Antique tool box (Identification & Value Guide)

Imagine having your antique tools organized, protected, and in your hands whenever you need them. You know that struggle and frustration when you have something at home but cannot find it when needed? Well, humans have been struggling with this forever.

Fortunately, to solve just that, toolboxes–as a storage unit– have been around since the 17th century.  

From simple one-lid metal toolboxes to the 19th-century wooden tool chest with compartments and drawers, these artifacts have evolved quite a lot. Some are highly valuable for their aesthetics, while others are cherished for their enhanced usefulness.

So without further ado, let’s walk you through the different styles and materials used in antique toolboxes.

Antique Tool box- Types & Materials

Back in the day, wood and metal were prominent in making toolboxes due to their profound durability. But later on, manufacturers started using plastic to create light and cheaper toolboxes.

Wooden Tool Chest

Wooden Tool Chest
Source

Wood tool chests go way back in time to the early 1600s when English adventurers used to explore the lands beyond the oceans. Possibly these bulky chests were part of the ships’ manifests and were an essential part of carpentry and cabinetry trades on foreign shores.

Since the start, wooden tool chests were not only elegant but also the most durable carpentry one could get their hands on. Wood offers unlimited possibilities to customize and make carpentry as you wish. And just about that, these wood artifacts, from a simple open caddy to a detailed one with drawers and portions, come in many designs.

The earliest ones are my favorite. They came with dovetail joinery at the corners, a hinged lid, and often a rack on the top for safe keeping hand tools like hammers and chisels.

Then later in the 19th century, some wooden tool chests were cleverly designed to hold up to 300 tools. Having such an artifact was no less than a dream for a carpenter at that time. Even in the present-day, antique collectors would pay high bucks to add this to their collections.

And in the late 19th and early 20th-Century, wooden machinist tool chests were manufactured. These chests were ornate with specialized compartments and drawers to hold specific machine equipment. Each felt-lined drawer lent leverage to keeping small tools like screwdrivers, calipers, pliers, and more!

Metal Tool Box

Metal Tool Box
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Metal, if protected from rust, is one of the most durable materials. It became popular as tool storage and was mass-produced in the early 20th century. So unlike antique wooden tool boxes, it’s easy to get your hands on any vintage metal ones.

Moreover, some vintage metal tool boxes are of simple design, with a hinged lid and a clasp to hold the lid closed. Outside there could be handles to drag them if need be, and inside there could also be a tray that holds tiny tools like nails and screws.

Further elaborated designs had nesting trays with hinges that would open out with perfect synchronization.

Plastic Tool Box

Plastic Tool Box
Source

Midway through the 20th century, alongside metal, plastic also gained popularity in manufacturing tool boxes at a cheaper cost than prior ones. Although their durability was questionable, they were the preference of many economical homeowners.

Since plastic was never a durable material, it is unusual to find plastic vintage tool boxes. Most of the time, companies manufactured them entirely with molded plastic, which included plastic compartments, hinges, trays, and even handles.

So a little rough use would take no time to turn into abuse.

Often a handle would break out, hinges would snap from excessive movement, or a harsh environment would cause cracks on the body. But even if a piece survives through the timeline, one would not bid high on it.

Identifying Antique Tool Box- Brands & Models

Back in the day, there was no idea of brands. Many antique tool boxes were handmade by a solo carpenter or manufactured on a small scale. But later in the 19th century, some names gained popularity in making tools and tool boxes.

Fast forward to today, some of these branded tool boxes are more valuable as antiques. So if you have gotten your hands on an old tool box, it is crucial to know the manufacturer too. Below are some renowned names you can search for on your vintage tool box body.

Craftsman

Craftsman first came into the business in 1929. Later in the second half of the 20th century, their vintage tool boxes, usually made from metal, were running the show. These boxes came in a variety of designs, including the simple open caddy ones, double-hinged lids, and those with lift-out compartments.

If you doubt to have an antique Craftsman tool box, Craftsman imprints its logo very clearly on its products. Look for the logo that is usually on the front or the side of the body. However, if there is no clue about the logo, it probably means it has rubbed out.

Alternatively, look for the date code, usually two letters followed by a number, which is usually imprinted on the bottom of the drawer or somewhere. Once you have the date code, compare it with the date code chart provided by the Craftsman, and you will have all the necessary information.

Stanley

Stanley came into being even before Craftsman, in the 19th century, and since then, it has made its presence felt in the tools market.

Its antique artifacts include examples of wood and metal tool boxes with variations in styles. Some models had wheels and were portable, while others were bulky wooden tool chests with drawers and compartments.

