GEORGE BUCK tool supplier to the piano trade as well as others.
George Buck ad in “Modern Practical Joinery” by George Ellis, 1908. They offered bow drills, planes, tuning, voicing, and regulating tools to the piano trade. Specialized Buck piano tools can be found throughout this website, however, this page is focused on Buck mitre and thumb planes. For planes, George Buck carried the revered Norris line, but they put their own attractive mark on their tool merchandise. Buck has carried other infill plane makes during their long tenure in business, including Towell, Spiers, Holland, Slater, and Miller.
George Buck was born 30 October, 1805 to Matthew Buck (1776-1844) and Mary Tooth (1778-1810). Matthew Buck was a saw and filemaker who worked out of 22 Peter Street, Clerkenwell from before 1826, until after 1833.
George and Mary were living together at 245 Tottenham Court Road, with their third child, more than 11 years before their marriage to each other.
The Buck extended family became a large tool dynasty with three separate businesses, each of which continued to trade into the the late 20th century. Two of George’s siblings also started major tool shops: Joseph Buck (1802-1884), whose business became Buck and Ryan, and Ann Buck (1807-1895), who married John Hickman, and they established Buck & Hickman in 1834. In their early years, these businesses were quite intertwined.
Before George Buck was listed as proprietor of the business at 245 Tottenham Court Road circa 1838, that address was under the auspices of his older brother, Joseph Buck. A Sun Fire Insurance Policy record from 5 November, 1834 (policy #1187028) revealed business owner “Joseph Buck of No. 245 Tottenham Court Road, Saw, Plane, File and Tool Maker.” A later Sun Insurance document from the same policy, referred to the business as “J. Buck, now George Buck of 245 Tottenham Court Road,” on 20 September, 1854. Even earlier, the 1832 Robson’s London Street directory listed both “Joseph and George Buck” at 245 Tottenham Court Road. Information for the 1832 Robson’s directory would have been taken in the Fall of 1831.
Not to be confusing, George Henry Buck, son of Joseph, married his first cousin, Isabel Hickman. George Henry took over the business of Richard Nelson at 122 Edgeware Road circa 1850. In around 1910, this Buck firm joined a partnership with George Ryan, and became Buck and Ryan.
John Roe Hickman was a printer by trade.
Typical of the mid-19th century, George Buck had a large family: George married Mary Fullagar and they had at least nine children. Or more accurately, George and Mary had a lot of children, then they got married.
George Buck and Mary Fullagar: “Of full age.”
At the time of the 1851 census, George and Mary Buck and their children were living in the housing quarters above the tool warehouse which was on the ground floor.
On 26 February, 1865, George Buck passed away at age 59. Many of the best years for George Buck’s business were still ahead of them, and their successors actively maintained the tool business into the 1980s.
It was George Buck’s tool warehouse, which was most closely associated with fine infill planes and piano tools from 1838 to World War One. Joseph Buck, however, did sell Towell planes in the 1830s and ’40s, and Buck & Ryan sold some Norris planes in the 1920s and ’30s.
Proprietary stamps for “BUCK” metal planes rarely included a first initial after 1850 or so. This differed from items marked specifically “G. BUCK,” such as bow drill stocks, saws, piano tools, chisels, braces, and wooden planes. Since a fair amount of capitol was tied up with metal infill planes, it would be a reasonable assumption that all three Buck businesses participated in selling these products out of one centralized location: 245/247/242 Tottenham Court Road.
George Buck’s siblings also identified themselves as “Saw and Toolmakers.”
Section of a detailed London map, by the Ordnance Survey in 1893-96. George Buck’s tool warerooms at 245, 247, 242 Tottenham Ct. Rd (1838-1930; 21 Goodge St. 1938-80>), and his neighbors in allied trades during the 1860s-90s: J. & J. Goddard, piano supplies, 68 Tottenham Court Road (1842-1968); Richard Reynolds, piano ironmonger/toolsmith, 4 Upper Rathbone Place (<1880-1895; in Hammersmith to 1940); George Kerr, planemaker, 36 Store St. Bedford Square (c. 1864-65)
From the establishment of his business in 1838, George Buck supplied a wide range of trades and professions. These dental instruments make me appreciate living in the 21st century.
