Folks who attend EAIA meetings are certainly familiar with the work of master tinsmith Bill McMillen. Bill has given numerous talks and demonstrations at our meetings about his work and about his studies of the tinsmith trade. His summary of the subject, “The Tinsmith in America – The Trade, Materials, Tradesmen, Tools and Products,” was The Chronicle’s cover article in June 2013.
Bill grew up on Staten Island NY where his father was the director of the Staten Island Historical Society, an early member of EAIA, and also involved in the establishment of Historic Richmond Town. Bill subsequently worked there for many years prior to retiring to the Albany area a few years ago. In the early days, Bill accompanied his father as he went out on antique collecting trips and consultations regarding renovations/reconstructions of early buildings. While still young, and through these early experiences and his subsequent work at Richmond Town, Bill learned to look closely at objects in order to determine the original techniques that were used in their construction.
Bill’s first contact with tin work came in the mid 1970s with Don Carpentier, who had already set up a tin shop at Eastfield Village. If you’ve attended any of EAIA’s Trade Samplers during the summer at Eastfield, you’ve probably seen this shop. Shortly after this experience with Don, Bill began collecting the necessary original tools and set up a shop within Historic Richmond Town. That shop is still in operation.
There is an excellent DVD still available here that demonstrates Bill’s skill at tin work. There are also summer classes (“Tin 1” and “Tin 2”) held at Eastfield Village that are taught by Bill. I was able to participate in both courses several years ago, and I’ve now assembled my own tin shop with original hand tools and machines. I’m having great experiences making a variety of accurate copies of original tin items, and also occasionally engaging in what might be called “flights of fancy,” if not up to the standards of actual folk art. The latter isn’t something that Bill does very often, as he hews pretty closely to reproducing items that are known to exist, using techniques as close to those that were originally used as he can discern. He believes that spontaneity in making objects on a daily basis was fairly unusual for the 18th and 19th century tinsmith. The smith’s livelihood depended on making objects that people would actually buy, so what was made was what was expected by the clientele. One exception might be gift items intended for the 10th or “tin” anniversary and that might include tin top hats and ladies bonnets.
In order to supplement the information included on the above DVD, I recently visited Bill and Judy at their home near Albany and interviewed Bill regarding his techniques.
What will follow in subsequent installments is a step by step demonstration of the creation of a tin canister, shown in the photograph above.
Before proceeding, however, let me give you links to some helpful and free online books:
First: The Tin-Plate Industry, A Comparative Study of its Growth in the United States and Wales, by D.E. Dunbar and published in 1915 is an excellent source of historical information about the industry and the processes used to produce tinplate. Here’s the link.
Second: The Tinsmith’s Helper and Pattern Book by H.K Vosburgh, published in 1912 has a wealth of practical information about sheet tin, pattern production, etc. It can be viewed or downloaded by accessing the following link.
Additional information can be accessed at the tintinker’s website here.
The next post will cover the construction of the canister. In the photo above Bill holds the original and the completed copy. Stay tuned…
If you’d like to read other installments in this series you can read them here.
Continuing with the theme of tools from the Stanley Model Shop, here’s one of my favorites. This plane was designed and patented by Charles Miller. Not a lot is known about Charles Miller, but Don Bosse of Oakdale, Minnesota, has been researching Mr. Miller and his tools for years and has promised to put all that information together sometime soon and enlighten us all! We do know that Miller was born in Brattleboro, Vermont, in 1826, came to New Britain, Connecticut when Stanley purchased the patent for his “Miller’s Patent Adjustable Plow Plane” (Patent #104, 753, issued June 28th, 1870) and simultaneously convinced Mr. Miller to join the company. It appears he left Stanley’s employ in 1876, but in those few short years the woodworking planes he designed and more significantly, his elegant sense of design left an indelible mark on the Stanley Rule & Level Company. This plane was designed and patented by Charles Miller, but never made it into production. It’s a tonguing and grooving plane which is both elegant in its design and mechanically clever.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Miller had patented two earlier versions of tonguing and grooving planes. The picture below shows the first one.
Described as an improvement in match planes, it was patented on August 19, 1873 as Patent #142,307. The plane is made of cast iron with a copper wash and is 10½ inches long from the base of the rear handle to the toe. The plane was never manufactured by Stanley and was never offered in any of their sales catalogs. It was likely cast at the Russell & Erwin Manufacturing Company which was also located in New Britain, Connecticut. Russel & Erwin made fancy cast metal hardware and Miller probably chose to have the planes made at Russell & Erwin because they had acquired the rights to a “compression casting” technique that allowed them to create the intricate detail found on this casting.¹
The body of the plane with its arched double cutter was designed as a single plane which would allow the user to cut either a tongue or groove without having to adjust the cutter. What’s most impressive about this plane are the design features from the elegant “swan’s neck” that joins beautifully with the toe of the plane, to the intricate scroll work on the plane’s sides, to the rear handle which became one of Charles Miller’s design signatures; this plane just begs to be held, used, and admired. This one has the number “12” stamped on the toe of the plane suggesting it was the twelfth one made in the casting run.
Despite the fact that the plane looks as if it would have performed well, there must not have been too many made as only two examples are known to exist. Neither of the two known examples has the knob shown in the patent drawing attached to the side of the plane, but both examples have the spot for the knob outlined on the casting.
Miller’s second patent for “An Improvement in Tonguing and Grooving Planes” was Patent #165,355 granted on July 6th, 1875. Miller described this plane as…”a device which is, at pleasure, a plane for tonguing the edges of boards, or a plane for grooving the edges of boards to receive such tongues. It is a tool for use in making what is known to carpenters as “matched stuff”…”. The significant mechanical difference between this plane and the previous version was the incorporation of a spring-loaded “shifting guide” attached to a swinging fence which rotated set up the two cutters to cut either a tongue or a groove. The patent drawing incorporates the classic Charles Miller rear handle attached to a curved, flowing plane body with the “shifting guide” located near the center of the plane.
