Identification of Antique Garden Tools and Their Uses

Published May 12, 2022
antique garden tools

When it comes to identification, antique garden tools can be maddening at times and amusingly obvious at others. While some tools look exactly like the ones in your toolbox at home, others were made to help with tasks that're no longer necessary, making them foreign to the modern eye. Yet, the beauty of these tools is that most of them can still be used in some capacity today - once you figure out exactly what they're used for, that is.

Build a Beautiful Garden Using These Antique Gardening Tools

If you've ever spent an afternoon tending to a loved one's garden, then you know just how important it is to have the right tools to accomplish every task. For those with a brown thumb, the idea that gardening isn't predominately accomplished with your fingers and hands might feel blasphemous to the 'be one with nature' narrative. However, there are far more specialized tasks with gardening than planting flowers and speaking sweet words to make them grow, and for each of these tasks, there's an ample number of tools out there suited for the job.

The Fundamental Duo - Spade and Rake

Vintage Shovel/Trowel and Claw Rake

As every gardener knows, there are some tools that you can't live without because of how vital and versatile they are to the gardening process. When it comes down to it, the spade and rake have been manufactured in some kind for hundreds of years. Whether people were crafting their own out of raw materials at home or were buying them in quaint country stores, these antique tools are highly collectible because of how easy they are to use and useful they are to modern gardening.

Thankfully, the historic versions of these tools aren't actually that different in their shapes to modern iterations. Thus, if you're looking for any of these hand tools, you'll look for tools that seem reminiscent of what you'd find in your garage or garden shed at home.

  • Spade - Also referred to as a trowel, the spade is a tool with a rounded, wooden handle and with a metal, scoop shaped triangle that ends in a point extending from it. These triangular shovel-like pieces were sometimes attached vertically with the handle and other times perpendicular to the handle. Spades are typically used to dig out sections of dirt for planting, but not meant to be used for larger flora, of which a shovel is better suited.
  • Hand rake - A hand rake is a miniature version of a larger rake, with a small handle and fewer prongs. Not to be confused with a garden fork, these prongs can look claw-like as they tear at the dirt and till it up for planting.

Plant Like a Pro - Dibber and Spinner

Victorian Gardeners Peg Line

In order to have a garden at all, you have to learn how to plant like a pro, and with these antique tools customized for steps in the planting process, you can get to planting your latest flowers or favorite veggies in the just the same way that your great great grandparents did before you:

  • Dibber - A dibber (also known as dibbler) is a tool that somewhat resembles the cylindrical tool jewelers use to size rings with. The dibber is usually made out of wood, and is a rounded cone that gets inserted into the ground to make a perfect hole to place bulbs or seeds inside. These can come with both small handles and extended on metal rods for upright use as well.
  • Garden line aka Spinner - Perfect for keeping a line of plants straight, the garden line is a pair of two metal spikes, with one of them having a pair of short metal rods on the upper portion to create a spool for the string to fit on. These tools helped non-industrial gardeners economize on their planting without the use of heavy machinery.

Beauty Shop Growtique - Pruning Tools

antique french pruning shears

When it comes to keeping plants in perfect condition, pruning tools were a must. In fact, there are documented accounts of pruning tools from as early as 1693. To begin with, pruning tools were rustic in their design, with a perfunctory simplicity at the center of their manufacturing. Yet, as colorful vintage sensibilities took over, these tools started getting splashed with bright pops of plastic-coated color. The tools that aid in keeping plants beautiful include:

  • Hand saw - Larger vegetation and difficult plants were handled with hand saws/pruning saws, which encompassed any smaller serrated blade. Some of these were pocket knives and others were fixed blades.
  • Pruning shears - The most common way to manicure growing vegetation was to use pruning shears, a hand tool that looked like a bloated pair of scissors. Gripped in the hand, these shears ended in a small rounded blade that could cut at leaves and stems and varied greatly in size.

Nourish and Protect - Watering Cans and Insecticide Sprayers

vintage antique watering cans

Types of gardening tools that're vital to keeping plants alive but don't often come to mind are things like watering cans. These tools that help move nutrients to plants and protect them from invasive wildlife are just as collectible as the tools that're more useful today. Two of these types of nourishing tools include watering cans and insecticide sprayers.

  • Insecticide sprayers - If you've ever seen a Looney Tunes cartoon, chances are high that you've seen someone blast a dusty cloud from a hand-held rocket shaped device. Before insecticides came in liquid and pellet form, atomizers were the easiest way to protect your vegetables from dangerous insects. These tools look like an overgrown push-pop popsicle, with a cylindrical and pointed end and a thin pump at the back.
  • Watering cans - Watering cans are one of the most decorative antique tools out there, crafted out of materials like aluminum, tin, and later plastic. You can find watering cans (which look like teapots with elongated spouts) in all sorts of sizes throughout history.

What Should You Expect to Pay for Antique Gardening Tools?

Most often, the gardening tools that you can find in antique stores and online are from the mid to late-20th century, though you can occasionally find pieces from the 19th century as well. Given the wide variety of tools out there, you can expect to see all sorts of different prices for these tools. Yet, there are a few common factors that'll increase or decrease the prices across the board.

Firstly, the more complicated the tool is to use, the more expensive it'll be. Any tools with mechanical inner workings will cost more to purchase because they might've required more labor to get them to a place that's ready to be sold.

Secondly, the size of the tools contributes to their values. Hand-held tools will almost always cost less than full-sized tools will, simply because of the amount of materials that're there.

Lastly, age plays a role in antique tool values. Pieces don't necessarily have to be the oldest to be the most valuable; in fact, right now it seems that vintage tools are more valuable than their antique counterparts because they're made out of more modern materials and are more familiar to people.

All of that being said, it's very unlikely to find antique or vintage tools worth more than $50 at market. On average, you're more likely to find tools comfortably nestled in the $10-$15 range at online retailers like Etsy and eBay. In fact, here are the prices of some antique and vintage tools that've recently sold on eBay:

Cultivate the Beauty That You'd Like to See in the World

Gardening isn't for everyone, but for those that have a green thumb and enjoy the daily tasks involved with keeping flora alive, antique gardening tools can be an eccentric alternative to the modern counterparts. Whether you want to stick it to contemporary consumption habits that encourage constantly buying new things or you want to feel closer to a past loved one through the tools that they used, knowing how to identify antique gardening tools is the first step in putting them to good use.

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Identification of Antique Garden Tools and Their Uses