Weller’s 1868 London Map, section with Lambeth, showing the following: Joseph Buck, brother of George Buck, b 1802. planemaker and dealer, 91 Waterloo Rd. (1844-1863); Charles Badger, iron planemaker, 1 Stangate St. (1856-67) 93 York Rd. (1868-70); John Holland, planemaker, 68 Oakley St. (1861-71), 93 York Rd. 1870-90); Thomas Norris tool and planemaker 57 York St. (<1871-1901).
Buck (Towell) mitre plane, stamped 245 Tottenham Court Road., dating from the late 1830s and through the 1850s. By 1851, George Buck’s business had grown to the point where 8 men were employed there, as reported in the UK census. 245 Tottenham Ct. Rd.was George Buck’s address from 1838 to 1861. The “BUCK 245 TOTTENHAM Ct. Rd.” stamp used the same lettering font/format as the “Rt. TOWELL LONDON” stamps. It makes for a strong indication that Robert Towell himself applied these stamps in his workshop. For more information on Robert Towell, see the section on Towell earlier on this page. This plane is also very similar, if not identical to the one used to plane spotted metal for organ pipes at G. Fincham Organ Builders.
Dual marked plane: Buck on bridge and Towell on rear infill. Someone lost their patience with this tool, and filed the mouth open. Photo by Robert Leach. From website http://www.oldhandtools.co.uk/blog/english-mitre-planes
The following two Buck mitre planes share similar fundamental aspects as well as many details. Considering the similarities of these two Buck mitre planes, its apparent they were made by the same maker, and I believe that was John Holland (1831-1912).
Second Buck/Holland mitre plane, convex bridge, with Cupid’s bow. Buck, 242 Tottenham Court Road, post 1880. Its unusual to see many box mitre planes made after 1860, and more so to see a plane with a cupid’s bow bridge after the 1870s.
Dovetailed George Buck mitre plane, 242 Tottenham Court Road, London. Most likely made by John Holland; bed, iron, and wedge all have matched fitting numbers. Post 1880, as Buck occupied 242 Tottenham Court Road from 1880 to 1930. There is a very small set of J H initials up near the nib. Buck must have been strict about not revealing the makers of his planes.
Here are some similarities listed:
- Layout of dovetails.
- Shape of heels.
- Shape of rear flanges.
- Very small mouths..
- Front and rear sole piece dovetailed together at mouth.
- Shape and moulding of front infills.
- Profile of wedges.
- Style of cupid’s bow.
- Convex curvature of bridge.
- Same species of rosewood.
These Buck mitres are different in the following ways:
- Different shape for front flanges (see pictures).
- 245 Tottenham Court Rd. has a slightly curved bridge, while curvature on 242 Tottenham Court Rd. is pronounced.
- Infills on 245 are screwed in at the toe and heel, and 242 was pinned through the sidewalls.
John Holland was born in Riby, Brocklesby, Lincoln, which is near the South shore of the Humber estuary on the East coast. John married Sophia Talerfield (born 1832) on 21 January, 1855 in Dorset, on the Southern coast. John and Sophia had four children: James Henry, born 1853 in Sheffield; Mary Agnes, born 1856 in Sheffield; Harold Charles, born 1858 in Lambeth; Samuel Swann (1868-1951). By 1858, John Holland and his family relocated to Lambeth, and John established a home and workshop at 68 Oakley Street as recorded in the 1861 U.K. census. Early on, John Holland concentrated on metal tools, and was even listed as a dealer in gunmetal stock in 1870.
