Fine collector tools

P1210280 The recent post I posted on tools being unfairly acquired fired a little ambiguity surrounding the message. My concern was someone having say a tool collection with value of £5,000 and someone telling the owner that they weren’t worth hardly anything and offering £50 with the intention of selling them for the £5,000. Taking advantage like this becomes an ethical and moral issue and fairness should in my view prevail. In the heat of the deal and the desire for quick gain we can lose sight of fairness. That said, if the £50 is all we can afford to pay then surely this is a place for honesty and integrity to prevail. The person may be willing to sell the tools for the £50 knowing that they will be repaired, restored, used recycled or whatever. Different reasons surround the buying and selling of tools. P1210892

The discussions surrounding users and collectors can get heated. Mostly it depends on tool-type availability, which of course means scarcity commands higher prices paid by collectors and rarely affordable to would-be users. This can cause conflict because the interests are of concern to the differing parties. P1200635 I’m a collector of user tools so clashes are rare for me. Almost all of my tools are in user condition but I have a couple or more I have pensioned off but still pull to task if I want to. There are some tools that would and could be working but are indeed just too beautiful or too rare to put into service. Works of art, creative mastery being preserved in a collection, there’s a place for such things. How the collections are shared or not then becomes the issue. Mostly these tools were never intended to be used. P1200640 They were intended to exemplify the finest working of the toolmaker. He might have only made small batches; even just ones. It still saddens me to see even photographs of ivory planes and parts to tools. Never knew of the cost to life when I was young. There are of course plenty of rare collectables not made from rare woods and materials.

P1200638 In the Museum of the History of Science in Oxford my life was enriched by the amount of scientific instruments there are to view and of course the amount of wood used to build and protect the instruments.  It’s an amazing day out for anyone interested in wood and science and the instruments we relied on in the pre-computer, pre-plastics era. As with almost all well preserved collections, the collections started out with a collector anxious to preserve beauty and creativity and investigation into the world we live in. Perhaps sometimes nostalgia wins out. Seeing collections is most often a reward to us and without collectors there would in many cases be no record of what really mattered to our culture.



  1. Hi Paul,

    Your pics reminded me of this past week. I was visiting my father in Florida and snooped around his garage and found old but in very good condition tools that his father owned. I asked my father if I could take some home and long story short, next summer when I visit him again I plan to ship the entire tool box back to my house in PA. I was fascinated to see these old tools in pristine shape that are unfortunately no longer produced for workers. I learned that my grandfather on my dad’s side was a model maker for GE (General Electric). He would start from scratch and design and make, using sheet metal, small scale models for appliances that GE wanted to mass produce. He needed to make jigs as well if the building of let’s say a toaster required him to do so. I always knew he was some what of a engineer but never knew the entire story. I guess this is where I get my love of woodworking as well as the feelings that I have been having lately for design. I guess it makes sense that some of my favorite projects are the shooting board and rabbet plane. On a side note, I finally finished my bench with a record vise. All that planning has given me the skill to make solid and square legs for my try at the coffee table project. Thanks again.

  2. I guess I am a user and then collector second. I have a Stanley 71 open throat, an ECE style router, a hag’s tooth router, all picked up for a song on eBay. I look at your row of Preston hand routers and having seen them at work, I keep an eye out for one, but I won’t let myself be disappointed by the price if I ever see one for sale.
    For years I used to collect cameras, but every one was a a user. I am divesting the collection, but will hold onto the 1907 folding Kodak for which film is still very available. One vintage Leica was enough (we were born the same year), but user lenses stack up in the glass door cabinet.
    At a flea market, I spotted a Leica IIIg, ran it through its paces, and it was in great shape. The woman who had inherited it from her late husband put far too low a price on the tag. While eBay and dealers are open season for me, I spent nearly an hour questioning her about her late husband’s camera gear and finally talked her into putting it all into the trunk (boot) of the car (motor). We kept in touch, I steered her to some reputable people, and she realized thousands of dollars for the gear — over two thousand for the Leica IIIg with a good lens.
    I’ll never own a IIIg, but there would be a sour taste to using the one she almost sold. She lives on the same planet as I do, and I simply felt the obligation to not take advantage of her.
    I don’t know if I succeeded in defining the line in this note, but maybe this would help getting a little closer, even if it is with a micro viewpoint:
    A friend was in an open market in Cairo, Egypt and in a coin collector’s booth, he spotted a prize, the value of which the dealer hadn’t a clue. After much joyful haggling, he scored a Philadelphia (USA) commuter train token for 50 cents less than he would have had to pay retail here in the US. He stayed on the right side of his line, and probably thoroughly enjoyed the ride into work his first day back from vacation.