Stanley put this plane into production immediately but only after having Miller make significant modifications to what was illustrated in the patent drawings. The shape of the plane body was changed, the size of the spring-loaded “shifting guide” was reduced and it was relocated it to the toe end of the plane. A rosewood front knob was added and large knurled brass thumbscrews and cast iron hold downs were added to secure the cutters. The very earliest versions of this plane have the patent date stamped on the bottom of the plane. Listed as the Stanley #48 Tongue and Groove Plane it was designed to cut a 5/16ths inch tongue and groove. The plane sold well and in 1877 Stanley added the #49 Tongue and Groove Plane. It was identical to the #48 except it was designed to cut a 3/16ths inch tongue and groove. Stanley produced and sold these tools until 1942.²
And now finally, we return to the last version of Miller’s tonguing and grooving plane, the one that managed to escape from the Stanley Model Shop. It is 10 and 3/8 inches long from the base of the rosewood rear tote to the toe of the plane. It has the heavy knurled brass knobs to secure the cutters identical to those seen on the early versions of the Stanley #48. It has the Model Shop number 537 painted on the front knob and on the top of the rear tote. This plane is identical to the one illustrated in the patent drawing except that it has a rosewood front knob instead of the dimpled metal front knob shown in the drawings and the classic Miller metal rear handle has been replaced by a wooden rosewood handle. Miller was granted Patent #181,357 for this version of a tonguing and grooving plane on August 22, 1876.
This plane has a stationary guide and a secondary vertically moveable guide running parallel to the stationary guide. When the plane is being used to cut a tongue, the secondary guide is pulled up out-of-the-way by lifting the brass-headed shaft and the stationary guide moves along the side of the board as the tongue is cut. When the user wants to cut a groove, the brass-headed shaft is lowered and the vertically moveable secondary guide drops down between the two cutters. The plane is then run along the side of the board with the moveable cutter as the guide, resulting in a groove being cut in the board. It’s a clever and simple mechanism assembled in a beautifully machined piece of cast iron.
When I gently tried it out on a piece of soft wood, it worked very well. But, alas, this version of Miller’s tongue and groove plane never made it into production.
The Stanley #48 was probably less expensive to make in that it required less machining, it worked well, and was selling well. So, this delightful plane went back into the Model Shop and in 2005 became one of the favorite tools in my collection.
Paul Van Pernis
1. In the 1870’s, Russell & Erwin was using a casting technique patented by a Michael Smith (Patent #70,038, issued 10/22/1867) which combined casting molten metal under high pressure with the use of fine clay fired as pottery. This allowed Russel & Erwin to produce finely detailed castings for hardware.
2. The Stanley #48 and #49 were initially made with a japanned finish with the classic Miller rear handle. In 1898, Stanley changed the finish to nickel plating with a “fish scale” pattern on the rear handle. They are 10 inches long from the base of the rear handle to the toe of the plane.
Anyone from outside of Canada, including children, who plan on attending the 2015 EAIA Annual Meeting in Quebec City, Canada will need an up to date Passport or a Passport Card to enter and leave Canada. If you don’t have a passport, or yours is in need of renewal, it’s not too late. Got to www.travel.stat.gov/content/passports, and the forms to apply for or renew your passport are there. If this is the first time you’ve applied for a passport, the fee is $135. The cost for renewing your passport is $110. You’ll need to attach a picture to your application, but you can take one with your digital camera, crop it and print it in the required size and attach it to your passport application. It takes 4-6 weeks to process your passport application or 3 weeks if you pay an additional $60 fee. There’s a 24 hour toll-free number at 1-877-467-2778 to help answer questions. You can also visit your local U.S. post office to obtain or renew your passport. The U.S. post office website at www.usps.com/shop/apply-for-a-passport.html will give you the information you need.
There’s also a less expensive option called a U.S. Passport Card. These are valid only for land or sea travel between the U.S. and Canada, Mexico, Bermuda and the Caribbean. They can’t be used for international air travel. They are valid for ten years for adults (anyone over the age of 16) and for 10 years for minors (anyone under age 16). For adults the first time application fee is $55 and if you’ve had a valid passport in the past, the application fee is $30. The fee for minors is $40. You can apply for these also at your local post office or on-line at www.travel.state.gov/content/passports/english/passports/information/card.html. The time to process the passport cards is also 4-6 weeks.
So, if you’re coming to Quebec City for The Early American Industries Association Annual Meeting, May 13th-May16th, 2015, and we hope you are, get your Passport or Passport Card up to date!
In my last post I described a nice little curved bottom block plane made by Justus Traut that dated from 1897-1902. We know that Traut spent a lot of time thinking about hollow and round bottom planes and put considerable effort into developing a metal alternative to the wooden hollow and round planes that were commonly being used in the 19th century. The typical carpenter or cabinetmaker’s tool chest would have housed numerous wooden planes, each designed to perform a specific task. These tools were elegantly effective, but they were also bulky and heavy, particularly when it came time to move from one job site to another. Cabinet makers and carpenters built those wonderful tool chests we all know and love to house all those tools and to protect them from weather and damage as the tool chest was moved from one job site to another over rough roads in a wagon. If you were an “inventive” craftsman it would take only a few back straining hefts of your tool chest before you may have started to think about ways to get around the problem of having too many planes to carry around. Not surprisingly, as cast iron planes became more acceptable, several inventors in the early 1870’s developed “combination planes” designed to allow a single plane with interchangeable cutters, bottoms, and fences to perform the functions of several different planes.