Holland and his family remained involved in gunmetal and iron planemaking as well as making other woodworking tools into the 1890s. By the 1891 U.K. census, John Holland was living at 25 St. Mary’s Square in Lambeth, while the P.O. directories listed Holland at 26 Richmond, St. George Road through 1893. Sons Harold C. and Samuel became involved in the tool business to various degrees in the 1890s and into the early 20th centuries at several addresses. John Holland, “Carpenter and Joiner,” moved to his sister Mary Holland’s house by the 1901 U.K. census at 30 Garden Row, in Southwark. The stay with his sister Mary lasted into 1902, as John was listed in the London P.O. Directory for ’02 as a “Tool Manufacturer.”
In 1911, Holland, 81, retired carpenter, was living in the Tooting Bec Asylum, in Wandsworth. John Holland passed away in Wandsworth in the late Fall of 1912.
John Holland’s decision to move to Wandsworth may have been influenced by planemaker Thomas Norris (1836-1906). Norris had already moved to 6 Quarry Road in Wandsworth by 1900, as recorded in the P.O. Directory. John Holland and Thomas Norris had been longtime neighbors in Lambeth, they must have consulted each other as influences between them are apparent in their planes. It was also likely that they were friends. Thomas was born in Lambeth, and he remained there to live and work until his move to Wandsworth in 1900. In 1859, Thomas married Eliza Knott, and surviving children included: Thomas James, born 1861; Ada J., born 1863; Clances, born 1868, Elizabeth, born 1870; Edith, born 1874. Thomas J. (1861-1936) joined his father in the business of making tools.
BUCK marked bridge, with initials J H scratched in or acid etched. This is exactly the same photograph that was previously posted, when I had initially thought the plane was made by Norris. Some of the letters are now circled, most of which run along near the left cheek of the plane. Some markings have JH letters running together, sharing the left vertical line of the H, in a monogram. It must be where Thomas Norris got the idea for his TN monogram. Circa 1862 to 1866, when Mrs. G. Buck was at 245 and 247 Tottenham Court Road.
When John Holland would have made the Buck 245 Tottenham Court Road plane in the 1860s, he would have been just starting in his career. It makes sense that Holland would try to take credit for the plane, because most people starting out in a career have something to prove. That may be why the later Buck planes, that were unmistakably from the same maker, did not have such prominent markings. Subsequent mitre planes coming from John Holland, and rebadged as BUCK, more often than not, had identification relegated to J H initials on the cutting irons. If any at all.
In addition to the convex shape of the bridge, the cupid’s bows were not deeply cut as one would expect to generally see from Robert Towell. Cupid’s bows were identical for all 245, 247 and 242 Tottenham Court Road marked bridges shown on this page for comparison. Letters for “BUCK” are more spaced apart than Towell’s stamp, and the address is done with fine incuse letters with a slant, in Gothic. Holland/Buck used this stamp from the 1860s to ~1890, when Norris/Buck switched to “BUCK Tot. Court Rd.” in small upright Gothic letters. A variation of this post 1885–90 stamp read “BUCK Tottm. Ct. Rd.” These later stamps seem to be applied by the Buck the dealer, rather than the maker, as they are sometimes found not perfectly straight. The slanted Gothic lettering stamp was used during the tenure with Holland, from the late 245 Tottenham Court Road address, throughout the 247 Tot. Ct. Rd. period from 1867 to 1879, and into the 1880s at 242 Tot.Ct. Rd.
