© 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.
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 1819, until after 1833.
The Buck extended family became a large tool dynasty with three separate businesses, two of which continue to trade into the 21st century. A couple of 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 Sr. (1806-1847), and they established Buck & Hickman in 1832. In their early years, these businesses were quite intertwined.
The 1825 London Trade Directory would have been sent to print in the fall of 1824, when George’s older brother, Joseph Buck was only 22 years old. Clearly, Joseph had access to some start up money. Joseph expanded to other addresses in just a few short years: 1 Gibson St. Lambeth, 1826; 245 Tottenham Court Road, 1831; 124 Newgate St., London City, 1834.
1 Gibson Street and 1 Great Waterloo Street were either very close to each other, or they were indeed the same location. The Royal Coburg Theatre (est.1818), later renamed the Victoria Theatre (c.1833), was listed as across Waterloo Rd. from the J. Buck warehouse in later directories, circa 1843-1890. Various street numbers on Waterloo St./Rd. were renumbering rather than actual moves: 1 Great Waterloo St./1 Gibson St. (1824-1843); 91 Waterloo Rd. (1844-1863); 164 Waterloo Rd. (1867-1893).
Oakley Street ran into Gibson Street. 68 Oakley Street was planemaker John Holland’s address from 1861 to 1871. This proximity likely fostered a working relationship between John Holland and Joseph Buck.
Street numbers on Waterloo Rd./St. were reconfigured rather than Joseph Buck moving the warehouse.
1893 was the latest Buck address on Waterloo Rd. that I have found to date.
Ambition and drive were qualities that Joseph Buck possessed in spades. Joseph provided the initiative that established the Buck tool dynasty, which still trades today.
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.
28 Brick Lane, Spitalfields may have been the actual saw making facility long searched for. This is the earliest document for Buck at 245 Tottenham Court Road that I have found to date.
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.
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.
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.”
Not to be confusing, George Henry Buck (1825-1891), son of Joseph, married his first cousin, Isabella Hickman. George Henry took over the business of Richard Nelson at 122 Edgware Road circa 1850. In around 1893, George Ryan, a manager for George Henry since 1870, bought the business and it became Ryan & Buck. By 1910 the name was switched to Buck & Ryan. The Joseph Buck company, however, continued to trade independently until liquidation in 1922.
John Roe Hickman Sr. was a printer by trade.
George Henry and Isabella had at least six children. Both fathers were “Toolmakers.”
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 by pooling their money.
£23,000 in 1884 equals about $3,500,000 in today’s dollars. On average, businesses which sold tools as a concerted and organised effort, along with making tools, or dealers who traded in tools exclusive from making them, did better financially than those who primarily focused on making tools.
£65,847 in 1904 would be almost $10,000,000 in today’s dollars. And that’s with the low value of today’s GBP compared with the USD.
For comparison, Sheffield edgetool maker William Butcher died with a fortune of £100,000 in 1870. Scottish-born steel magnate Andrew Carnegie amassed a fortune of $380,000,000 or $309 Billion in today’s currency.
Joseph Buck’s 1912 Pianoforte and Organ Builders’ catalogue offered 5 sizes of mitre planes, 3 types of thumb planes, and 2 sizes of panel planes. All of the mitre planes and at least two out of three of the thumb planes would have been made by Norris, because that was where Buck was sourcing most of his infill planes just before The Great War. What planes were included, as well as the planes that were omitted, provide insight into which actual planes were in demand for purchase within the piano industry. Following logically, this gave an indication around what planes were used more and what was used less. No smooth planes were included in this list for pianomakers, which could indicate that bevel up planes were used in common practice for a wider range of tasks, including at least some smoothing.
Change of addresses may have been renumbering rather than actual moves. Buck was trading at no. 245 before 1840 when information was taken for the map.
The Bucks as Saw Makers
All census 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.
Illustrations showed phases of saw making: cutting, grinding, and punching teeth with a fly press. Not included was a furnace.