Like every brand’s strategy, Stanley ensured to make its logo obvious on its product. But the nameplate might wear off with time, especially if it’s an antique wooden box we are talking about. In such case, to know what you own, you can go to forums dedicated to antique hardware, such as The Garage Journal, and take help from there.

Union

Another brand from the early 1900s, Union, made wood and metal tool chests for specific trades, also conventional tool chest models for regular usage. There were significant changes in the Union, and its history is a bit complex to understand.

Despite everything, if you find no logo on your antique tool chest, you can go on forums for this one. Take clear pictures of your tool box from every angle, and post them on forums like Reddit or the one mentioned before. Hopefully, someone will drop their valuable opinion that might help you out.

H. Gerstner & Sons

Although H. Gerstner & Sons started manufacturing wood tool boxes in 1906 in Ohio, the company officially registered itself in 1909. However, things got worse when in 1913, H. Gerstner & Sons’ first-ever factory got heavily destroyed in the Great Dayton Flood.

In the same year, the company opened a new factory where the production continued and went on to recover the loss.

The company specialized in various styles of tool boxes but was popular in making machinist tool chests, usually out of wood. Those vintage chests had many felt-lined drawers and compartments, which made it a spacious craft.

How To Value an Antique Tool Box?

Whether you are thinking of selling or buying something, there is a crucial aspect, valuation, that you should never miss. So to determine the value of antique or vintage tool boxes precisely, below are some factors to keep in mind.

The Material

As discussed above, different materials of the tool box hold certain features, which determine the value. For instance, vintage plastic tool boxes that are light but have short life sells for way less than the beautifully crafted, durable wooden antique chests.

A plastic vintage tool box, generously, sells for around $5 to $20, whereas antique wooden ones start from $100. Look at this vintage Kennedy tool chest that sold for $200.

The Brand

Tool boxes from a renowned manufacturer are often worth more than those without markings. Some late 19th and early 20th-century products sell for hundreds of dollars in the antique market today.

For instance, 11-drawer H. Gerstner & Sons oak tool box with a felt-lining design got sold for $735 on eBay. So it is crucial to know the manufacturer, and sometimes model, of your antique tool box to estimate an accurate value.    

Age

Followed by knowing the brand, the age of the tool box also plays a role in determining its rightful value. The older it is, the higher worth it will have in the antique marketplace.

Keeping the brands constant, an antique tool box from the 19th-century will be worth more than the vintage one from the 1960s.

Condition

It all narrows down to the condition of your tool box that decides the overall worth. With the rest of the factors equal, the well-preserved tool boxes go for a lot more than those in rough shapes.

For instance, a Union’s antique wooden tool box in perfect condition sold out for $1500 on eBay. Similar tool boxes with wear & tear cannot fetch such a high bid.

How To Restore an Antique Tool Box?

Some antique tool boxes sell for high bucks if in the proper condition. But to preserve something for ages despite the extreme conditions is not as easy as it seems.

If you have an antique tool box that is not in a displayable condition, whether passed down to you by your ancestors or you bought it from a yard sale, you can give it a try to restore it.

Fortunately, there are plenty of videos on Youtube teaching how to restore an antique tool box. For instance, here is a video of Corey Rametta restoring his antique wooden tool box.

7 Best Ways To Sell an Antique or Vintage Tool Box

If you have a valuable antique or vintage tool box that you do not wish to keep any longer, why not sell it? Who would mind money coming in? If you want to make some bucks, here’s another cheeky way of flipping big profits.

Buy old dusted tool boxes for a cheap cost from a garage sale, restore them, and sell them at a higher value. Below are some best places where you can sell your antique or vintage tool boxes for their rightful value.  

1. eBay

eBay is one of the best online global marketplaces from both perspectives, sellers, and buyers. It features auction-style bidding on the products, which sometimes gives the edge to sellers and often to buyers.

Owning a store is not a must-have. You can directly sell on eBay, even if it is a one-time trade. However, your listing may take time to rank when entering as a new seller in this little saturated market.

So in that case, if you have a friend or someone close who has a store on eBay, you can reach out to them. Ask them to list your item from their stores in exchange for a share of the percentage of profit. It will save you some time.

2. Etsy

Etsy is another globally recognized online marketplace that was well known for custom gifts and arts, but later its reach branched off to antique and vintage items too.

When comparing Etsy to eBay, it has a constrained reach. But given that it targets a niche-specific audience of handmade, antique, vintage, or crafted items. Opening your online antique or vintage tools store here is worth the try, especially when you have more than one items to put on sale.

However, this site is more visited by collectors than anyone who would want to utilize the tools. So only the tools that are patently vintage and manufactured by old companies or are very rare to find can sell for the best price.