Considering that Buck bought in planes from Towell, Spiers, Slater, Holland, Miller, and Norris, which of these makers can be eliminated as the possible maker? Since the two Buck planes with a convex cupid’s bow bridge were dovetailed, only Spiers, Holland, and Norris dovetailed their mitre planes. Towell dovetailed his planes as well, but his productive years (1810-1863 at the very latest) were too early for consideration here. These planes were made ~ 1860s to 1890. Miller did not make any mitre planes, and his planes were all cast iron or gunmetal. Slater made a modest number of cast iron mitre planes, appearing either unmarked, or rebadged, such as for Tyzack or Moseley. Buck did rebadge and sell Spiers planes, and two examples can be seen below. They do not appear to be different from Spiers signed planes in any way. This is to be expected, as it would be unlikely for a plane maker to sell their planes at a lower price, wholesale to the trade, with any special new designs or modifications unless required by the dealer. Holland would be the remaining possible maker of these dovetailed mitre planes, other than Norris, and there’s a shortfall of Holland’s examples available for comparison. What makes these two planes unusual, even unique, is that they seem to be limited to the Buck dealer stamp, and do not appear elsewhere with the original planemaker’s stamp. Of course a maker-stamped mitre might show in the future, and if it does, it could give a more definitive answer as to who made all the Buck mitres with cupid’s bow and curved bridges, from the 1860s and into the 1880s. While these Buck mitres are rare, a fair number of this vintage and type have shown up over the years.
Working years for Holland ranged from 1861 to 1902, which encompassed the time in the 1860s when the earlier plane was made. While Norris advertised that he was established in 1860, it was realistically more as a maker of wood planes and other joiners’ tools early on. Thomas Norris (1836-1906), described his profession in the 1861 UK census as a non-specific “Joiners’ tool maker,” then in the 1871 UK census as a “Tool maker;” and finally in the 1881 UK census as a “Plane tool maker.”
All of the information, except the address were obtained by the resident’s response to the census takers’ questions. Are they the last word in defining the vocation of these planemakers? Not necessarily, but given the relative dearth of information for these individuals, it’s one of the best references we have under the circumstances. The working classes and skilled craftspeople of the 19th century and earlier were not generally people of letters, so there is less information to work with than the more academically educated classes. They were smart in other ways.
Many early wills were signed with an “X” not unlike this example.
Here is an example of this census reporting issue. George Buck was known as a tool dealer rather than a maker, but in 1861, he described his business as a “Saw Manufacturer.” After all, George’s father Matthew made saws, and George must have possessed the know-how to make saws, at the least.
Another large tool dealer, Moseley, also described their business as a manufacturer of tools, and for a number of years, they had a horse mill at the rear of their premises. I could find no evidence to date of an in-house shop at 245 Tottenham Court Road making tools from scratch. Perhaps George Buck owned an off-premises saw making shop we do not know about.
Consistently during George Buck’s life, and after his death, the Buck business was listed as a saw maker. Multiple sources for this lends credibility that the G. Buck firm actually did make saws, and possibly some other tools such as files. On the other hand, they could have been sold on the idea of being recognized as a maker of tools. At various times, all of the Buck firms listed their business under “saw, file, and plane makers.” This included Joseph Buck, Buck & Hickman, and George Henry Buck. Patriarch, saw and filemaker Matthew Buck (1776-1844) must have exerted a lifetime influence on his children.
Thomas J. Norris Sr.’s early success as a plane and toolmaker was due, in major part, to Norris’ business relationship with George Buck. Many early Norris planes were bought in by Buck and rebadged “BUCK.” Here are some earlier references for Thomas Norris:
In comparison, Holland’s early specialization in metal planemaking was more evident than that of Thomas Norris’ generalized production. Holland’s description of his business underscored his initial involvement in iron and gunmetal planemaking. Searching for an apprentice 1864, John Holland posted the following ad in the “Clerkenwell News:”
March 23, 1864:
In 1869, John Holland was listed in “Kelly’s, Post Office and Harrod & Co., Trade Directory” as a “Gun[metal] and Iron Plane Maker,”
Since John Holland took over established metal planemaker, Charles Badger’s workshop and tools at 93 York Rd. Lambeth in 1870, he would have been thoroughly prepared to produce infill planes during this early time period. By the time of the 1881 UK census, John Holland employed two men besides himself for his tool making enterprise.
