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You Can’t Fly This Plane: Collectible Tools

by Tom Carrier (12/11/08).

You Can’t Fly this Plane—Antique Tools at Work

Those of us in the antiques and collectibles world talk often about finding items of interest and value in Grandma’s closet, but rarely do we talk about finding equally important items of value in Grandad’s workshop. Collector John Davis is here to tell us why we shouldn’t neglect tools as a highly desirable collectable.

Davis was one of the experts featured at the annual “Treasures from the Attic” antique show in March of 2008 held at the Metz Middle School in Manassas, Va., to help raise funds for the educational programs of the Manassas Museum Associates. He actually brought a few antique planes as examples of only one aspect of what constitutes a collectible hand tool.

“I make furniture, 18th century furniture, so that’s how I developed an interest in woodworking tools,” Davis said. “Then when I tried recreating an antique piece, I got interested in antique tools, antique planes, wooden planes, small metal planes. Most wooden planes are made in New England and Ohio.”

For those of us unfamiliar with this type of tool, Wikipedia provides this description: ”A plane is a tool for shaping wood. Planes are used to flatten, reduce the thickness of, and impart a smooth surface to a rough piece of lumber. Special types of planes are designed to cut joints or decorative moldings.” The plane was introduced a thousand of years ago and were primarily made of wood with a metal blade attached by a wooden wedge. By the 1860s, Leonard Bailey began producing cast iron planes, which were commercially produced by what is now Stanley Works, a toolmaker.

Davis had several examples of smaller metal planes, small enough to easily fit in your hand. The first was a plane for the making of toys, he thinks, but also useful for an instrument or violin maker, too. It’s metal, but not with a high retail value. The second plane he brought, a squirrel tail plane, is similar to the third plane, which has a curved bottom instead of the straight bottom, used to correctly hollow out a perfect instrument panel, for example. The fourth plane looked similar to the first, but it had a value of several hundred dollars because of the rarity of its design.

So how is the collectible field of antique tools these days? “There was a very high surge of interest in antique tools four to five years ago, and the internet has brought out a surge of tools out of the barn, so it has sort of leveled off. A lot of tools are being handed down to the next generation, so there is a lot of interest,” Davis said.

And how about the future of tools as a collectible? “Well, the baby boomers are retiring and they are interested in hobbies. Or woodworkers, they are interested in these types of things,” Davis said. “But then there are people who are purists and want to carry down the tradition of using tools by hands.”

Like so many collectibles and antiques, there are a lot of tools that are quite valuable, but can you still work with them? “There are some tools that are worth tens of thousands of dollars. You wouldn’t want to do anything to that type of tool. This (plane) might be a hundred dollar tool, but I wouldn’t have any trouble using it if I was working on a violin,” David said.

If you have antique tools made from cast iron or simple wood, contact Patrick Leach, antique tool Worthologist at WorthPoint, at leach@supertool.com, because even the lowly plane can take flight in collectible value. You can also visit his website, The Superior Works, here..

WorthPoint: Get the Most from Your Antiques and Collectibles

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