3. Ruby Lane

If your antique tool box is extremely rare, like a wooden tool box dating from the 1800s, Ruby Lane is the place to sell it. This marketplace ensures authenticity both for the sellers and buyers. So to maintain that authenticity, it has set some standards.

Not everyone gets authorized here to sell, and it is quite challenging to get your listing accepted by the appraisal team of Ruby Lane.

However, if you have an antique piece from a specific era and with all the documentation to back your claim, Ruby Lane can connect you with some high bidders.

4. The International Antique Shop (TIAS)

TIAS is an amazing online store to buy and sell antiques of all kinds. From rare and expensive items to bizarre ones that have no place anywhere, there’s always someone there wanting to buy them.

So before putting your antique tool box on sale, it’s crucial to know the right value of that antique to categorize it accordingly. The more rare your antique is, the better it will sell.

Even if your antique tool box is not in the best condition or not that valuable, you can hop on this site at a fair market price. Hopefully, someone would think to add it to their collections. But it’s equally important to substantiate any claims you make here.

5. Garage & Yard Sales

Do you want to clear out older items that are not of your use in a quick time? Putting up a garage or yard sale is an effective way to do so without worrying about your competitors.

You can put your antique or vintage tool box with other items on sale. Some collectors from the neighborhood might pay a visit and try to haggle down the price, for which you need to be good at haggling too.

However, if you want to hold a successful garage sale, you will have to spend on advertising. What’s the point of running a garage sale if someone two streets away from your location don’t know about it?

So it’s always better to build hype first by putting posters and running ads on local Craigslist, Facebook, or any other social media platforms. Once locals know that there’s a garage sale nearby, potential buyers will come out.

6. Auction Houses

If you have a complete set of antique tools and tool boxes or any high-end piece you want to sell, display it at auction houses. Auctioneers charge a fee for displaying antiques. But you can take full advantage of the far-extended reach of auctions and possibly make big bucks.

However, single items or incomplete sets may not do good in auctions, and you may get an unsatisfactory deal. Moreover, a refinished or refurbished antique may also result in the same as it will lose its value significantly and not perform well at auctions, as most collectors love these flaws and desire it as it is.

So it’s better to avoid adding a refinish touch to your antique tool box, especially if you are a novice. Other than that, cleaning or dusting is something you should occasionally do.  

7. Facebook Marketplace

Tell me, who doesn’t use Facebook? It is the most popular social media platform, with more than 2.89 billion active users. Most likely, the collectors nearby you are one of them. So why not list your antique tool box on Facebook and reach your hand to them?

Facebook has a dedicated marketplace that enables local trading more efficiently. It’s important to be kind and honest about your listings to become successful in such a marketplace.

Since Facebook makes every comment visible to everyone, one negative comment will damage your reputation, and in the long term, no one will buy from you.

Frequently Asked Questions

What can I do with old tool boxes?

If you are more of a DIY or creative person, you can use old tool boxes in many ways. If you have an open caddy, separate the top and bottom, and you can use them as a centerpiece. Moreover, you can paint, draw, and all artistry in between on these centerpieces and make them as beautiful as you can.

Other than open caddy, old tool boxes like machinist ones are also perfect for storage and home organization. From desk stationeries to kitchen essentials–you can store anything and everything in these tool boxes.

What is a machinist’s chest?

As the name suggests, a machinist’s chest is a specialized box for machinists to store their equipment. Since there are various types of machinists, the chest can vary in size and features as per the needs.

Usually, a machinist uses expensive and high-tech equipment that needs to be in a safe place when not in use. So these chests were manufactured to meet this purpose more than anything.  

How old is my Snap-on tool box?

Since 1920, Snap-on, an American company, has been producing high-end tools and tool boxes. If you have a Snap-on tool box and are unaware of its age, go to their website to track down your product. Here is a step-by-step on what to do.

  1. Check the back of your tool box and record the marking or code. The first number or symbol represents the year of manufacture, and further K-series, which includes “K,” “KT,” “KR,” or “KRA,” shows the type or model of the box. The rest of the numbers is the product number.
  2. Compare the code with the date chart on the Snap-on website.
  3. Select “Catalogs” from the drop-down menu, and select the year within your year range.
  4. Scroll through the catalog, and you will get the picture and description of your product.

Final Words

Wrapping it up- antique tool boxes can be an excellent addition to organizing your tools and other accessories. But more than that, antique tool boxes are a reminder of how artistic carpenters were who made these elegant beauties with such complicated and manual tools.

Just look at the Studley tool chest that can hold about 300 tools! And to think someone crafted it using no advanced machine or technology, just with some mathematical calculations here and there–isn’t it mind-boggling?

Thanks for staying with us till the end. We hope our identification & value guide brought value to you. Let us know in the comment section what you think about antique tool boxes and which one is your favorite.   

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