The subject covered here is something near and dear to my heart – provenance. Provenance gives "life to the knife". We have all seen claims of carry in just about every theater of war you can imagine. I am surprised we haven’t seen a claim of a Randall carried in the Revolutionary War! Nevertheless, provenance can add immeasurably to the desirability and accordingly often the price of an item.

We have heard the "buy the knife not the story" soundbite for some time now, and it has merit on many occasions, but I am saying buy the story - if you can back it up. For those somewhat in the dark, provenance for our purposes is defined as documentation, photographs, unit patches, citations, and any other items that support the “story” with the knife. Not all provenance references “military models”, but it seems those have the most and various types of available provenance say versus a knife used in the field hunting, camping, etc.

Documentation comes in many forms.

  • Order and shipping information can help establish a date of fabrication of a Randall. It is not all that uncommon to find a knife still in the posession of the original owner or an owner down the line that has preserved the original owner’s paperwork. Surprisingly, you often find this documentation signed by Bo himself!
  • A letter from the owner is also solid piece of documentation. Generally I try to get these notarized, but as time treks on, many of the original owners have passed away so it is getting harder and harder to get this type of documentation, at least with WWII and now Korean War era pieces. Note: If you have the opportunity to get a letter from an owner (or family member) of a knife from these periods, remember you may have to “help” them a bit as memories often are not as clear for these folks as it my be for some of us. Do your homework and be patient.
  • The DD214, or discharge papers, is also a great item to support a serviceman’s record in the military. This in conjunction with other items solidifies a man’s record serving his country
  • Citations (and patches) are another form of documentation or at least a supporting element to say a letter from the owner. This type of provenance really can put a Randall in theater and gives the knife a somewhat tangible history of service. Plus, these items are really great for display and give the observer a better historical perspective of the man and his equipment.

Photographs are perhaps the most difficult items to obtain, particularly photographs exhibiting the knife being worn by the owner. The farther back in time we go, the less likely you will be afforded the chance to find a photograph of a serviceman in theater wearing his Randall. Don’t turn down a photo of a man in theater even if it doesn’t show him wearing the knife. There are many, many more of those than photos that exhibit a serviceman wearing the knife, yet they are still a solid item in part of a total provenance package. It never hurts to ask, you would be surprised what a vet or family can turn up.

Lastly is blade etching of the owner’s name and sometimes his service number and/or unit. The majority you will find have had this done by the shop, particularly in the early days. You will sometimes though find a blade or a hilt that has been etched with an electric pencil or in the case of the hilt, it might be stamped. More than a few guys did this in theater. I would surmise this was most common on knives ordered or purchased off the shelf at one of the retailers during WWII, but you will see it on Korean War and Viet Nam era pieces also.

So in the end, provenance can really add the allure and collectibility of a Randall. While the “sock drawer” knife can be highly desirable purely from a condition standpoint, it is not always the end all for many collectors. Although that is all some collector’s will consider, I believe those guys may be missing out.

I believe it is fair to say that there is a large percentage of "crossover" collectors. While some focus on the sock drawer piece only and condition is paramount, and others might seek out carried pieces only, I believe that many experienced collectors will take any good piece as long as there is something that interests the collector about that particular item. One thing for sure, irrespective of which path you follow, and as the old saying goes, there is a butt for every seat.

In closing I must say though that the "best", I repeat the "best" Randall Made Knives I have ever seen, were “used” or carried pieces.

Notarized letter from Huey Gunship pilot in Viet Nam

Examples of photographs in Viet Nam that came with a #14

Photo, unit patch, and name tag off flight suite. Viet Nam era.

Erroll Flynn mid-1940's wearing a what appears to be a 1-6" but another photo shows it being a Commando model

Citation letter from General Westmoreland