  3. the first thing they teach you in law school is that there is no such thing as “fair”. If the seller is willing and the buyer is willing (no force or duress) then the market will work for both of them. When people buy or sell with incomplete knowledge, then we can expect that they will be screwed by those with greater knowledge. I wouldn’t know a diamond if I held it in my hand. Best I leave the diamond business to others. The word “fair” and “fair price” seems mostly to be spoken by those who were not party to the transaction.

    1. Henry VI, part 2 – Act 4, Scene 2.
      (One solution to law school)

  4. that museum is a beautiful place to spend a few hours,fascinating to look at all the navigation and mapping equipment,half of which looks like its from another world,made for other worldly creatures.
    i have a pet peeve with foks who buy old tools then dismantle them and sell the parts individually,on one hand its good for when the rare occasion comes when you need a specific part,but that doesnt justify it for me,greed is the world greatest evil

  5. I took a very moral standing today. I came across an stanly 51 chute board I’d never seen one before with the plain. The man said do you know what it is because I don’t. I said its not the kind of thing you should be selling cheap here they are rare. He asked me to make him an over but with little money spare I said I couldn’t. I don’t know the value of it but I’m sure we are talking hundreds. He carefully picked it up and put it away. He was very grateful and in return gave me a good price on a no6 2 marples gouges and a record 71. He’s happy I’m happy

      1. Yeah I’ve never seen one complete so it was pretty cool. But I get on fine with my board and plane. I think he put it on eBay if anyone has lots of money to spend.

  6. Several issues have been opened up by this conversation which is good. A sense of fair play should always exist between buyer and seller and no ‘one size fits all’ argument can be made given the multitude of unique circumstances in these situations.

    One Zen aspect to purchasing and using, that I personally am always intrigued by and have not seen mentioned yet, is the following: Most every individual older tool that I possess has been in the hands of other previous craftsmen, carpenters, joiners, artists etc. Even in a moderate size collection these tools can have have passed through many many hands and through many other people’s lives on their journey to the present owner and user.

    I often reflect upon whom may have used a given tool before it came to me, and ponder what their lives and personal journeys may have been like,… and of course there’s the fact that we now share a history with this tool. Neglect of tools breaks the chain,..the rusted cast away we pluck from a junk box to re-admire. But it’s working life is restored by the restorer who puts it back into human hands to be once again useful. The chain of human connection to the tool is then restored too. I realise I am connected to probably many hundreds of other human beings through my tools alone and like to think something of their lives and efforts is still imbued in these tools.

    Museum collections do continue human interest in the prior history of tools thankfully preserving the better and rarer examples for sure,….and afford the opportunity to reflect upon who may have possessed them, how they were employed and maybe even how they survived to the present. So the next time you grab that old wooden handled 1920’s hammer you found at the flea market,… think of how many nails it drove in it’s lifetime, the variety of tasks and projects it assisted with, how many human hands held it, how far it traveled from where it was made and how it got to be where it is now. How it acquired those paint spots on the handle and a variety of scratches, nicks and dings. How it came to be in the company of the other tools it was with when you found it. All food for thought!

