Wenger Standard Issue (Soldier) Swiss Army Knife

Wenger Standard Issue (Soldier) Swiss Army Knife

The Swiss companies Wenger and Victorinox have both been around for over 100 years, and both have been “official” knife suppliers to the Swiss Army.

Unlike the red polymer scales (handles) and myriad polished blades and tools, which are what come to mind when one thinks of a “Swiss army knife”, the actual folding knife issued to Swiss soldiers was quite different.  The Soldier, or Soldat (Soldier in French) model, aka Model 1961 (Wenger also called their civilian version the “Standard Issue” or “SI”), was made by both companies from 1962-2008.  The production year was marked on the back side of the main blade tange (base of the blade). 

Above: a Wenger Standard Issue (civilian version with bail)

Wenger later made a commemorative version from 2011-2013.  In 2009, Victorinox introduced a modernized, new Soldier version that is 111 mm in length.

Frequently referred to as “Alox” or “Aloxy”, in reference to the alloy “scale” (handle) material, these silver-handled knives were longer (93 mm) than the common red plastic scale knives (85 mm) that typify the “Swiss army knife.”  They also are limited to just four implements, or tools.

See SwissKnives.info for lots of details on the Soldat and other Swiss Army knives.

See also SAKwiki for detailed specs on nearly all Wenger and Victorinox knives, variants, pics, catalogs, etc.  It’s a remarkable resource.

Wenger was acquired by Victorinox in 2005 and in 2013 the Wenger knife brand (and rounded-square shield emblem) were dropped, making Wenger knives suddenly more collectible than their nearly-identical Victorinox counterparts.  I had a Wenger pocket knife in the 70’s, so I’ve always been inclined to Wengers over the (now) more popular Victorinox.  Note that the “round bottom, square top” shields used on the Soldats is the Swiss crest, and thus the same on both the Wenger and Victorinox versions.  For the most part, you can’t distinguish between a Wenger or Victorinox Soldier without opening it up, except for some of the variants described below.

  
Above: Victorinox (top) and Wenger (bottom) examples of the Soldier; only the civilian version of the Wenger ever included the bail (although it didn’t always include one).  Note that both manufacturers use a Swiss shield, not the Wenger or Victorinox company emblem shields.

One of the distinguishing differences between and many Soldat versions are the rivets – coming in either solid or hollow form.  Hollow rivets were often used on the end opposite the shield so that a bail (metal hook, as my Wenger has) or fabric lanyard could be attached.  The military versions never came with bails, and eventually stopped coming with hollow rivets.  

 

Above: a 1979 Victorinox Soldat with a hallow rivet and inspection stamp; often you see these with no stamp, but still with the square box where the stamp belongs.  Note that there is no bail.

  
Above: Wenger solid rivet version (top) and hollow rivet with bail (bottom) variants; the bail is easily removed if desired (or if trying to make a civilian version look like the military version!).

Though silver is the most common scale finish color (yes, the first ones were red), non-Soldier models were produced in many colors – particularly the Victorinox versions (such as the Cadet, Farmer and Pioneer models). The orange ones are particularly attractive.  Earlier models of the Soldat used all-silver shields.

  
Above: Victorinox Cadet alox models

eBay is about the only place to find the now-discontinued Wenger Soldier/Standard Issue knives; expect to pay at least $50-65 for a “new” old stock.  If you can’t find one, then the currently produced Victorinox Pioneer version is less expensive, easy to find and just as nice.  Still, there’s something cool about the bails on those old Wengers!

  

London Undercover City Gent Umbrellas

London Undercover City Gent Umbrellas

Just in time for Father’s Day comes the nicest umbrella your dad (or you) will ever need.  London Undercover is a London-based company started in 2008 to provide well-designed “British fashion accessories” like the City Gent umbrella range.  While US$150 sounds like a lot for an umbrella, there are plenty of $350 umbrellas on the market that seem comparable in quality (to my admittedly untrained eye).

  
above: London Undercover’s City Gent Lifesaver umbrella in brown/olive (image: londonundercover.co.uk)

When I was an undergrad in college, the first rainy spring semester changed my attitude toward using (and carrying) an umbrella – a full-sized, stick (non-collapsible) umbrella at that!  A navy, wood-handled umbrella at the university bookstore caught my eye.  There was only one left and the wood had a small split in it, which somehow seemed to add to its character.  I used that umbrella for four or five years until it was misplaced, and I simultaneously joined the Gore-Tex shell trend of the 90’s!  Stick umbrellas are vastly superior in function and durability than collapsible versions, as long as the length doesn’t cause you too many issues.  Like many people, I still keep collapsible umbrellas stowed away for “emergency” use.

