George Buck Mitre Planes, etc., Part II: Norris, Holland, Miller, and Price

Norris No. 10 box mitre planes (and related types)

Holland mitre plane (Buck), 247 Tottenham Court Road, with strong convex curve on bridge, closest to that associated with Norris.

 

 

Norris no 10 mitre plane (Buck), with a  1 3/4″ Mathieson iron, which contributes to unveiling the working relationship between Norris and Mathieson.  Note the tapering wedge in the Buck/Norris No. 10.

 

 

Norris no. 10 mitre plane (Buck).

 

Holland mitre plane (Buck).

Two Norris No. 10 mitre planes, and one Holland mitre.

Norris No. 10 mitre plane (Mathieson 848) c. <1899-1912> Included in 1912 Buck Piano Tools Catalogue.

Norris no. 10 mitre plane. Photo from Ebay UK, circa 2015.

  1. Both 10s have cosmetic diagonal cuts at the front corners–a Norris ‘tell’ for this model.
  2. Holland and 10/lever cap have similar front flange.
  3. Holland and 10/wedge both have tapering wedges widthwise (narrower at heel).
  4. Both 10s have a clean heel with no strike button or screw.  (247 and 242 Buck/Holland mitres similar)
  5. 10/lever cap.  Short but heavy lever cap similar to that on Norris 11 improved and A11 mitre planes.
  6. Holland and 10/wedge have similarities in design of bridges.
  7. Both 10s have Mathieson irons.

 

A rare Norris No. 10 mitre plane with lever cap. Photo from Norrisplanes.com

 

Norris No. 10 mitre plane in the 1908 Norris catalogue. Image from Norrisplanes.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mathieson (Norris No. 10) mitre plane, from their 1899 catalogue.

 

 

 

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Two Norris No. 10 mitre planes, circa 1885 to 1914.

 

Heels of two Norris No. 10 mitre planes.

 

 

 

 

 

Norris and Spiers filed off and cleaned up the screw holding in the rear infill when making their mitre planes.  This contrasted with the many earlier mitres found in the field which had a cheesehead screw sheared off from excessive hammer blows, and did not leave a clean appearance.

It has been stated that Norris was an average or unremarkable maker of infill planes until Thomas Norris Jr. decided to take the business upscale with the Norris Patented Adjuster in 1913.  While it is true that Norris made a number of cast smooth planes (and others) in the late 1880s through WWI, they also made some fine dovetailed planes early on.  Norris’ no. 10 mitre was an example of this first rate quality.  Early dovetailed models, such as the panel, smoother, shoulder, and rebate–nos. 1 through 9–were included in the 1908 catalogue.  The quality on the above planes was as high as that of any period of Norris’ plane production.

Sometime after the publication of the Norris 1908 catalogue, and before the 1914 catalogue, the number 10 mitre was retired.  Norris continued to make a limited number of small box mitre planes after this time frame stamped with the number 11, sharing that number with their improved pattern mitre plane.

Norris No. 11 mitre plane, 5 3/8″ long, 1 3/4″ wide, a diminutive form. Photo from D. Stanley Auctions, March, 2013.

Another Norris no. 11 miniature box mitre, 5 3/8″ long, with a 1 1/4″ iron. $10,995.00.  Photo from Jim Bode Tools.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Norris no.11, 5 3/8″ X 1 1/4″ box mitre plane.  Photo from Norrisplanes.com.

 

This mitre plane was no.1277 in “Antique Woodworking Tools,” by David Russell, 2010.

At 5 3/8″ length with a 1 1/4″ iron, the miniature box mitre had the same dimensions as the Norris nos. 31 and 32 Thumb planes.  A notable difference between the box 11 and the Thumb planes was that the no. 11 mitres were constructed with dovetailing, while the thumb planes were cast malleable iron.

 

 

 

 

 

 

© 2020 – Martin Shepherd Piano Service   Using the text, research, or images on this website without permission on an ebay auction or any other site is a violation of federal law in most countries.

 

 

Norris No. 11 Improved pattern mitre planes

Price for the standard model (10 1/2 inches long) 1914 was 19/6; Price for same in 1928 was 39.  The No. 11 Improved mitre was not included in the 1908 catalogue nor the 1938 Buck & Ryan catalogue.  This drawing shows a front tote, surrounded by a rebate, in the style of Spiers.  Most Norris no. 11’s did not have this rebate, as shown in the following photos.