In 1871, Stanley Rule & Level Co. introduced the Miller’s Patent Adjustable Plow Plane with an eye towards dominating the combination plane market. It was a crowded market with many aspirants claiming to have the best combination plane.¹ The Miller’s Patent Adjustable Plow Plane was not only beautifully cast with ornate Victorian designs but was also well engineered to produce excellent results. They were available in different configurations and finishes as the #41, #42, #43, #44, #143, and #144 planes. The #41-#44 planes were discontinued in 1897 and the #143 and #144 remained in production until 1943. Even today, these planes work very well and are a pleasure to use. Stanley bought the rights to Rufus Dorn’s Patent Skew Cutter Combination Plane in 1872. It didn’t perform very well and by 1873, Justus A. Traut and his workmen at Stanley improved Dorn’s plane and it became the Stanley #46. The ideas and improvements continued to flow and between 1873-1897. Stanley added the #45, #47, and #50 to their line of combination planes and indeed dominated the market. Traut and his workmen were instrumental in the development and success of these planes. He was granted 12 patents relating to “combination planes”. These planes did a fine job of rabbeting and plowing. They cut dadoes and could be used effectively for producing various molding profiles. But, they couldn’t cut hollows and rounds. Justus Traut was no doubt keenly aware of this deficiency and applied his mechanical talents toward solving this problem.
The plane shown in the Figure 1 appears to be Traut’s first attempt at a combination hollow and round plane. It was found in New England in a house occupied by a man who had worked at Stanley for many years and came to auction in 1997. The plane was found in a nicely made walnut box with a sliding lid that in addition to the plane held five hollow and five japanned bottoms for the plane. The stock of the plane is a simple but nicely machined piece of cast iron that is 7 and 3/16 inches long and 5/16ths of an inch thick with a longitudinal rabbet on one side that holds the interchangeable bottoms firmly in place. The nickel-plated handle is identical to the handle found on the Victor #14. The front of the handle drops over a small upright pin in the casting and a round head screw placed through the rear of the handle is screwed into a tapped hole in the casting. This combination firmly attaches the handle to the body of the plane.
The hollow and round attachments are very nicely cast, machined, and japanned. The japanning is almost 100% intact suggesting that these bases have seen very little if any use. The radii of the hollows are 3/8″, 5/8″, 3/4″, and 1″ (two of the hollows are in the 1 inch size). The radii of the rounds are 3/8″, 1/2″, 5/8″, 3/4″, and 1″. These interchangeable bottoms are held in place on the plane body by two brass screws identical to those seen on early versions of the Stanley #46 Skew Cutter Combination Plane.
Three of the hollow bottoms have a nickel-plated knob on the front end. Two of the knobs are identical to those found on a #17 or #18 Stanley block plane. The third knob is identical to the small knob used to hold the rear rod in position on a Victor #14.² As is typical of many of the Model Shop planes, Traut was scavenging parts from other planes manufactured in the Stanley factory to put together his working model.The slotted cutters are attached to the frog of each base by a single screw. The interchangeable bases fit snugly against the body of the plane, but even with the widest hollow or round base attached the plane is not well-balanced. There is no comfortable location for the forward hand to rest on the plane. This problem is exacerbated when using the narrower bottoms and makes the plane awkward to use. Traut no doubt was acutely aware of the problems with this prototype and moved on to redesign the plane.
The second version came up for auction in 2003 and was accompanied by a full set of 5 hollows and 5 rounds nicely japanned interchangeable bottoms. This version bears the Stanley Model Shop number 1564 on the tote of the plane and on two of the interchangeable bottoms. The 7 inch long japanned body of the plane on this version has the rear handle included as part of the casting and the interchangeable hollow and round bottoms are 8 and 9/16 inches in length. The bottoms are attached by tightening two small adjustable levers that are attached to the body of the plane. The slotted cutters are held in place against the frog of the interchangeable bottom by a single screw. The interchangeable bottoms that accompanied this plane and those on the first version of the plane are identical and can be used with either plane stock.
Traut liked this version of the plane enough that he submitted a patent application on June 3, 1878, and was granted Patent No. 206,507 on July 30, 1878 for the plane. In the patent he states that his plane, …”has for its object the production of this class of planes in iron, whereby they are more durable and as cheap or cheaper than wooden ones, and also to make one or two handles and frames answer for many stocks or for a complete set, whereby they are less expensive and occupy less space for storage than those heretofore made.” He claims as his invention the plane stock with the longitudinal rabbet, the two levers with both coarse and fine threads, and the slotted flange on the interchangeable bottoms. ( See Figure ). But this plane like its predecessor was not well-balanced, lacked a comfortable place to place the user’s forward hand, and was awkward to use. I am aware of at least one other identical example of this plane, but this one went back on the shelf in the Model Shop and never made it into production.
Traut played with this idea one more time that we know of as evidenced by the third version of this plane which surfaced at auction in 2002. This version came with only a single 3/8th inch round bottom attached to the plane and does not carry a Model Shop number anywhere on the plane. The japanned body of the plane is 7 inches long and like the previous example has the rear handle included as part of the casting. The interchangeable bottom is 8 and 3/8ths inches long, very nicely machined and japanned but does not fit on the previous two versions of this plane. Traut abandoned the levers seen on the previous example in favor of having the interchangeable bottom held in place on the stock of the plane by two flat head machine screws. On this version Traut added a small lever cap over the slotted cutter and both are attached to the frog with a single screw. The significant difference is that a circular thumb hole and finger rest have been added to the front of this plane as part of the casting of the stock of the plane. The thumb hole and finger rest make the plane more comfortable to hold, but like it’s predecessors this plane never made it into production.
Six years later, in 1884, Justus Traut was granted Patent No. 294,825 for the Stanley #45 Combination Plane. The #45 soon came to dominate the combination plane market but it still couldn’t produce hollow and round profiles. Shortly after receiving the patent for the #45 Combination Plane, Traut must have pulled his 1878 hollow and round plane down off the shelf and in a moment of inventive revelation determined that these very same interchangeable bottoms with slight modification could be used with the #45 without the problems inherent in the original plane. Traut made the modifications and Stanley offered sets of four hollows and four rounds to their customers in late 1884. Traut didn’t file a patent to cover these hollow and round bases for the #45 until January 1885, and the patent No. 336,674 was ultimately granted on February 23, 1886.³
¹See, Smith, Roger K., Patented Transitional and Metallic Planes in America, Volumes I & II, to see the wide variety of combination planes being introduced to the market at this time.
