Monday, August 17, 2015
A Tool for Every Purpose
QUESTION: I’ve always liked old tools and would like to start collecting them. Can you offer any advice on how to get started?
ANSWER: For any collector, liking something is the most important thing. You should collect what you like. Doing so will build and keep your interest in your collection for a long time. That’s the difference between collecting and assembling a group of like objects. In the former, you have vested interest while in the latter you’re just adding them to a shelf or cabinet.
Old tools not only have value, they also have historical interest. You should always be asking how old they are, what condition they’re in, and how rare they are?
When it comes to tools, age is a major element. This doesn’t necessarily mean a tool’s actual age. What’s most important is age related to the particular type of tool. Planes are a good example. Many years before companies began manufacturing planes out of metal, they made them of wood. It’s very easy to find a wooden plane that’s well over 150 years old that, in good condition, may be worth only $25 dollars. The more modern version, which isn’t as old but is made of metal, can be worth many times that amount particularly if it’s one of the early models. So just because you have an old tool that you can date to the early 1800s, doesn’t necessarily mean you have a very valuable tool
The most important point to consider with tools is condition. This is the area among collectors where more confusion exists than any other. Look at how what you have relates to what was originally made. This can be looked at in two ways. First, is what you have totally complete? Are all the parts, cutters and anything else that came along with the original tool still there? One of the best examples of a tool that’s commonly for sale without all the parts is the Stanley 45 multiplane. The basic Stanley 45 came with 18 to 23 cutters, two lengths of arms, depth stops and in some cases a cam rest. Very seldom do you find a complete Stanley 45 for sale, yet in many cases, the asking price is that of a complete one.
After you’ve determined a tool’s completeness, the next thing to look at is its actual physical condition. Cracked or chipped handles or even handles that have been glued back together reduce the value. In some cases, people will substitute a handle or a part from another tool that looks about right. While this might make the tool useable, it detracts from the value for the true collector. Finish is also important. Having the original label still in place and the original metal and wood finish makes a tool more valuable. What detracts most from the value is when you can see signs of wire brushing or that the tool has been painted black or covered with some kind of other coating.
The "rareness" of a tool, as with other antiques, is also very important when determining its value. This typically comes down to how many have survived and are available for sale. In some cases there may be a limited relationship to how many were actually made. A good example of this is the foot-powered tools that were common in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. During World War II scrap metal drives, people donated many of these to be melted down for the war effort. Partially as a result of this, these foot-powered. tools are sometimes hard to find. In other cases, a particular style or type of tool may have only been manufactured for a limited period. This may be a result of a company going out of business, the tool not selling well or some external events such as a war that caused manufacturing priorities to be redirected. In most cases, it can usually be concluded that the more rare a tool is, the more it’s worth.
Tools, obviously, come in all shapes, sizes, and sorts. Each tool has been designed for a different job and so the variety is endless. In fact, even longtime experienced tool collectors will often run into something they haven't seen before. To make sense of all this variety, tool collectors have established categories of tools to help them focus their collections. In the broadest categorization, they divide tools into groups by the material they work—woodworking tools, metalworking tools, basket making tools, leather working tools, etc. They also further defined tools within each of these categories. For instance, in the woodworking tool category, there are edge tools, boring tools, measuring tools, woodworking machines, and so on. Within the machinist tool category, there are calipers, gauges, indicators, etc.
Tools can also be categorized in ways outside their intended purpose, such as by tool makers, patented tools, aesthetic tools, tools from a particular era or generation, tools made in a particular geographical area, tools made from a certain material, and miniatures.
Collecting tools can be daunting—and expensive—if you don’t focus on a particular type early on. But whatever type you choose to collect, always buy the best you can afford.