Whether you collect civil war artifacts, Indian relics, pocket knives, or anything for that matter, you will soon look for a way to display that collection. It seems an almost universal display choice is the black cardboard Riker case with a glass cover and a cotton or Polyfoam liner. They are widely available, relatively inexpensive, and in most cases, provide adequate protection for your collectibles.
A step up from the cardboard Riker case is a hardwood framed case with a hinged lid, but still with the cotton or foam liner. Of course these are much more expensive (even if you make them yourself), though they do provide a greater degree of protection in return for the cost.
In my experience, neither of these choices work well for items of non-uniform thickness and weight. For example, a mix of small and large arrowheads displayed in the same frame. The heavier, thicker items compress the foam to a greater degree than the thinner, lighter items, and everything slips around – especially if the frame is hung vertically.
I was looking for something that was a compromise between the sturdier wooden and the cheaper cardboard cases. I also wanted to resolve the issue of material moving around in the display because of the compressible foam. To resolve the “shifting” issue, I decided to utilize rigid Styrofoam instead of compressible foam. Instead of hardwood display cases, I’m utilizing wooden cigar boxes that you can get cheaply at flea markets, antique stores and sometimes for free at tobacco stores.
I inlaid individual items into the rigid foam by tracing around the item with a pencil and then removing the material within the outline to provide a tight fit. Another hobby is wood carving, so I have a micro-motor similar to what your dentist might use. Equipped with a carbide bit, it makes quick work of removing the Styrofoam. Of course a Dremel would work equally well and just a good sharp knife will get the job done. The result is a custom fit for each item regardless of its thickness and weight in relation to the items around it. I find this particularly useful for my Indian relics. The cost is about the same as the Riker cases but the lateral support is far superior.
For some of the knives I collect, I cut the Styrofoam sheets to whatever size cigar box I’m using, rout out the foam to fit the shapes of the knives I’m displaying, cover the foam with velvet and press the knives into the recesses. It makes a nice looking but inexpensive display. Another benefit of using wooden cigar boxes for metallic collectibles is that the boxes were constructed especially tight to hold the humidity constant for the cigars they once secured. You can throw in a silica gel packet with your knives or metal relics, close the lid, and you have a moisture controlled display box!
Hopefully this will give you a few ideas and some inspiration to customize your own displays!