EXCLUSIVE: Why a West Palm Beach man took a 20-inch knife into Mar-a-Lago

Feb 01, 2018
  • By Ian Cohen
  • Daily News Staff Writer
Jim Barry (left) visited Mar-a-Lago on New Year’s Eve to present President Donald Trump with a handmade knife. Barry’s wife, Letha, and Donald Trump Jr. also were there for the presentation. Courtesy of Jim Barry

It just might be West Palm Beach knife-maker Jim Barry’s most-cherished photograph. He’s at Mar-a-Lago, standing beside a grinning President Donald J. Trump.

In Trump’s hands is the knife Barry spent months crafting by hand just for him: 20 inches, 4 pounds, 3/8-of-an-inch thick of cold, sharpened steel.

Barry looks at the photograph now, about a month after it was taken on New Year’s Eve, and sees a knife that he wouldn’t dream of selling for a cent less than $50,000, a knife with a handle made from 10,000-year-old ivory, a knife he invested months in creating.

Jim Barry presented U.S. President Donald J. Trump with this handmade knife on New Year’s Eve at The Mar-a-Lago Club. Courtesy of Jim Barry

DONALD TRUMP IN PALM BEACH: Latest news, photos, videos

But what he remembers most from that day, was what happened just after meeting the president at his Palm Beach home. After Trump left, a Secret Service agent pulled Barry to the side.

“I’ve been with Barack Obama for three years, and I’ve been with Trump for a year now,” the agent told him. “And I’ve never seen anything nicer that any president has ever gotten than what you gave him today.”

Barry, 75, first got the idea to make a knife for the president just before Trump was elected. He texted the idea to Trump’s son, Donald Jr.

Donald Jr. replied almost instantly: “That would be awesome.”

Barry and Donald Jr. met about 15 years ago in the now-closed Dewing’s Fly and Gun Shop, a high-end West Palm Beach hunting store owned by Palm Beach resident Jay Dewing. Barry sold his handmade knives through the store.

Read more: The man behind Trump’s new knife

Donald Jr. was fascinated with Barry’s knives. The detail. The artistry. The mirror-finish on the blades, the smooth, exotic handles made from woolly mammoth teeth and white coral.

He asked Barry to teach him to make a knife. He told Barry he was looking for a Christmas present for his brother, Eric, but there was nothing he could buy Eric that Eric couldn’t buy himself. Handmade knives were different. If he could make a knife for his brother, that might work.

Jim Barry presented a handmade knife to President Trump on Dec. 31, 2017, at Mar-a-Lago. (Meghan McCarthy / Daily News)

Barry warned him about how long it would take. Months, at least.

“I never thought he was actually gonna take me up on it,” Barry said.

Donald Jr. made 11 visits to Barry’s garage, three hours per visit, crafting a blade. By the fifth visit, Barry said Donald Jr. made an admission: There is no way Eric would get this knife. He had put too much of himself into it.

“And there isn’t enough money in the world for me to ever sell this knife,” Barry remembers him saying.

>> RELATED: Follow our Trump in Palm Beach Facebook page

Years later, near the end of 2016, the two decided to make a knife for the incoming president.

Over the course of several months, after he had finished forming the blade, Barry spent at least 160 hours dotting a tattoo needle on the knife’s ivory handle, forming an eagle’s head, eyes and beak. Barry estimated he dotted the handle 1.5 million times.

“It was a big project,” said his wife, Letha. “A big undertaking.”

But this was the president. This wasn’t just another knife.

>> TRUMP CAM:  Live view of Mar-a-Lago

Finally, after Barry had finished, Donald Jr. invited Barry and Letha to Mar-a-Lago on New Year’s Eve to give his father the gift. After being patted down by Secret Service agents, sniffed by dogs and clearing three security checkpoints, Barry greeted Trump with a 20-inch knife.

Barry said they spoke for about 15 minutes as Trump’s private secretary and Donald Jr.’s head of security snapped photos. Trump seemed very interested, Barry said. Flattered, even. Barry said Donald Jr. suggested the knife be placed in the Presidential Library, though he isn’t sure where the knife is now.

>> MORE: “Trump Squad” gets surprise invite to Mar-a-Lago

After Trump left, Donald Jr.’s head of security gave Barry a bronze secret service medal the size of a silver dollar.

“It’s not something that’s handmade like yours is,” Barry remembers the man saying, “but it’s quite rare.”

In the weeks that followed, Barry made a book documenting the meeting, with pictures of him talking with the president and giving him the knife. He made 30 copies to give to friends and family, including Trump and his son.

Flipping through the pages, Barry still can’t believe it.

Personal knife-maker for the president?

“That’s pretty hard to top,” he said.

>> MORE:

Safari Night Ball at Mar-a-Lago featured ‘the sweetest Trump’ and it wasn’t Melania

Trump again sues over property tax bill for Jupiter golf course

It’s on! Trump’s Mar-a-Lago guests on different sides of the Super Bowl

DONALD TRUMP IN PALM BEACH: Latest news, photos, videos