A definitive Norris no. 10 mitre plane is shown rebadged as a Buck further down this page. There are no differences between the Buck and a Norris no. 10 other than the stamp on the bridge.
Below you can see the curved bridges of both Norris and Holland. The influence of Holland on Norris is obvious. And that applies to the two previous Buck mitre planes as well.
Left to right: Buck/Towell 245 Tottenham Court Road (1838-1861); Buck/Holland 245 Tottenham Court Road (1861-1866); Buck/Holland 247 Tottenham Court Road (1867-1879); Buck/Holland 242 Tottenham Court Road (1880-1890); Buck/Norris No. 10 “Tot.Ct.Rd.”(late1880s-<1914); Norris (Morris) A11 which was included in the 1938 Buck & Hickman Catalogue.
Buck Tot. Court Rd. (Norris no 10), with a 1 3/4″ Mathiesen iron, which contributes to unveiling the working relationship between Norris and Mathiesen.
Buck Thumb Planes and others
Distinctly English thumb planes were never produced in quantity; chariot planes were the most similar English plane in design and function, but chariots were made in greater quantities by a larger number of planemakers. Both chariot and thumb planes had thick bevel up irons on a wooden infill bed, around 20 degrees, with a 3 to 5 inch body respectively, and easily used with one hand. Given these similarities, the relative popularity of the 19th century chariot plane almost eclipsed the thumb plane. Certainly, some 19th century woodworkers preferred using the bullnose feature for planing in tight spots. A majority of English chariot planes had the bullnose component: with the mouth placed close to the toe. Scottish style chariots, from the mid-19th century, with their mouth 1/3rd of the way back from the toe, could have provided inspiration for early makers of the thumb plane.
Scottish chariot planes are characterized by having a stepped toe, front infill, flat heel, and a mouth placed 1/3rd of the way back from the toe. The iron, is usually around 1 1/4″ wide, bevel up, over a rosewood bed. Length ranges from 4 1/2″ to 5 1/2″, proportions that were mirrored in the English thumb planes. Some examples are very high quality.
Working in the early to mid-19th century, George Kerr (born in Aberdeen c. 1805) may have been the first innovator of thumb planes, and Stewart Spiers likely commenced making them around that same time or a few years later. John Holland also made thumb planes and his working years were 1861 to 1902. The last historical manufacturer of the thumb plane was Thomas Norris (late 19th century to ~1940), and Norris made more of this type than anyone else in the trade. Thomas Norris (1836-1906) was located at 57 York St, and John Holland (1831-1912) worked out of 93 York Rd., and they were there concurrently between 1872 and 1890. It would have allowed plenty of time for an exchange of ideas between these two planemakers.
American block planes were the closest domestic equivalent to the English thumb plane, but their general introduction circa 1872 postdated the thumb planes by at least 20 years. Birdsill Holly of Seneca, New York did produce a ‘block plane’ in the 1850s, but very few were made, nowhere near the economies of scale that typically exemplified American industrial production. At 9 1/2″ long with a 1 3/4″ iron, the Holly block plane was still the size of a mitre plane. English influence from the thumb plane on Leonard Bailey was apparent in the side profile of his Excelsior pattern block plane.
In contrast to the English thumb planes, the Bailey/Stanley block planes caught on like wildfire, and were made in prolific quantities and variations from the 1870s until World War Two. On average, American block planes ranged from 6 to 7 inches long, compared with English thumb planes, generally around 5 inches long. While similarities existed between these two types, differences were also present: thumb planes had a much thicker iron on a wooden infill bed, and they were largely a handmade product. American block planes were mass produced: much less expensive, in many cases adjustable, and had a thinner iron bedded on the iron casting.
Since so few English planemakers made thumbplanes, examples are difficult to find. This lack of antique English thumb planes has created demand, so a number of current planemakers are producing new thumb planes. Interest in thumb planes today quite possibly equals that of the 19th and 20th centuries.
