How to Identify Antique Hand Tools

By Linda Stamberger
Wrought iron antique hand tools.

Antique hand tools were used before the use of electricity. They do not have electric cords, and were made from old painted and unpainted metals, including wrought iron and wood. Some antique tools might be primitive pieces made from carved wood and adding something sharp, like a shell. These types of tools would have been made and used by early Native American tribes. Most antique tools recognized today as being antique are found at garage sales or thrift stores. Many people like to collect and resell antique tools, and some can still be used for projects and for construction.

Look at the material of an antique tool. Many tools from the 19th century are made from wrought iron. Check to see if the antique tool has patent numbers on it or dates. Use a magnifying glass to see faded numbers on antique tools. Many of the old tools from the 19th century had long patent numbers, or the manufacturer’s name. An antique tool will never be marked “Made in China,” for that is a modern 20th century marking.

Look up patent numbers online. Type in the type of tool you have or go to antique tool collector websites to search. Set up an appointment at an antique store or mall with a dealer who specializes in appraising antique tools. Inquire at the desk within the store about getting an appraisal.

Try to get an appraisal with a dealer who is most experienced with antique tools. A dealer who is accredited with an antique tool organization is a good bet for they will be more fair, knowledgeable and accurate in their appraisal. Go to an appraisal service associated with an antique show or fair if you cannot find a local expert, or ask an appraisal service expert online.

Examine the tool for wear. Most antique tools will have significant wear if heavily used, especially in the case of old metal twisting tools. Look to see the size of the tool. Many antique tools were quite heavy, considering they were made of wrought iron and often very large. Antique tools were used for everything, including chopping ice blocks.

Check to see if the larger antique tools had different materials, such as a wooden handle with a sharp wrought iron blade or part. These tools would have been used with two hands for twisting, puncturing or plowing into ground.

Look for special materials that the antique tools might have been made from. Many antique tools have rare or expensive materials including fine wood, bone, ivory, brass and sometimes even gold. Any type of precious metal would be out of the ordinary and might indicate that the tool is antique.

About the Author

Linda Stamberger began writing professionally in 1994, as an entertainment reporter for "Good Times Magazine." She has written online copy for The Volusia Community website and is the author of "Antiquing in Florida." Stamberger studied creative writing at Southampton College, where she won a partial writing scholarship.