In 2003, the world record for an antique tool at auction was $32,900. That record has been broken several times and today the record is at $114,400. While it is not uncommon for a vintage hand tool to sell for over $10,000 and sometimes for much more, a lot of changes in the pricing of old tools has occurred in the last few years. Let’s take a look at some of those changes…
What tools are bringing the big money today?
Two trends seem to be leading the way:
First, patented items in general and planes in particular continue to bring the big bucks. If an item can be traced to a patent, it adds history and value.
The second “hot” area is more general. Condition by itself can add or, for that matter, take away more value than any other single factor. It has become so important that collectors now use the term “dead mint” for those items in the top two percent of condition. To illustrate how big a role condition plays, in our Fall 2008 sale, a Stanley No. 1 plane in Good+ condition brought $880, while the same plane but in Fine+ sold for $2,090. That’s a big difference, and had the plane in Fine+ been “dead mint,” it could have brought much more.
Another area just now regaining interest is wooden planes and molders. Once the backbone of tool collecting, wooden planes have been a bit soft in the market for a while. Recently I have seen signs of reviving interest and an upward trend in prices. Complex molders and rare makers have just started to go up in value, and we could see some excitement over the next few years.
Not all areas of tool collecting have gone up in the last few years. The more common items, because of the Internet, are now more available worldwide. Before the Internet existed, we just never got a chance to buy many items, while today you can go online and get several opportunities a month to buy common tools. This global leveling of the market has driven down the price of poorer condition common items. That’s the bad news. The good news is that in the last couple years supply seems to be falling and prices have leveled off and are gaining in some areas as well as for the better condition items.
holds breast drill, screws to bench
with tripod base, auto advance, fine, $385.
More on trends:
As in all collecting areas, trends come and go in tool collecting. In the 1950s, original blacksmith-made and hand-wrought items were all the rage. Authentic Coopers’ tools took the lead in the ’60s, braces were hot in the ’70s, and the wooden plane dominated in the ’80s. In recent years the most significant trend has been the focus on condition, no matter what the tool.
Today tool collectors are more aware of condition than at any time in the past. Even an older common tool in “hardware-store new” shape has more value today than it did a few years ago. Rare Stanley planes that are “Mint in Box,” for example, have sold for 8 to 12 times the price of a used example with no box. Today the fastest growing area of collecting is patented tools. Planes lead the way, with several selling for tens of thousands of dollars. Braces and wrenches are probably tied for second place.
Trends will change. The tool collecting hobby as it exists today is about 35 years old. Most areas of interest have become well established, and the factors determining value are known. While fads may come and go, tool collecting is here to stay.
In the newly released Warman’s Tools Field Guide, 2nd Edition, all of the tools listed sold for the prices shown and have not been listed before. The prices listed are real, not estimates or opinions. Some of the tools shown are rare and expensive. Many other tools are more common and show up more often in sales and collections. Sometimes we sell these items for good money; other times the finder makes them the centerpieces of their new collection. Either way, it all starts with an accurate identification and price guide.
More from Antique Trader
- Woodworking tools evoke images of lost era
- Stanley tools establishes itself as a new subset of tool collecting
- Antique Tool Collecting Tips by Clarence Blanchard
Antique Trader Tools Price Guide
By Clarence Blanchard
- Actual prices realized at auctions
- 2,000 listings for planes, braces, drills, saws, levels, rulers, gauges, hammers, and advertising pieces, among others
- 700 color photos – large enough in size to see the grain of wood on handles and practically feel the steel of the plane in your hands
Plus, additional new features include a chapter on collecting Stanley Tools, and condition grading photos.
MORE RESOURCES FOR ANTIQUE COLLECTORS and DEALERS