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Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Rescuing Endangered Orange Frogs

I'm not an antique tool collector (honest!) and I don't normally visit boot fairs, but last weekend my wife was invited to visit a local boot fair with a friend and on her return mentioned that there were a couple of stands selling old tools. I'm still not entirely sure why, fate, instinct perhaps, but after an hour or so of wrestling an irresistible urge to peruse the stalls, I gave in.

One plane in particular caught my eye, a type 11 Stanley low knob 5-1/2, the handle was cracked but everything was complete and original.

The stallholder then told me that he also had a No.7 in the car if I was interested, not a low knob but certainly another pre-war keeper. By this point it had started to rain and it was unfair to keep the poor bloke dithering while his stock got wet, so I asked him for a price on the planes and accepted his very reasonable offer. I can't stand all this  haggling back and forth for the sake of a fiver - this is England after all, not Marakesh.

Having returned home I consulted the oracle of all things Stanley (Patrick Leach's Blood & Gore) and discovered that my instincts had served me well. The low knob 5-1/2 was indeed complete and correct and a gentle rub with a rag and some ProtecTool microcrystalline wax revealed the words 'Stanley, New Britain, Connecticut, USA' on the iron. The Patent marks and lack of a ring in the casting beneath the knob dated it to between 1910 and 1929 and the low knob placed it as pre 1920. Bingo, it could have been a period prop in Downton Abbey!

Whilst gently wiping the accumulated grime off the No.7 I noticed that it had various flecks of gloss paint on it. Why do so many planes get splashes of paint on them?  Further inspection revealed that both sides of the frog were covered in orange paint, this was different though, if someone had dropped enough orange paint on the thing to cover the sides of the frog, then surely there would be signs of it elsewhere.

Back to the internet, which revealed that during a very brief period Stanley USA took to painting the sides of their plane frogs bright day-glow orange, then as quickly as they had begun they stopped. The plane is a type 15, which were only made for two years (1931-32). Orange frog type 15s are extremely thin on the ground and because No.7s aren't made in anything like the same volumes as smoothers and jack planes, this turned out to be a very rare beast indeed. The irons were not contemporary to the plane, but hey, how much luck can you expect in one day?