A Question: What do SwissAir, the Boy Scouts of America, the Sierra Club, and Canada all have in common?
Answer: They’ve all had beautiful Victorinox Swiss Army Knives sporting their logos at one time or another.
In Part 1 of my two-part article on how a lifelong interest in Victorinox Swiss Army Knives gradually turned me from accumulator to collector, I mention a few of the SAKs I have with interesting inlays and logos. When I wrote those two original articles, I didn’t expect them to get much attention, this being a blog primarily about watches, but it turns out I’ve struck something of a chord; watch fans and SAK fans alike have reached out to me on this subject! A few have been kind enough to leave a comment. In the time that has intervened since that post, I’ve picked up a few more SAKs that are just too neat to go unshared.
So here we have a post on a few more interesting VSAKs, some with metal inlays, some with engraved logos, some with hot stamped or pad printed scales, but all with charm and charisma to spare. In no particular order, here are some unusual Swiss Army Knives I hope you will enjoy seeing and perhaps keep an eye out for yourself. I’ll start off with a few special Pioneers.
The Speedy Pro of the SAK world, I adore the Pioneer and its identical siblings the Soldier, the Model 1961, the Wenger Standard Issue, and the Sturdy Boy. This is the model of SAK that inspired another two-part article on SAK collecting. They are 93 millimeters of Alox-scaled multitool design perfection; they are heavy duty, utilitarian, and affordable; they are also handsome and extremely cool.
An Old Cross ‘98.
I was fascinated by this otherwise ordinary “old cross” Pioneer that had a very unusual feature: the shank of its blade is date-stamped just as though it were a Model 1961 issued to the Swiss Army in 1998. The SAK itself isn’t too special — its scales are worn from use and carry, and its blade shows signs of pretty extensive wear and tear, but not abuse. Somebody clearly loved this knife and was no doubt heartbroken when it was lost or confiscated at the airport.
When I got it, the tools were very tight and the springs had a lazy snap. But investigation revealed that this was not from the usual gunk and pocket detritus. No, the poor thing looked like it had never been oiled once in its life. I followed my standard SAK resuscitation procedure and soaked it in a solution of Simple Green for a week, lightly scrubbed it inside and out, rinsed it, then allowed it to dry next to my dehumidifier for another week. Finally, I lubricated its friction surfaces with Victorinox multitool oil and restored an edge to the blade. The result is worn-in Pioneer perfection. Imagine finding that perfectly patina’ed one-owner Speedy Pro and getting a great price on it because someone thought it needed a battery. That’s what finding this SAK felt like.
A BSA Pioneer.
At about the same time as my ‘98 Pioneer was made, the Boy Scouts of America was selling some really cool VSAKs with the BSA logo inlaid into the top scale. These were mostly Cellidor-scaled Officers’ knives like the Tinker, Yeoman, and Mechanic, but they were also selling a Pioneer with the ubiquitous BSA fleur de lis engraved into a special panel on the top Alox scale.
When I first saw one several years ago, I wondered if it was a homemade one-off. But the more I paid attention, the more specimens I ran across, and of course the SAKWiki is always available for confirmation. Probably because they were originally owned and used by Boy Scouts, the few BSA Pioneers you run across today tend to be beaters. I passed on a few until I saw this one, a new old stock specimen complete with its box.
My own kiddo and I had a great time in Boy Scouts when he was growing up, and this Pioneer seemed like a cool way to commemorate all the awesome father-son adventures we had during his Boy Scout career. The BSA Pioneer being relatively rare, and only more so in NOS condition, this was a bit like finding one of the last tritium-dialed Speedy Pro’s in new-in-box condition just gathering dust in your jeweler’s safe. Your jeweler knows what it’s worth, and the guy next to you is looking over your shoulder, ready to act if you don’t. You wrestle with the decision for about 0.01 seconds, then just take action and resign yourself to sorting out the financial (and marital) consequences later.
A Commemorative Soldier from the Last Year of Issue.
In Part 2 of my article on collecting the Model 1961, I describe how this SAK was standard issue to the Swiss Armed forces from 1962 to 2008. After the Swiss government’s needs were met in any given year, surplus knives were sold on the civilian market as Victorinox Soldiers or Wenger Standard Issues. When the Model 1961 was replaced by the Model 2008, Victorinox released a commemorative edition of 5,000 knives of both the outgoing and incoming models.
Although I already had a very nice specimen of ‘08 Soldier, I couldn’t resist this one that came with its original box and manual. These are fairly common and not too hard to find today. However, their value is certain to go only one direction, so if you think you’d like one you should probably get going sooner rather than later.
I love collecting Pioneers and their little brothers, the Cadets, today. But my first love where SAKs are concerned were the traditional red-scaled Cellidor knives. Just seeing or holding one conjures up memories of a happy childhood spent hanging out in tree forts, riding bikes everywhere, and camping. From the very first one I ever bought myself, an 84 mm Tinker, to my favorite model that I carried everyday in graduate school, the Scientist, and the one that accompanies me everyday now, the Yeoman, the so-called Officers’ Knives have been a daily presence in my life since boyhood.
