Beginner antique tool collectors know that having a price guide to antique tools is a valuable resource when adding new pieces to their collections. Yet, expert collectors know that a well-documented price guide is just as important when buying and selling their tools, regardless of the venue.
What to Expect When Valuing and Buying Antique Tools
If you've ever browsed through a hardware store, you're probably well aware of how expensive the tools of the trade are. DIY sounds like fun until you start adding up your total at the checkout line. Generally more expensive than what some might expect, but not as costly as the newest power tools on the market, antique tools can cost you a pretty penny. However, you get double your money back when you buy these expertly crafted tools that were truly built to last a lifetime. In many cases, it's this craftsmanship that makes them so desirable to all sorts of blue-collar workers and hobbyists and drives up their values over time.
Factors That Impact Antique Tool Values
By and large, one of the major factors that impacts an antique tool's value is if it's still useful. Tools that're in complete disrepair and can't perform the tasks that they were designed to don't appeal to the audience that buys these things, so they fail to sell.
Additionally, age, brands, and the specific type of tool have an increasing impact on how much these antiques usually sell for at auction or in stores. Generally, tools from before the 19th century aren't typically useful to modern tasks (and it's uncommon to even find them for sale), so they aren't as valuable as ones from the 19th century. Similarly, brands have a big impact on how collectible certain tools are, and thus on how much people can sell them for. Many collectors like to try to find all of the series from a specific brand (like Stanely, for example), and they may be willing to pay a little extra for a non-marked one.
Popular Antique Tool Values
It's impossible to collate all of the various antique tools on the market, each of them with their own unique (and sometimes no longer necessary) purpose. You'll find tools from mutliple industries serving a variety of purposes, such as old mining equipment, farm equipment, vintage medical tools, and antique railroad tools, but a few tools have remained popular enough over the years that it's helpful to gauge the market based on their current values:
Admittedly, vintage hand planes make up the large majority of this tool's market, but even antique wood planes have their place in contemporary auctions. For non-woodworkers, hand planes are block-shaped tools that help you shape the wood one swipe at a time.
Typically, these tools can sell for around $250-$10,000 a piece depending on what brand they are and their design. Take this Kent & Co. elongated plane, for example, in comparison to this Norris No.5 plane. The former late-19th century tool is listed for just over $300 whereas the Norris No.5 from a few decades later is listed for $2,500. This is partially due to Norris being one of the top hand plane manufacturers before Stanley hit the market.
Ultimately, when it comes to antique tools, hand planes of all the various types are by far one of the most valuable out there.
Something that you might not immediately think of when you envision antique tools are anvils; yet, these solid blocks of metal are integral to blacksmithing and metal working of all kinds. Antique anvils can range in value, from the upper hundreds to the $8,000 range, mostly depending on their age and size. Simply, the larger the anvil, the more valuable it's considered. This nearly 500-pound Trenton anvil is listed for $8,075 at auction, while this 26-pound Peter Wright steel anvil sold for only $3,100.
You've probably seen more plastic hand saws in the Spirit Halloween than you've seen of the real thing, but these once integral tools still have their uses today. While they might not be as quick as completing their job, hand saws from the 19th century can be beautifully decorative, with carved and engraved handles. However, these tools have a wide range of values, spanning around $50-$3,000. On average, these tools tend to come out in the wash at about $200-$300 a piece, such as this Disston Victory saw that's listed for $195 and this Woodrough & MC Parlin no. 12 Panther saw that sold for $2,695.
