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:

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