In general, the sides of the Norris improved mitre are slightly higher or deeper than those on the Spiers improved mitre plane, and the front tote stands about 1/2 inch taller on the Norris version as opposed to the Spiers.

Norris No.11 Improved Pattern Mitre Plane, circa 1908-1914. Photo from Norrisplanes.com

This image provides a good overview of some of the differences between the Norris Improved Mitre plane and the Spiers improved mitre plane.  The chamfers on the steel sides taper almost to the crests of the cheeks, while the Spiers are chamfered only at the infills.  The rear infill is completely flat at the top, in contrast to the Spiers, which has rounded edges around the perimeter.  The rear section of the front infill (forward of the mouth) is a straight but angled cut, whereas the Spiers has an ogee moulding in front of the mouth.  The short lever cap, although associated with Norris, was actually introduced by Spiers, as early as the 1870s, as shown on this page. Other differences are more obvious, such as the classic Norris cusped lever cap screw.

Norris No. 11 (Melhuish) Improved, Skewed mitre plane.  Photo from Sumra.net

 

Heel of early Norris No. 11 Improved mitre plane, showing flat-topped rear infill. Photo from Norris,planes.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The improved mitre on the left is the earliest in this group of photos, with the cello-like rear infill, circa 1908-1914. On the right is the short model without the front flange, and it is somewhat later, having a rear infill without the indentations or finger holds.  It still retains the cusp on the lever cap screw, so probably dates from the World War One era.

Norris No. 11 Improved mitre plane 10.5 inches. Photo from D. Stanley Auctions September.2014.

Norris No.11 Improved mitre plane, 8 inch model. Photo from D. Stanley Auctions, September, 2014.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The skewed improved mitre plane on the left is one of four that I am aware of (there probably are more), and it was owned by Max Ott, which comes as no surprise.  It also dates from the World War One era.  The no. 11 improved mitre plane in the lower right is the latest example in this grouping with 1. a standard diamond pattern knurling on the lever cap screw (rather than the earlier proprietary pattern in rows); 2. the lever cap showing a slightly more cushioned look, with a more gradual rise at the neck; 3. a slight chamfer on the body at the toe; 4. continuation of the rear infill without indentations.  5. Larger NORRIS LONDON stamp on lever cap, with model no. (11) in between.  I would estimate that this plane dates from the mid 1930s, and was probably one of the last improved mitre planes made, until the Henley Optical Company resurrected the form in the mid-1970s.

Norris No. 11 Improved mitre plane. Photo from D. Stanley Auctions, September, 2014.

Norris No. 11 Improved mitre plane, skewed cutter. Ex Max Ott collection. Photo from D. Stanley Auctions, September, 2015.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Norris No. 11 Improved mitre plane, late model.

This Norris No. 11 Improved mitre plane is another late example, but probably not as late as the one above, as it has the earlier Norris knurling pattern on the lever cap screw.  Other features are similar to the mitre pictured above.

 

 

 

Norris No. 11, rear view, showing later style rear infill, introduced post WWI.

Norris No. 11 without iron.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Buck/Miller

Miller shoulder plane, 1 1/2″, in gunmetal. Marked and sold as Buck, but made by George Miller who worked <1890 to 1909.

George Miller’s baptism 12 May, 1845, at St. Mary’s church in Ewell, Surrey.  George Sr.: “White Smith.”

 

 

 

 

George Miller Jr. was born in Ewell, Surrey, in 1843.

 

 

 

In  rare instances, Buck stamps can be found without the address following.  In most of these cases, it’s a shoulder or rabbet plane, but there are some examples of bench and mitre planes with this singular mark.  If a one-off type plane has this “BUCK” mark–caveat emptor.  It’s one of the easier forgeries.

George Miller married Jane Clark at St. Savior’s Church, St. Georges Sq., Pimlico.

 

George married Jane Clark at St. Savior’s Church, Pimlico, on 26 February, 1870, and they had one son, Rumsey George (1882-1951).

 

 

George Miller, “Builder’s Whitesmith,” 19 Euston Road, in the 1871 U.K. census.

George Miller, ‘Whitesmith,” 7 Euston Rd., in the 1881 U.K. census.

 

 

 

Bartholomew Fire Brigade Map excerpt, 1899.

