Sometimes I’ll see people ask the simple question on woodworking forums on whether or not an old plane they picked up at a garage sale is worth anything. While chances are it’s worth what they paid for it, every once in a while they found a real gem. The key is finding out what Type of Stanley plane you have.
About twenty years ago Roger K Smith wrote a Type Study on the different features of Stanley planes through the years. It was originally printed in Patented Transitional and Metallic Planes in America Volume I and then later used in John Walter’s book Antique and Collectible Stanley Tools Guide to Identity and Value. Unfortunately both books are out of print and tough to acquire but fortunately for us, some people have uploaded the info to the internet. Below is one of the links. http://www.tooltrip.com/tooltrip9/stanley/stan-bpl/bailey-types.htm
This Type Study is considered to be the most accurate information to date on the manufacturing of Stanley planes, however it should be noted that Stanley Works never built planes based on these Type Studies. They simply build planes with whatever parts they had lying around. So it is quite possible to have a plane that fits all the criteria of a certain Type Study but may have a part or two with an earlier or later Type to it.
Below are two Stanley No 5 planes that to an untrained eye, may look quite similar to one another but are worlds apart as far as value. The plane on the left is a Type 2 which was made from 1869-1872. The one on the right is a Type 13 made from 1925-1928.
The easiest way to tell if your plane is collectible or not is to see if there is a lateral adjustment on the frog. Planes without this lever are known as Prelateral planes. There are four Type Studies that were Prelateral planes, Type 3 being the most rare. If you come into contact with a Type 3 plane, don’t do anything to it. It’s gold to tool collectors.
The second easiest way to see if you have a collectible Stanley plane is to see where the round hole on the plane’s blade is. If it’s on top like the blade on the left, it’s a Prelateral plane blade. Why Stanley changed the position of the hole from the top to the bottom, I have no idea. The hole is there to put the cap iron nut through the blade without having to fully remove it. Seems like a silly feature to me but that’s just me. Every plane blade ever made has this feature so I’m obviously missing something.
Another feature that distinguishes really old Stanley planes from the users is the lever cap. If your lever cap is solid without any recesses, it’s rare. I guess metal was a precious commodity back then and every ounce counted. Do the solid lever caps work better? I doubt it. It’s just a lever cap.
The fourth feature that separates the collector from the user is the brass adjustment knob in the back of the frog. I guess Stanley was trying to save money anyway they could back in the 1870’s and putting a recess in the adjustment knob saved them $.001 in brass. But hey, $.001 was a lot of money back then.
A fifth major feature is the shape of the tote. It was still being made out of rosewood but the shape on later Stanley’s became more streamed line. Stanley probably heard complaints from customers about the totes being uncomfortable so they redesigned the shape. But that’s my guess. It wasn’t cost savings because they didn’t switch to birch hardwood until the 1940’s.
Now it’s your call of you want to use one of these old planes in your shop on a day-to-day basis. All I know is I sold the Type 2 on eBay for $175.00 while the Type 13 commonly goes for $40.00. With the economy the way it is today, if I had an old collectible Stanley plane, I’d sell it and buy a later version with a little bit more bells and whistles for a quarter of the price and fill up my truck with a tank of gas and take my wife out for dinner with the remainder of the money.