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The Collector

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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.IMG_1180.JPG

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10 Comments

  1. Lee Hockman says:

    Hear hear! I couldn’t agree with you more. I am definately not a tool collector; couldn’t afford it and don’t want to be one. But, I am an old tool user trying to enjoy the HOBBY of hand tool woodworking and find it very difficult at times just trying to find a good “user” tool at a reasonable price just because a lot of dealers assume that anyone interested in their used tools has got to be a collector, and rich to boot! Unfortunately I do not have a solution to this issue, except to just keep on looking, establish a personal relationship with the dealer and hope he/she will consider fairer prices on less than collector condition tools. Unfortunately, most of them don’t have a clue as to value, and assume that just because its old it must be worth a lot.

    • billlattpa says:

      I am hardly an expert on old tools or antiques for that matter. I have spoken to some dealers and they’ve all told me that the demand for vintage woodworking tools has increased enough to where it’s become more difficult for them to get good quality stuff because even vendors/collectors who were not traditionally interested in tools have decided that they are good investments and have began to purchase them more often.
      At the same time, I don’t think we are in for a vintage tool shortage any time soon, but you and I obviously are aware that finding them has definitely become more difficult over the past year or two.
      I’m not sure if you’ve dealt with Patrick Leach, Supertool.com, or Josh Clark, Hyperkitten.com, but they are very reasonable and often you can get good quality. Another plus is they will try to find a specific tool for you. So if you haven’t tried them yet I would give them a shot.
      Thanks.
      Bill

  2. Yep, I find that true here in Australia as well. Went to a hand tool sale recently and they had sold most of the really good stuff earlier that morning to collectors ‘sucking them up’ I still got a few good bargains though. Perhaps I should get up earlier on weekends.

    I find better prices at a tool sale like this than I do at local markets (Trash and Treasure or Car Boot Sales) A lot of them don’t have a clue as to value, sometimes this can mean you find a bargain though. I see many that are over priced just because they think it’s old so it must be worth a lot.
    Some of them have so much pitting on the back of the blade that it wouldn’t be worth my time. Most people just want to hang them on their walls or on display in their ‘Man Cave’. Such a waste of a good tool to just let them sit there unused rusting away. I’ve bought tools at high price simply because I felt sorry for the poor tool sitting there for sale unloved on the wet grass or in the rain.
    Perhaps I’m the only one who kinda thinks they have feelings these old tools. Am I crazy? Maybe, but as you say there could be worse hobbies and at least I put them to use. I think they are much happier coming home with me. Poor things were much loved and treasured in their previous lives, they rust faster if they feel neglected so look after them.

    • billlattpa says:

      In my part of the country, either the vendors call the collectors before they put the stuff out, or the collectors show up at first light and purchase everything of value as a lot. (early bird gets the worm I guess). I’ve had some luck on ebay and with the internet dealers, but I’ve virtually given up on the open air market sales.
      Like you, there are times when I see an old tool and I just have to get it looking and working great again. To a fault I will clean and polish them up to the point where they sometimes look too nice to use. The good part about our obsession is the more often we do it the better we become at tool restoration, which to me is one of the most noble hobbies of all.
      Thanks.
      Bill

  3. theindigowoodworker says:

    I look around the local antique stores when I get a chance. Rarely do I find anything worth buying or for a reasonable price. The local flea market has nothing. Yard sales are rarely worth stopping at and Ebay is hit or miss, even the “good” sellers seem to not really care about honesty in presentation anymore. Finding myself sending stuff back more and more. I’m not aware of any swap meets in the area. Almost never see anything listed in estate sales. Finding a good condition reasonably priced old tool is almost like hitting the lottery for me. I get tired of the guys on fb bragging about their 189 planes and all of them sitting on a shelf collecting dust. It’s guys like that who make finding a good tool almost impossible. In my book if you buy it you should take care of it, do any needed repairs, and use it. Too many tools sitting on shelves and hanging on walls.

    About to give in and pay the higher prices at internet dealers.

    • billlattpa says:

      What bothers me the most is the guys who go out and purchase the tool “lots”, squirrel them away, and then sell the stuff off at a big markup. I’m learning that this method is pretty much commonplace now. Some might call it good business, I just think it’s sleazy because many of these tools aren’t things that are readily available as a new item anymore, meaning if you can’t find it used you just can’t find it. I’ve been staying with the internet dealers and though they aren’t as cheap as ebay, I’ve been happy so far.

      And like you said, then you have the “collectors” that buy up the lots and the tools just sit and do nothing. Once again, there is little any of us can do about it. All I can do is have an opinion, and my opinion is that buying up useful tools to either gouge woodworkers on a resale, or to sit on a shelf is just wrong.
      Thanks.
      Bill

  4. theindigowoodworker says:

    For me woodworking is a hobby that I enjoy greatly. However it’s not one that I can spend lots of money on. Too many other expenses take precedence over that. I’m sure that I’m not the only one in that boat and I’m guessing that most are in a similar situation. These guys with too much money and buying up everything in sight are killing it as a viable hobby for many of us. To me that’s the sad part. I want to see those tools being used by people who enjoy working with wood. Not sitting on somebody’s trophy shelf for bragging rights.

    • billlattpa says:

      Same here. I spent about $300 on tools this year, almost all used, and that was about $100 more than I wanted to spend. If I buy tools I can’t buy wood, and vice versa, so I really have to budget it out tightly.

      I’ve said the same thing you just said several times. Some people blasted me for it, as in I have no right to tell somebody what and what not to purchase, and some people agreed. Either way it doesn’t matter much because there is little that can be done about it. Like you, it bugs the hell out of me that people would go out of their way to purchase a tool that they know will never be used, just to say that they have it, in particular when it is a vintage tool that could really be useful to a woodworker without the funds to purchase everything new.

      Thanks.
      Bill

  5. Lee Hockman says:

    Yep. This is the “collector mentality” and its the same for ANYTHING that enough people think is collectable. There is no difference between buying up old tools because you tell people that you just “love” them, but are just adding to a portfolio of assets, and buying up “art” for the same reasons. The net result is that all of these things are taken from the public for the pleasure of a few. I apologize to George Orwell, and I am definitely not a communist, but this is one of those “sticky” parts of the free market. I guess, as my grandfather used to say, “You have to take the bitter with the sour.”

    • billlattpa says:

      In general, I would say that I’m a fan of the free market, but like all good things, it benefits from reasonable regulation and oversight. The “I, me, mine” attitude benefits nobody, even the person who being selfish. In the end what do you have? A wall of tools that go unused.
      I can only speak for myself, but the kid in the neighborhood that never wanted to share his toys with the other kids was never very popular, at least where I lived. Yet it seems to me that at least some of the collectors have that mentality. Once again there is little people like us can do about it.
      I’m not sure if you read my post about the Studley Tool cabinet. Long story short, I had mentioned on Popular Woodworking’s webpage that if I had my wish, the Studley cabinet wouldn’t be privately owned but part of a museum’s collection. Some guy jumped all over me so I let him have it, and while most people agreed with what I was saying, some thought I was completely out of line. Once again, everybody can have an opinion, but I can’t imagine the attitudes of some people where they want to hide away works of art, or fine tools, or what have you, rather than sharing them with the world. I mean, if I somehow inherited the Mona Lisa, the last thing I would do was put it in my basement so nobody could see it. But maybe that’s just me.
      Thanks.
      Bill

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