² Charles Miller and Leonard Bailey were granted Patent #165,356 on July 6th, 1875 for the plane that Bailey sold as the Victor #14 Combination Plane. Miller assigned the patent to Leonard Bailey. On the same day, Miller was also granted Patent #165,355 for a tonguing and grooving plane. He assigned this patent to Stanley. Both of these planes had rear handles essentially identical to the one seen on this Model Shop Hollow and Round Plane.
³ It’s of interest to note that the sets of hollows and rounds seen with these planes includes a 3/8ths inch size. This size was never produced in the hollow and round sets produced by Stanley for the #45. Dave Heckel’s book, The Stanley “Forty-Five” Combination Plane, 2002 provides an excellent review of the #45 combination plane and all of its special cutters and attachments.
Many of the tools from the Stanley Rule & Level Company Model Shop are marked with a number placed on the tool with white paint. This nifty round bottom block plane is no exception, bearing the number “64”, on both the lever cap and the body of the plane. One would like to assume that these numbers were applied to Model Shop tools in chronological sequence, but the evidence suggests otherwise. Early tools from the Model Shop can have higher numbers than later tools and vice-versa. So, to my knowledge no one clearly understands the numbering system that Stanley used for the Model Shop. If you understand it, please let me know!
This plane is 7 3/8″ long and 1 3/4″ wide with an apple wood front knob. The lever cap is japanned in the typical fashion, but it appears that the body of the plane was simply painted black and that paint has flaked off on much of the plane’s exterior. It is not unusual to see planes from the Model Shop that lack a finish. Stanley had weekly production meetings where these tools were discussed and examined so a final finish was not necessary for those deliberations It’s cast iron and has a curved sole. So it’s a “rounding plane”. Typical wooden rounding planes were made to span approximately 1/6th of a circle or 60 degrees of arc. This plane follows that pattern with the sole of the plane spanning a 60 degree arc. Based on the plane characteristics listed below, it appears that this plane was made between 1897 and 1902 in the portion of the Stanley factory run by Justus A. Traut.
It has a pivot lock lever cap. This lever cap was patented by Andrew Turnbull on October 13, 1897 (Patent No. 591,663). Turnbull was undoubtedly an employee at Stanley Rule & Level in the portion of the shop run by Justus A. Traut. Turnbull assigned the patent to Traut at the time it was issued. Traut was described in his obituary as the “Patent King of the United States” for the hundreds of patents he’d been granted while working at Stanley.¹ While there’s no doubt he was a brilliant mechanic, Traut had an uncanny ability to get his workmen to assign their patents to him or slightly modify the ideas of his workmen and turn those ideas into a patent issued in his name; but that’s another story.
The lever cap has been ground at the base to conform to the curve of the sole of the plane. Inside the palm rest area of the lever cap is found the letter “S”, which is a casting mark seen on Stanley planes and plane parts produced between 1893-1902. The cutter which has also been ground to match the curve of the sole of the plane has the “J” trademark stamped on the upper end, and that trademark is characteristic of block plane cutters produced between 1889-1907.² The plane has eliptical depressions on each side to provide a better grip. Traut was granted Design Patent No. 27,474 for this feature on August 3rd, 1897. And finally, the cutter adjustment mechanism for this plane is identical to the one shown in Patent No. 645,220 granted to Justus A. Traut on March 13, 1900.
Interestingly, Traut filed the patent application for this adjuster on December 10, 1897 about 3 months after Turnbull’s patent was approved, but the patent wasn’t granted until 28 months later. The reason for the delay between filing the patent application and the granting of the patent is unclear, but 28 months was a long time to wait for a ruling from the Patent Office back then.
The cutter adjustment mechanism allows for very sensitive adjustment of the cutter and Stanley began to use it on the Stanley #60 and #65 low angle block planes in 1898 even before the patent was granted. So, all of those characteristics date this plane to somewhere between 1897 and 1902.
But, does it work? I took a short piece of Western red alder and took the plane for a test drive. The cutter adjustment is very sensitive and the lever cap did a good job of holding the cutter firmly in place. The plane was comfortable in my hands and moved through the wood easily. As you can see, it cut a nice smooth groove in the piece of alder.
For me, it worked very well. We can only speculate as to why this plane didn’t make it into production, but two factors come to mind:
1. Making round bottom block planes of varying widths would have been expensive and would have required redesign of the lever cap and adjustment mechanisms for narrower widths.
2. Stanley was already making full sets of “Hollow and Round” attachments for the Stanley #45 that would perform the same function. Four paired sets were available with 1/2″, 5/8″, 3/4″ and 1″ wide cutters.³
So, this little plane got put on the shelf and eventually made it’s way out of the factory and into the tool collecting world. I like to imagine Justus Traut holding this tool in his hand after he and the talented craftsmen he worked with put this plane together for the first time. Wouldn’t it be fun to spend a day talking to those guys and watching them work!
Paul Van Pernis
1. See Smith, Roger K., Patented Transitional & Metallic Planes in America, Volume II, pp. 207-213.
². Roger K. Smith’s “Bailey Stanley Iron Plane Types” and “One Hundred Years of Bailey’s Excelsior Block Plane The 9 1/2 Family 1871 t0 1971”, by John Wells and Jack Schoelhamer are both invaluable when it comes to dating Stanley planes.
³. See Heckel, David E., The Stanley “Forty Five” Combination Plane, pp. 105-110.
The electronic age brought about tremendous revolution in so many industries. One of the most pronounced of these revolutions was in the world of the land surveyor. Surveying tools and methods had remained largely the same for two centuries. Distances were measured with steel tapes or chains, angles were measured with a sighting apparatus and a graduated arc or circle. Electronic devices now measure distances with light and radio waves and angles with a potentiometer. Constellations of satellites are used to pinpoint locations on the earth’s surface.
