As a fulltime woodworker I am constantly on the lookout for tools. Not necessary new one, but old tools. I feel a bond to the craftsman before me that held the tool in his/her hands. Knowing that the sweat of the worker is trapped in the pores of the wood. And now my DNA is also transferred into it. That gives me a connection like a link in a woodworking chain.
One of the items I have wanted was a large tool chest. These tool chests were essentially the place all of the craftsman’s tools were kept. He might have worked in a shop and the chest was next to a bench. Or he might have been on a jobsite and it was placed there for the duration of the project.
Recently I was given a tip on a large antique tool chest for sale. I drove to the home where it was and took a look at it. It was large and had the features desirable in it. Saw till, sliding trays and that traditional look, a dovetailed carcass.
The box was nice but someone over the years tried to give it a fresh new look. They sanded it and restained it. Then they put a high gloss finish on it. I will say, if it was going in a house, that would look better than the dirty, grimy condition it probably once was.
I offered $200 but the seller wouldn’t budge from $500. And I just couldn’t go that high, so I passed on it.
Then this past week. Dennis Laney and I went to the Ohio Tools Collector Association. https://sites.google.com/site/ohiotool/home
A couple of times a year they have some of the members get together to sell their old tools. It’s a small but nice group of people. I usually go to look for a tool for my own collection. But even if I don’t find a tool, I find someone to talk to and hear a lot of fascinating stories.
I passed by one table and noticed a large tool chest. I paused to look at it and the lady who owned it said that the asking price was $125. It was dirty, rough, and worn. Just the way I like it. She mentioned that the keys were original to the box and was taken from a house in Sylvania Ohio not far from where I lived. As I lifted the box lid, the lady mentioned that the tools inside were also included in the purchase price. But what struck me next sealed the deal.
On the inside of the lid were some old pictures. The pictures were of a victorian era and although it was interesting to look at them, a couple of them borderline creepy. There was also a hotel that I was able to trace back to a directory in 1876.
The tools in it also gave insight into the man’s trade. The tools seemed to be that of a coach or carriage maker. Dennis noted that Toledo used to have the Milburn Wagon Company. They made early electric cars but prior to that, they were the largest farm wagon company around.
The final thing I noticed was the man’s name. He had it stamped on the box multiple times. On his tools, and even on the keys. There was no doubt who owned this box. It was J.H.Best.
I found no more information as of yet about J.H. Best. I’m not sure if the pictures were of family, or if they were even put there by him. I don’t know where he lived or grew up. I wonder what the significance was of the hotel on the lid. Was it where he got married? Was it a memorable vacation? I may never know. But I do know that this chest was the first thing he opened every day and the last thing he closed every night for the majority of his life.
Right after purchasing the chest a man nearby asked me, “Why would you buy that chest when you could make a better one?” Dennis heard that, laughed, and replied, “He didn’t buy it for the chest, be bought it for the history of the man and his craft.”
Chad Stanton- owner of Stanton Fine Furniture