Collecting Antique & Vintage Tools
Probably even before the time of man tools have helped living organisms to perform an action that they could not have or allowed them to do more easily and efficiently a difficult or tedious task. Through time their use by humans has grown and become refined. The computer I use to write this is a perfect example of their evolution. The soul of the tool for the most part has been lost. They may be more economical, more durable or lighter, but the golden age is over. The beauty of a Davis inclinometer or a set of Stanley everlasting chisels is not rivaled in any equivalent mass produced tool today. The ornate brass plumb bobs of the Victorian era have no modern day counterparts. Fine older tools incorporated exotic hardwoods and ivory among a vast array of materials. Surfaces were carefully japanned, milled and inspected to impressive tolerances. Even the midrange tools at the turn of the last century were works of art, most with artfully decorated boxes or fitted wood cases lined with velvet. Metals were of a greater quality and retained an edge better then those of today. They required care and possibly even love and this shows when they are found and rescued by the collectors of today. It is evident people made their livelihoods with them, depending on the advantage they provided to the craftsman.
Today's collectors seek them out in spider filled basements during estate sales, at flea markets in dirty buckets of metallic detritus and even placing classified ads in local papers or putting notes on community bulletin boards in search of that rare example. Certain brands have achieved a cult like following such as Stanley, Snap-On, Winchester, and Keen Kutter. Wood Planes have been a favorite for many years now. Wood and ivory folding rules are very desirable. Some may collect just brass tools. A common material used in vintage tools. Whether admired for its simple genius or its overly elaborate complexity. An 1800's Gurley compass can bring thousands of dollars. It speaks of the men who chalked out the lines and borders that mesh to form this country so many years ago. An old tool has a story to tell. The story can be seen in nicks, bends and wear. There is a time line visible in the rust on a Sager chemical axe since it was used to take take down the massive forests of the Pacific Northwest. The sharpening that whittled it down and the chips on its edge illustrate its service years ago. These things bring a romance to the tool and entice the collector.
Many Old Tools are unmarked. Made by anonymous craftsman for a specific purpose without regard to recognition for their endeavor. To some there may be more of a romantic factor to these tools. The collector of these orphans seeks out similar examples and attempts to link the known factors together to assemble the tools story like an archaeologist attempting to asses the name of an ancient tombs occupant. Even though marked some tools histories have been lost due to fires at the factory, destroying the records or short lived companies whose priorities lied more in manufacturing than record keeping.
Many collectors collect as an investment. Often these treasures can be acquired for a song and when properly restored and cared for their values escalate faster than stocks or bonds. Tools, unlike many other collectibles are less subject to whims of the market. Their utility raises them above the level of a typical collectible as they have a higher purpose than just art for arts sake.
Tools and their use is considered to be an indicator of intelligence. The development of a tool is an impressive cognitive leap. To see a chore and develop an item to speed or lessen the work is a great advancement to the progress of betterment of a creatures existence. We have come to take tools for granted and to many of us the power they hold over our lives has been lost. The collector is made a little more aware of how we achieved our current place in the world and where we may be headed in the future. Perhaps that is why tools are something many become obsessive about.
By John Case-