You paid how much for that plane??

If you've perused my site you'll see a lot of high quality, low cost collectable planes. You have also seen some very collectable high cost planes, some costing more than, well, more than I care to say, maybe to a non collector, even embarrassing. A skilled craftsman sees a plane as a tool, to be used in your hands making cool stuff. Though they may pay a lot for a tool of the trade, like anyone in any profession, a plane is to be used, not take up space on a shelf collecting dust. If you're not a collector you probably don't get it. If you are, "You know from where I come." It's a matter of priorities. This essay is merely an attempt to explain why people collect, or at least why one person has gone down the rabbit hole.


When I started this "voyage of the damned" life was good and planes was cheap, relatively speaking. Because, as every collector starting out knows, you usually start low because you don't know how much is too much and generally speaking, condition is much less important than building your inventory. EBay is a help in that you can do some basic cost research before bidding but in order to do that you need an idea as to what you are looking for. The basic Stanley Bailey No 4 or 5 should run you about $30-50 bucks in average condition and if you want it user ready, be prepared to pay additional for the tuned up plane. It takes me 3-4 hours of labor to bring one up to that standard so how much is your time and labor worth? Remember too, that any commodity is worth whatever someone is willing to shell out. I see folks on Facebook bitchin every day about the high prices people are asking for common planes. They question the motive of the seller, as if he/she was ripping people off. Well in my view if it is a necessity, point taken. Planes, unlike food, is not. That said, the answer is the principle of the basic law of supply and demand. If the consumer wants something bad enough, price is not the primary driver. The desire to own something is. (Remember in March of 2020 when folks were paying $5 for a $1 roll of toilet paper?) If there is no market for the item at the price being asked, the price will drop or the item will not sell. Seems simple enough, right? Yet many folks don't understand the concept or worse, do understand and chastise a buyer who places a higher value on the item then they do themselves.


Case in point: "The trend of setting new world record antique tool prices continued and the current all time world record was set in 1995 when Brown Auction Service sold the Sandusky Tool Co. 1876 ebony and ivory center-wheel plow plane for $114,400." (FTJ/Brown Tool Auction Website https://www.finetoolj.com/auction) Someone believed the value of a piece of wood and ivory to be significantly more than the item cost new and wanted it bad enough to pay a record price for it. Not many folks would be in that category, but someone was. It's all about "Right time, right place, right buyer" and the same goes for any market place and with any commodity.

At some point in our collecting journey we get to the destination. Life's priorities change and we find it time to let someone else take charge of our lifelong work. How does one determine the value of the time and effort placed in building a collection of rare and valuable items? I'm not sure there is any single answer for that but it has to be something. Trying to sell a whole collection at once as a lot seems entirely impractical to me because most of the fun of collecting is in the hunt. I know for a fact that some wonderful collections will remain in the original collector's hands simply because a buyer with the same interest and enough money probably does not exist. (Um, well, wait just a moment here. Maybe that's a planned outcome.)


Realism must accompany the liquidation process. Some folks don't want to burden their heirs with the responsibility of disposing of their accumulated treasures and would rather see the process through for themselves. I know a fellow whose collection was amazing. One of the greatest collections of rare No 2 planes in the world. As he aged he realized that he would not live forever and began to divest himself of the "less precious" members of the group. His wife, who has about as much interest in his collection as a fart in a spacesuit, told him that when he was gone, his collection would be gone too, to the Goodwill, Salvation Army or anyone willing to come and pick them up. His choice is simple, or seems that way, see them off to a good home or see them off...

Now me? I've given specific instructions to my family as to how these precious commodities should be disposed of after I go. I've maintained a complete inventory of prices and values in a conspicuous location so that at least when the time comes the disposer will have some basis in which to start. I figure that this will allow me to do what I love doing until I can't do it anymore and the family will be able to do the liquidation with some basic knowledge of value.

I have been exceptionally fortunate with my collecting opportunities over the years and my collection is amazingly precious, at least to me. Admittedly, I have spent more on planes in my lifetime then I have on other important things, (like food, shelter and basic necessities...just kidding, but a lot). You think I must be crazy. My wife does but I've also been blessed with an understanding partner.


Collectors do strange things and as they get better at their hobby they tend to buy less but at a higher price. What was of interest yesterday is less so today. Basic collecting gets you interested in specialty collecting where just about everything is in that "rarified" place where you need a spacesuit just to breath. The theoretical process is the same: common planes generally are less but special or rare examples can break the bank. My interest in bench plane restoration and resale has greatly facilitated my ability to finance my habit

It's at this point that many beginners stop collecting, Interest lags or changes, storage or display space becomes scares as does the finances, or a combination of all of the above. I resolve the last issue by refurbishing and reselling common user grade planes which gives me an opportunity for a different hobby and a relatively steady inflow of seed money. In addition, the difficulty in finding the more collectable and desirable examples also has a psychological effect on the collector in that those pieces just don't show up in the places that have provided a "target rich environment" in the past, like eBay and even when they do, there are likely dozens of others looking for that same one. That creates the compounding issue of "High demand plus limited supply equals high prices" going back to the theory of supply and demand.

As a collector the price you pay for an item (as long as you aren't spending the grocery money )is less important than the desire to have that rare commodity that very few others have. I see this hobby as rewarding in that I can take that rare or not so rare Bailey, Standard Rule, Chaplin's or whatever, rent it for a few years and then pass it on to the next generation. That way these beautiful old relics will continue to share their history well into the future. Sometimes the rent is high but I guess if you want to live in the lap of luxury you pay what you can afford, just don't get carried away lest you find that being "plane wise makes you penny short".

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