Planemaker Konrad Sauer’s description of a Spiers no. 9 thumb plane in 2013:
“[The Spiers no. 9 thumb plane] was a pretty amazing experience. Everything was exactly where it needed to be. There was an amazing relationship between the sneck of the iron, the top of the lever cap screw and the empty area at the front of the plane. There was a complex and deliberate relationship between these points and they all worked together to provide a very comfortable experience. I was pretty shocked and was once again reminded that simple looking, does not mean that complex design thought did not go into something. I kept this experience tucked away until the time was right.”
Two different versions of the Spiers no. 9 thumb plane. Example on the right seems older, with a longer lever cap, and similar to screw sided models. But this type was photographed for the 1908 catalogue. Plane on the left seems later, with features copied by Norris. Similar examples have shown up with Buck 247 Tottenham Ct. Rd. (1867-1879), however.
No. 9 thumb plane was not in production and only made upon special order. Possibly a picture of an older plane that happened to be handy when the catalogue was put together. Lever cap not as long as the example on the left.
“The Metal Thumb Plane, English type …is 5 in. long, and …1 1/4 in. wide [cutter]; it has a long cutter, which answers for a handle, and is secured with a gun-metal screw lever. It is, I believe, a specialty of Mr. George Buck, whose address will be found in the advertisement pages of this book.” From “Modern Practical Joinery,” by George Ellis, 1908.
“…Certainly some of these planes, most notably Norris thumb planes, were marketed towards pianoforte case makers and the like.” –C.R. Miller, infill.planes.com
Reasons why I think Holland made this thumb plane: 1. Side profile similar to other Holland thumb planes. 2. Influence of Badger in the wedge. 3. Early use of gunmetal in a thumb plane. 4. Buck iron points to a working relationship, which Holland had with Buck.
With two men working for him, Holland was prolific. Many of his planes were rebadged as Buck or Mathiesen, and many were unmarked.
Charles Badger (born c. 1817 in Gloucester-died 1869) lived with his wife Isabella at 1 Stangate St. in Lambeth, and reported his occupation as ” Master Tool Maker” for the UK census in 1861.
Badger & Galpin early smooth plane (not a thumb plane!), circa 1851-1854, 27 Stangate St. Charles Badger’s home and shop was 27 Stangate St. at the time of the 1851 U.K. census, and no. 27 was a block East of 1 Stangate St.
Badger & Galpin moved their shop to 1 Stangate St., sometime before the 1854 London P.O. Directory (“Badger & Galpin Edgetool Warehouse”) was published. In 1855, Elias Galpin had left the partnership (Galpin, 1856 London P.O. Directory: “Tool Agent”) and only Badger was listed at 1 Stangate, where he remained until his 1868 move to 93 York Road. Elias Galpin (1809-1884) was listed as a “Cabinetmaker” in the 1841 U.K. census, “Pianoforte Maker; Case Maker” in the 1851 U.K. census, and “Pianoforte Maker” in the 1881 census. In 1841 and 1851, Galpin was located at 11 Great Pulteney Street, Covent Garden, and in 1881 at 30 Rawlings Street in Chelsea, London.
Here are some sources regarding the sale of Charles Badger’s shop at 93 York Road, Lambeth.
“Sheffield Daily Telegraph,” March 19th 1870:
“South London Chronicle,” December 10th 1870:
Re: Badger, deceased 93 York Road Lambeth–Toolmaker’s Stock; also the lease and fixtures of the above desirable, excellently fitted. Business Premises, with workshop at the rear held for the expired term of 14 years at the annual rental of 44 GBP.
Mr. Mallet will sell by auction on the premises as the above on the 10th the remaining genuine stock of Carpenters’ Joiners’, Cabinetmakers’, and Wheelwrights’, Tools, Engineer’s files, cutlery, iron cramps etc. in addition to the lease.”
