The Mysterious Stranger.
    Or A Day At The Auctions

    Date: Fri, 28 Apr 2000 13:59:27 -0400 
    From: Nichael Cramer  
    Subject: The mysterious stranger.  Or A day at the auctions

    [Warning: Long, meandering rust-saga ahead.]

    I suppose our local auction house is similar to those in most small towns. Friendly folks, sales each Weds and every other Fri. Lots of wicker, old dressers, orphan dinner chairs, that sort of thing.

    Rust content is pretty low, though. Most days it's typically an old #5[Stanley jack plane] or a couple of chisels that has been rescued from the floor of Uncle Tim's garden shed. But still, things turn up often enough that I still make the weekly trip to check things out.

    The folks there recognize me as someone who's interested in OTs[Old Tools], but still I was a little suprised a month or so back when the owner (Bob) said "Come here; I want to show you something I just got in".

    This was a bit of an honor as I'd never been in the back room before and he led me to an old chest on the floor. When Bob opened the lid it was clear it was an old cabinet makers tool chest. We didn't have time to dig down into it just then, but from the top I could see a couple old woodie jacks, a turning saw and in one of the tills two (very) hefty pigsticker mortise chisels.

    Bob said he had got the chest from an old couple in Dummerston (the next town up the road) and it had been brought over by the grandfather in "about 1898". (For many dealers I'd just write this off as salespeak, but Bob's pretty straightforward about these things; and from the things I saw, it would seem to confirm the story.)

    As he closed the lid Bob said "...and there's about 60 moulding planes in the bottom". (Now, to be fair, Bob's a sharp guy, and he knows his business. But OT's are not his long suit. And when he says "moulding planes" that could mean just about any woodie. But still, it's clear there's something interesting down there.)

    Like I said, he had just got the chest in, so Bob said he'd probably include the chest and the tools in an auction "in about a month".

    Now, my problem is that recently I'd been doing a lot of work-related travel. And on more than one occasion in the past I'd missed what promised to be some interesting items because I had been called out of town at the last minute. I definitely didn't want that to happen this time (and I'd prefer not to simply leave some bids, especially if I couldn't even get in for the pre-auction preview). So Bob said, when it got closer to the actual auction, I could make an appointment and come in and look things over. Sounded fine by me.

    So, over the following weeks I kept checking in with (read: "pestering") Bob and he finally set a date. Once things firmed up a bit, I sent mail to some net-buddies I knew were close enough to be interested in possibly coming, so, all-in-all, it started to seem clear that this would be, at least, an interesting evening.

    So, it finally shook out that the chest was going to be included in last Wed's sale. Luckily I wouldn't be travelling, but Bob invited me to still come in Tues and check things over.

    I showed up Tues morning (complete with my copy of Whelan's book) and we set up a folding table beside the chest. It quickly clear that I had "volunteered" to go through the chest and sort stuff out.

    Hey, no problemo.

    So, after a couple blissful hours I had things laid out on the (by now two) tables. A quick summary of the more interesting stuff included:

    • A set of *heavy* I Sorby pigsticker morise chisels (in 1/16in increments from 1/8in to 1/2in).
    • A half-set of Hollows&Rounds. (not a matched set and missing the #16Hollow) plus 7 others misc H&Rs, mostly small sizes.
    • A set of 10 side-beads (plus an extra torus bead).
    • A wedge-arm plow with irons, a moving filletster and an nice burl OWT.
    • A bunch of gauges (included one interesting double-ended one with a marking scribe on one end and a cutter on the other.)
    • 3 nice woodie jacks and a fore/try plane.
    • A nice (heavy) Mathieson coffin smoother.
    • The standard pile of match planes (inluding a double-ended one.)
    • An adjustable sash-plane.
    • A Thomas Bradburn & Sons shipbuilder's double bevel.
    • Your usual drawer full of misc irons (including a great old, thick Mathieson double iron and three (what appeared to be) double-ended cutters from a quirk router).
    • An old Crownshaw, Chapman & Co, brass-backed saw (the interesting thing about this guy was the teeth; this was probably about 12tpi, but the teeth were each about 1/4in long. If I didn't know better, I'd say it looked like the teeth on a Japanese saw).
    • A dozen or so complex moulders
    • A nice pair of snipe-bills.
    • radius plane; toothing plane; some skew rabbets; a couple carriage maker planes; an old saw-wrest; some mallets, etc. etc.

