Many people are aware of the classic SOG knife. Carried by soldiers during the Vietnam war, the SOG knife has become a piece of military hardware as prolific as the M-16. But what is the origin behind this knife? Why is it so well known by civilians and veterans alike? What the heck does SOG mean? Our WorthPoint Worthopedia® has over 12,000 examples of SOG knives listed, so folks are collecting them! Keep reading to take your knowledge of these military knives to the next level.
The Birth of a Legend
The SOG knife was first developed by Ben Baker during the Vietnam War. At the time, Baker was the Deputy Chief of the U.S. Counterinsurgency Support Office, a government office tasked with the support of removing potential allies of the Viet Kong. Baker developed the knife specifically for the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam – Studies and Observations Group (MACV-SOG). Obviously, no one had the time to say the name of this top-secret military unit, so it became colloquially known as the SOG.
Baker named the knife after this acronym, and it persisted even after the commercial development of the SOG knife. In 1986, Spencer Frazer founded the SOG Specialty Knives & Tool, Inc. company and specialized in the recreation of the iconic SOG knife. Subtle changes have been made to the design of the knife over the years, including materials, blade design, and manufacturing methods. But the SOG knife remained as a vital piece of military gear as well as a civilian favorite for tactical equipment.
What is a SOG Knife?
The purpose of developing the SOG knife was to create a highly dependable weapon that could be used in a wide variety of situations, all while bearing no discernible marks that could give away the weapon’s origin. The first batch of SOG knives, ordered in 1966, was actually manufactured by Japan. The following year, the military doubled their order due to how effective the SOG knife was in the field.
There are basically two schools of thought when it comes to the term “SOG knife.” The first claims that no knife is a SOG knife if it wasn’t developed specifically for the MACV-SOG operations before and during the Vietnam war. This is similar to the idea that any sparkling white wine manufactured outside of the province of Champagne, France, isn’t really champagne. The second school of thought claims that a SOG knife can be any kind of knife manufactured for MACV-SOG operations or any knife that recreates the designs of the original SOG model.
“SOG” has become more of a general term for a type of knife, similar to how “army green” does not necessarily mean the green solely used in army clothing. Neither definition is necessarily wrong but, for the purposes of antiques and memorabilia, SOG does historically refer to the specific knives manufactured for MACV-SOG operations.
Identifying SOG Knives
Vietnam-era SOG knives have blades made of chrome-moly steel known as SK-3. This material is difficult to identify just off of appearance, but the Rockwell hardness rating of the metal after forging is between 55 and 57. Having this test conducted by an expert is one of the first steps to identifying a Vietnam-era SOG knife. The blades of these knives are typically six to seven inches in length. Because these knives were used for covert and clandestine operations, the blade is often darkened with a gun-blue finish, similar to modern rifles, to prevent reflecting light. The handle of original SOG knives are made of stacked leather, strips of leather stacked on top of each other to create a comfortable, durable grip.
Recreations of the original SOG design by companies such as SOG Specialty Knives can vary widely. The flagship model by SOG Specialty Knives is the most similar model to the original. It is made of SK-5 steel and features many of the same identifiers as the original, such as a stacked leather grip and gun-blued steel. Typically, recreation manufacturers of the SOG knife will include company logos on the blades of their knives. While there are many recreations and variations of the SOG knife, they are easily distinguished using maker’s marks, the Rockwell hardness test, and materials used.
It is very difficult to fake an authentic, Vietnam-era SOG knife. It would be more expensive to try and recreate a knife to the specifications of the original SOG’s than it would be to simply buy one. The real danger in purchasing a mislabeled knife comes from the buyer’s own ignorance. This is completely understandable as not everyone knows how to conduct a Rockwell hardness test, nor can the average person be expected to have extensive knowledge on sixty-year-old military weaponry. Having a piece verified by an expert is the most effective way to ensure a piece is authentic.
Take a Stab At It
It goes without saying that military enthusiasts would love this piece. Having a Vietnam-era SOG knife is like having a basketball used in the NBA playoffs or an Olympic medal. Just because there are tons of SOG knives on the collectibles market does not mean they’re not valuable. This is a piece of iconic military history that is only bettered by its practical history.
But, history enthusiasts would live this piece as well. The Vietnam war is history that many people have lived through. Having a piece of that history, whether you lived during the Vietnam War or not, is incredible. It’s like buying old cigarette machines even though you don’t smoke. It’s not about your individual participation with the piece so much as the piece’s past significance.
Genuine, authenticated, Vietnam-era SOG knives are by no means cheap. Their historical significance alone often commands prices upwards of $500, even into the thousands. Without any form of authentication, I would be very hesitant purchasing any Vietnam-era SOG knife priced lower than this. Because these knives are often sold privately, price does vary quite a bit. It’s possible that someone may have no idea that their knife can sell for over $1,000 easily. Replica knives are much cheaper, as they have no historical significance outside of copying an original design. The earliest replications, such as the S1 manufactured by SOG Specialty Knives, are often the most expensive replicas, with newer ones progressively decreasing in price. The rule of thumb for SOG knife pricing follows a basic rule: the older it is, the more it can sell for.
SOG knives are military history made manifest. The extensive use of the knife in the armed forces, as well as televised representations of the Vietnam War, has turned it into an icon.
Jack Rose is a 2019 graduate of Auburn University, where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Marketing. His abundant curiosity and excellent research and communication skills enable him to write on a variety of subjects.
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