Are Your Antique Tools Worth Anything? | RI Antiques Mall

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Are Your Antique Tools Worth Anything?

The use of tools has separated us from other species since the dawn of humanity. Anthropologists tell us that each advance in the sophistication of man’s tools contributes to our continuing evolution. No wonder collectors have such a fascination with old tools. These artifacts give us incredible insight into how we’ve changed and grown as a civilization. 

No doubt, everyone reading this owns tools of some kind, and interestingly, most of you probably own tools that are older than you are. After all, they tend to be handed down in families, are nearly indestructible and rarely discarded. The question is, which, if any, of your old tools are desirable to collectors?

Old and unusual tools sell best

Let’s cut to the chase. Common tools like screwdrivers, pliers, hammers, wrenches and files, even if old, are rarely worth more than a few dollars each. They’ll probably sell just fine at yard sales as useful things, but these are not the tools that deeper-pocketed collectors seek. Collectors hunt for extremely old, rare, unusual or very finely made tools.

Extremely old tools include implements used by early native populations and blacksmith-forged wrought iron tools. Rare tools include those used only by specialized craftsmen or tradesmen, such as the tools used in the making of clocks or firearms. Early medical tools such as amputation saws, cranial drills and the like are also sought after.

Finally, unusual tools that challenge the mind, evoke curiosity or bring back nostalgic memories appeal to a broad range of collectors and novices alike and don’t have to be as old as the other categories to pique interest. 

Look for fine craftsmanship 

Some of the biggest money is paid for exceptionally finely made tools. There’s nothing a tool-collecting craftsman appreciates more than the fine work of a fellow craftsman. Certain old tools, such as those painstakingly handmade from whale bone by early seamen, were so beautifully made that they transcend their functionality and are worthy of being treated as an art object. You may own such a tool if one of your ancestors was a craftsman.

Many of you have precision machinist tools in your possession. While beautifully made, the vast majority of these devices are quite common and demand is relatively low. Therefore, you’ll likely be disappointed to learn what they are worth.

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