Hey readers, here's Part 2 of the New Deal tool chest find (Part 1 is here) by guest writer Dr. James E. Price. Dr. Price is an anthropologist, archaeologist and an accomplished joiner. You'll find his bio down at the bottom. He's managed to acquire a toolbox, still filled with tools, originally issued by the U.S. Government in 1933 for the Civilian Conservation Corps (read our story on the CCC here). It's a very rare find with great American historical significance.
The rest of the entry is in Price's words, edited for length and clarity. The photos and captions below are his.
Dr. Price writes:
Each of the tools in the chest was numbered by a stamp or engraving on the tool itself and there is a numbered brass tack beside the place it goes in the chest. I promised you that I would feature the tools on this page one at a time and you can assist with the research of its manufacturer, the years it was offered, a picture of it in a period catalog, or any other information pertinent to each tool.
We start this evening with the claw hammer which is Number 32 and is secured in the top till by a brass spring clip. The manufacturer's imprint is on one cheek of the hammer and the other side is stamped "USVA". The latter stands for The US Veterans Administration. They were used at The VA Hospital in St. Louis, Missouri.
Thank you for sharing your knowledge about a tool if you have information on it.
The subject clawhammer is in the top till.
The imprint has been damaged but it appears to read, "C. OGDEN, NEW YORK". The "C" is somewhat questionable.
You can see the original inventory number stamp, "32", on the wooden handle right behind the head.
The other side of the hammer head is stamped, "USVA".
Next I continued cleaning and stabilizing tools in the top till. Here I'll show you the three little Stanley Hurwood screwdrivers and two awls. The three screwdrivers are on the upper left of the photo below, each one in a spring clip with their tips in slots in a piece of wood glued in the end of the till. They are each marked "26". One of the awls, the one with a beech handle, marked "25" is above the screwdrivers and the other one with an ebonized handle, stamped, "48" is to the left of the hammer. All the tools in the top till are marked, "USVA".
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This is a closeup of the three Stanley Hurwood screwdrivers.
The words "STANLEY HURWOOD, PAT. APPL'D FOR" are stamped on the handle of each screwdriver. The handles appear to be rosewood.
This awl is stamped "25" and the handle is beech. In small letters the wood is stamped "BUCK MFG. CO."
The upper awl has an ebonized handle with no manufacturing marks but is stamped "48".
It is likely the tools were issued in 1933 or 1934 and probably never used after the beginning of WWII. The chest and its tools gives us an intimate view of what was needed by finish carpenters in those years. To my knowledge no other complete government-issued tool chest and its contents survived from The New Deal Era so this one is a unique cultural resource that demands careful preservation and study.
Hand-tool beginners who frequently ask what tools they need, take heed. If you assemble a set of tools of the functional types found in this chest, you will have enough tools to make lots of wonderful wooden things.
The photo below shows the back left corner of the bottom of the chest. Note the three gimlets resting in holes in an upright board and the block plane secured to that board with a leather strap.
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The tools were rusty from being in the bottom of the chest. Tools in the three tills above this bottom tier are not nearly as rusty.
The block plane is a Stanley 220 and the blade has been hollow ground so it saw use. The japanning is near 100%. This photo shows the disassembled plane after cleaning. No attempt was made to remove stains remaining after the powder rust was removed.
The gimlets did not fare as well as the block plane. They had a rust encrustation on the steel bits. Once the rust was removed some pitting is evident. The handles are rosewood.
I was born December 28, 1944 and the chest and its tools are a decade older than me but probably ceased to be used right before I was born. Of course I had to try out the gimlets knowing that my hand was the next one to use them since they were put away in the bottom of the chest by the carpenter who last used them.
This is a photo of the gimlets and Stanley 220 block plane cleaned and stabilized before I returned them to their proper place in the bottom of the chest that has been their home for 80 years.
This photo shows the three gimlets and block plane back in the chest.
The New Deal Tool Chest and its tools are currently on public exhibition in the lobby of the Ozark National Scenic Riverways Headquarters in Van Buren, Missouri. The exhibit will go through October, 2017.
This is a photo of the top three tills and their contents on display by The ONSR Interpretative Division of this National Park.
Stay tuned as I go through the rest. As I continue to remove tools from the chest I'll describe them after I have given them a light cleaning.
Anthropologist and archaeologist Dr. James E. Price grew up watching his father make ax handles, gun ramrods, sassafras boat paddles, cedar turkey calls and furniture. His father taught him the art of joinery. "Woodworking was important on our Ozark farm. My family owned a small sawmill which produced lumber for use on the farm. We built buildings, repaired wagons, made furniture and boat paddles, and many other objects and structures of wood."
Dr. Price, a sixth generation Ozark dweller, prizes the careful process of using hand tools to create objects that he sees as useful, functional art. "Without using any fossil fuel source, I can take a pile of boards and make them into an object of beauty. The tools are the instrument, and the piece becomes a kind of permanent music. If it doesn't burn or blow away, it can last a thousand years—it will be impossible to pull apart."