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 (1831-1930; 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 1831, George Buck supplied a wide range of trades and professions. These dental instruments make me appreciate living in the 21st century.
Map section shows the following: Joseph Buck, brother of George Buck, b 1802. planemaker and dealer, 164 Waterloo Rd. (1824-1893); Charles Badger, iron planemaker, 1 Stangate St. (1854-68) 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. (<1871-1905).
Buck (Towell) mitre plane, stamped 245 Tottenham Court Road., dating from the early 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 page on Early English Mitre Planes. 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
© 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.
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 (1830-1912).
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.
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.
The Norris no. 11 bridge has similarities with the Buck mitres in question. Because of these similarities, Thomas Norris cannot be ruled out. In any case, there was a significant gap in time between production of the last Buck/Holland type mitres in the 1880s, and the introduction of the Norris no. 11 small box mitre circa 1910-1914. Only a few of these were made.
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 in gunmetal. Slater made a modest number of cast iron mitre planes, appearing mostly unmarked, or rebadged, such as for Tyzack or Moseley. Buck sell rebadged Spiers planes, and three 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.
Early Spiers mitre plane marked “Buck 245 Tottenham Court Road.” Stewart Spiers sold many early planes to Buck, Moseley, Mathiesen, and Archer, as well as other dealers. Planes were either rebadged by the tool dealers, or by Spiers himself. Some early Spiers examples were never stamped with a mark at all. After 1880, Stewart Spiers apparently did not need to sell his products wholesale to the trade.
A similar 8″ Spiers mitre plane to the example above: with early style front infill, early lever cap screw, squared-off flanges, double bend in sidewalls at heel, rear flange (not exclusively a later feature for 8″ examples), side screws for attaching lever cap, and a relatively short neck on lever cap.
This was among the last Spiers planes to be bought in and rebadged by a dealer. A few later examples can be found, having lever cap screws without cusps, but they are scarce.
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.
In recent years, antique tool dealers and auctioneers have proffered their own assessment as to the identity of the maker of these mitre planes. Two tool dealers and one auctioneer advanced Norris as the likely maker, and one auctioneer proposed Holland. A rebadged Norris plane has a greater potential to achieve higher prices, so this evaluation may not be entirely objective.
Working years for Holland ranged from 1861 to 1905, 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.”
Some Holland Family History:
John Holland was born in Riby, Brocklesby, Lincoln, which is near the South shore of the Humber estuary on the East coast. His parents were John and Mary Holland, and he was baptized on 4 July, 1830, in Riby.
Sophia Swann (1830-1901<) was born in the hamlet of Dalham, Suffolk County. 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.
Holland wasted no time establishing his tool making business.
Early on, John Holland concentrated on metal tools, and was even listed as a dealer in gunmetal stock in 1870.
93 York Road was the former workshop and living quarters of Charles and Isabella Badger. Charles Badger died 28 September, 1869.
“Gunmetal, iron, plane, saw, file. & mechanical tool maker & dealer:” Holland was making a wide range of products. Not just planes.
Many Holland planes were bought in by tool dealers such as George Buck, many were stamped “J. Holland,” and many were sold unmarked. Holland was a prolific maker, and having a crew of two men–and an apprentice or two–made this possible.
John Holland was involved in two newsworthy incidents during his career:
“Yesterday shortly before ten a loud explosion was heard in the neighbourhood of Westminster Bridge Road causing considerable alarm. The police ascertained that a serious explosion had occurred at the tool and cutlery establishment of Mr. Holland at 93, York Raod. It appeared that at the time the son of the proprieter Samuel Holland aged 17, upon entering the parlour at the rear of the shop had smelt strong of gas. Unfortunately he sought the cause with a naked light, shattering the windows in the shop and damaging the display trade, which fortunately will not prevent the business from being carried on as usual.”–Clerkenwell News, 24 April, 1885.
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. After John Holland left 93 York Rd., he did not retire.
John Holland moved to 30 Garden Row sometime before the fall of 1894, and stayed there until at least 1905. He continued to make tools during this time.