I still like to wear a waterproof shell a lot of the time, but a jacket doesn’t keep your bags, pants or shoes dry – and a wet jacket gets your car seats wet, too.  I think everyone should have a decent stick umbrella in addition to a quality waterproof shell jacket (and a pair of L.L. Bean Maine Hunting Boots).

So back to the umbrella – for Father’s Day I asked, and received, a London Undercover City Gent Lifesaver umbrella, which is a part of their City Gent range.  The Lifesaver Range is named for the British Lifeboat rescue services, with the colors representing those of the service – orange, dark navy and brown (aka olive).  The City Gent umbrellas use malacca wood handles and beech wood shafts, metal tip cups and spokes, as well as bronze ferrules.  The Lifesaver variants feature a slightly darker “gunmetal” finish on the metal parts and a very functional bright orange elastic button fastener.

   

When I picked up this umbrella, the first thing that struck me was that it was neither heavy nor unbalanced.  All that wood just “looks” heavy and my old umbrella was handle-heavy.

 

London Undercover umbrellas are not easy to find in the U.S.  You can order directly from London Undercover’s online shop, or from one of several UK sites.  Mine was bought from Stuarts London; see also Mr Porter.

Cycling Coins

I’ve compiled a list of bike-related coins for you coin collectors! These are actual currency coins issued by government mints, not private commemorative products. Many coins are offered in multiple versions, such as uncirculated clad and 0.90 proofs – these variations are listed in parentheses. Compositions refer to silver content, i.e. 0.90 is 90% silver.

Note that apparent black or dark field (background) of the coins in some of these pictures is just the photographer’s way of capturing the detail contrast on the highly reflective surfaces of uncirculated coins, particularly the mirror-like finish of proof coins.

Great Britain
2011 London 2012 Olympics, Cycling, 50p:
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Isle of Man
1996-97 Cycling, 2p (3rd portrait Elizabeth):
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1998-99 Cycling, 2p (4th portrait Elizabeth)

2003 Athens 2004 Olympics, Cycling, 1 crown:
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2008 Beijing Olympics, Cycling, 1 crown (0.925 proof, 1/2 and 1/25 oz 0.9999 proofs)

2010 Olympic Cycling, 1 crown (clad):
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2012 Olympic Cycling (London Olympics), 1 crown (clad, 0.925, 0.9999 proofs):
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2012 Mark Cavendish, 50p, (clad, 0.925 proof):
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Italy
2009 Giro d’Italia 100th Anniversary, 5 Euro:
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U.S.
1995 Atlanta 1996 Olympics, Cycling, $1 (Unc, 0.90 proof):
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Canada
1974 Montreal 1976 Olympics, Cycling, $10 (0.925 proof):
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1974 Montreal 1976 Olympic Velodrome, $10 (0.925):
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Australia
2000 Sydney Olympic Cycling, $5 (Unc):
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2006 Commonwealth Games (Unc):
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France
2003 Tour de France 100th Anniversary, 1.5 Euro, five variants:
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Korea
1988 Seoul Olympics, 10000 won:
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Russia
1978 Moscow 1980 Olympic Cycling, 10 rubles (0.90 proof):
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Andorra
1994 Atlanta 1996 Olympics Track Cycling, 10 diners

São Tomé and Príncipe
1996 Atlanta Olympics, 1000 dobras

Belize
1984 Olympic Cycling, $20 (0.925 proof)

If you know of any that I’m missing, please let me know!

The Silver Bar Post

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With the recent drop in precious metal prices, a lot of first time buyers are getting into the market right now, filling up their sock drawers with silver coins. After a series of long discussions with friends and co-workers, I sat up late last night formulating this post to try to address the myriad questions that come up when talking about buying precious metals. I tried to keep this as concise as possible, so I had to limit the level of detail – do your due diligence and read up on the subject from multiple sources and points of view.