In the wake of this revolution are left behind the compasses, transits, levels, altimeters, tapes and a host of accessories once used by surveyors to measure the surface of the land. They have become collectible because not only are they beautiful specimens of fine craftsmanship, but they accomplished the mapping of the earth, provided the orderly division of land to individual ownership and rights, and provided the raw data for site development and the means to build our legacy of bridges, buildings, utility systems and all the rest of our infrastructure.
As with any other antique and collectible tool, rarity, aesthetics and condition play a large role in valuation. The instruments were finely crafted of brass and other metals with great precision. Before the industrial age, they were made by hand in small shops. As factory methods developed, manufacturers developed standard models that could be produced. Models varied for special uses, precision and pricing. In addition, most manufacturers made instruments of lower precision for the construction and farming trades.
A collector may focus on the extremely rare earliest compasses or special purpose instruments used for mining or celestial observations of great accuracy. These can cost thousands of dollars. A more affordable collection would involve those items that the average surveyor would have used to perform property surveys or topographic surveys. A fifty year old American made surveying transit may be available for a few hundred dollars and a nice surveying level for less. The list of collectible accessories is long including tapes, chains, plumb bobs, level rods and on and on. Many can be found for a few dollars here and there.
It is perhaps the quality of the optical scopes, level bubbles, fine adjustments and engraved graduated circles that makes one appreciate the craftsmanship of these tools. The brass and finishes make them attractive in a way. Considering the role these things have played in the settlement of the nation and in the construction of our landmark achievements, they command a respect not unlike that given the hand tools of our craftsmen. Both required a skilled and knowledgeable user.
The old tools of the surveyor show up at antique malls, flea markets, on line and auctions. Because of their precision and original higher cost, they were often retained by firms beyond their usefulness. Many collectors have a nostalgic affection toward the instruments they may have used or seen around during their careers. For those who do not know much about them, there are a few resources on the old tools, but much can be learned by seeking out old surveying textbooks and manufacturers’ catalogs and there are several forums online where collectors exchange information.
With the advance of technology at what seems to be the speed of light, there is much to admire about the tools of the surveyor left behind. The large American instrument making firms have largely succumbed to the advance of technology and globalization, but their old instruments display a beauty of machining craftsmanship created by skilled hands and used by skilled hands for centuries. Collecting these monuments to craftsmanship can become a passion.
I’ll readily admit it, I’m a “tool collector”. I’m fascinated with all kinds of tools, but learned early on that I had to focus my energies and tool collecting funds on a narrower field, so I chose woodworking planes. I love those early Leonard Bailey, Charles Miller, and Stanley Rule & Level Company planes. I’m a sucker for interesting or unusual early planes from the Stanley Model shop. My favorite reading material is the latest antique tool magazine, antique tool auction catalog, a book on antique planes or someone’s recent research on planes or a plane maker. Yup, I look for planes on the internet and I’ve practically worn out both volumes of Roger K. Smith’s, Patented Transitional and Metallic Planes in America, Volumes I & II. (If you’re at all interested in woodworking planes and you don’t have these two volumes, find them, buy them, and read them! They’re loaded with invaluable and fascinating information.) My wife correctly calls it an “addiction” and she describes my forays to tool shows, auctions, flea markets, antique malls and trips to EAIA, Mid-West or other tool group meetings as, “quality time with your tool cronies”. All true! For the past 40 years I’ve been adding planes to my collection and the basement “tool room” is pretty full. So, I thought it might be a good time to share some of the oddities, rarities and just plain interesting planes I’ve found over the years. So, I’ll call this “the first” in a series of blogs on planes that I find unusual, or unique from my collection. My apologies to my wonderful rhykenologist (A word whose origins are murky, but generally defined as, “a collector of woodworking planes”) friends who collect wooden planes and look with some disdain at metallic planes and consider them nothing more than door stops or boat anchors, but I won’t be discussing wooden planes. However, I’ll eagerly continue to read your research, articles, and blog posts.
This #2 size nickel-plated smooth plane first showed up at a flea market in 1992. I acquired the plane in 1998. It’s 7 1/4″ long including the overhang for the rear tote, 1 3/4″ wide and the cutter is 1 9/16″ wide. But, this little plane is different from the usual Stanley #2 in several ways.
First, it’s a very early version of this plane. Except for the adjusting nut, it has all the characteristics of a “Type 1” #2 plane meaning that it was produced between 1869-1872. (Roger K. Smith’s type studies of Stanley Cast Iron Planes are found in the books noted above and are a treasure trove of information on dating Stanley planes). Leonard Bailey obtained his first patent in 1855, and Stanley brought Bailey and his patents into the Stanley Rule & Level Company in 1869. Within a few years of Bailey joining Stanley, they became the world’s leading manufacturer of woodworking planes.
Secondly, the plane is nickel-plated. Stanley didn’t start nickel plating planes until 1888 when they nickel-plated the lever caps and front knobs on the #16, #17, #18, and #19 series of block planes. This plane predates those planes by almost 20 years. Leonard Bailey was always fascinated with nickel plating. and used it on many of his Victor planes. So, was this one of Bailey’s early attempts at nickel plating just prior to or shortly after he joined Stanley Rule & Level or was this something Stanley wanted to try? We don’t know, but everything on this plane including the body, the cutter, the lever cap, all the screws, the adjusting nut and the frog are all nickel-plated. While nickel plating the whole plane including the sole made for a flashy looking tool, it was certainly not practical. Over the years Stanley would nickel-plate many of its tools, primarily for display purposes and I’ve seen several of those tools. so, maybe this plane was made as a presentation or display piece as well.
And finally, this plane has a chamfered sole. these chamfers are set at a 45 degree angle. The chamfers may have been an attempt to reduce drag, but adding the chamfers without adding reinforcements would have weakened the joint between the body and the sole of the plane, leading to breakage.
I know of one other #3 size Stanley bench plane with a chamfered sole, but that one was not nickel-plated.
