Tools are the father of all antiques. Any piece of art, furniture, or household item would not be possible without the tools used to make them. Used in yesteryear, antique tools can be valued collector’s items. Collectors can find real treasures at auctions such as those held by LAWSON & CO.


Tools come in all sorts, shapes, and sizes. An antique tool collector typically chooses a category of tools to collect. In the broadest categorization, tools are divided into groups by the material they work — woodworking tools, metalworking tools, basket making tools, leather working tools, etc. Within each of these categories tool types can be further refined. For example, woodworking tools could be further divided into measuring tools and cutting tools.

Tools may also be categorized in other ways.  A collector might choose to collect tools from a certain maker. Another option would be to collect tools based on patents. A collector might work on a type study of a specific tool. Tools can be collected according to aesthetics as well. These tools that are, regardless of their function, works of art themselves. Maybe a collector would choose to collect tools based on what the tools are made of. Historic collectors may follow a type of tool through history. Perhaps collect different versions and developments of the tool through time. Another option would be to collect a wide variety of tools from a certain time period. Tools are made all over the world, so collecting tools from a certain geographic region might be a focus. Some tool collectors look for models or miniatures of tools rather than the actual tools. The options are truly endless when it comes to antique tools!

Of all of these, one of the simplest ways to begin collecting is to look at collecting tools from a specific maker. You can further streamline your collection by choosing more than one category such as a certain tool maker and a certain time period. The important thing is that as a collector, the area of tools is so broad, a collector will need a focus. This is especially true for a beginner.


What makes a collectible tool valuable? The keys are the rarity of the tool and its condition. A tool that is more difficult to find is rare and will be worth more. A rare level tool can be worth thousands of dollars more than a more common example of a tool that does the same job. Of course, a tool in good condition will be worth more than a damaged one. The two factors are interrelated. Rarity can impact condition and vice versa. A common easy to find tool, for example, could be much more valuable if it is in mint condition still in its package.


Provenance is the history of an item. It shows the ownership through history. For a tool, the provenance would include the maker, the seller, and all of the users over the years. When a collector has proof of this information, the tool’s value increases exponentially. Provenance can be especially valuable if a previous owner was a well-known person in the field of the tool or a well-known collector.


In order to determine the condition of a tool, several factors are considered. We must consider the wear, the repairs that have been made, finish, rust, paint, and parts. The Fine Tool Journal Rating System established by Vernon Ward is a guide to help you determine the condition of your tool.


Restoration can be a plus or a minus in the world of collection. Restoration must be done in the proper way to preserve the original state of the tool in order to add value. Otherwise, restoration can greatly decrease the value of a tool.

Finding Tools

Have we spurred your interest in collecting tools? Where will you find collectible antique tools? Tools pop up in many places. Antique shops, garage sales, dealers, online, at trade shows or at auctions. Prior to the internet, auctions were the premiere place to find valuable antique tools. Unlike online posting, at an auction you can handle and possibly even try out a tool. It is an ideal place to gather information about a tool and its provenance. Come check out the auctions held by LAWSON & CO to look for some great finds! Contact us at 317-745-6404.

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