Why precious metals?

Think of precious metals as highly liquid, higher-yield versions of your cash assets (money market accounts) in your 401k. Given the joke rates that cash savings accounts and CD’s are paying right now, precious metals are, in fact, one of the few ways to make real earnings on liquid assets. Yes, the metal market plunged recently, but those were mostly recent gains – more of a market reset than anything, and prices are still higher than 5 or so years ago. Nonetheless, this shows that metals are not 100% liquid – you may be forced to hold them for a few months or years during times like these.

Paper or Plastic?

Lots of metal heads will rant about paper metal bonds that are not backed by any physical metal. Don’t get too freaked out by this – none of your stocks are backed by anything solid either. Nonetheless, owning mine or mineral stocks means fees and usually less liquidity. When you buy physical precious metals, they will arrive encased in plastic, often as part of an assay certificate. So, no – you don’t get to open them and play with them. But you can walk right out your door and sell them to a local or online dealer any time you want. The main advantage of buying your own physical metal is no brokerage fees, one less middle man, better liquidity and control. The main drawback is that you bear the burden of secure storage ( more on that later).

Gifts

I think precious metals are very cool gifts for new babies, marriages, graduations, birthdays, etc. They are not as gauche as money, and since they are investments, they are thoughtful and can get people in the right state of mind for saving and investing. Plus, kids think coins and silver bars are cool. Trust me, a $26 bar of 0.9999 silver gets more ooohs and aaahs than a $100 sterling knick-knack.

Gold vs. Silver vs. Platinum vs. Palladium

I’m not even going to touch this. There are so many arguments on all sides of this, it’s impossible for me to offer meaningful advice, except this: don’t believe everything you read. For every good argument you find, you’ll find ten other counter arguments. Plus, metal hoarding tends to bring out the wacko in all of us, myself included.

I can, though, comment a little on the relative buy and sell prices of silver and gold, particularly with respect to their spot prices. Since silver, at the time of this writing, sells for about $25/oz while gold sells for $1450/oz – it’s difficult to compare their pricing side-by-side. So I went to a few metal broker websites and wrote down their selling and buying prices quoted for several forms and quantities of silver and gold, then I calculated the % difference between these two prices and I was surprised at the results. In short, both metals have similar buy-sell differentials as long as you compare 1-5 oz of silver vs. 1/4 to 1 oz of gold. The smaller, 1/10 oz gold coins were a bit of a rip off because their relatively low re-sell price compared to their high purchase price.

I like silver because you can easily buy it in a variety of forms, in easily sellable “denominations” that equate to $25, $125 and $250 (at today’s prices). At $1450 for 1 oz of gold today, denominations of $2900 and $5800 are tough for 98% of us, plus you are instantly exposing yourself to $100 fluctuations in the value of your single piece of metal. And, again, that $1450 piece of gold is going to sell for $2000 down the road, which can be a lot more difficult than selling several 10oz bars of silver for the same net $2000.

Nonetheless, diversification is always a smart idea – so you should buy some smaller “denominations” of gold (1/4 or 1/2 oz) and lots of moderate “denominations” of silver (1 to 10 oz), with a few pieces of platinum here and there just for the bragging rights.

Look over the 1 yr, 5 yr and 10 yr spot price charts for these metals, and note the differences in trends and volatility.

Quantity

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Buying metals in large quantities is a double-edged sword. Higher quantities always have the advantage of lower prices per oz, approaching spot prices for large bars. Both coins and bars are discounted based on the number of pieces purchased, but also on the individual piece weight. Bars have the advantage in the latter case, because they are available in very large weights such as 1 kilogram. Coins are rarely offered in weights larger than 2 or 5 oz, and 1 oz coins are the standard. In contrast, 5 oz and 10 oz bars are commonplace.

