The good news is it won’t cost you anything to enter a knife lottery. The bad news is if do you win you’ll need to reach for your wallet. “The lottery is not a free knife giveaway,” explains Ernest Emerson, who for years has been running the largest knife lotteries in the industry. “It’s actually the privilege of being able to purchase a knife, though we do get people coming up to the table all the time asking: ‘does this mean I get a free knife?'”
“Supply and demand was really what it came down to”
At first it may seem surprising that people would enter a lottery just for the chance to buy a knife, but for Emerson it was a necessary solution to a simple problem of economics: “Supply and demand was really what it came down to,” he said. As his tactical knives caught on, he struggled to keep up with the growing demand. “Back in the 90s, what started to happen was there was a higher demand for my knives than I could build and bring to a knife show. Most knife makers have a running list of orders, and depending on how long that list is there might be a one year, two year wait. We ended up with a 12-year waiting list.”
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“It got to the point where there were actual fights”
The long waiting list wasn’t the only place where fans of his knives were piling up. When Emerson would attend knife shows, “what started happening was… people would literally be stacked up at the door like the starting gate at a horse race,” he said. “And the minute that the doors opened they would sprint through the show to get to my table, and grab as many knives as they could scoop up. It got to the point where there were actual fights.” ‘Table price’ for an Emerson knife – what he charged when you bought a knife from him – was much less than the secondary market price for a custom Emerson knife; scoring an extra knife from his table might pay for a collector’s entire trip to the knife show.
So, instead of taking orders that he couldn’t fulfill for a decade and dealing with crowd control, Emerson tried to find a better, more equitable way to sell his custom knives. “It wasn’t fair to those people who didn’t get there early, or couldn’t sprint the fastest to my table .. so we started putting a box on the table and taking names. We’d have a drawing at a specific time, and those people would get the opportunity to buy a knife.”
“We started to get complaints from the Fire Marshals”
The lottery quickly became more of a community event for Emerson fans and custom knife collectors, who gathered at shows like BLADE to throw their names into the hat. “Guys would be two or three aisles away from us, standing on chairs trying to see if their name got drawn. We started to get complaints from the Fire Marshals at the convention center.” Today, the annual BLADE Show lottery is held in its own ballroom and is something of a party, with winners celebrating with fine whisky shots courtesy of Emerson.
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Starting a few years ago, Emerson expanded the lottery online, to reach his fans who couldn’t make it to one in-person. “Not everybody who is an Emerson knife collector can go to these shows in the United States – we do have a lot of international fans, and these overseas collectors often don’t get a chance to pick up a knife at ‘table price,'” said Emerson. “They’re buying from a dealer who bought it somewhere else, probably at a markup, and that’s the market but it’s not totally fair. We thought: how can we address that?”
“We started doing online lotteries, we do two a year now where everyone who’s a member of the Emerson Collectors Association can get a chance at a knife – you can be in Japan, you can be in Norway, you can be in Antarctica, it doesn’t matter. In a virtual world, you’re standing in front of my table with a chance to pay table price for a knife.”
Knife featured in image: Custom Emerson Black Frog Commander