Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Stanley - the Energizer Bunny of Old Just Kept Going...

If you were asked to buy stock in a company that developed a product at the end of one century, did the tooling for it, and then ran with that exact set-up, enjoying fair sales with it, until way past the middle of the next century, would you buy it? I probably would seriously consider it.

This is pretty much what Stanley Rule and Level Co. did for about that length of time. They came up with something, they refined it and then they produced it – for damn near forever.

Here are three images of the Stanley No. 97 Marking Gauge lifted from three of the four Stanley No. 34 catalogs that I have found in the public domain so far. One is from the 1914 edition, another from1934 and the third from 1958. Which one is which? They are displayed in order; 1914, 1934, and then the 1958 at the bottom of the stack.

By the way, I just bought one of these on eBay and it doesn’t match any of these illustrations. All three display the Stanley logos; the two earlier ones on the striking face and the ’58 model on its back. Mine, as you will see in the image below, displays a more Gothic scripted logo on the opposite face. What is weird about mine is that it has a Sweetheart logo on the machined screw. Either you can’t believe the illustrations in these catalogs, or mine is either older or newer, and has had the screw replaced.

Prices? The gauge sold for 47¢ in 1914, twenty years later, in 1934, it had jumped to 60¢, and by 1958, it was selling at the whopping huge price of $2.85. If you want to work that out in terms of inflation, from 1914 to 1934, the price increased 26%, or 1.3% per year. From 1934 to 1958, however, the price increased 475%, or almost 20% per year. Progress?

The next two images are from the same catalogs; 1914 and 1934. These are displaying Stanley’s top of the line Slide Mortise Gauges; the No. 77. Advertised as manufactured in Solid Rosewood and Brass, this baby sold for 60¢ in 1914. By 1934, the price had risen to $1.60, and by 1958, it had been dropped from the catalog.

A forth catalog that I have found is from 1898, and shows neither the No. 97 or the No. 77. It is not a complete catalog, though. I have, however, seen both these gauges offered by Stanley in other pre-turn-of-the-century publications. I just cannot show you them here as they are not in the public domain.

Here are three tools that I picked up over the last month; the Stanley No. 97 Marking Gauge, the No. 77 Slide Mortise Gauge and what I consider to be a very pretty awl.

The two gauges were picked up from eBay, but the awl came from toolexchange.com.au. I picked up the gauges because they looked to be in excellent shape, which they are. I was considering a Veritas Wheel Marking Gauge by Lee Valley, but when I saw this 97, I grabbed it instead.

The awl I purchased because it has the most beautiful yellow tone to the wood handle that I have ever seen. I have no idea what kind of wood it is made from, but it reminds me of the term, butternut. I also bought it because I needed it, ya, that’s it, I really needed one.

I got an email from another poster the other day asking me if I “enhanced” my images. I do. As you can see in the image below, I don’t alter the actual product, just the lighting, densities and backgrounds; the window dressing, so-to-speak. Sometimes I get a little carried away, but hey, you can't blame a guy for having a bit of fun.




  1. Mitchell, I wonder if the awl's handle might be boxwood, which takes on that honey color and is very tightly grained.

    Nice photo montage! I [Sweetheart] Photoshop. :o)

  2. Thanks, Kari. One day we will all wake up and find that it is Adobe that is really ruling the world and everything around us is actually an illusion.

    You are probably right about the awl handle being made of boxwood, although I have never seen one take on this particular hue before. I tried to colour match it this morning (four hours of trying in fact), but I couldn't do it. Every time I looked at the handle it gave off another hue; going from yellow to orange to green and back again. It drove me nuts. The images of it shown in this post are as close as I can get, but they don't do the colour justice.

    In truth, I was looking for something a little more exotic than boxwood. I did purchase it from Australia, although I know that means nothing regarding its origins. I guess it is the romantic in me.



  3. I have a Stanley No. 95 plane with that script logo and it dates from about 1911-1919. I've seen the same script logo on several No. 98s (the twin rod mortise gauge version of the 97), so it was used for some time and on a lot of different tools. That same script logo was used on Stanley tool boxes from about 1910-1925 according to John Walter's Stanley book.

    I hope this is of some use.