Ask About Antiques/Antique Tools - Making Work A Little Easier

by Budd A. Moore, Ed.D.

Tools made possible all human advances in art, knowledge, and industry. The history of these tools, the ideas of the men who invented them, and the skills required for their use are all areas I feel it is important to preserve. Tools are an extension of the human mind - the capabilities of the tool not only extend and shape the ways we think of things, but limit our thoughts as well. Factories cannot produce without tools, and neither can any artist. I believe that a knowledge of tools and their use is a foundation upon which you can build anything - understand the tools involved, and you can create whatever you can imagine.

The scope, variety, and ingeniousness of tools is virtually mind-boggling. People have invented tools to do practically everything, and it would be impossible to try and cover the entire breadth. Instead, this article will describe some of the more popular areas of tool collecting, and provide information on how you can learn more about this fascinating piece of history.

Collectors interested in woodworking tools have many choices when it comes to areas of specialization. Probably the most popular woodworking tool to collect is the plane, a tool used to slice thin sheets of wood from a board to level it and square it before finishing. Planes are beautiful, many using exotic woods in their construction along with brass, gunmetal, bronze, and steel. Some collectors even specialize in just one type of plane - wood-bodied planes, for example, or planes used by coopers (barrel-makers). Planes were made by dozens of companies, abroad and in the United States, with the most prolific maker being the Stanley Company of New Britain, Connecticut. Much reference material is available on the Stanley Company as well as other plane makers.

Other popular woodworking tools to collect include rules, hammers, braces, chisels, axes, and levels, and there are dozens of other categories as well. While collecting, it is hard to avoid learning about these tools - who used the tools and for what, why they had to be designed the way they were, and why some of history’s poor tool designs didn’t go far commercially but are now valuable and rare collector’s items. Although the number of tool varieties can initially be overwhelming, once you’ve identified an area of interest it becomes fairly easy to determine who made a given tool (most are marked), when it was made (many have patent dates stamped on them), and - with the help of other tool experts - how much it is worth.

Finding the “other tool experts” is another fun part of the hobby. Several national organizations exist for tool collectors, the largest two being the Mid-West Tool Collectors Association (MWTCA) and the Early American Industries Association (EAIA). Besides their web sites, they offer periodical publications, membership lists, regional and national meetings throughout the year, and many other benefits all for a very inexpensive membership fee. I suggest you visit their web sites and become a member if you are seriously interested in this wonderful field.

Finding tools to collect is also part of the adventure. The usual garage sales, estate sales, and auctions are highly likely to have tools, as almost every household had some - even the houses owned by those with the least developed mechanical abilities. Most of the tools you find at these venues will be common models. In addition, several dealers hold annual auctions devoted specifically to tools, and prices at these can exceed $25,000 for the rarest and most beautiful models. The Internet also provides leads, of course, with many web sites devoted to old tools and several providing free information you can learn from.

One of the most enjoyable parts of collecting antique tools is meeting the other people interested in tool’s history. By far the vast majority of these collectors are polite, honest, and thoughtful individuals who are a pleasure to talk to, and who will freely share their sometimes hard-won knowledge with anyone expressing a sincere desire to learn.

* Auger, all brass except the cutters - $145
* Ax, broad - $150
* Coach jack - $110
* Draw knife, DB Barron, 1882 - $85
* Farrier’s Nail Box - $45
* Gauge, mortising, cherry with brass - $65
* Plane, Stanley - $95
* Plane, H Chapin - $75
* Steamboat Engineer’s Wrench - $55
* Tobacco Pike, brass - $45

Moore, Ed.D., is a specialist in the valuation of antique and collectable objects of the last 100 years. He is an educator, counselor, and avid antique enthusiast as well as a candidate member of the American Society of Appraisers. He has been a collector of antique American Art Pottery and has been a dealer for over 20 years. He is familiar with nearly all lines of American Art Pottery, twentieth century glassware, Art Deco, and Art Nouveau categories. He can be contacted at