Antique Jeweler’s Tools

This past weekend we visited my parents for a nice weekend of labor day relaxation and conversation. It was good to be out in the boonies away from the hustle of noise of city life and we got to enjoy a cookout, good beer, great company, and played some great games. Every time we’re there, one of the highlights of the visit is to see what my dad is up to. He’s a metalworking artist who tends to be rather prolific, so we’re always eager to see what he’s made since our last visit. This time, however, the highlight of our trip was the old tools.

Gary Allman and Jim Davis enjoy good conversation around a fire during Labor Day weekend.
Two of my favorite men on the planet. My husband Gary on the left, and my father Jim on the right. We were sitting around the fire ring enjoying a cold beer when our daughter Lanie stole the camera and took this picture.

You see, my dad started collecting antique tools when he was in his late 50’s and being somewhat of an obsessive sort (where do I get it from?), he really got into it. In fact, it was restoring and making “user made” tools that got him started with the metalworking. He’s still into it and this month will be attending a national convention. So he’s currently busy preparing tools to take. That meant that we had a great opportunity to look over his tools and touch and inspect and enjoy them. Because you see, antique tools are a sensory and visual work of art. And when I saw that he had some jeweler’s tools I couldn’t help myself. “Show me tools that women like me would relate to,” I said. And he did. The minute I saw them, I knew I had to take pictures for all of you. Because these are just that cool. I just HAD to share with you all!

About Antique Tools

I tried to give the country of origin, manufacturer, and date of the tools pictured. But it’s not always possible to exactly date a tool. You see, designs stayed pretty much the same for many, many years. Sometimes you can find a patent year, but that’s mostly on the later tools. Sometimes you have to be content to know the latest date that something could have been manufactured because of dramatic changes in the manufacturing technology, the supply of materials, or of new inventions. Most of these tools pictured here were made prior to 1940 and we know that because they have Brazilian Rosewood handles. Tropical hardwoods like Rosewood were no longer used in tool handles after that date.

A word about ivory. Ivory is no longer legal to be imported into the United States and elephant ivory must be documented to be over 100 years old to be imported. However, these antiques are legally freely bought and sold within the U.S. You’d have a hard time selling them overseas, though!

One thing that strikes me as fascinating about old tools is how they were made with decorations and elegance that were not necessary for the function of the tool. I mean who really needs ivory inlays in a drill handle? But it does tell you how important and cherished these tools were to the people who made and used them. They were tools of a livlihood, meant to last a lifetime. And because of that, most tools out there are “used to death”. It’s really quite rare to find complete sets and undamaged, unworn tools. Luckily, there is a very active antique tool collectors’ trade and these gems are being collected and loved once again. Okay, on with the tools!

Antique Tradesman and Household Tools

Various antique diamond tipped glass cutters.
Antique diamond tipped glass cutters. All are American except the brass one, it’s French. 1940’s, though the French one could be a lot earlier.
Antique ivory rules, brass traveller, and steel measuring tape.
Here are a variety of antique measuring devices. The big wheel is an English user made (not by a tool company) traveller. It’s used to mark linear distance. There are three folding elephant ivory rules, all American, the large one is by Stanley Tool and the smaller ones are by Stephens. Notice the little steel tape measure. It’s called a Rapid Rule and was made by Farrand, an American tool company that was later bought out by Stanley.
The old fashioned equivalent of a multi-tool, these are called Tool Handles. Also note a harp shaped multi-tool.
Nowadays we have multi-tools and think we’re so smart. It used to be that every house, tool drawer, and sewing kit had what was called a “Tool Handle”. Here are some tool handles, each containing a variety of tool tips such as screwdrivers, drills, awls, picks, files, etc. Some of these are American, some English and the woods are rosewood or boxwood, and the dark one in the center is actually made from water buffalo horn. (Cebu!!) The one on the lower right is a spring framed nickel-plated multi-tool with a hoof pick, button hook, awl, corkscrew, and gimlet. A gimlet is a screw-tipped tool that’s used to start the hole for a screw.
Antique hand vise tool.
Here’s an English hand vise with an English Oak handle. From the 1920’s. You would use this to grip onto something so you could work on it.
Complete screw driver set with original box.
This well-preserved set is pretty much the way it would have looked straight from the store. This 1920’s Clark screwdriver set, in the original box, has interchangeable screwdriver bits. By the way, notice how all the tips are flat…there are no Phillips bits. That’s because the Phillips screwdriver didn’t come out until 1936.
Antique oil cans and various oilers.
Everyone needs a little oil to get rid of the squeaks. Here are a variety of oil cans and gun or sewing machine oilers. The big long-spouted one is English from the 1930’s. The flat one in the middle is a bicycle oiler from Britain. The green ones (Singer and Hoover) are more modern, could even be as late as the 1960’s.
Various antique leather tools by Gomph
Rosewood handled leather tools for stitching, marking, burnishing, making channels, etc. Made by C.S. Osborne and Gomph, all are Americans, pre 1940.
Antique piano maker's tools.
These are antique piano maker’s tools. The little tools to the left are felt picks. The two wooden handled things at the top are called piano tuner’s hammers. They’re used to turn the pegs that tune the piano strings. The long thing with a knob is a piano tuner’s screwdriver. It allows the tuner to reach down into tight spots to turn a screw.
The cool piece here, though, is a ivory drum bow drill with bow by Hammacher Schlemmer from about 1920. To use a bow drill, wrap the leather of the bow around the drum of the drill. Then move the bow back and forth like a violin bow. That makes the drum of the drill turn and consequently the drill bit turn.

Antique Jeweler’s Tools

French bench mounted rotating jeweler's vise with small anvil.
Here’s a bench mounted rotating jeweler’s vice. Do you see the cute little anvil on it? I’ve got it lying on its side here, it was hard to photograph. This is French and dates from the late 1800’s.
Complete watchmaker's or jeweler's staking tool set, with glass dome.
This one is a real treat. It’s a watchmaker’s staking tool set and it’s complete, which you can imagine is rather rare with all those little parts to get lost. And a lot of them have lost their dome, too, but this one is original.
What is a staking set? Well, watch parts are really tiny and all those little gears and wheels and pins need to be put together very precisely…this is the tool you use. This one is American, likely 1920 or before.
Complete watchmaker's or jeweler's staking tool set, with glass dome.
Here’s another view of the staking tool set. Each of those tall spikes has a different tip on it and fits into the top of the frame. Notice how the frame itself has a rotating platform, with a whole range of hole sizes. Also, the small pins fit into the largest hole in the platform giving a variety of ways to grip small parts and hold things in place.
Antique jeweler's tools.
Here are some antique jeweler’s tools that you might own modern-day equivalents of. Note the ivory-handled screwdriver in the center, with a couple of other small screwdrivers. There’s a double-sided small jeweler’s saw. And a small rosewood handled wax stamp. AT the top is an ornate Whitney jeweler’s drill from the 1920’s. And on the left is another drill, this one is called an Archimedes Drill and has a rosewood handle with ivory inlay.
Jeweler's bench set with vise, anvil, and block. Also note hammers, saw, and drills.
And finally here’s the scene that I figured most of us would relate to as jewelry makers ourselves. This cherry wood set holds a Stephens automatic set jewelry vise, a cute little jeweler’s anvil, and a jeweler’s block. Note the jeweler’s hammers and the chasing hammer. At the bottom is a small brass Archimedes drill from France and a brass framed jeweler’s saw from Europe. I am in love with those little hammers. They’re just so cute!

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