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.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

History of Abram Cement Tool Co.

John Dixon Abram (13 Apr. 1869 - 14 Nov. 1945) was an inventor, manufacturer, and businessman whose Abram Cement Tool Company popularized long-handle concrete finishing tools.

Concrete World, May 1915
Abram Cement Tool Co. was in business in Indiana and Detroit, Michigan from 1915 to about 1933. Their first Detroit location was in 1916 at 29 Woodward Ave., and in July 1921 they moved to 3818 Grand River Ave., about a block from Abram's home. In 1926 they moved to a better location, 2300 Michigan Ave., at the corner of 15th St. The Grand River Ave. building still exists.

Abram Cement Tool Co. building, 2300 Michigan Ave. 

John's brother Ira Martin Abram (1867-1942) invented the company's long-handled tools with articulating joints. Ira was president of Abram Cement Silo & Construction Co. of Dugger, Indiana, next to Greene County where the Abrams grew up. Abram Cement Tool Co. was established in Dugger, as a successor to Twentieth Century Manufacturing Co., 1651 Lowe St., Chicago Heights, Illinois. Later advertisements do not mention Dugger.
American Builder, Vol. 32 Jan. 1922

John D. Abram had these patents:
Horse collar, US 993,137
Tamping machine, US 1,677,422
Tamping machine, US 1,882,681

Ira M. Abram had these patents:
Trowel attachment, US 1,027,396
Trowel, US 1,074,646 (with Joseph E. Runner)
Surfacer, US 1,590,342

My scanned copy of Abram Cement Tool's Catalogue 37 is on

The following biography is from The City of Detroit, Michigan, 1701-1922, Volume 3, 1922.

JOHN D. ABRAM.  In commercial circles of Detroit John D. Abram occupies a foremost position as the head of the Abram Cement Tool Company, engaged in the manufacture of cement finishing tools, a product of his own inventive genius. This is one of the largest industrial enterprises in its lines in the city with a large domestic trade, while its products are also shipped to many European countries. In the control of his interests Mr. Abram has displayed marked executive ability and initiative spirit and success in substantial measure has rewarded his labors. He was born in Greene county, Indiana, a son of Frank H. and Margaret (Christie) Abram and a representative of an old American family. The father at first followed agriculture pursuits and subsequently engaged in the building of bridges in Indiana, attaining a position of prominence in that connection.

Following his graduation from the high school at Worthington, Indiana, John D. Abram there became connected with mercantile interests, with which he was identified for three years, and then went to Nebraska. Locating in Custer county, he acquired a section of land and engaged in stock raising, continuing active along that line for three years. On the expiration of that period he disposed of his interests and erected a hotel in a western town. This he later sold, and removing to Tekamah, Nebraska, he there entered the lumber and coal business, with which he was identified for fifteen years. In 1905 he came to Detroit and was employed by the Pearson & Hough Company until the 1st of May, 1916, when he established his present business as a manufacturer and dealer in cement finishing tools, conducting his interests under the style of the Abram Cement Tool Company, with offices at 3818 Grand River Avenue. These tools are manufactured from Mr. Abram’s own patent and have revolutionized the cement tool business. The prime principle upon which they work is an automatic double action, which presents the tool from digging into the cement. As the value of the output has become recognized his patronage has increased and his trade now covers every state in the Union as well as extending into Canada and many European countries. He has direct exporting connections in New York city and also maintains a direct agency at Dundee, Scotland.  During the progress of the World war Mr. Abram supplied large quantities of those tools to the United States government, having a standing contract to ship a certain quantity of tools monthly, but on the day the armistice was signed he voluntarily stopped work on the contract, thus saving the government additional expense. While engaged in this work he received an unsolicited order from a firm in the Argentine Republic, calling for forth-five thousand dollars worth of cement tools, but fearing that the tools were destined for Germany, Mr. Abram laid the matter before the United States government, which confirmed his suspicions and warmly commended him for his public-spirited action in the matter. It is needless to add that Mr. Abram refused to execute the order, thus giving unmistakable proof of his intense loyalty and patriotism. He is an astute, fair-sighted business man with the ability to control extensive interests and his business activities have ever measured up with the principles of truth and honor.

