half-breed-indianIt’s one of the classic scenes in the film Tombstone.

The Earps and Clantons are facing off (no, not that faceoff … yet) after the shooting of Marshal Fred White. Doc Holliday staggers out from a saloon, a pistol clutched in his hand. Billy Clanton laughs at him, saying “You’re so drunk, you can’t hit nothin’. In fact, you’re probably seeing double.” Billy then pulls a big knife.

Doc responds by pulling a second pistol: “I have two guns, one for each of ya.”

Okay, so a knife can’t do everything.

But on the frontier, it was a remarkably versatile tool. Sure, it was used as a utensil for food. It could kill and skin the food, if the animal in question wasn’t too big or too feisty. It could create other tools, such as fishing poles, spears and even wooden knives. It could open cans or sacks. The sharp tip could bore holes in things. The flat side could be used to pound objects—say, nails or small spikes. It was often used for crude surgery (kids, don’t try this at home). Oh, and it could be used to inflict serious injury on a rambunctious acquaintance—like Doc himself did in Denver in 1876 during a gambling argument with Bud Ryan. Ol’ Bud ended up scarred for life (and probably less likely to get into a fight over a game of chance). Doc was fined $30 and court costs, and made a hasty exit from the Mile High City.

But the knife often transcended mere functionality. Many were art objects, created by a master artisan to grab the eye of the beholder. Wonderful designs were etched into the blade itself. Handles were often made of ivory or precious minerals, and some were inlaid with jewelry or gold or silver. Many handles were personalized to meet the desires of their owners. It was almost a shame to get blood on the thing.

Many are still fascinated by fine knives. Collectors prize them (and drive up prices). And there are plenty of Average Joes and Josephines who have carried knives since they were kids.

What we feature here is a selection of knives for the collector and non-collector. This is where form and function meet the beauty of art. No, it’s not smart to pull a knife on a guy with two guns (personally, I wouldn’t pull a knife on anyone, period). But a person with a knife still has an edge.

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