by Martin J. Donnelly

(Webmaster's note: This article was originally printed in the Fall 1996 edition of ToolTalk.)

Reference Works

Perhaps the best way for an antique tool enthusiast to appreciate the significance of Ken Cope's publications on the subject of American machinist's tools is to imagine what collecting would be like without any of the reference works that we regularly consult.

What would it be like to read the CRAFTS auction list or survey the tables in the parking lot at High Bridge without the knowledge found in articles and books published by pioneering antique tool researchers?

Would tools with New Jersey makers' marks be nearly so appealing were it not for Alex Farnham's published research in this area?

Would all but a select few see wooden planes as uninteresting blocks of wood without the efforts of Jack Whelen or the late Emil Pollak?

The answer to all these questions is that tools would be far less interesting without the information these resources provide us.

Publications Expand Information

It is no secret that the growth of antique tool collecting nationwide has accelerated in direct proportion to the appearance of more and more publications on the subject. Ken Cope's machinist tool publications, while a continuation of this trend, are also in many ways a step beyond what has been done before, and is a model for other researchers in the coming years as they work to further expand the range of information available to collectors.

With the publication of American Machinist's Tools and Makers of American Machinist's Tools, Cope has captured the two essential elements that distinguish American hand tools from those of every other nation.

Inspiration For Collectors

The Cope books bring to life the world of hand tool manufacturing in the post-Civil War United States and provide antique tool collectors with the first-ever reference works in the important area of machinist's tools. Complex, patented precision tools by obscure manufacturers are the most sought after of all collectible machinist's tools. These books will serve as more than adequate inspiration for a collector to join the hunt.

For the experienced collector of classic machinist's tools, these books validate and expand the range of knowledge previously acquired only on a piecemeal basis.

For those who have limited experience with this category of tools, these reference works provide an excellent introduction to a complex subject.

Most importantly, Ken Cope's superb contributions to the essential reference library of tool collecting will attract an entire new generation of antique tool collectors to join us in discovering our heritage of American industry and invention.


Maker Location Dates Products
ATHOL MACHINE CO. Athol, MA 1868-1920 Calipers/Dividers/Squares/Etc.
BEMIS & CALL H. & T. CO. Springfield, MA 1844-1910 Calipers/Dividers/Squares/Etc.
BILLINGS & SPENCER CO. Hartford, CT 1882-1914 Gauges/Measuring Tools/Calipers/Etc.
BROWN, J. R. Providence, RI 1841-1853 Rules/Gauges/Etc.
BROWN & SHARPE, J. R. Providence, RI 1853-1867 Rules/Gauges/Etc.
BROWN & SHARPE MFG. CO. Providence, RI 1868-Present Micrometers/Rules/Squares/Etc.
COFFIN & LEIGHTON Syracuse, NY 1885-1901 Rules/Gauges
COOK, J. B. Syracuse, NY 1890-1902 Rules/Gauges/Etc.
DARLING, BROWN & SHARPE Providence, RI 1866-1895 Rules/Gauges/Squares/Etc.
D & S Bangor, ME 1853-1866 Rules/Squares/Etc.
DAVIS, L. L. Springfield, MA 1867-1875 Levels
DAVIS LEVEL & TOOL CO. Springfield, MA 1875-1893 Levels
FAY, CHARLES1 Springfield, MA 1883-1887 Calipers/Dividers
MASSACHUSETTS TOOL CO.2 Greenfield, MA 1900-1925 Squares/Gauges/Rules/Etc.
Ashburnham, MA
STANDARD TOOL CO.3 Athol, MA 1882-1905 Squares/Calipers/Gauges/Levels/Etc.
STARRETT CO., THE L. S .S. Athol, MA 1880-Present Squares/Calipers/Gauges/Etc.
J. STEVENS & CO.4 Chicopee Falls, MA 1864-1903 Calipers/Gauges/Etc.
UNION TOOL CO Orange, MA 1908-1975 Rules/Squares/Gauges/Etc.
WALKER CO., EDWIN Erie, PA 1887-1890 Surface Gauges/Marking Gauges
JOHN WYKE & CO. E. Boston, MA 1885-1911 Gauges/Rules/Etc.

1 Absorbed by the L.S. Starrett Co.
2 Absorbed by The Goodell-Pratt Co
3 A Subsidiary of the Athol Machine Co.
4 Tool division purchased by L.S. Starrett in 1903

This chart is reprinted from An Introduction to Classic American Machinist Tools, a brochure prepared by Martin J. Donnelly Antique Tools

-Martin J Donnelly, a member of PAST, is the publisher/editor of The Catalog of Antique Tools; he is a tool promoter par excellence.

-This article was originally written for CRAFTS OF NEW JERSEY for their journal, THE TOOL SHED. It has been revised and redesigned for TOOLTALK.