A ‘whitesmith’ was an archaic term for a tradesperson who finishes off iron or tin (white metal), usually associated with milling, turning, and polishing in addition to forging (blacksmithing).  A sound background for George Miller, who went on to become one of the finest infill planemakers.  George Miller Sr., born circa 1819, was a whitesmith, and surely shared his skills with his son.

 

 

 

George Miller, “Engineer, Fitter,” 24 Ampton St., in the 1891 U.K. census.

George Miller, “Metal Plane Maker, Fitter,” 24 Ampton St., in the 1901 U.K. census.

 

 

Rumsey G. Miller, 24 Ampton St., in the 1909 Electoral Register.

George Miller died 1 November, 1909.

 

Rumsey G. was married briefly in 1902, but was a single railroad clerk living with his father in 1909.  Rumsey died in Southend-on-Sea, Essex, in the fall of 1951.

 

Tabes Dorsalis is nerve degeneration caused by advanced syphilis infection.

 

George Miller’s posthumous London P.O. Directory entry for 1910.

 

Miller’s business listings in the trade directories were few and far between.

 

George Miller smooth plane, circa 1900.

“G. Miller” on back of lever cap, and Melhuish; Fetter Lane, London” on toe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

George Miller chariot plane, with ebony infill, circa 1890s.

Watercolour painting of the Melhuish store on Fetter Lane, by James Lawson Stewart, circa 1840-1870.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Melhuish advertisement from the trade magazine “Work,” in 1892.

 

Holland and Miller:

Over the years, a theory of continuity has been put forward, that George Miller took over the business of John Holland, and that Arthur Price took over George Miller’s business.  I have also heard a version of this where Miller took over the business of Slater.

Historically, little had been known about George Miller (1843-1909), and his record in the London Street Directories was spotty at best.  As seen in his census entries, Miller was only a dozen plus years younger than Holland.  John Holland (1830-1912) outlived Miller by three years.  Even if one accounts for Holland’s disability retirement in his final years, it was documented that Holland was still listed in the trade directories as as a “Tool Manufacturer” as late as 1905.

In the 1881 U.K. census, son Harold Charles Holland was listed as a “Tool Manufacturer,” along with his father.  Furthermore, Harold Charles was a tool dealer, as declared in his 1911 U.K. census entry.  Samuel Swann (Swann was his mother’s maiden name) was a joiner and shopfitter.   So John Holland’s business legacy was already being carried forth by his sons in two areas.

H.C. Holland jointing plane reference, on HackneyTools.com in 2017

Weak H.C. HOLLAND FALCON RD. stamp on shoulder plane.  Ebay photo 2020.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“H.C. and S. [Samuel] Holland 70 Falcon Road Clapham Junction.” 1/4″ Side Bead moulding plane.  Photo from  G.& M. Tool Sales, U.K., 2020.

70 Falcon Road, Clapham Junction was Harry Charles Holland’s address in the 1891 U.K. census.  From 1892 onwards, his address changed to 25 Falcon Road.  This was likely a street renumbering.

 

 

 

George Miller confined his planemaking to shoulder, bullnose, chariot, and a few smooth planes as well.  In contrast, John Holland carried a full line of planes.  If Miller took over from Holland, why would the product line be so radically reduced?  This theoretical transition would have happened just after the turn of the new century–at a time when business was still good for infill planemakers.

Harry Charles Holland, “Tool & Cutlery Shopkeeper,” 25 Falcon Rd., Battersea. 1911 U.K. census.

Samuel Swann Holland, 92 Amelia St, Newington. “Journeyman Joiner, Shopfitting.” 1911 U.K. census.

 

 

 

 

 

Harry Charles Holland, 25 Falcon Road, died 27 January, 1925. Probate Calendar entry.

Samuel Swann Holland, died 21 January, 1951.

 

 

 

Harry Charles was possibly named after Charles Badger, as John Holland took over Charles Badger’s shop at 93 York Road in 1870.  Harry C. maintained his  tool and cutlery store at 25 Falcon Road, Clapham Junction, Battersea from 1892 until 1925.  A second store at 38 Vanston Place, Walham Green, Fulham was opened between 1905 and 1915.

Miller and Price:

Arthur Price shoulder plane casting with Ryan & Buck iron. Photo from Ebay, February, 2020.

Arthur Price stamp on a shoulder plane casting. Photo from Ebay February, 2020.

 

 

 

 

Ryan & Buck stamp on iron, 3!2 Euston Rd., 1898-1910.  Ebay, February, 2020.

