Old Tool Reprint Room

A checklist of reprints

books on shelvesWhy a list of reprint catalogs, manuals and guides? We stand at the edge of a new era. Electronic books are becoming popular; print-on-demand publication is increasingly common; there is talk that newly published books will never go out of print. All the more reason to pause, take a look back, and see where we've been. The golden age of reprinted tool literature began in the early 1970s and lasted for nearly four decades. It began at a time when information about antique tools was scarce. There was no secondary literature to speak of, no e-mail and no web pages. Information about the tool and hardware trade was buried in boxes in attics, tucked along the rafters in the back rooms of dying hardware stores, and hidden in the unprocessed collections of a handful of libraries. The small number of original publications still extant were not available to the average collector.

And so the age of the reprint began. Tool collecting clubs such the the Early Trades and Crafts Society, the Early American Industries Association (EAIA) and the Mid-West Tool Collectors Association (M-WTCA) began re-issuing hardware catalogs and tool-related literature for their members. Entrepreneurial collectors like Ken Roberts and Roger K. Smith realized there was a market for the publications and started their own reprint operations. One commercial publisher specializing in tool literature—the Astragal Press—included a number of reprints in its inventory. The author estimates the Astragal Press, the tool clubs, and the dealer/collectors reprinted 265 titles between 1970 and 2010. The development of the Internet—with its ease of communication—the gradual appearance of high quality secondary publications (Roger K. Smith on hand planes, Tom Lamond on spoke shaves, Don Rosebrook on levels, etc.), and the increased costs of publishing have made the case for the publication of new reprints less compelling. While new paper-format reprints are unlikely to disappear any time soon, methods of publication are likely to become increasingly electronic. Much will be lost, as the physical items are a delightful, relatively inexpensive way to travel back into time.

The title of "most prolific reprinter" goes to the Mid-West Tool Collectors Association (M-WTCA). It is followed by the Astragal Press. Ken Roberts Publishing and Roger K. Smith were responsible for a significant number of contributions as well. Roberts was especially noteworthy for the amount of ancillary information that he included with his titles. Smith's titles are remarkable for a quality of production higher than that of the other players. Certainly the business receiving the most reprint attention was the Stanley Rule and Level Company. Henry Disston and Sons comes in second with the Millers Falls Company and various Chapin enterprises at a distant third.

The Early American Industries Association (EAIA) and the Trade and Crafts Society co-published a number of the earlier reprints with the M-WTCA. EAIA's involvement fell off as it began focus more intensely on original research. The costs of production and smaller size of such regional tool clubs as the Southwest Tool Collectors Association, Antique Tools and Trades in Connecticut (ATTIC) and Preserving Arts and Skills of the Trades (PAST) served to limit the overall number of reprints that they published.

Scope: The Old Tool Reprint Room includes most titles published before 2011. After that time, the list is less comprehensive and focuses more on reprinted catalogs and price lists.