On the 24th of June, 1897, Mr. Abram was united in marriage to Miss Luella M. Houston and their many admirable traits of character have endeared them to a large circle of friends in this city. They are earnest members of the Christian church and guide their lives by its teachings. Mr. Abram is deeply interested in all that pertains to the welfare and progress of Detroit and is the president of the Builders Show Association, of which he was one of the organizers and which, owing to the liberality of Mr. Abram and other public-spirited citizens, has become a successful and popular institution, although at its inception it experienced many vicissitudes. His connection with any undertaking insures a prosperous outcome of the same, for it is in his nature to carry forward to successful completion whatever he undertakes. His initiative spirit and notable ability have carried him into important relations and while attaining financial independence he has also been a factor in promoting the industrial development of Detroit, in which city he is widely known and highly esteemed.

Engineering & Cement World, 1 Feb. 1918
Abram Cement Tool employees, Stanley Masulis at far left
Thank you for the photographs to the great-grandson of Stanley Masulis, an Abram employee in the 1920s.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

History of A.L. Swett Iron Works

1923 catalog
A.L. Swett Iron Works of Medina, New York, was a foundry which made a variety of cast iron tools, building hardware, and plumbing specialties. Their masonry tools included a brick carrier and several tampers for concrete, gravel, paving, and sod.

Albert Louis Swett (1850-1924) founded the iron works in 1889, when Swett bought out his previous partnership with William H. Samson, known as the Medina Manufacturing Co., then as Samson & Swett from 1873 to 1889.

A.L. Swett 10" x 10" tamper, maple handle
A.L. Swett Iron Works was located at 145 Glenwood Ave., Medina, a short distance from the Erie Canal. Parts of several stone buildings are still standing.

The foundry was run by son Raymond Fuller Swett (1885–1961) after his father's death. The company ceased operating in January 1961, laying off 40 employees, and the corporation was dissolved 10 Feb., 1983.

Swett's 1923 catalog is on, but it does not include the brick carrier.      

A.L. Swett brick carrier

Thursday, October 20, 2016

History of J.S. Costello & Son Brush Co.

J.S. Costello & Son Brush Co. of Saint Louis, Missouri, was a manufacturer and dealer of brushes and trowels, particularly for the plastering trade. Founded in 1858 by John Stephen Costello, the company was in business as late as 1966. Management passed to his son Francis Xavier Costello, then to Johns's son-in-law Martin J. Brennan, and next to John S. Brennan.

Costello's 1924 catalog includes trowels and other tools sold under their name and others made by E.C. Atkins & Sons, Marshalltown Trowel, and J. Tyzack.

Catalog of Costello Brushes & Tools for Plasterers, Cementers, Tile Setters, Lathers, Moulders, 1924

The Book of St. Louisans, 1906
Costello 1924 catalog

Costello brush

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Scanned English Tool Catalogues

Sheafbank Works, Sheffield
This site has many scanned English tool catalogues with tools for many trades. Please see the list of links to the right, in alphabetical order. Additional ones are on another site of mine. As of October 2016 I have been adding them to

The ones I have purchased in the US and from the UK and scanned are stored on Google Docs and now A few links are to other people's sites, like Toolemera and WK Fine Tools. Some of my scanned catalogs are on WK Fine Tools also. A few are from a friend in Australia.

These are posted for non-commercial educational purposes for the benefit of tool collectors world-wide, and to promote the firms and brands that are still exist.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Plaster and Stucco Brushes

Flour City Brush Co.
Historically, a variety of brushes have been used in some plaster and stucco finishes, as well as for other purposes in the masonry trades. Here are several from the 1935 Flour City Brush Co. catalog, Minneapolis, MN, and the Goldblatt Tool Co. 1910 catalog.
Flour City Brush Co.

Goldblatt Tool Co. 1910
Goldblatt Tool Co. 1910