 

 

 

 

 

If Arthur Price took over the business of George Miller, it would not have been a direct continuity, as Arthur was only 12 years old when George Miller died in 1909.  Like so many other planemakers, Arthur Price got his start in the woodworking trade from his father, who in this case was Thomas Price (1857-1929), “Ship’s Joiner,”  at “Harland & Wolff, Belfast and London.”  In 1911, Harland & Wolff  was busy building three Olympic class ocean liners, including the “Titanic.”  Harland & Wolff is still in business today.

Arthur Price, 13, in the 1911 U.K. census, 63 Carlton.St.

“Goodman’s British Planemakers,” Fourth Edition by Jane Rees, continues to have two addresses for Arthur Price, both in Northwest London: 140 Crest Road., Cricklewood (1924-1967), and 63 Carlton St., Kentish Town (1934-1965).

 

Arthur Price did not post his vocation in the city directories, so that did not help with searching his elusive listings.  I have tried to piece together Price’s addresses using census, electoral register, and probate calendar entries.  Thomas Price, a shipwright, lived at 63 Carlton St. during the 1901 U.K. census, with his own family and two other families as well.

Thomas Price, “Carpenter,” 63 Carlton St., in the 1901 U.K. Census.

Arthur Price, age 3, 63 Carlton St., London, in the 1901 U.K. Census.

 

 

 

 

The Price family remained at 63 Carlton St.  for the 1911 census.  Arthur Price appeared in the 1921 Electoral Register at 63 Carlton St., along with his parents, Mary Ann and Thomas.

Thomas Price and his family in the 1929 Electoral Register, 63 Carlton St.

During the Depression, starting in 1929, and continuing through 1933, Arthur’s siblings, Edward, Ethel, and Harry joined them at 63 Carlton St.   This was the final entry for Thomas Price, as he passed away in 1929.

 

 

In the fall of 1933, Arthur Price and May Violet Willis married, and were living at 53 Roderick Rd. in the 1934 Electoral Register.  May and Arthur were still living at 53 Roderick Rd. in 1946.  Around 1940, Arthur Price printed a trade notice, which continued to show 63 Carlton St. as his address. Carlton St. was changed to Carltoun St. just before WWII, and then was changed again to Grafton Rd. after redevelopment in the mid-1980s. Listings for Arthur and May V. Price in the Electoral Register, at 140 Crest Road, Cricklewood, started in 1949 and continued through 1956.  On 5 December, 1967, the Probate Calendar listed Arthur Price at 140 Crest Road.  In a nutshell, I found Arthur Price at 63 Carlton/Carltoun St., Kentish Town (<1901-1967), 53 Roderick Rd., Hampstead (<1934-1946>), and 140 Crest Road, Cricklewood (<1949-1967).

Arthur Price married May Violet Willis at St. Martin’s Gospel Oak Church, N.W. London, 22 October, 1933.

Arthur and May Violet Price were both at 53 Roderick Rd. 1935 Electoral Register.

 

Arthur and May had no children.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Arthur Price “Cabinet, Joiner,”and May V. Willis living at 53 Roderick Rd., Hampstead in the 1939 War Register.

 

Arthur and May were both born in 1897.  It appears that Arthur was assigned to be a telecommunications mechanic during the war years.

 

Arthur Price Sales List, circa 1940.

Arthur Price was the last infill planemaker in an unbroken tradition from the great 19th century makers.  His product offerings were limited to the shoulder and bullnose types of planes.

George Miller and Arthur Price were similar–insofar that the shoulder plane was the basis of both their product lines.

Arthur and May Price at 53 Roderick Rd. in the 1946 Electoral Register.

Arthur and May V. Price at 140 Crest Rd. in the 1949 Electoral Register.

 

 

 

 

 

Arthur and May V. Price at 140 Crest Rd. in the 1956 Electoral Register.

 

 

 

 

 

The following account established that Arthur Price continued to make planes at 63 Carltoun St. until his death in 1967. This quote is about conserving  the remains of Arthur Price’s workshop, as explained by Lawrence Hill, who used to work for Phillip Walker :

“Philip Walker the founder of TATHS cleared Arthur Prices workshop in 1979 or 1980 (when I worked for PGW) which is when a sheaf of the glossy handbills were acquired. If I recall rightly the workshop was an adjunct to his house – which by then was in a pretty ropey state – and relied on a human powered surface ‘grinder’ which was actually a spike running on a pulley wheel and rope drive used to surface the castings.

