This past weekend my wife and I checked out our new local antique store for the first time. Neither of us are antiquers, but our local store is more of a “working class” establishment rather than a highfalutin destination for yuppies with too much money who like to pretend that they are cultured. And though there obviously were some expensive pieces of furniture among other items, most of the stuff was reasonably priced.
The tool and hardware section had a fair number of old mechanical tools and a pretty good selection of hardware, but not much in the way of woodworking tools. There were some old beading planes in good shape, a few braces, a some hand saws, and a small selection old hammers. I purchased a Hammond cobblers hammer which I felt would be useful (not to mention that it was made in my hometown of Philly), and also to support a local business. When I paid for the hammer I asked the proprietor if she often got woodworking tools in stock. She mentioned that if there was something I was interested in she would be more than willing to seek it out for me, but collectors generally “suck up” tools long before they make it into the store. I know it may not be very magnanimous of me to complain, but that statement bothered me.
I personally don’t know anybody who collects tools as a hobby, be they woodworking tools or something else. My own opinion is that as far as hobbies are concerned, you can do a lot worse than collecting tools. The coffin smoother I just obtained was admittedly purchased more to “have” than to use, though I do plan on using it on occasion. I also know that there is probably a collector or collectors out there who have thirty or more of those coffin smoothers among hundreds of other tools and their duplicates. The possible good part about this “tool hoarding” is these collectors are very likely people who enjoy old tools, and history, and they will do a nice job in preserving these implements. The possible bad news is there are definitely people out there with the time and capital to buy up every old tool they see in order to thin out the market and drive up the price. While I have no way to prove that happens with woodworking tool collectors, I know it happens with other “collecting” hobbies, so at that I am taking an educated guess.
The question is can and should something be done about it? My answer would be “no and no”. Because we live in a Capitalist society with a free market, we cannot keep people from hoarding tools any more than we can keep them from hoarding cans of soup. I’m not trying to knock the free market; like everything else it has its good points and bad. But I can have an opinion, and my opinion is that if you happen to be one of those people who buys up every decent used woodworking tool in order to sell them later at an 800% mark-up you are no better than the people who do the same thing during Christmas with Cabbage Patch Dolls. In other words, you’re a dick.