In my previously mentioned buy-sell price analysis, I also examined the effect of unit quantities and price differentials. For silver, even though there is a linear relationship between unit (bar, round or coin) weight and “% over spot” purchase price, there is a similar differential on the re-sell prices, so the effect of unit weight isn’t huge; in other words, buying and selling one 10 oz bar only has a very slight advantage over buying and selling ten 1 oz bars. For gold, there was a stronger effect, up to about 1 oz. As I previously noted, for coins, 1/10 oz bars carrying a high cost penalty, so I would stick to 1/4, 1/2 or 1 oz coins, going with the highest denomination (weight) that your budget allows.

But large quantities, in particular large indivisible bars, can be difficult to liquidate quickly. In addition, aside from the American Eagle, Canadian Maple and Austrian Philharmonic coins, large quantities require 1099 reporting to the IRS when sold. Pre-1933 coins are also exempt.

Back on the positive side, purchases over about $2000 from online sellers often get you free insured shipping.

Finally, many online sellers have minimum purchase requirements; if you find a great price, but your budget is limited, the required minimum purchase may determine the amount you purchase.

Go in together with your good friends or family members to buy a large amount in one transaction, so you get quantity discount and free shipping without bearing the full cost yourself. Needless to say, you should only do this with people that you trust and are close to.

Payment Methods

Many sellers offer “cash” prices that are around 2% below “invoice/list” prices that are charged when using a credit card. The reason should be obvious – credit card transaction fees are about 2.5%, so the sellers are just trying to recoup that cost. While “cash” often means wire transfers, money orders or bank transfers – all of which carry fees – sometimes “cash” prices include personal checks. This can be a great way to save money on your purchases, so long as you’re not in a hurry: though sellers may require you to send payment postmarked within 24 hrs of purchase, they are still going to sit on your order until your check clears. Credit cards have the advantage of speed, traceability, dispute and fraud protection, and also often 1-2% cash back (or other) rewards that may offset the slightly higher purchase price.

Storage

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I won’t get into storage contracts with sellers or other warehouse type arrangements, since I presume the 2%ers with $100k in metals have people that take care of that sort of thing for them, rather than reading my blog. A $35/year small safe deposit box at your bank is a no-brainer, and you should have one anyway with the originals or copies of all your important documents inside. If you start hoarding silver bars, you’ll fill up the typical small safe deposit box within your first few $k of metal. Plus, many banks have limitations on the amount of insured precious metals in certain boxes – so ask around and make sure you have the right size and type of box. You should also drop $120 for a heavy-ass safe at home that will give any robber a hernia before he moves it a foot. It took me and my neighbor both to move mine in place. Again, you should have one anyway for your important stuff, and God damn is it fun to spin that big dial and open it up to see the glittery metal that you have not yet moved to the bank. I like to keep a few bars and coins on hand just to gaze at and stroke fondly from time to time, but I keep the majority in my bank.

Coins vs. Bars vs. Rounds

Notes: coins are government issued money with legal denominations ($1, $5, $20…); rounds are made by private mints, just like most bars, and are not legal tender.

This is another Pandoras box. Coin investing is in itself an art form. I list a few arguments for each below. One thing I will discount is the argument that the $1 face value of coins somehow imparts some magical inherent value on them in the case of the collapse of the paper dollar. Really? Give me a break.

I also group bars and rounds together, as my buy-sell cost analysis has shown that there is little difference.

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Advantages of Coins

1. Government-minted coins are sometimes easier to sell, and arguably more difficult to fake
2. Coins often come in more weight options, particularly for gold (1/10, 1/4, 1/2 oz), although often these are from private mints
3. Higher selling prices (albeit with higher purchase prices than bars)
4. A few government coins can be sold in any quantity without requiring the buying dealers to file a 1099 with the IRS

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Advantages of Bars

1. Less expensive per oz; silver 1 oz bars are usually less than 8% over spot (however, selling prices are lower than coins) – compared to 15-30% over spot for coins
2. The sell/buy price differentials at any given time are much closer than those for coins, so there is less short-term risk; you must hold on to coins longer than bars
3. More compact than coins, especially in large quantities – particularly in rectilinear safes, deposit boxes, etc.
4. The larger weights available with single bars equate to prices closer to spot, allowing a buyer to approach spot prices much closer than any coin; however, upon selling, bars are indivisible

Novelty Coins and Bars

Don’t do it. Aside from pouring acid on your gold to test its purity, the only way that you can definitely ruin your return-on-investment is by buying a themed, holiday, baby, wedding, engravable or other hokey coin or bar. Not even a dealer wants to buy those. People want coins and bars that look expensive, with lots of 9’s on them, troy ounce units, serial numbers, industrial logos and fancy-sounding mint names. Not Donald Duck, flowers or your nephew’s name.