Holland and his family remained involved in gunmetal and iron planemaking as well as making other woodworking tools into the twentieth century. 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. During the 1901 census, John Holland, 70, “Carpenter and Joiner,” was living at 30 Garden Row, in Southwark along with his younger sister Mercy, 66. John was listed in the London P.O. Directory for 1902 as a “Tool Manufacturer.”
By 1905, Holland had been working for over 55 years.
John Holland passed away in Wandsworth on 12 October, 1912. 81 (actually 82) was truly an advanced age for the time. John Holland was one of the most long lived planemakers compared to all his peers.
John Holland’s decision to move to Wandsworth may have been influenced by planemaker Thomas Norris (1835-1906). 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.
© 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.
Some Norris Family History:
Thomas’ parents were George Norris (1773-1845), and Rebecca Cooper, (1775-1843). George and Rebecca were married in 1802.
Thomas (1804-1886) and Jane (1803-1871) had the following children: Jane (1831-1878), Thomas James (1835-1906), Edmund (1837-1928), Sarah, (1840-1910), Rebecca, born 1842, Harriet Mary, (1847-1919), and Warnell, born 1847.
Thomas James Sr. was an engraver on George St. in Lambeth.
Thomas Sr, 16, was an “errand boy” in 1851.
Thomas married Eliza Knott (1839-1918), and surviving children (from as many as 7) included: Thomas James (1860-1936); Ada Jane, (1862-1944); Clances (1868-1871>), Elizabeth (1870-1949); Edith A.(1874-1959). In 1859, Thomas was a “tool maker.”
In 1861, Thomas Sr. and Jane were taking care of Jane Knott, granddaughter, born 1857.
Thomas Norris (1804-1886) was a music engraver, which was a skill that involved a great deal of precision. By the 1870s and 1880s, Norris the elder was admitted several times to the workhouse.
Thomas Norris Jr. (1860-1936) was the oldest son: first the apprentice, then partner and successor to his father in the business of making tools. Both father and son were baptized on 22 July.
Thomas J. Norris Sr.’s early success as a plane and toolmaker was due, in major part, to his business relationship with George Buck. Many early Norris planes were bought in by Buck and rebadged “BUCK.” This connection between Buck and Norris, was far from exclusive, however. A Buck infill plane with what appears to be Norris-like features may actually not be made by Norris. John Holland had an established business relationship with Buck as well, and Holland had a major influence on Norris’ planemaking. The same could be said of Stewart Spiers. Mitre planes shown here serve as an example of Holland’s stylistic influence on Norris. Norris did establish a tool making business circa 1860, so it turns out that later Norris advertising was not an exaggeration.
Early census and city directory information for Norris indicate that he produced joiner’s tools of a general nature, rather than specializing in planes.
After John Holland left 93 York Road in 1890, but before Thomas Norris rented 23 York Road <1898, the East side of York Road was renumbered. 93 York Road became no. 5 York Road. In the “Survey of London: Volume 23, Lambeth: Southbank and Vauxhall,” published 1951, the East side of York Street was described thusly:
“Nos. 3-13 (formerly nos. 91-96)
These houses were erected on the York Road frontage of Field’s property circa 1829. They form a simple terrace in stock brick having a continuous dentil cornice to the parapet above the second story. The individual houses are, however, emphasized by the rectangular recesses in the parapet over each and by the narrow vertical inset panels separating them. Nos. 3–9 have balconies, those to the remaining houses having been removed when shop fronts were inserted.
In the 19th century these houses were largely used by dramatic agents and as lodging houses for members of the theatrical profession who were in low water; they earned the sobriquet of Poverty Corner.
Nos. 15-23 (formerly Nos. 97-101)
These houses were similar in character to Nos. 3–13 though they were built a year or two later. They were demolished in 1950 for road improvements.
Nos. 57-69 (formerly Nos. 1-5 Commercial Place and Nos. 132 and 133 York Road)
These houses, dating from 1843–5, were among the last to be erected in the road.”