Some of the Most Valuable Antique Tools Ever Sold
Whether you've got millions or just a few cents lying around, you can't avoid needing a tool at some point in your life. Thus, some pretty rare and valuable tools have come to auction over the years, and these are just a few:
- Vanderbilt gifted pair of gold-plated, ivory handle wrenches - Sold for $5,980
- Leonard Davis Double Inclinometer - Sold for $8,165
- Thomas Norris rare hand plane - Sold for $12,250
- Rare Charles Miller gunmetal miller no. 50 - Sold for $18,650
- 18th Century rare C.E. Chelor Cornice moulding plane - Sold for $27,950
Antique Tool Price Guides: An Important Resource
Antique tool collectors know the importance of having a reliable and current price guide. This is the book they rely on for guidance while searching through antique shops, flea markets and garage sales. It often accompanies them to auction houses and rests on their desks as they browse auction websites.
Newcomers to the world of antiquing may wonder what makes antique price guides, filled with item names and numbers, so important to antique buyers and sellers. The importance lies in the information found in their pages:
- Provide current retail values - Knowing the current retail value range of an antique tool allows the buyer to make an informed decision regarding the purchase price. It also gives the seller a chance to price the tool fairly. Tool price guides generally include values for tools in various conditions, ranging from excellent to poor.
- Provide illustrations and photographs - Most antique tool price guides provide illustrations or photographs of many items. Detailed descriptions are also given to assist in identifying antique tools.
- Provide detailed information on brands and manufacturers - Depending on the individual price guide, they might include information on well-known tool companies such as Stanley, Disston Saws or L. Bailey Victor Tool Company, and what logos and patent dates to look for on tools manufactured by these companies.
- Provide tips on spotting reproductions - Not every price guide has information regarding reproductions, but some of them go above and beyond to include tips for spotting tools that've been falsely aged.
Popular Antique Tool Price Guides
The following are a few of the excellent antique tool price guides available.
- A Price Guide to Antique Tools - fourth edition by Herbert P. Kean is a comprehensive guide to antique tool values. The prices provided in Mr. Kean's book are determined by factoring in sales of live and internet auctions, private sales and general market trends. With more than 12,000 prices, tools of all kinds, from flea market finds to rare tools, are included.
- Antique Tool Collectors Guide to Value by Ronald S. Barlow - With more than 56 antique tool categories, this is an excellent reference book for antique tool collectors.
- Antique Trader Tools Price Guide by Clarence Blanchard - This guide includes over 700 color photographs. Tools covered in this book range from the later part of the 18th century to the mid-20th century.
- The Stanley Little Big Book - Comprehensive Pocket Price Guide for Stanley Planes and The Stanley Little Big Book - Comprehensive Pocket Price Guide for Rules & Other Stanley Tools offered at The Fine Tool Journal - Each of these are great tools for discovering more about Stanley tools through the ages.
- The Catalogue of Antique Tools by Martin J. Donnelly - There are multiple editions available of Donnelly's book available, each having a trove of information on antique tool identification, history, and prices.
Digital Antique Tool Price Guides for Answers on the Go
Take a minute to look through these online price guides while you wait around for your other books and guides to come in the mail,
- Jim Bode Tools - Launched in 2006 by Jim Bode himself, Jim Bode Tools is an online retailer that only sells antique and vintage tools. Thankfully, their past sales are public to anyone who visits the website, and you can get a really good sense of what antique tools are currently selling for by looking through these past listings.
- Invaluable Auction Price Archive -This subscription service (which features three separate tiers) gives you access to the past sales of Invaluable's antiques from as far back as fifteen years ago. Starting at a $250 annual subscription with only it's basic plan, Invaluable is an expensive option for serious collectors to consider.
- WorthPoint - Similar to Invaluable's price archive, but much more extensive is WorthPoint and it's massive collection of books, articles, and experts in the community that offer answers to all sorts of antique and collectible price-related questions. Unfortunately, it's also a rather costly subscription-based service that might not be right for every collector's budget.
Collect Antique Tools the Smart Way
A current price guide to antique tools is one resource that every collector should utilize. Check out a few of the guides recommended here and arm yourself with the knowledge that you need to understand the true value of your collection and the tools that you want to add to it. Need a space for your tools? Consider an antique or vintage toolbox.