  7. I can understand and relate to the tool experience you describe. Not that long ago, I finally sold a car that was becoming collectable. The only reason I really wanted to sell it was that I wasn’t driving it enough for it maintain itself. I wanted to find the right home for it. It was parked on my driveway and about one or two people a month for the past 5 years would ring the bell and ask if it was for sale (I didn’t have a sign on it). It was for sale and I had kept it in very good condition. However, nobody wanted to pay what it was worth. I would explain to them all of the maintenance I had done and even recent repairs I had done that almost equaled what I was asking for the car. No one seemed to care. All they wanted was an absolute bargain so they could make a quick profit. I found it insulting and it made easy to say no to all of them. Eventually I found someone who wanted it to take it to car shows (he had other show cars) and was paid a fair price. I felt very happy. The person who bought it has spend more money on the vehicle to get it ready for car shows. I am glad to see a vehicle that I had fond memories of having a second life.

  8. As we are talking about unscrupulous sellers I just found one on eBay. He is selling a no 50 plough plane up for 20 quid fine. Looking at his other items he is selling all the irons for the plane for 5 quid a pop indevidually! To make matters worse he is selling the box for 7. SHAME!

      1. It is what it is. But I do think it’s sometimes a shame when complete sets get broken up. Although,I’d have no real intentions of using the moldings on a no50 I don’t really like them.

    1. I don’t understand what’s wrong with that. There are untold thousands of plough planes out there. What difference does it make if he “breaks up a set”?

      1. There is nothing wrong really. Two different cultures altogether. One where people who make look for full sets at a fair market price that’s affordable and the other where people split off all the constituent parts to sell and maximise profit because the only interest they have is making money. I doubt that there are untold thousands of plough planes out there though, perhaps 20 or 30 that might be in full sets and in near usable condition. Users would prefer to have a full kit to start with. This seller just fragmented the whole that will most likely never be reassembled together that’s all. It’s his right; a prerogative to do such a thing that we as maker users might never do that’s all.

        1. First of all, before I keep going what I think is a relatively small controversy, I do want to thank you Paul for your tireless work as a master craftsman and teacher, work that has had a great influence on my woodworking skills, my care and acquisition of hand tools, and my love of the craft of furniture making. I am your age, I believe, born in 1950 and a recently retired engineer, and now spend many pleasurable hour each day building furniture for friends and family using as many of the hand-tool techniques you teach and demonstrate online. For most of the last 35 or so years I used machines to make things out of wood, thinking that was the only way. You and a few others have shown me (and countless others worldwide) there is an alternative. Bravo to you, sir.

          Now, on the great plough plane controversy, there are probably many owners of plough planes with missing blades and/or other parts that are very grateful to this seller for filling the gaps in their kits. Perhaps we should thank this seller instead of criticizing him, yes?

          1. Your probably right. It’s not the way I’d do it but I can’t fault him really I’m just coming from the point of view of a man with very little cash for tools. it can be frustrating when trying to build a usable tool collection that’s all

  9. I’ve never been a collector of anything to be brutally honest I can’t afford to pay the high prices of collector tools. Every tool I have I bought involved back braking hard work with extreme budgeting. Many times I bought a tool that I really needed at the time but couldn’t afford and made a work around without it but later when I did have it in my possession I’ve never ended up using it because the work around worked out better than actually using that tool it was intended for. A great example would be a 1/8″ beading moulding plane, because of the type of timber I normally work with has a lot of reversing grain the moulding plane with it’s typical bed angle is just not high enough to tackle these timbers without severe tearout. So using a saw and sandpaper like Paul has shown in his early clock videos is my solution to this problem. I don’t regret buying any user tool but even if I was a multi millionaire I would never buy any tool for the sole purpose of collection. For me tools are meant to be used, rare tools should be preserved I have no quarrels with that but as for eBay it’s an over priced junk shop. Finding good quality antique or even vintage tools is very hard atleast it is for me.

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