Please note

Because of the lack of published trowel and masonry tool histories, the information here is based on other sources that may be less reliable and certainly are incomplete. These include eBay and tools that I purchase myself that are the starting points for my research. I will write what I know as I learn it. If what you read here interests you, please check back often and look for revisions and corrections. Scanned catalogs are either mine or by Rose Antique Tools and used with permission, and are on Google Docs as pdf files. A few are links to other websites. Your photos and information are welcome. Please click on any picture to enlarge it. Comments are welcome, but any with links will be deleted as possible spam.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Keen Kutter and Other E.C. Simmons and Shapleigh Hardware Masonry Tools

Tools sold by E.C. Simmons Hardware Co. and Shapleigh Hardware Co., both of St. Louis, MO, are some of the most collectible tools in the United States.

Edward C. Simmons entered the hardware business as an apprentice at age 16, and after 7 years at 2 firms, he was made a partner in 1863. A year later the business reorganized as Waters, Simmons & Co., and in 1870 Isaac W. Morton replaced Mr. Waters, and the name changed to E. C. Simmons & Co. The company grew rapidly, based on an ambitiously wide distribution area and house brands to fix the company’s identity in the customer’s mind. According to one account, Simmons was the first nationwide hardware brand based on a catalog, the "Hardware Encyclopedia", with thousands of illustrated pages. Simmons established warehouses in Sioux City, IA, Wichita, KS, Minneapolis, MN, Toledo, OH, New York City, and Ogden, UT.
E.C. Simmons warehouses
Simmons’s many brands included Keen Kutter, Enders, Oak Leaf, Chipaway, Polly Prim, Run Easy, Blue Brand,  Delmar, Sterling, American, Delft, Van Dyke, and Wonder. Wikipedia states that Keen Kutter was first used by Simmons in 1866, adopted as a trademark in 1870, and was used on their highest quality tools and cutlery.
Keen Kutter pointing trowel
By 1929, Simmons Hardware was over-extended and began selling some of its assets, and by 1939 it was in bankruptcy. In 1940, rival Shapleigh Hardware Co. purchased Simmons. Shapleigh continued to use the Keen Kutter trademark, modifying it by replacing "E.C. Simmons" at the top of the logo with “Shapleigh”. Shapleigh continued to use Keen Kutter on products until they also went out of business in 1960. Val-Test Distributors of Chicago, IL, a wholesale hardware buyers group, bought the Keen Kutter trademark and used it on a limited number of products until the 1990s.

Keen Kutter and Shapleigh edgers
The Keen Kutter brand was used on brick, pointing, and finishing trowels, cement tools, and putty knives. Oak Leaf and Chipaway were also used on some masonry tools. One distinguishing characteristic of Keen Kutter and other Simmons brands is that the logo was usually etched or cast into the item, and were more durable than the paper labels and decals used by other wholesalers and retailers. Shapleigh’s brands before 1940 included Diamond Edge, Bridge Tool Co., Columbia, Longwear, and Mizzou. Bridge Tool and Shapleigh were used on masonry tools. Here are pages with masonry tools from these catalogs:

Simmons Keen Kutter Catalogue No. 776
Bridge Tool Co. edger (Shapleigh)
Simmons Keen Kutter 1939 Catalog
Shapleigh Hardware 1959 Catalog

Keen Kutter products are popular enough to have been faked, and fakes are common at antique shops. Although I have not seen fake masonry tools, this article is worth reading:

Friday, August 19, 2016

Disston Molder's Tools

Henry Disston & Sons of Philadelphia made foundry molder's tools until the early 1900s. They appear in a 28-page pocket catalog printed in 1890, Specialties in Tools Manufactured by Henry Disston & Sons. In addition to molder's tools, the catalog included a tree planter, post hole digger, Little Giant pruning hook and saw, several brick trowels, steel rules, marking gauges, steel gauges, steel and combination squares, levels, screw drivers, and Excelsior combination wrench and screwdriver.
Seeger and Guernsey's Cyclopaedia, 1890 
Disston levels and squares had previously been made as Disston & Morss (also spelled Morse), and it's possible that the molder's tools were originally marked as Disston & Morss. The last mention I found of Disston molder's tools was in 1916.
The Automobile Trade Directory, Vol. 8, 1910

Thursday, August 18, 2016


One drawback of Blogger is that posts are arranged by date, and they can't be sorted by topic later. To get around this, I have a site index to the right. The index's links will give you all posts on that topic. They are sorted alphabetically.

To give examples of how you will find information here that is not available elsewhere, I purchased The Directory Of American Toolmakers from Early American Industries Association. This is similar to Grace's Guide for the United Kingdom. The Directory Of American Toolmakers comes on a CD and the largest file is 1,182 pdf pages of American tool makers, with most entries having a few lines. "[M]ore than 250 volunteers sifted and compiled the data to produce the list of approximately 14,000 toolmakers." Examples of masonry tool makers who are omitted from this publication are W.H. Anderson (founded 1870-71), F.H. Crafts (founded 1896), and Damascus Steel Products (founded 1921).

This site has become one of the best sources of scanned American and English tool catalogs on the internet, and I am adding new catalogs on an ongoing basis. My scanned catalogs are now are too.

Thank you to everyone who has shared information in comments or in emails on the people, companies, and tools covered on this site. Recently a young woman named Kellie sent me a 527-page catalog with concrete and stone tools and quarry equipment. Thank you very much.

I came across your blog while looking for information on the Anderson Tool Company/Detroit, MI.  
I didn’t know if you would be interested in an old catalog I have from this company.  It says “CONTRACTOR’S TOOLS AND EQUIPMENT” on the front cover.  “W.H. Anderson Tool & Supply Co.- Detroit, MI.  1919 Catalog.”  It was my grandfather’s and I came across it in some of his books- he was a blacksmith.  The binding is in rough condition but the inside pages with pictures are in excellent shape (I think) for being so old.  I didn’t know if it would be something you would want to look at and/or use for information on your site.  I didn’t want to throw it away as I find the old tools and equipment quite interesting.  Would you be interested in this? Looking to put the catalog to good use/ want nothing for it.  Am willing to mail it to you if you can use it.

Below is a Goldblatt Tool Co. photo sent with information from a Goldblatt family member.
Henry Goldblatt, Kansas City, MO also has scans of old books on masonry construction:

The 20th Century Bricklayer's and Mason's Assistant
Cyclopedia of Bricklaying, Stone Masonry, Concretes, Stuccos and Plasters
Practical Bricklaying, 1924
The Story of Brick, 1922
Architectural Granite, c. 1925
Build Better Masonry With Atlas Mortar Cement, 1955
Natural Cut Stone for Fine Buildings, 1930
Concrete for Town and Country by Leigh Portland Cement, 1922

Saturday, August 13, 2016

The Sled Runner

Goldblatt Tool 1952 catalog
The sled runner produces straight bed joints, usually for concrete block walls. The tool is made from carbon steel, upturned at one or both ends, with one or 2 forged, welded, riveted or screwed steel posts and a wood handle. Typical lengths range from 14 to 20 inches.

The tool has been made in the USA at least since the 1920s. Goldblatt's 1928 and 1938 catalog have 2 styles of sled runners. The one for V joints has a large wooden handle adapted from a wood float. The one for rodded joints has a rectangular wooden handle supported by 2 steel posts. The 3 jointers in the photo at the bottom have handles like a brick trowel (top), finish trowel (middle), and cement tool (bottom).

Goldblatt Tool 1938 catalog
Sled runners, unknown makers
Current US manufacturers include Bon Tool, Hubbard, Kraft, Marshalltown, Stortz, and W. Rose.