Apparently the workmen at Stanley weren’t done toying with the idea of a chamfered sole or had forgotten about their previous efforts, because another Stanley Plane with a chamfered sole turned up several years ago and I was able to add that one to my collection as well. It’s a Stanley #140 Rabbet and Block Plane. Stanley made these from 1895 t0 1943. They have a skewed cutter and a steel sidewall which can be removed by loosening two screws when the plane is to be used as a rabbet plane. When the steel sidewall is left in place the plane can be used as a block plane.
But, unlike any other Stanley #140 I’ve seen, this, like the #2 smooth plane also has a chamfered sole.
It dates to about 1905, and has no nickel plating at all. In fact it has no finish except for remnants of some gray-blue paint on the removable steel sidewall. The small tag attached to the plane gave the date 1905 and indicated that the tool was from the Stanley “Model Shop” where Stanley’s inventor’s and craftsmen developed and experimented with new or improved versions of Stanley’s line of tools. From time to time the management at Stanley instructed their workers to clean out the Model Shop and hundreds if not thousands of prototypes and experimental tools were thrown out or melted down. Fortunately for tool collectors some of these tools escaped the junk heap and went home in the pockets or lunch pails of workers who may have had a hand in the development process or simply thought they could make use of the tool. Over the years these “Model Shop” cast-offs have made their way to the antique tool market to the delight of tool collectors. Obviously this plane never got into production and was put on the shelf until it too was somehow “liberated” from the Model Shop. If you’ve got one of these planes with a chamfered sole, I’d love to hear about it!
Paul Van Pernis
This was the first Brown International Antique Tool Auction that was managed and put on by Jim Gehring, the new owner of Brown Auction Services. Although Clarence Blanchard and Mike Jenkins lent a helping hand, this was Jim Gehring’s solo flight.
Prices realized in this article include a 13% buyer’s premium. A 3% discount for cash or a good check. All photos are courtesy of Brown Auction Services.
The Stars of the Show
The solid ivory slide arm plow plane in lot 493 was in mint unused condition and sold for $41,810. It was clearly the star of this show. Not only is ivory a precious material, but it holds a place of honor in the tool world. Finding a plow plane made entirely of ivory is unusual and the plane is often reserved for special use as a special presentation piece.
Details of such a plane’s construction can often provide clues to its maker’s identity and date of manufacture. The key detail for this plane is the long diamond shaped escutcheon at the head of the arm to fence fastener. Other important details include: the absence of mortises for the arm supports, the forward extension of the fence and the handsome design of its front termination, the shape and construction of the brass collar at the ends of the arms, the “X” shaped ivory wedges in the arm ends, as well as the construction of the iron depth stop including the shape of its controlling turn screw. Searching through Rosebrook & Fisher’s book, Wooden Plow Planes, the only maker I saw using this detail (pp. 1, and 204) was A. Alford who worked in New York City from 1812 to 1817. He later continued his trade working from 1849 until 1853 under the name of A.&A. Alford Plane Company, Riverton, CT. (also see Thomas L. Elliott, American Wooden Planes, p. 17, and Nelson, Directory of American Toolmakers, p.20). When that company was succeeded by the Phoenix Plane Company in 1864, he joined them. The Phoenix Plane Company was sold to L.C. Stephens & Company and in 1901, that firm moved to Pine Meadows and became the Chapin Stephens Company. Competition from the makers of metal planes took its toll and in 1929 the firm was dissolved. Stanley acquired the Chapin Stephens line of rules but not the wooden plane business.
The second star goes to Henry W. Porter for the first American ratcheting bit brace to be patented. Porter was granted patent No. 17,769 0n July 7, 1857. The only known example of this unique and rare brace, lot 349, was in Fine condition and sold for $15,820. The brace is best viewed from the back as shown in Nagyszalanczy, Tools Rare and Ingenious on page 71 where you can see the ratchet mechanism and the direction selection lever. The brace has an auxiliary removable support inserted between the pad and the chuck which makes it possible to turn the chuck using only the pad. With the support removed the brace can be used in the typical rotary fashion. The patent drawing is shown in Ronald W. Pearson’s, The American Patented Brace, p. 43, or can be downloaded from your favorite patent search site.
Deluxe Plow Planes
Lot 498, the Greenfield Tool Company Rosewood Screw Arm Plow Plane, catalog No. 542 had ivory nuts, ivory locking washers and four ivory arm tips. It was in almost Fine condition and brought $5198. Construction of the Geenfield Tool Company factory began in 1851. At their peak, the company employed 60 t0 70 employees and produced 10-20,000 planes annually. Again, difficulty competing with makers of metallic planes forced the company into insolvency and on January 8th, 1883 they closed down.
The D.R. Barton Rosewood Screw Arm Plow Plane, catalog No.53, in auction lot 502 was made in Rochester, New York. It was in Good+ condition and went for $2712. This plane had “1832”, the firm’s founding date in the maker’s stamp on the toe. It also had laminated ivory and rosewood threaded nuts, rosewood locking washers, four ivory arm tips and came with eight original irons in a pocketed cloth roll. In 1873 at D.R. Barton’s peak, the U.S. Census Report showed they had 193 3mployees and capitalization of $200,000. In 1873 the company published a 65 page illustrated catalog showing the wooden planes and edge tools they offered. Their top of the line rosewood handled screw arm plow plane, No. 41, could be ordered with four ivory tips but they only offered plow planes with ivory nuts and/or threaded ivory washers in the W.W. Mack catalog. The D.R. Barton catalog included the story of W.W. Mack who became a partner in 1866, the successor of the D.R. Barton Company in 1875.
Lot 505, a Sandusky Tool Company catalog No. 141 boxwood self regulating three arm plow plane with 6 ivory tips was the nicest plow plane in the auction. It was in Fine condition and a very good value at $3,616. Sandusky was founded in 1869. They were one of the largest plane makers in this country and continued making planes until they closed in 1925. Their closure was brought about by several unprofitable years and the partial destruction of the factory by a tornado. This was a beautiful plane: the purchaser got a superb tool and a terrific value.