Approved Brand and Good Delivery Listed Silver Mints

You will only buy your metals from a reputable dealer that is also a U.S. Mint dealer (there’s a list on the U.S. Mint website, where, incidentally, you can buy collectors coins but not actually investment coins – go figure). Texas Precious Metals and Provident Metals are well-established on-line dealers (who buy and sell) and accept personal checks.

Further, you will only buy gov’t coins (U.S., Canadian, Australian, etc.) or privately-minted bars from mints that are listed on one of the two approved lists below.

Now, in actuality, there are several perfectly legitimate mints that are not on these lists, which have good regional reputations. Just do your homework. Northwest Territorial Mint is one such mint. In Seattle, you can move their product no problem. In NYC, bring a NTM bar into a coin shop and they might look at you like you have three eyes. OPM and Sunshine are two listed American private mints that offer bar and round bullion that typically sell for very close to spot.

In my previously-mentioned buy-sell price analysis, I looked at the effect of mint type, and found that there were three groupings: generic, unlisted mints (Scottsdale, Northwest Territorial…); listed mints ( OPM, Sunshine…); and listed brand name mints (JM, Engelhard…). The generic mints are less desirable, as their re-sell prices were lower than other mints, low enough to offset the benefits of their low initial purchase price. On the other end of the spectrum, the brand name mints had very high purchase prices that were not offset by proportionally high re-sale prices. So the best way to go seems to be listed mints with less well-known names. I am personally a big fan of OPM bars and rounds.

This is just a partial list of common mints; there are dozens of other listed mints. The names listed generally refer to the mint mark, not necessarily the corresponding company/producer name. Check the full lists:

NY = New York Mercantile Exchange (NYME) Approved Brand
London = London Market Association (LBMA) Good Delivery List

Britannia Refined Metals (NY, London)
Degussa (NY)
Engelhard (NY)
Heraeus (London)
Johnson-Matthey (NY, London)
Metalor (NY, London)
OPM (NY)
Pamp (NY, London)
Perth Mint/Western Australian Mint (London)
Rand Refinery (NY, London)
Royal Canadian Mint (London)
Sunshine (NY)

AbeBooks

I’ve been collecting old science books off and on for several years, mostly chemistry and alchemy related – but recently I’ve started searching out books on palmistry, phrenology, mysticism, hypnosis and the occult. These types of books can be extremely difficult to find in some places, but they were produced in large numbers in the 1800’s, so they are available if you look in the right place. Enter AbeBooks, a sort of Amazon.com for used (and new) books. Small book stores across the globe can list their inventories, and can search by any combination of keywords, title, year, author, etc to find seemingly rare books at good prices. Once you find any interesting title, you can search among all sellers for the best price or condition. I only buy books that are at least listed as good+ condition, and I rarely have to pay over $25. Most post services (including the USPS) have discounted rates for books, so shipping if often just a few dollars; even overseas shipping can be reasonable.

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Old professional subject texts make a cool gifts for friends or family who are doctors, teachers, scientists, artists, etc. – any profession. Be be forewarned – its hard not to spend hours on this site once you’re on the trail of a book!

Sportsvibe

I was over on Sportsvibe the other day, and bookmarked a few tasty wooden objets d’art for you to check out:

Wood Bicycle Handlebars by Bell Boy are made in NYC – I’m not brave enough to try them, so why don’t one of you give it a go and let me know how they hold up!
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Not bike related, but still nice to have around the house – for what? To ward off an intruder, for an sprained ankle or maybe to show off your old high school baton twirling skills – Brazos Wood Walking Sticks and Canes:
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Clankworks’ Perch Bicycle Hanger is the coolest indoor bike hanger I’ve ever seen:
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Their Pinch bike stand is equally cool:
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