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, November 29, 2016

History of Charles H. Besly & Co.

Charles H. Besly & Co. was a manufacturer of foundry molding tools at the turn of the 19th century, with a factory in Beloit, Wisconsin and store in Chicago, Illinois. The company made and sold metal-working tools and machinery, eventually specializing in taps, dies, and grinders.

The following obituary appeared in The Iron Trade Review, 28 Jan., 1909:


Charles Howard Besly, whose death on December 31 last [1908] was noted in The Iron Trade Review of January 7, was founder of the firm of Charles H. Besly & Co., Chicago. He was born in Milwaukee, on June 16, 1852, and had been a resident of Chicago since 1863. He was educated in the high schools of that city and started his business career with Marshall Field & Co. In 1873, he became manager of the Bergen Tool Co., Batavia, Ill., and traveled extensively.  He also was a broker of machinists’ supplies and opened a small store on Lake street, near Clark, Chicago, in 1873. In 1881, the firm of Charles H. Besly & Co. was established at 175 Lake street, being composed of Charles H. Besly and David J. Kennedy. In 1886, Mr. Kennedy retired from the business and the business has since been conducted by Charles H. Besly. In 1891, the business was moved to 10 and 12 North Canal street, where it continued to grow until 1903, when it moved to its own building at 15-21 South Clinton street, where the business is now conducted. In 1886 the Beloit factory was established in a small way for the manufacture of die stocks. This business grew and later its specialties were developed, including Besly disc grinders, Helmet temper taps, etc. At the present time, it occupies its own buildings at Beloit, Wis. The business was left in a strong physical and financial condition. Charles H. Besly & Co., Chicago and Beloit, will be continued as heretofore, under the direction of Edward F. Welles, his nephew, who has been associated with the company for the past 22 years and since 1896 as general manager.

The 1897 Besly Catalogue D is on Google Books, although erroneously labeled as 1908.
Besly advertisement 1914 

Besly molder's square trowel

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Line or Corner Blocks

W. Rose patent line block
Line blocks, also called corner blocks, have been made in a variety of shapes and materials including wood, aluminum, steel, iron, and plastic. The cast aluminum line block below was made by United Builders of Muskegon, Michigan. W. Rose made cast iron corner blocks, on page 24 of their 1929 catalog. The Rose tools were invented by Daniel Lee (1880-1944), an Irish-born bricklayer in nearby Chester, PA, who received US Patent 1066926 on 8 July, 1913.

For a short article on line pins with advertising, Collecting Mason's Line Pins.

United Builders line block

Saturday, November 19, 2016

History of C.H. Baum & Son

Cement World, 1910 
C.H. Baum & Son was in the metal plating, polishing, and buffing business in New Britain, CT, in the early 1900s. New Britain, home of the famous Stanley Works, was a tool-making center. In 1910 Charles H. Baum (born about 1862) and his son Henry C. Baum entered the concrete tool market with cast iron jointers, edgers, and other tools. Baum offered them in polished, nickel plated, and another unspecified anti-rust finish. There is a Baum Peerless No. 3 groover for sale on eBay as of this writing. Baum was advertising concrete tools in the 1913 New Britain city directory, and the electroplating business was in the 1923 directory.

Baum groover
Cement World, 1910

Monday, November 14, 2016

History of Vicker Tools

Vicker Tools ZA is a South African manufacturer of builder's (masonry) tools. Their main facility is in Johannesburg with a smaller plant in Mbabane, Swaziland. Isaac Mijon, an engineer, founded Vicker Tools in the early 1940s, and the business is now run by his son Vic Mijon and grandson Arnry Mijon. Arnry received a Masters in Engineering in Industrial and Systems Engineering from the University of Florida in 1997, then returned to South Africa to work with his father.

Vicker makes brick trowels, plastering trowels, pointing and gauging trowels, moulder's trowels, corner, nosing and jointing tools, line pins, putty knives, and other tools. The tools forged steel and most are in the traditional patterns of the United Kingdom, with one American pattern brick trowel and 3 Continental European trowels.

The London pattern brick trowel has a through tang capped wooden handle. The broad heel New York pattern is made with the through tang capped wooden handle, leather, plastic, and soft grip.

Their current production is marked with labels and do not appear to have a stamp or etching on the steel. The finish appears above anerage, with finer grinding than found in the USA.  

Thank you to a reader, Patrick, for suggesting this company and for the pictures.

Vicker Tool London pattern brick trowel
Vicker forged and ground trowel

 Through tang capped handle

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Cement Tools by Bonney Vise & Tool Works

Bonney No. 9J jointer
Bonney Vise & Tool Works, renamed Bonney Forge & Tool Works in 1921, was a manufacturer of wrenches and other automotive-related hand tools. In the early 20th century they also made what may be the largest known line of cast iron and bronze concrete tools. Their Bonney Cement Tools Catalog No. 19 was issued in 1915, and a scan is at the site Tool Archives. Bonney also made beaders and 6 different indent and grooving rollers, also in iron and bronze. It's unknown when they stopped making masonry tools.

Bonney No. 1CE bronze curb edger
Bonney Vise & Tool Works began in Philadelphia in 1877, and moved to Allentown, PA in early 1909, while retaining a sales office in Philadelphia. The plant was at 716 N. Meadow St., between Tilghman and Green Streets. Bonney remained in Allentown through several ownership changes until the plant closed in 2001. Now called Bonney Forge, the company makes forged industrial valves and pipe fittings instead of hand tools.

Bonney was known for using alphanumeric codes on their tools. Cement tools had a number with one or 2 letters, like 2CE being  a #2 curb edger.

A full article on Bonney and their wrenches is at Alloy Artifacts, another history is on Tool Archives, and a short article is on Wikipedia. The 1919 Bonney Vises & Wrenches Catalog No. 19 and others are on Tool Archives. Bonney's 1967 catalog is on
Bonney advertising sign

Friday, November 11, 2016

History of William Gilpin, Wedges Mills and Churchbridge Works

Trades' Guide, 1879, page 157
William Gilpin was an English tool manufacturer in Cannock, north of Birmingham. The firm operated 2 works near each other, Churchbridge Works and Wedges Mills. Gilpin operated from as early as 1834 to 1946 or later. Grace's Guide has a short page about them. We will try to add to this information.
History, Gazetteer and Directory of Staffordshire, 1834 

Gilpin brick and moulder's trowels
The Churchbridge Edge Tool and Axle Works, Churchbridge, 1926 - Britain from Above