; 2006 mini trapper (6207), magician’s knife, blue and green bone. Second column, top to bottom: 2007 canoe (62131), harvest orange bone; 2008 stockman (6275), autumn barn board bone; 2009 (muskrat), chestnut bone; 2010 cattleman’s stockman (63090), Rogers corn cob jigged gray bone.
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This year’s introduction marks the 17th year of Co-op’s highly successful commemorative 4-H/FFA knife program. Over the course of the program, Co-op has raised $343,000 through the effort for 4-H and FFA programs. This amount is above and beyond Co-op’s traditional support of these youth programs.

One of the elements of the program that makes it so successful is the cooperation between Co-op and Case as joint sponsors of the annual knife and the promotional effort and support of 4-H and FFA.

“It’s been a fantastic partnership and is the envy of other states,” says Ryan Hensley, Tennessee 4-H Foundation executive director. “At national meetings, I get questions about how the program works. They see our social media posts and are very interested. Some folks just want to buy one so they can start a collection.”

When Co-op officials were developing the idea for the project back in 2001, Case was quickly recognized to be the preferred partner for the project. The knives made by the esteemed company are among the most highly prized by knowledgeable collectors. After more than 128 years in the knife-making business, Case knives are among the last to be still made in the U.S.A.

Maury Ford, vice president of sales operations with W.R. Case & Sons Cutlery Company, has worked with Co-op on the project since its beginning and has provided invaluable advice and insight in the selection of each year’s knife to be sure it would appeal not only to collectors but anyone who carries a knife or has an appreciation for both 4-H and FFA.

“The partnership on this knife has been one of the best that I have been a part of,” says Chance Martin, Tennessee Farmers Cooperative Home Lawn Specialty Department (HLS) product specialist. “We’re working together to help 4-H and FFA. Who would have thought that this knife would have become so collectible when the journey started more than 17 years ago?”

Case’s reputation for quality is a huge part of the knife-maker’s appeal. In 2004, I had the opportunity to tour the Case factory in Bradford, Pennsylvania, along with Joe Huffine, who was then Tennessee Farmers Cooperative Member Services manager, and Paul Arnette, who oversaw the knife sales as part of his role as a product manager in TFC’s HLS Department. We were able to see firsthand how the knives are crafted into collector pieces that resonate with collectors. Case’s skilled artisans assemble the knives by hand and take pride in turning out exceptional products. Joe, Paul, and I made our own pocketknife during the tour, and it’s among the most prized in my collection.

The same attention to detail is given to each 4-H/FFA knife. And collectors obviously recognize this. A recent search on eBay, the popular internet auction site, turned up several of the past knives for sale.

In some ways, this is not surprising. From the very outset, Co-op has been clear that after each year’s edition is sold out, there will be no more of that particular knife with its distinctive features made. That adds an element of rarity that collectors love.

This well-documented group of knives also gives collectors a sort of shopping list when they begin to search out knives to complete their set on the secondary market. It’s this hunt for elusive pieces that makes collecting challenging and fun. Co-op receives requests every year from people searching for previous releases, but we are unable to help. In the case of these knives, you must find someone willing to part with their earlier editions to complete a set. That’s not impossible, but it’s not easy.

Even if you aren’t able to complete the set, the knives are an ideal way to begin your own collection or introduce a child or grandchild to the hobby. Many Co-ops offer a wide selection of Case knives that may stimulate ideas for other knife collections, perhaps centered around a favorite pattern or handle material.  Keep in mind, whether you collect or not, Co-op contributes $10 from the sale of each knife to the 4-H and FFA foundations. That was the original purpose behind the project – raise money for the two organizations.

To assist collectors of the Co-op 4-H/FFA knife set, Co-op has put together a checklist of the commemorative knives. You can download it from Co-op’s social media pages. Happy hunting!

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