These little icons of utility are like a universal language, instantly recognizable to anyone, and have been used and carried virtually everywhere on and off our planet for over a hundred years now. I will never stop looking for interesting specimens, no matter how rare or common, pricey or affordable, unique or mundane they might be. They’re just that cool.
A Maple Leaf Sportsman and a Hudson’s Bay Spartan.
I was in Toronto last fall, and happened to wander into a tobacco shop. As a younger man in the early 1990’s, I worked in a similar shop in Michigan and so knew them to sometimes hold unexpected treasures. This one did not disappoint, as they had a large selection of new Victorinox SAKs. One of these, the Maple Leaf Sportsman, was on my mental need-to-find-someday list. Although a modern knife, they’re not available on Amazon and I hadn’t seen one on eBay either. So I was thrilled to find one in Toronto, at a great little shop right next to the very cool Irish Embassy pub. It was a good day.
Later in the week on that same trip to Toronto, I went into a Hudson’s Bay store specifically looking for a limited edition Spartan, the one sporting the department store’s iconic striped logo. This particular Hudson’s Bay had exactly one in stock, which I am sure was a sign from the SAK gods. Back to the Irish Embassy I went, to text my family and tell them of my good fortune.
A Scouter and Hiker from the First Canada Series.
A few decades ago, a Canadian wholesaler commissioned a very special, very limited series of Victorinox SAKs known retrospectively as the first Canada Series or Canada Series 1. Distinct from their actual Victorinox model names, the knives are known by their inlays as the Scouter (actually a Recruit), the Hiker (actually a Spartan), and the Alpineer (actually a Passenger).
They are rare to find today in any condition as, judging from their correct original boxes, they date to the late 70’s or early 80’s. Well-carried examples of the Scouter seem to appear most frequently, and I’ve picked up a couple to give to my fellow Scout leaders as gifts. But finding NOS specimens in their original boxes is virtually unheard of, at least by me, and at least until a few months ago when I lucked into two, a Scouter Recruit and a Hiker Spartan. Now I only lack the Alpineer Passenger, so if you’re reading this article and have one to spare please get in touch!
A final word on these beautiful Canada Series SAKs before moving on. One of their more charming features is the “ECONOMY” stamp on their shanks. At one point, Victorinox used the Elinox brand to denote the lower cost models (see my early Spartan above), but they dropped that name and started using the economy marking in the mid-1970’s. I guess Victorinox had their thriftier customers in mind with these models since they lack the superfluous toothpick and tweezers scale tools. In the case of these particular Canada Series SAKs, I find it ironic given that the stainless steel inlays were certainly not cheap to produce, and going to the trouble to mark the blades “economy” would certainly add expense, not save it.
A SwissAir Tourist.
Until its financial demise in 2002, SwissAir was the Swiss national airline. Its planes were iconic and recognizable, a veritable symbol of the country itself. It makes sense that such an enterprise would collaborate with an equally iconic Swiss brand like Victorinox, and over the years numerous VSAKs were produced and sold with the SwissAir logo. I’ve seen nice user/carrier specimens go for around 50 bucks depending on the day, and was excited when I stumbled on a NOS specimen still in its original box. Although not even close to a do-or-die SAK for me, I’ve always thought they were cool, so I threw a half-hearted bid of $30 on this one and was surprised to win it. Sure, you can pick up brand new modern examples of the Tourist all day long for under 10 dollars, but that’s not the point here, is it?
Judging from the tang markings, box style, and the fact that the airline ceased operations in 2002, this very tidy 84 mm VSAK would appear to date to the 1990’s.
A Sierra Club Climber.
My family and I have maintained our support of the Sierra Club for years. Founded in 1892 by visionary Scottish-American conservationist John Muir, the Sierra Club promotes values and causes that we think are important. However, I usually decline the cheap premiums they offer to lure my membership renewal. I mean who really needs another flimsy daypack or cause-related grocery bag? Not me.
When I saw this knife sitting quite lonely in a relatively unwatched listing I was intrigued. The scales were quite beat up but the tools looked to be in decent shape. The seller, one I’ve bought from many times, had a buy-it-now of only $15 on it, so I thought “what the heck?” When it arrived I was amazed to see two things. First, the tools are virtually unused. The knife has its factory edge and the springs have that like-new snap. I concluded that this piece had been bouncing around in someone’s backpack or glovebox, but hadn’t ever really been used. But the second thing that’s very interesting about this knife is the Victorinox shield and cross logo on the top scale, which appears to be in nickel silver.
Victorinox discontinued use of this material for this device in the early 1970’s, but the implements and tang stamps would appear to date this knife to around the early 1980’s and certainly no later than 1985. I suppose it’s possible that something has discolored the stainless steel shield and cross logo, causing it to look like nickel silver, but the Sierra Club logo itself is totally unaffected if this is the case. So, something of a mystery SAK, and I’m thrilled to have it in my collection. Imagine if the Sierra Club offered this as a premium today.
This concludes my post on some of my more recent VSAK finds. As always, I value reader comments or factual corrections. Thanks for reading!