Norris had moved to Wandsworth in late 1899, but continued to rent 57 York St. as well as 23 York Road, which was used in their 1908 catalogue. Note that York St. was fully populated in 1901. The buyouts and evictions were later, circa 1903-1904. Norris was still listed at 57 York St. in the London 1905 P.O. directory as seen above.
An improvement in means was the reason behind the Norris family leaving 57 York Street, rather than pressure from the railroad. Norris’ sales of fine metal planes were finally paying dividends. Norris employee Charles Henry Payne explained the move. Regarding 57 York Street, Payne revealed that “The Norris family lived in rooms above the works, and another family lived above that. As the family became better off they moved home to Quarry Road Wandsworth, but retained the works in York Street.”
Construction of the Waterloo station began in the 1840s, but it continued on and off throughout the remainder of the 19th century. By the early 1890s, it became clear that the piecemeal approach led to poor planning and that a more unified concept would require a complete rebuild. The only remaining structure from the the original would be the large supporting arches over the marshy soil.
Thomas rented 23 York Road from as early as 1898 to 1915, when costs from the Great War economy were felt throughout Europe. Thomas Norris Jr. survived the War with some government contracts which granted him access to the metals that he needed. Norris’ 1913 patent for a plane adjustment mechanism, both depth and lateral, solidified his position as the leading high end metal planemaker in the U.K.
Senility was an issue during Thomas James Norris Sr.’s final months.
£230 would be about $32,250 today. Estate was dated 27 September, 1906.
Thomas Jr. was on the move and went out and bought a home at 3 Sycamore Grove, New Malden on 23 September 1906. Soon after, work began on building a fairly large new workshop/factory on the land next his Victorian house. Money was available for construction, but not for a headstone at Thomas Sr.’s grave.
3 Sycamore Grove is on the right, with just a corner of the house exposed. Thank you George Anderson for these wonderful images! The Norris property had a 120 foot frontage, with a 200 foot depth, and the shop was built circa 1907-1909.
Thomas Jr., 49, married Helen Sellars Walker, 44. It was a late marriage for both of them. Helen was living at 6 Quarry Rd., Wandsworth, Thomas Sr.’s former house.
The Royal Oak Pub, at 90 Coombe Road, was Norris’ neighbor on the East side of 3 Sycamore Grove. This map was drawn up about 10 years before Thomas Norris took possession of the property.
This photo was taken circa 1900, and was found in the Lambeth Archive, at the Minet Library. A horse drawn wagon was used for delivering goods to the Royal Oak Pub, and you can see the silhouette of a person on the sidewalk. In the left foreground was the sidewalk frontage of “Marizion,” 3 Sycamore Grove, Norris’ home and workshop.
In comparison to Thomas Norris Sr.’s early generalized production, John Holland’s early specialization in metal planemaking was evident from extant early examples of his planes, and in historical documentation. During the 1850s, John Holland lived in the Sheffield area, which was a hotbed of innovation in metallurgy. 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 (1831-1861); 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″ Mathieson iron, which contributes to unveiling the working relationship between Norris and Mathieson. Note the tapering wedge in the Buck/Norris No. 10.
- Both 10s have cosmetic diagonal cuts at the front corners–a Norris ‘tell’ for this model.
- Holland and 10/lever cap have similar front flange.
- Holland and 10/wedge both have tapering wedges widthwise (narrower at heel).
- Both 10s have a clean heel with no strike button or screw. (247 and 242 Buck/Holland mitres similar)
- 10/lever cap. Short but heavy lever cap similar to that on Norris 11 improved and A11 mitre planes.
- Holland and 10/wedge have similarities in design of bridges.
- Both 10s have Mathieson irons.
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.
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 married Jane Clark at St. Savior’s Church, Pimlico, on 26 February, 1870, and they had one son, Rumsey George (1882-1951).
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.
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.
Miller’s business listings in the trade directories were few and far between.
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.
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 was possibly named after Charles Badger. 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:
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.
“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.
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.
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 and May had no children.
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 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.
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.
Unfortunately, this was a rough way to go out.
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.