In “Antique Woodworking Tools,” published 2010, David Russell wrote that “very little is known about Kerr.” Since Kerr’s planes were stamped without his first name, not even that was known, which posed an obstacle to research. In 2015, one James Kerr was floated as the possible planemaker. In Goodman’s “British Planemakers,” 3rd edition, 1993, only four Kerr metal planes had been reported. Russell’s collection of Kerr planes included a dovetailed panel plane, a smooth plane, a rebate plane, and two thumb planes. In September 2016, a Kerr mitre plane with a gunmetal cupid’s bow bridge sold in a West Midlands antique furniture and miscellaneous auction.
Williams London Trade Directory 1864. With this directory, a firm working location, date, and given name for George Kerr, planemaker has been established.
Early thumb plane, with some chariot plane features, made by George Kerr, 36 Store St., Bedford Square, London (address c. 1864 in Williams London Trade Directory). This thumb plane was included in David Russell’s, “Antique Woodworking Tools,” no. 1093. Originally, it had a tapered 1 1/4″ Buck iron, but that got switched with 1092’s Ward iron, another Kerr thumb plane. Kerr may have had a trading relationship with George Buck, or he could have just walked around the corner to buy the iron while work was in progress on this thumb plane. No. 1092 had an open toe, and that made it appear much more like a classic thumb plane.
George Kerr was a “Pianoforte Maker” in 1851, according to his self-reporting in the U.K. census. George and his wife Harriet then lived at 24 Buckingham Place, in Marylebone. George Ker (early spelling) was born in Aberdeen, Scotland to Jane Wright and Andrew Ker on 19 March 1805. George moved from Scotland to London sometime after the 1841 U.K. census, and before his marriage to Harriet Coombs on 4 February, 1844 at Old Church in St. Pancras.
Collard & Collard piano; the factory was located at 194-196 Tottenham Court Road, London at the time of researching for Tallis’ Street Views of London (1838-40). Pianos were previously called Clementi, for the former factory co-owner, famous pianist and composer, Muzio Clementi (1752-1832). Clementi sonatinas are still much used by piano teachers today.
In the 1861 UK census, he was still living in 24 Buckingham Place in Marylebone, and had a ten year old son, Frederick. George Kerr described his job as “Gunmetal manufacturer” in 1861.
Ten years later, in the 1871 census, George Kerr was an “Iron plane maker,” with assistance from his son Frederick.
19th century English thumb plane, dovetailed and unmarked, although it may have had a visible stamp originally. An early user tapped on the thick gunmetal bridge habitually. Professionally-made dovetails on this plane are virtually invisible, with the exception of the ones for the rear plate. The strike button at the rear (a cheesehead screw–now replaced with same) had been mightily pulverized, and probably slightly straightened the convex heel causing the dovetails to become visible there. Fortunately, the hammering did not extend to the heel itself. The Kerr thumb plane shown above, also had a separate heel plate, dovetailed to the sides. On this example, the sides were cut for trailing dovetails into the sole which was part of the reason that the rear flange was made longer than most other English thumb planes. The infill bed, which was pinned to the sides, was also drilled out for lead weights, of the same type that would be installed in a quality piano keyboard in the factory. This was a piano plane for sure, and it most likely came out of a piano factory.
Lead weighting adds mass, and the resulting inertia makes it easier to cut cleanly through difficult grain with a small plane. This is the largest of all my English thumb planes at 5 7/8″. It is also slightly deeper than the others, as the pictures show.
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.
Modern makers of A11 replicas have included Karl Holtey, Darryl Hutchinson, Gerd Fritsche, Brian Buckner, and Allan Morris. Karl Holtey called the A11 “a good all round plane.”
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. 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. The world 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, and Norris struggled on with a skeleton crew of four until 1943. Most of the remaining production was done on dovetailed smoothers, with a few dovetailed panel planes and cast phosphor bronze violin planes. 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.
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