Tools for sale 

18th Century Wooden Planes

Mike Humphrey

The wooden plane hobby is slowly maturing toward a broad collection of associated sub interests. We still have a long way to go in completing our makers’ lists and accompanying biographies, but we do so much more than that now.

There is a growing appreciation of the many hardware dealers who signed planes. In fact, the importance of all aspects of marketing is beginning to be understood with respect to planes. There was a great difference between the production of individual planes for direct retail sale, relatively locally, and their bulk manufacture for the wholesale market. There were exceptions all along, but the plane making industry makes a wonderful study of the advancing industrial revolution.

The American colonies which later became the U.S. and Canada were populated by transplanted Europeans, mostly from Britain in the earlier periods, and that flow of immigrants never ceased. In recent years these interconnected national histories have been documented in several instances through the movement and work of planemakers. Thomas Napier, John Teal, John Dryburgh and Alexander Wallace are all known to have made planes in both Britain and North America. Between James Swetman, and his father Jerome, planes were apparently made in England, the U.S and Canada. Numerous other makers are documented to have moved between the various countries, and much more will no doubt be learned in the future on this subject. Other British makers including John Rogers, I. Cox and Brown & Barnard are thought to have taken a special interest in serving the American market.

In an interesting twist on international movement, an occasional plane shows up in Britain which came from America. A few years ago, a later 18th century plane marked E. CLARK, MIDDLEBORO (Massachusetts) was discovered in London having the dark, heavily oiled appearance of a British plane. That plane may have been carried back by a returning Colonial Loyalist around the time of the American Revolution.

Despite the constant flow of settlers into North America during all periods, there developed in the colonies in the 18th century, distinct, indigenous, regional styles of plane design, particularly in parts of Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Pennsylvania. Now it appears too, that some important functional innovations may also have come from those areas at that time. Those styles are fascinating to study in their own right, but even more so within the context of international style evolution. When the unique American styles did finally dissipate in the early 19th century, it was the British style into which they dissolved, and of course, that was the starting point from which they had diverged about a century earlier.

One of the most exciting areas of plane study that is active at this time is the sorting out of the earliest makers to have signed planes, the plane styles of that period (late 17th century – early 18th century) and the styles from which those designs developed. At that point, the Americans had not yet deviated so drastically, and some continental influences were playing an important role.

Appeared 1998 – Toolshop Auctions Catalogue

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