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- In Search of Antique Tools
In Search of Antique Tools
- Photo: The Best Things
2. Patented planes. The late 19th century brought the Age of Invention, along with thousands of patents. “All kinds of weird planes emerged,” Lee says, “and they are considered hot for collecting right now.”
3. Collecting by Manufacturer. This category often overlaps with patented planes, but collectors view it as focused more on the products of a particular manufacturer than on the patents behind the tools. Stanley planes are by far the most commonly collected (along with all the company’s tools), but other manufacturers, like Sargent, are also collected. Part of Stanley’s appeal is its history. Founded in the 1850s as a manufacturer of rules (now called rulers) and levels, the company made its fortune after buying the rights to the patent for an adjustable metal plane from Leonard Bailey. “It was the most successful iron plane design of all time, and Stanley went from an obscure little company to a big name in a relatively small amount of time,” Lee says.
4. Infill planes. Tools of remarkable precision and quality, these British metal planes were made in the early 1900s, a time when industrialization saw many handcrafts disappear. The most widely recognized makers are Thomas Norris and Stewart Spiers, though lesser-known makers proliferated, some of them offering tools of similar quality. “These were kind of the last word in smoothing planes,” Lee says. “A good one would cost a week’s wages for workmen at the time, and only the best craftsmen would buy them. They were incredibly well made.”
Measuring Tools. Collectibles include everything from squares and bevels to gauges and rules. Several books on rules published in the last decade have fueled added interest in this category.
Levels. These common tools were sometimes works of art in themselves. Designs range from the straightforward to cast-iron styles with intricate filigree patterns and gold painted trim.
Saws. Beautifully weathered handles and a patina finish on blades put this category in a nostalgic cut above others. Collectible types include crosscut, rip, back, and coping blades. Disston was the most successful saw maker of all time, and like Stanley, it has a collectors’ following of its own. Many smaller makers flourished in the US and Britain and just like with wooden planes, some collectors strive to have examples of as many makers as possible.
OLD VS. NEW
Under the category of frequently asked questions is whether new or old tools are better. Lee explains that 19th-century society focused on handwork, and their best tools were state-of-the-art. In the 20th century, things moved toward manufactured goods and mechanization, and the emphasis on making great hand tools was gone. “For the most part, I think old tools are better, but there are some small makers out there today making amazing tools,” he says. “The Blue Spruce Tool Works, for instance, makes chisels that are truly as good as the best antique chisels, with steel that is better than what they could make in the 19th Century. There are others, but this is the exception”
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