I still have a couple or three Price planes (these were finished and ‘stamped’ but unfitted/no infill castings which work fantastically and I also had machined about thirty of the castings for the simpler shoulder planes. The gunmetal shoulder plane is almost too good to use in the workshop…

The handbills must be just pre-war as Carlton St was renamed Carltoun St between 1936 and 1939 then renamed Grafton Road in about 1985-ish when redeveloped as flats across both the original Grafton Road and Carltoun St.

Generally a pretty run down area.  …Chalk Farm estate (notorious for its riots ) is next door to this bit of Kentish Town.

Planes are very similar to some of the Norris styles – Price was making two distinct styles of shoulder plane – the gunmetal or steel ones with projecting ‘ears’ for want of a better word (i.e. York pattern, and as shown on the handbill) and what we found in the workshop in 1980 must have constituted his last batch of annealed iron ones with the ‘upright only’ London grips (not illustrated). These were mainly rough castings going a bit rusty in the ‘shop. I finished off a couple of the latter (not very well and one has the milling marks where I overdid it a bit). But this style looks much more ‘Slater’ than Norris.

Norris did make a similar profile but dovetailed, not cast, so this leads me to wonder even further about what deals might, or might not, have been done when T Norris proper wound up and broke up the business to ‘Norris Planes and Tools’ at the Croydon address; and possibly some of the Norris casting patterns went to Price. Or maybe he simply plagiarised. As the new Norris (Croydon) planes were all cast steel channel bench planes they probably constituted a very different manufacturing set up. Price already had the gear to dress small castings.”

From the UKworkshop, 12 November, 2013.

Arthur Price, death certificate, 5 December, 1967.

 

Unfortunately, this was a rough way to go out.

 

Arthur was buried at Trent Park Cemetery, Islington, on 11 December, 1967.

May Violet Price (née Willis) was buried at the Trent Park Cemetery, in Islington, 13 December. 1978.

 

 

 

 

May Violet Price passed away on 7 December, 1978, with probate on 12 February, 1979.  This was probably why (not definitively proven) Price’s workshop at 63 Carltoun St. remained intact after Arthur’s death in 1967 right up until 1979, when Philip Walker went in to salvage what was left.

Arthur Price died 5 December, 1967.  This would have been almost $200,000 today.

 

For someone who had essentially outlived the market for his products, Arthur Price saved an impressive amount of money.

 

This A. Price bullnose plane looks newish, and it could have been made as late as the 1960s.

A. Price bullnose plane, heel.  The iron was numbered to the plane and the wedge, all bearing the number 4.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Arthur Price’s decision to make the shoulder and bullnose planes was likely related to the fact that these models had been dropped from the Norris line either before or during WWII.  Arthur found a niche and filled it.

A box of patterns, the handbills, and a number of unfinished planes ended up in the Ken Hawley Collection, housed in the University of Sheffield..  This assortment of artifacts represent a unique window into the daily workings of an infill planemaker.

© 2020 – Martin Shepherd Piano Service  Using the text, research, or images on this website without permission on an ebay auction or any other site is a violation of federal law in most countries.

 

NORRIS A11 MITRE PLANE

In the late 1920s, Norris decided to make a mitre plane with a 1922 patent adjusting feature, consistent with the practice of applying their adjuster to most planes throughout Norris’ product line.  When considering the mitre for the adjuster, Norris chose the traditional box mitre over the the improved mitre, despite the fact that the no. 10 had been discontinued by the time of their 1914 catalog publication.   During the 1920s, the Norris’  no. 11 Improved pattern mitre had a limited availability, typically rebadged as a Mathiesen Improved mitre.  It is unclear whether or not Norris’ decision was for practicality reasons or for marketing purposes–or perhaps a bit of both.  Nevertheless, its rather moot, because so precious few of these planes were made in the 1930s.  As a result of the scarcity and expense of original A11s, interest has been generated sufficiently for several modern makers to reproduce this design.

Some streamlining was apparent in the A11’s layout.  Lack of a front plate eliminated the dovetailing that would have been necessary for that part, and the open heel obviated a need to bend the sidewalls.  Fitting the 1922 Patent Adjuster to the A11 would have been a task well practiced by the time a traditional Norris mitre entered the planning stages during the late 1920s.