Interesting Metallic Planes
The Bailey Tool Company, No. B 71/2 inch non adjustable block plane, lot 523, having “Bailey Tool Comp” cast in its sole, in fine condition sold for $3616. This plane has a very unusual and distinctive wrap around lever cap.
Selden Bailey, who was president of the Bailey Tool Company but not a relation of Leonard Bailey, realized that his company was in financial difficulties and asked Leonard Bailey for help. Leonard Bailey suggested that the Bailey Tool Company improve their marketing by having “Bailey Tool Company” cast into the lever caps of some of their bench planes and into the sole of some of their block planes.
An Ohio 01C, a No. 1 size smooth plane with a corrugated sole, lot 534 in Good+ condition brought $3,390. This is a charming little plane and the only No. 1 size plane made with a corrugated sole. It is 5 1/2 inches long and has a 1 1/4 inch wide cutter. The Auburn Tool Company and the Ohio Tool Company merged on November 14, 1893 under the name of the Ohio Tool Company. See the Ohio Tool Company catalog, No.23 reprinted by the Mid-West Tool Collectors Association.
The Union Manufacturing Company No. 0 smooth plane, lot 645 was in Good+ condition and sold for $3,390. It is a No. 1 size plane, 5 1/2 inches long with a 1 1/4 inch cutter that has a Carleton and Trask adjustment, patent No. 763,721 dated June28, 1904. Although the plane has No. O cast on its bed, it really should have been No. XO with the X indicating the Carleton and Trask adjustment as was done on other Union planes ( see Patented American Transitional and Metallic Planes in America, Vol.I, p. 257 by Roger K. Smith). The Union Manufacturing Company was located in New Britain, CT. They were in business from1900 until 1920 at which time they were purchased by Stanley. See the 1905 Union Plane Catalog reprinted in Roger K. Smith’s, Patented Transitional and Metallic Planes in America, Vol. I, pp. 301-312 and the Union pocket catalog of about the same date reprinted by the Ohio Tool Collector’s Association, June, 1981.
A Leonard Bailey Victor No. 12 1/4 pocket block plane, lot644 with a nickel plated finish and with the inside of the bed painted a Tuscan Red was rated Fine, and sold for $4,746. Bailey painted the inside of many of the top Victor planes, usually those that were nickel plated with Vermillion Red which is a lighter and brighter shade of red; it was a mark of distinction. You can see examples of these two colors on Google.
The Stanley No. 1 smooth plane in lot 685 had a Sweetheart trademark and 98% of the japanning. It was in Fine condition and sold for $960.50.
The Stanley No. 9 miter plane, lot No. 281, with the side handle (hot dog) and the original box was in Fine condition. It sold for $3,616.
The extremely rare Stanley No. 10 1/4 C, lot 563, having a corrugated sole, 92% of the japanning, a tilting handle and front knob, and built in nickers brought $1,243.
The Stanley No. 11 bull nose rabbet plane in lot 574 was rated Good+ except for the 50% japanning. This example sold for $1,582. Although this plane waas made in the U.S. it was only sold in England and primarily to the home hobby trade. The unusual adjustment mechanism was based on the early 1876 adjustment fot the Liberty Bell Planes. The only listing of it that I know was in the “Catalogue of American Tools”, published by Charles Churchill & Company, London, England, November 8th, 1881. There is also a wonderful engraving of it with a supporting description in a popular book, Every Man His Own Mechanic, published by Lock and Company, London, circa 1880.
The Stanley N0. 212 veneer scraper in lot 688 had 96% of the japanning, a script logo on the plane and a “V” logo (1910-1918) on the blade. It was in Fine condition and brought $565.
Other Interesting Items
The G. Cuppers inclinometer in lot 118, patent No. 51,564, dated December 199, 1865, is one of only two known examples. It has a 360 degree dial, is a little less than 7 inches in diameter, supported between two decorative knee braces. It retained 98% of the original japanning, in Fine condition and is the one used in the article published in the Fine Tool Journal. It sold for &1,921.
The J.W. Byas hammer with a fist, lot 408, had a long iron handle receiver decorated with punch carving. It was in Fine condition and brought $1,582. It was made in 1985 in Vermont, Missouri. The end of the wooden handle is capped with a forged tapered iron sleeve and a hand holding a barbell. You can see it in Nagyszalanczy, Tools Rare and Ingenious, page 203, where it is called a “Hammer with a Fist”. The best part of this is that the forged barbell is loosely grasped by the forged fingers of the hand. It is floating freely and rattles around; it was very fine forging indeed.
Lot 333, the Daniel Cheney patented adjustable wrench and the original patent papers bearing all of the original signatures, seals, and ribbons, sold for $3616. The 1897 patent describes an adjustable wrench having a ratchet rack faced body with a sliding jaw that has a lever activated gripper. The gripper can engage and lock onto any item held between the wrench’s fixed and sliding jaw. Cheney was awarded two patents; No. 581,267, dated April, 27, 1897, and No. 611,771, dated October 4, 1898. The later patent was said to cover enhancements. Having a 19th century adjustable wrench is one thing but having one with the sealed and signed patent papers is a huge step up.
Have you ever used a Gillette disposable razor cartridge and thought to yourself — “Why don’t they do this with a bench plane? It would save me all that time I spent sharpening my plane irons…”? Apparently someone at Stanley in the 1960s was thinking along those lines….and whether you love or hate that concept this little plane has an interesting back story and provides some insights into how bench planes were developed at Stanley in the 1960s and the market factors that were applying pressure to the company at that time.
