I Can Find Those Antique Tools Cheaper

As one administrator of a great team in one of the largest Facebook groups for buying and selling antique tools, I see a lot of the same questions and responses get posted. One such recurring thought when someone has an item listed is the response, “I can find that anywhere cheaper!”

This interjection rarely comes in a respectful way, and is often used to undermine the asking price of the seller. Let’s dive in to some problems to this way of thinking.

Stanley 5 Type 11 with Hock Blade and Chipbreaker

You are likely overestimating how often you see a particular item.

“I’ve been waiting for an employee for 45 minutes!” says the customer who entered the store 10 minutes ago. “My steak is raw!” comes the response to a medium-well steak from someone who *shudder* likes it well-done.

To be human is to overestimate. We all do it to varying degrees. But we must realize that inclination and fight trying to apply it as a blanket statement.

Stanley 71

But perhaps you do live in a place that you find a particular item in nearly every shop. Then remember:

Not everyone lives in as tool-prolific an area as you.

The Midwest and Northeast housed some of America’s greatest tool manufacturers of the 19th century. England saw far more tool production than Scotland. Knowing the history of a particular region helps to understand the antique tools market there.

The southeastern United States was largely agrarian, and as such there’s a better ability to find old farm tools than woodworking or smithy tools. Other areas are woodworking tool-poor as well.

Carving set

Some people would have to drive several hours round trip to get to any decent pickings of antique tools, and perhaps you enjoy that and can spend that time. But for many:

Time = Money.

If going to antique stores and finding yard sales is a hobby for you, then time spent searching for tools is value. You might live in an area with six great antique stores within 20 minutes. Competition keeps prices low, so you can get a skewed view on what everyone should pay at other stores.

For some people, it’d be an hour to get somewhere, 30-60 min perusing, and an hour to drive back. On what, a Saturday when they need to go to their son’s football game and their daughter’s dance and mow the lawn?

Drills and a Scrub

Their time holds a different value. What’s your “life hourly rate”? $30/hr? Then that 3-hr trip to the antique store just cost $90 in time, let alone cost of goods purchased and then time required to restore antique tools. Restoration, especially if it includes tuning, can take a deal of time in some cases.

That’s assuming the antique hunting trip yields anything.

The Comparison Game

What you paid at a boot sale, garage sale, moving sale, estate sale is about the worst way to put actual national or international market value to an item. Auctions, the more publicized the better, is the only thing that comes close to being a good indicator.

Hence, eBay sold listings. Results from the world’s auction house that show what people are actually willing to pay for antique tools. Yes, they’re imperfect. You will find holes, niches, and rare items elsewhere that aren’t well-represented on eBay or can pull more value.

Starrett Combination Square

But next time you see someone offer up something like a plane or saw for a price “you can find anywhere cheaper,” keep these issues in mind and be courteous. Then go out and buy that item that “you can find anywhere cheaper” and sell it for profit.

If their prices are truly much higher than eBay sold listings, then ask them privately how they arrived at that price. It’s much better to ask than tell.

Got the bug for some Antique Tools now? Come join over at Antique Tools Buy, Sell, and Trade!


Agree? Disagree? Have a topic or question in mind you’d like to see? Let me know!

Author: Jordan

Jordan Quackenbush is a hobbyist tool restorer (focusing on moulding planes) and 100% unplugged woodworker. The tactility of woodworking contrasts perfectly with his mostly-digital day job, Creative Director for a Video Marketing Agency in Atlanta, GA, USA. He lives in metro Atlanta with his family. He is on the admin team at the Unplugged Woodworkers & Antique Tools Buy-Sell-Trade Facebook groups.

One Reply to “I Can Find Those Antique Tools Cheaper”

  1. Thanks Jordan,
    As in so many parts of human interaction, courtesy is the grease that keeps the wheels moving. At the moment there are plenty of old tools to go around, but I have seen sharp increases of late on some items. I guess the old adage; ‘buy the best tools you can afford’ applies here.
    We have been trained by the supermarkets and super retailers to grab bargains, but with tools you are hopefuly going to live with them for the rest of your life, so quality is a far more important consideration than price.
    Enjoy the last couple of years of hand tools being cheaper than they would cost to make new – if I had a barn I know what I would be filling it with!
    Cheers,
    Matthew

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