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by Bernard Capulong on Friday, Feb 28, 2014

Bernard Capulong

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by Bernard Capulong on Friday, Feb 28, 2014

It’s 2014. Most of the pocket knives shown on the site are modern folders, so today’s review should be a refreshing and interesting departure from the norm. The kind folks at Great Eastern Cutlery have sent me their River Boat Gambler “melon tester” pocketknife for this review. It’s not your granddad’s pocketknife, but it very well could be!

Great Eastern Cutlery (GEC) specializes in producing authentic, high-quality, classically American pocketknives from the early to mid- 1900s. This particular model, the #891212 River Boat Gambler in American Walnut exemplifies their approach very well. At a glance, it’s a beautiful slip joint folder, at a modest 4” closed length, with clip point and pen blades in 440C stainless steel. Knives of this format, commonly referred to as “melon testers,” were popular in the early 1900s. Great Eastern Cutlery’s offerings preserve that traditional styling and spirit in the knives’ construction and materials. However, the River Boat Gambler boasts a more modern 440C stainless steel to better withstand rust and staining, while still keeping good polish, sharpness and edge retention.

Taking a closer look, the fit and finish of the knife is impressive and meets, if not exceeds expectations of a traditional slip joint. Overall, the knife has heft and substance, and its impeccable construction gives the handle the feel of being one solid piece. The whole handle is actually an assembly of a beautiful, rich, American walnut wood handle, along with liners, springs, and so on. Each layer interfaces with the next flushly and evenly. The overall attention to detail, such as in its fluted bolsters and layers fitting tight tolerances reflects the great craftsmanship of GEC products. Other details include an acorn-shaped shield, identifier stamps on the tangs, and the GEC trademark on the body of the main blade. As a disclaimer, the knife comes in immaculate shape, but in the photos shown here, the knife exhibits a week or so of wear from testing and everyday use.

The knife opens using nail nicks on both the clip point blade and the smaller pen blade. Deployment of the main blade is smooth, with enough resistance in the backspring for a deliberate opening that doesn’t feel difficult or labored. The smaller pen blade features a 90º half-stop, and like the larger blade, snaps nicely into place with satisfying clicks — to use an old-timer expression, it “walks and talks.” In handling the knife, no wobble, grittiness, or play can be found in the pivot and backsprings.

Unlike many older melon testers, which normally have much longer blades, this model features a more modest 3” blade, which lends a little bit better to common EDC applications. However, keep in mind these knives were popularly used with the specific purpose of cutting out chunks of fruits to test their ripeness, and do well with food prep in general. The blade is sharp enough for such tasks, but is not as sharp as more modern knives with advanced steels. By lacking a pocket clip, the knife can really only be carried “deep pocket” or in some sort of pouch. I would recommend using a pocket slip or sleeve of some sort to not only protect the rest of your gadgets from scratching, but also to protect the knife’s finish and to keep it in place. Furthermore, as a slip joint knife, it lacks any locking mechanism. Given its slim profile and classic handle materials, it also does not provide an aggressive grip. As a result, it’s better suited as a gentleman’s folder for light use, as opposed to survival, self defense, and so on.  One advantage of foregoing a modern ‘tactical’ folder for a more traditional pocketknife is that the knife draws less negative attention, looks less threatening, and likely complies with more laws than other knives on the market.

Overall, the #891212 River Boat Gambler by Great Eastern Cutlery makes for an excellent option for those looking for a high-quality traditional pocket knife. While it doesn’t offer the latest and greatest technology in its design, it functions well as a light use knife and its traditional design and nostalgic appeal would make a great addition to any knife lover’s collection. Great Eastern Cutlery offers other traditional knives in different styles, handle materials, steels, and more. Be sure to check out their products at their shop.


#891212 River Boat Gambler, American Walnut Wood ($100)

#reviews #knives #great-eastern-cutlery #gec #featured #gec-gambler #gec-slip-joint-folders #riverboat-gambler-knives see all

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Discussion (3 total)

SCWillson ·
I own three GEC knives (#92, #82, #77) and they are all superb examples of the knifemaking art. Beautiful and functional.
Rob Hamilton ·
Beautiful. Exactly what this sort of knife should be, discreet, well-made, capable.
Justin Hinton ·
Love the looks of this knife. hope to win so I can review it!