    The important point here is the state of the stuff. Everything in the chest was British, marked by the owner's name "G. E. Brookes" (does this name mean anything to anyone?) and really did look like it had been sitting in a quiet dry place for a century. Some of the pieces (e.g. the filletster and plow plane) showed some wear, but most of it was in very good shape.


    So, I divided/stacked things up into reasonable groups, showed Bob what I'd done and made a couple recommendations on how he might want to group things during the sale (he tends to "lot things up" when dealing with multiple tools). I headed out to wait until the next evening.

    The auctions start about 6 and I got there about 4:30, staked out a good seat and went to look things over. Trevor Robinson (who was one of the folks I e-mailed) showed up and we chatted for a while and looked things over.

    (I had heard from Merchant of Ashby earlier. He had been in town for (ahem) other business and had been by and dropped off some left bids but decided that all-in-all the stuff was too "blah" to hang around for. Must be terrible to go through life that jaded... ;-)

    There was already a good-sized group hanging around the tool tables, a couple guys going over every item with (literally) magnifying glasses.

    There was also this one guy in a suit --a real suit, not just a jacket and a tie; I probably don't have to tell you how much that made him stand out from the rest of the crowd.

    But more on him later...

    So, as I say, it promised to be a good evening. I sort of figured that the things I was most interested in (the Sorby chisels and the set of H&R) were likely out of my range, but as they say, where there's hope there's life. And in any case there was surely enough other stuff to keep it fun.

    So everyone settled in and things started on schedule. It soon became clear that one (of the five) runners was in charge of bringing up things from the table of tools. So, this meant that every fifth item would be one of the tool lots (amid the rockers and the lamps). Not a bad pace.

    The chest itself came up first. In short order it went (to bidder #95) for $450. So, things were getting off to a running start.

    The next lot up was the half-set of Hollows&Rounds, so I set up and started paying attention. I held on for as long as I could, but the set finally went (also) for $450 to (also) bidder #95. Oh well... too rich for my blood. But it was a nice set.

    The next item was the rest of the Hollows&Rounds. (Seven misc, of various small sizes.) This went for $310! Wait a minute: That's $45 each??

    And if things hadn't got interesting enough, these went, too, to #95.

    Who is this guy? #95 was behind me. So I --real subtle like-- leaned down to get a Dr Pepper out of my bag and sneak a peak. Yep, you guessed it: the guy in the suit.

    Well, to make a too-long story (slightly) shorter, by the time the set of the Sorby mortise chisels went for $445 it was pretty much clear to everybody there that 1] Mr 95 was going to buy up the chest and everything that had come out of it and 2] he was not going to be out-bid on anything.

    The tool-interested people started drifting out about this time. Most of which probably worked to Mr 95's advantage. A lot of 20 misc complex moulders (and others) went for $200. (OTOH he got bid up to $110 on a pair of snipe bills and $170 on the two carriage-maker planes.)

    In short, he bought the chest and everything that came out of it. (OK, not quite everything. There was one lot of 4 or 5 misc mallets, which someone "stole" from him for $165! But everything else left with him.)

    And it was clear he knew exactly what he wanted. Just before the auction started Trevor and I were going through a couple of other old toolboxes over on the side and Trevor found a nice old Disston #8 rip saw (curved back, thumb-hole; 5 nuts; the whole deal). We showed it to Bob and he put it up on the table with the other stuff.

    The tool-runner brought runner brought the saw up with the other 3 or 4 saws that were from the toolchest. The auctioneer separated out the Disston and sold other saws (which of course #95 bought). However when he sold the Disston next, #95 didn't even bid on it (I got it for $10, no doubt thanks to the fact that most everyone who might have been interested had had left). In short, it was clear that he was focused on the chest, the tools that came from it, and nothing else.

    So I paid up and went home.

    It was still a, well, interesting evening. And I'm glad I went. It was fun sorting through the chest. I suppose the upside is --as someone said before the auction-- it looks like the tools and the chest are going to stay together, so that's nice. The guy probably wasn't a dealer --at the prices he paid, he was gonna be hard pressed to show a profit-- so it looked like they went to good home. And at least I didn't burn up a whole year's worth of tool allowance in one evening.

    But, heck, I didn't even get that stack of the d*mn "Pogo" books!


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