A11 mitre planes were primarily offered with a 2 1/4″ iron, and a skewed iron was available at extra  cost.  Price for the A11 was 43/-, which would be £145 or $183, factoring inflation by 2019.  For certain, this was depression era pricing.  When a Norris mitre plane comes to auction in our current market, high prices (very) are still realized, but it should be understood that a plane such as an A11 is not generally seen as a commodity, but rather as an artifact with historical, aesthetic, even practical significance.  The same could be said of any number of fine antique tools.

Without a flange at the front or back, all 10 1/2″ length of the plane comprises the body, which is taller than any other box mitre at 2 1/4″.  Tall sides furnish the A11 with ample area to register the plane on its side on a shoot board–with almost as much area as the sole itself.  The extended infill at the heel adds mass, and the overall size of the A11 approaches panel plane territory.  To the extent that the A11 is stark, it also appears authoritative, even imposing.  Pictures are the next best thing.   Shown below are two images of a Norris A11 mitre plane that came to the March 2016 David Stanley auction in Leicester, England.  Photos by David Stanley Auctions.

 

Norris no. A11 adjustable mitre plane, circa 1930s. Photo from David Stanley Auctions, February 2018.

 

Norris no. A11 adjustable mitre plane, circa 1930s. Rear view, showing adjustment knob. An exposed, open heel made adjuster fitment consistent with Norris’ other bevel up planes.  Photo from David Stanley Auctions, February 2018.

 

 

 

Norris A11 mitre plane as it appeared in a Norris c.1930 catalogue.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

No. 11 was the last mitre plane produced by a classic maker until the form was revived in the late 1970s.  And it was also the only historical mitre plane other than Stanley’s No. 9 to have an adjuster added as a feature.  This did not necessarily make it a better plane, although perhaps more convenient to use.   Several modern makers have reproduced this plane.

Norris no. A11 adjustable mitre plane as it appeared in the 1938 Buck and Ryan catalogue.  By this late date, no rebadging was made for the bought-in A11 planes.

 

From “Encyclopedia Of Furniture Making,” by Ernest Joyce–published 1970.

 

 

Modern makers of A11 replicas have included Karl Holtey, Bill Carter, Darryl Hutchinson, Gerd Fritsche, Brian Buckner, and Allan Morris.  Karl Holtey called the A11 “a good all round plane.”

 

Dovetailed A11 mitre plane, made by Allan Morris, through the legacy of Thomas Norris. Excellent workmanship, and a good likeness.

 

This Morris mitre plane was made in England in 2013.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A11 mitre plane rear view.

 

 

 

A11 mitre plane sole.

 

 

 

 

Bill Carter’s version of the Norris A11.  Photo from MJD tools.

 

Norris A11 mitre plane which shows some age on it. Photo from Norrisplanes.com

 

 

 

 

 

Darryl Hutchinson A11 mitre plane, photo by David Barron, from Ebay, June, 2020.

Norris employee Charles Henry Payne worked for the Norris family in the 1920s and ’30s, and as a child visited Norris Sr. at his Quarry road Wandsworth residence.  Along with Thomas Jr.’s wife Helen Sellars Walker (1865-1952), Thomas’ sister Elizabeth (1870-1949), became more active in the late 1920s and early 1930s with maintaining the family business.  Payne’s grandson learned about Charles’ experience with working for the Norris firm through his father.  Charles Henry had some important insights into how the Norris business was run in the 1920s and early 1930s:

Proposed 1906 floor plan and elevation for the Norris Workshop/factory at 3 Sycamore Grove, New Malden, U.K. From collection of George Anderson

“…Norris never employed a large number of staff; they tended to have a number of out-workers who would do small batches of work when it was available. In addition, the [Norris] company were primarily assemblers and finishers. Cutting irons were obtained from firms in Sheffield as were the plates for the bases and sides of the dovetailed planes. [The soles and sidewalls] were apparently already stamped out into their basic shape. Castings came from foundries in the Bermondsey area of London.  ...batches of cutters were always measured for thickness as they tended to vary somewhat. …[Measuring the thickness of irons] allowed planes to be selectively assembled to maintain consistent mouth clearances.”

 

Modern reworking of floor plan and elevation for Norris workshop/factory at 3 Sycamore Grove, New Malden. From the collection of George Anderson

The era of fine dovetailed infill planes was coming to a close.  Wage inflation, competition on the low end from Stanley, and mechanization/power tools brought pressure from all directions.  Thomas J. Norris passed away in 1936, leaving what was left of  Norris’ business to be run by his widow, Helen Sellars and his sister Elizabeth Norris.

