A sharp collection
Fishtown resident showcases and sharpens his knife collection on Frankford Avenue
By Lindsey Nolen
Walking down Frankford Avenue, pedestrians will notice a variety of shops, bars and restaurants, but almost directly across the street from Heffe Tacos rests a yellow house with a window display full of weaponry. While people often stop and stare at the bladed tools with speculation, what they don’t know is they’re merely showcased additions to Fishtown resident Frank Ciocco’s 59-year-old knife collection.
Before Ciocco was born, his father had been stationed as an airplane mechanic in North Africa during World War II. After the war, he returned to Philadelphia with a collection of approximately 10 to 12 Persian and African-inspired knives he had accumulated during his time overseas, including khukuris — Nepalese knives with an inwardly curved blade.
“I remember he used to roll the knives out on the tarp which he stored them in down in the basement because it was dry down there,” Ciocco, who will turn 70 in September, said. “When I was around 8 or 10 years old, I loved watching cowboy shows on TV and became interested in the knives. I would ask to go down in the basement to look at them and ask to use them, and because my dad was not a stupid man he would say no.”
Knowing he wasn’t allowed to handle his father’s knives at such a young age, around this time Ciocco instead asked if he could add to the collection if he was able to come across any decent knives. His father agreed, and Ciocco began exploring the pawn shops on North Front Street, which no longer exist, for cheap knives.
“I would make money washing people’s marble steps outside their houses, and with my allowance I would buy broken-down, half-rusted knives for like $5,” Ciocco said. “I maybe added 10 or 12 knives to my dad’s collection.”
When he turned 18, the knife enthusiast decided to begin a collection of his own. He signed up for a Smoky Mountain Knife Works catalog and started buying the company’s knives whenever he had the money. Soon, he became the go-to guy around town and at his job at the Post Office at 30th and Market when it came to anything related to knives.
While some people didn’t quite understand his love for knives, others, like his second wife, just learned to accept it. For example, she allowed him to hang every one of his knives on the wall when they moved into a house on Allegheny Avenue. Here, Ciocco said there was only one rule — no arguing in the knife room.
“My second wife was actually from Tennessee where Smoky Mountain Knife Works is, and one time when we were down there visiting her family I got to stop by,” Ciocco said. “I was like a kid in a candy shop, and I told the guy I was with that I was going to need about three hours there. They had a different counter for every type of knife.”
After that trip, Ciocco shared his experience and new knives with all of his friends at the Post Office, who then began wanting to order knives from Smoky Mountain Knife Works themselves. Ciocco would agree to place their orders only if they agreed to pay for shipping, that way he could save a little money himself.
As his friends started accumulating knives of their own, he decided he would learn how to sharpen them since it was only a matter of time before his knives, as well as his friends’, became dull. Self-taught, he eventually expanded to offering his knife sharpening services, at a low price, to friends, family, churches and anyone who asked.
“Men will not let their wives use their tool boxes, but they think nothing of taking a kitchen knife for something then throwing it back in the sink with grease and all and expecting their wife to later use it to slice tomatoes,” Ciocco said. “They need sharpening and to do so you just bevel the edge, taking a little off of each side. When you look down the edge of a knife, both sides should meet in the middle.”
Now owning roughly 200 knives, Ciocco can be found sitting in a chair outside his front door for hours at a time throughout the week sharpening knives, and has no problem explaining what he’s doing when curious pedestrians cross his path. Currently working on a machete for his nextdoor neighbor’s son, he describes his hobby as “playing with his toys” rather than side work or a job that needs to be completed.
Although he has no plans to sell his knives yet, he’s considered entering the flea market scene with a friend in the future. For now, he’s perfectly content doing what he loves, appreciating how knives work and how they’re meant to operate.