For someone who had essentially outlived the market for his products, Arthur Price saved an impressive amount of money.
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.
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 1870 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 7 3/4″ long with a 1 3/4″ iron, the Holly block plane was close to 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.
Bailey’s block plane was the American version of a small plane, with a bevel up iron, set at a low ~20 degree angle. Block planes were used for end grain, but also for a myriad of general handyman tasks. –A tool for the masses. English thumb planes would more often be found in a cabinet or instrument makers’ toolkit, and used for critical detailed work.
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 thumb planes, 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.
Mathiesen Thumb Planes
The interesting and highly valuated Mathieson thumb plane sold in the November 2019 Brown Tool Auction for $4,746.00 (before commission). We are unlikely to see another one come to market anytime soon. George Anderson wrote that the thumb plane, in general, was the most challenging of all the English infill planes to collect.
Buck/Spiers Thumb Planes
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.
Buck/Norris Thumb Planes
“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.
Norris 31, in steel soled gunmetal and front infill. By Norris’ 1928 catalogue, this was how No. 31 was offered, rather than in “patent metal,” cusped lever cap screw, and open toe.
“…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
Heels of two thumb planes. The dovetailed example has a separate heel plate, and the Norris No. 31 is cast gunmetal. The Spiers No. 9 Thumb planes typically have a U-shaped bend at the back, and no separate heel.
Buck/Holland Thumb Plane
Badger & Galpin wedge from smooth plane shown below. Note the similarity with the wedge in the Holland thumb plane. I am not aware of any Badger made thumb planes.
Holland made planes at 68 Oakley St, Lambeth (1861-1870), then 93 York Rd. (1870-1890). Holland took over the business of metal planemaker Charles Badger (at 93 York Rd. in 1869-70) in 1870. Thomas Norris worked down the street, at 57 York St., Lambeth London.
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.
This view of the heel shows a distinct arris, which emulated the convex rear plate found on the earlier Kerr type of dovetailed thumb planes. In this example, the body was cast in gunmetal and not made of joined body components.
Isabella and Charles were a widow and widower respectively. Charles lived in St. Pancras previous to his 1843 marriage. Isabella’s father was an “Ironmonger,” an influential role for their future.
Charles Badger (1817-1869) 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.
Stangate Street runs East to West, so both sides of the street were part of the West end.
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.
If Charles Badger had lived a full life, he would have been credited as one of the major infill planemakers in the 19th century. Even so, Badger exerted major influence on Holland and Norris.
Charles Badger’s grave site can be be viewed here.
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.”
George Kerr Thumb Planes
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.
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 planes 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. Behind the bridge, the top edges of the sidewalls have a slight lip on the inner sides. It’s an indication that those surfaces were burnished smooth rather than filed or sanded–an old method. 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.
Instrument makers had little choice for a plane in the 5 inch class in the late 19th and early 20th century. These size planes were used for such tasks as making guitar fingerboards, stringed instrument bows, and paring down gussets on repaired piano keysticks. C. H. Lang included the Stanley no. 102 block plane in his 1905 piano supply catalogue.
Between 1914 and 1936, Thomas Norris continued producing specialist planes, while other makers, such as Spiers, discontinued them. Only Norris kept alive the traditional chariot, mitre, and thumb planes during this period.
John William Mitchell was a British dealer at 94 Newington Causeway, London between 1865 and 1910. Norris’ “Patent Metal” was stamped on bridge. Most chariot planes were the bullnose type, like this one, with the mouth at the toe of the sole. Also, chariots were shorter ~3 1/2″ and blockier than thumb planes.
Thomas Norris Jr.’s decision to continue making violin, chariot, thumb, and mitre planes after the Great War was conceivably informed by his grandfather Thomas Norris (1804-1886), who was a music engraver. Music engraving was a prime example of the craft side of music. And so was instrument making. Violin, chariot, thumb, and mitre forms of planes were inextricably linked with the luthier’s tradecraft and piano manufacturing.
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.
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.
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.”
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:
“…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.”
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
£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.
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