Results in Thomas Jr.’s death certificate revealed why Elizabeth Norris became active in running the business in the late 1920s, along  with Helen Sellars Walker.  Thomas Jr. was suffering from senility, among other ailments.  Multiple causes of death were also a result of advances in diagnostic procedures for medicine as compared to the 19th century

Thomas J. Norris Jr., death certificate, 3 July, 1936.

 

Thomas J. Norris in the Probate calendar..

 

 

£3640 would be just under $340,000 in today’s money.

 

 

Thomas had done all he could to sustain the company: by inventing the 1913 and 1922 patent adjusters, and by keeping production standards as high as reasonably possible.  Norris infill planes remained relevant up to the middle of the 20th century, but the times were changing.  Humanity was toiling through a worldwide Great Depression, and running inexorably towards World War Two.  A11 mitres were all but finished by the time of the 1938 Buck and Ryan catalogue.  Norris struggled on with a skeleton crew of four until 1943, according to former employee W. J. Yarrington.  Most of the remaining production was done on dovetailed smoothers, with a few dovetailed panel planes and cast phosphor bronze violin planes.  During his Norris apprenticeship, Yarrington learned metal burnishing skills, which he never had a chance to use again, despite spending his working life in the toolmaking trade. Today, burnishing metal surfaces by hand is rarely encountered outside of burnishing over the edge of a scraper blade, or in jewelry making.

E. Guymer, a friend of Thomas Norris in the 1920s and ’30s, described the Norris workshop in an August 1983 article in Woodworker Magazine (U.K.):

Orderliness prevailed. There was a loft full of hard wood, mostly rosewood seasoning over the years, and this, with the machines, tools and materials in the workshop were treated with a respect amounting almost to reverence. Integrity was the key to Tom Norris’ life and work, from the largest jack planes to the smallest bronze violin-making planes; the latter little larger than my fingernail, but with a cutting iron ground, tempered and honed with as much care as it’s largest brothers. There was a press where the steel was formed for the dovetailed frames; a grindstone and a furnace, polishing machines, drilling machines and much besides”

When work on Norris planes restarted after the War in 1946, it was with new owners, and with a changed product that got the job done, but was of a different caliber altogether.

Victorian house on Sycamore Grove, similar to that of Thomas Norris Jr.’s. Possibly constructed by the same builder.  Photo by George Anderson.

Norris’ 1935 P.O. Directory in New Malden.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The following quote comes from Maurice Fraser (1928-2016), a well known woodworking teacher at the Crafts Students League of the YMCA in New York, on the 1989 David Stanley auction price of a custom Norris mitre plane.  Leslie Ward (1901-1980) was the head harpsichord maker for Arnold Dolmetsch, (1858-1940), a leader in the original instrument revival movement.  Ward commissioned this mitre plane to his own specifications:

”   … [Norris survived] the 1930s Depression, and was even exhumed, briefly after World War Two.  To postwar craftsmen, then, the varied Norris line of planes, even the somewhat debased, “austerity-years” versions of the late 1940s, remained the tools of choice.  Norris, thus, finally advanced beyond merely first among equals.  The company became the ‘Last of the Mohicans.’

Its rare with historical artifacts such as these, that we are afforded any knowlege of the person behind the tool.  …Dolmetch (1858-1940) was the most powerful force in the phenomenal 20th-century revival of historical musical instrument manufacturing.  The Dolmetsch factory in Haslemer, Surrey, England, occupies the site where those still-famous harpsichords, lutes, viols and recorders first saw light again, under the hands of such craftsmen as Ward and others…  Ward remained head of the harpsichord and clavichord division until his retirement in 1966. 

…[The auction is a] marketplace at its most emotional; an arena of  contradiction where, in the heat of battle cool reason is often overcome.

The successful bidder, Max Ott, is a long time professional woodworker, tool collector and currently the owner and manager of a cabinet shop in London.  The proud new owner, soberly, is reserving the tool for private use in his home workshop. …The extravagant 1989 price for Ward’s Norris mitre plane is an odd mix of reverence and irrationality.  Today, the astronomical pricing of what is perceived as art is little questioned, even though what is art is ever more difficult to ascertain.  …Commercially, the mitre plane has always been a loser: it promotes quality unhurried–not quantity, requisite in the press of the late machine age.”

Maurice Fraser   “Fine Woodworking,” New York, N.Y. 1990