This little plane was designed to compete against similar disposable cutter planes from Sears or Wards. The competition was using 4 sided cutters, but Stanley reasoned that they could undersell the competition by selling two cheaper 2 sided cutters for less than the competition could sell a single 4 sided cutter. From Clarence Blanchard’s article “Stanley No. 140 Bench Plane” (Fine Tool Journal, Vol 53, No.2 Fall ’03) he mentions that the H140 (later renamed the H104) would likely have a list price of $3.50 to $3.75 as compared to the Sears or Wards catalog price of $2.98. So to me this sounds a bit like a failed attempt to use the Gillette sales model — wherein Gillette famously said “Give ’em the razors, sell ’em the blades.” Stanley hoped to sell a quality plane at an initial price reflective of that quality and make money on the sales of disposable cutters, but with a list price higher than the competition I bet that would suppress sales in the cost conscious handyman market. In a later memo from May 1961 (also from Blanchard’s article) after more details were worked out on the plane and initial manufacturing costs that plane was approved for production and now had a sales price of $2.25. I suspect this lower sales price is indicative of the planes drop from the top-line production to the “Handyman” line.
If this plane could have been delivered to market for that $2.25 I bet Stanley would have had a more popular plane on their hands. But from digging into some period advertising I found the above Stanley ad from October of 1962 — right about when we think the earliest of these planes were offered — it lists the H104 at a whopping $4.49 — which seems completely miss the mark in terms of pricing. This tool had some earmarks of a higher end tool, but was crippled in other areas to save on price. When it hit the market it came in too high at a time when the woodworking community was transitioning to hand held power tools in that segment, it is little surprise this tool did not find much of a home with tradesmen.
If you’d like to learn more about this interesting little plane — how it came to be and how it handled in action, I encourage you to check out a longer article by James A. Clarke of Hilton NY that I transcribed into a blog post here. A big thank you to Jim for sharing that content with me and a big thank you to Clarence Blanchard for allowing me to use and share a copy of his article in that post as well.
On February 25th, 2014, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service enacted Director’s Order 210 restricting the importation, exportation, and sale of ivory in the U.S. This order was reinforced in July, when President Obama issued an Executive Order committing the U.S. to step up its efforts to stop wildlife trafficking. It’s estimated that 30,000-35,000 African elephants are illegally killed by poachers each year and that these elephants face extinction within a decade if this illegal poaching isn’t stopped. China is far and away the biggest market for this illegal ivory followed by the state of New York and the state of California.
The goal of preserving endangered animals through the restriction of illegal imports seems straightforward, reasonable, and an admirable goal. But the issued regulations are convoluted and confusing causing tool collectors to wonder what all this means for the ownership, purchase, or sale of ivory containing tools they have in their collections. You can view the regulations at, www.fws.gov/international/travel-and-trade/ivory-ban-questions-and-answers.html. So what does this mean for tool collectors? Well, after clearly stating that I am not an attorney, nor do I work for any government agency, and I claim no expertise regarding these regulations, here’s my take on the regulations derived from my review of the regulations and multiple articles written on the subject .
The ability to meet these criteria prior to the purchase of an ivory containing tool could be very difficult since the vast majority of these tools lack provenance records. Not too many carpenters and craftsmen kept their sales receipts when they bought a tool 120 years ago, if they even received a sales receipt. In addition most of these tools have travelled from hand to hand over the last century. Ironically in the midst of these complicated regulations that could make the average tool collector feel like a criminal, the Fish and Wildlife Service while decrying the tragedy of the illegal killing of African elephants by poachers states that it will still be perfectly legal for hunters to import two “sport hunted trophies”( that’s two heads and four tusks) into the U.S. each year. That ivory is legal and not subject to the federal restrictions. It’s hard to square that with the stated goal of preventing further reduction in the numbers of remaining elephants.
For collectors living in New Jersey, New York, and California the rules are even more strict. New Jersey and New York have passed laws that go beyond the federal regulations by prohibiting the sale of ivory within both states. They do allow exemptions for antiques using the federal regulations listed above and allow the intrastate sale of musical instruments (string, wind and pianos) that were manufactured before 1975. Most American piano manufacturers stopped using ivory for piano keys in the 1950’s and 60’s. Problems could arise if you wanted to sell that old Steinway you inherited from Aunt Bertha and you can’t prove where the replaced ivory keys came from when the piano was restored back in 1992. California Penal Laws 653o and 653p which have been on the books since 1970 state – It is unlawful to import into this state for commercial purposes, to possess with the intent to sell, or to sell within the state, the dead body, or any product thereof,of ant polar bear, leopard,ocelot, tiger, cheetah, jaguar, sable antelope, wolf(Canis lupis), zebra, whale, cobra, python, sea turtle, colobus monkey, kangaroo, vicuna, sea otter, free roaming feral horse, dolphin or porpoise(Delphinidae), Spanish lynx, or elephant. Despite being on the books since 1970, the law was not vigorously enforced until 2012. In February of this year California agents “raided” a flea market confiscated some ivory items and issued citations to the owners. Two weeks later they entered the Slawinski Auction Company in northern California and confiscated ivory items valued at $150,000. The items were eventually returned after the agents examined all of the items and found that they were in compliance with federal law.
So what’s a tool collector supposed to do? The new regulations require the owner of the ivory containing tool to prove that the tool meets the federal requirements. So it’s very important that you read and try to understand these federal and stat regulations. You may also want to consider:
Is there any possibility these regulations will be revised? Yes, there are two identical bills that have been introduced in Congress. H.R. 5052 was introduced by Representative Steve Daines of Montana, and S. 2587 was introduced by Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee. The proposed legislation would allow the possession, sale, delivery, receipt, shipping, and transportation of items containing ivory that has been legally imported into the U.S. It would also specify that the federal regulations recently enacted may not “..change any methods of, or standards for, determining if such ivory has been lawfully imported that were in effect on February 24, 2014, including any applicable presumptions and burdens of proof with respect to such determinations.” Passage of that legislation would go a long way towards solving these problems for tool collectors and dealers. Your comments and encouragement forwarded to your Senators and Representative may help move this legislation along.
Well that’s my take on this issue. Remember, I’m no expert, just a tool collector, but the more you know the better. Proceed with caution! I’ll look forward to your thoughts and comments.
Paul Van Pernis