For over 150 years Stanley made some of the best and as a result, most popular tools in the US. The Bailey design, still used by manufacturers today, started simple and over the years developed into a veritable masterpiece of "plane design" becoming Stanley's bread and butter during good times and bad. The Bedrock, claimed by some to be the best design ever for a bench plane, was never quite as financially successful for Stanley as the Bailey line with less than robust sales. But it was created at a time when craftsmen made a living with their hands and many wanted a step up in innovation and usability. Then there was always that status thing. Bedrock planes were for the "discerning" craftsman who wanted the best and consequently would pay the extra 2 bucks for the privilege.
Early on Stanley recognized that they were not covering the spectrum of their potential customer base. Though there were many who did make their livelihood in the crafts, not all did and there was a large segment of the population that didn't need that degree of quality nor wished to pay a premium for a tool that they would use only occasionally. Stanley's assumption did prove to be correct to a degree and to facilitate and stimulate that end of the tool purchasing public, over the years they came out with a number of "consumer grade" lines of planes and/or full line of tools including the Liberty Bell, Four Square, Victor, Defiance, Two Tone and Handyman. The early brands, Liberty Bell and Four Square had a practical reasoning and were in fact an option to the general homeowner. The later model lines became somewhat of a shell game of changing style, colors and quality, none living up to the Stanley standard of earlier years. And so it begins...
The Liberty Bell
"The Liberty Bell design commemorates the Centennial Celebration of American Independence and was introduced at the Philadelphia Exposition of 1876. Stanley made the Liberty Bell plane in five wood bottom with metal frame models, numbers 122, 127, 129, 132 and 135 and two metallic models, numbers 104 and 105. The production of these planes was deeply resented by Leonard Bailey who sued Stanley, claiming the lower priced Liberty Bells were competing against the Bailey line licensed to Stanley. Bailey lost the suit and Stanley sold these planes for approximately 42 years, discontinuing them in 1918. The most unique feature of these planes is the screw-down lever cap with a cast Liberty Bell enclosing the numerals76. These castings vary considerably in quality and definition. The lever cap engages a cross bar on the frame with either one pair of notches, two pair, or a ramp. Another unique feature is the special two-piece cutter screw with a spur that engages the adjusting levers. This feature is the Traut & Richards 4/18/1876 patent. These planes have neither adjustable frogs nor lateral adjusters as found in Bailey- Stanley models. Cutters and cap irons are not interchangeable between Liberty Bell and Bailey-Stanley planes." (Robert E Zeigler; Richmond Antiques.com)
The Four Square Line
In order to capture some of themiddle class white collar homeowner market Stanley, in about 1923 introduced a complete line of homeowner tools aptly named "Four-Square Household Tools". Mainly consisting of the most commonly needed and basic examples, it included a 5 1/4 size jack, a 6 inch combination square, chisels, rulers, screwdriver, pliers,even a vice. Just about every tool needed to take care of the typical home repair need. The planes had a unique lever cap and main casting, lacked a frog adjusting screw and sported a
hardwood tote and knob. Quality, fit and finish and features were certainly no match for the Bailey or other higher quality Stanley tools, but they were certainly perfect for occasional home use. For the really handy handyman, there was a complete set available that came in its own wall mounted box.
The Four-Square line lasted until the Depression and was discontinued in about 1930. The planes were re-designed to a more generic look, the "Household" jack plane discontinued and in 1934 the sizes standardized with a 1104 smoother, 1105 jack and an 1120 block plane. As you'll see, these numbers were also used in the next line down the road - The Victor series.
The Victor Line
Not to be confused with the very early Leonard Bailey designed Victor, the Stanley Victor line was the successor to the Four Square. Victors were manufactured from about 1936 through the beginning of WWII (about 1942) and came in 3 sizes of bench plane, 1103, 1104 and 1105, as well as an 1120 block plane. Though there is some confusion about exact production dates, a later version showed up again in about 1952-53 for a national promotion but only lasted those two years. Designed for the homeowner, the earlier planes were similar in appearance to the Baileys with black japanned castings and frog. The hardwood tote and knob were painted/stained black and the plane looked much like the Baileys produced during and just after WWII. Speculation would lead one to believe that perhaps during the shortages of the war, Stanley substituted parts from each line to supplement those needed for the Bailey planes then produced.
The later Victor planes featured a brightly colored red cap iron, tote and knob, gray painted casting and plated lever cap with "VICTOR" embossing with red background. Clearly distinct aesthetics but with similar configurations to the earlier Four Square and Bailey.
The Defiance line of planes was another re-adaptation of an earlier Leonard Bailey plane as of course, Stanley was not a company to be trifled with after whopping Leonard in their infamous legal battles of the 1870s and felt free to "plagiarize" Bailey's earlier trade names. Sadly, the Defiance planes Stanley produced were no match in quality of Leonard's and were targeted to farm and home use. These planes produced between about 1929 through the early 1960s were numbered in the 1200 series and included a line of block planes(1247-48), smoothers (1203 &1204), and jack planes (1205). Other, even less expensive iterations incorporated a single cast bottom and frog combination and were numbered 1243 1244 and 1245. (More junk). An early 1213 model with a screw down cap was produced between 1932 and 1942 and a 1213 1/2 model smoothing plane featuring a "gauge" style depth adjuster was produced by Stanley around 1929-30. Though unmarked, is considered an early Defiance plane and its scarcity and unique design make it the only one considered highly collectible.
Handyman (I'm your)
Another attempt by Stanley to appeal to the infrequent user or "Joe Homeowner/hobiest, (who doesn't want to be a handyman?) the Handyman planes had an "H" (appropriately) preceding the number. H101-H1249. The series consisted of nine block and bench planes along with a series of other basic homeowner tools and was produced from about 1957 through 1973 perhaps as a follow-up replacement to the Defiance line. Early models were painted grey, with perhaps a red trim and the later castings were painted the dark blue, (similar to what the Bailey's were suffering at the time), with black painted hardwood tote and knob. In addition, the later totes were shaped in some "monolithic obelisk" figure with practically no base. Luckily, the casting had an accommodating boss in which the bottom could fit.
Two-Tone? (Are you kidding me?)
Since the original writing of this article I've acquired a couple of Two-Tone planes, one two early editions and one from the 1941 production. While my opinion of the fit and finish hasn't changed all that much, (they still have a lot to be desired in quality of build, materials and overall craftsmanship) I've had an opportunity to tune them up and actually take them out for a test run.
The tune up process was pretty standard, bottom flattened, frog seat trued up a bit, refined the edge of the cap iron and flattened/polished the iron and improved the bevel sharpness. Not particularly challenging but it gave me an opportunity to see close hand how Stanley took
the Bailey design and cheapened it up to make these. I don't believe that the casting is as heavy, the frog feels like pressed metal rather than cast iron, (though it is cast iron) and the iron itself seem to be a lesser quality than the Bailey counterpart made at the same time. It was a bit of a struggle to get it sharp enough to make fine shavings, but eventually I got some. Interestingly, the body on one of the early types was uniquely oddly configured or cast. The frog seemed to sit too far forward to allow the iron to close the gap between it and the leading edge of the mouth. Consequently that plane did not perform acceptably in any way, shape or form. However, switching the frog to the other, early casting allowed that plane to work quite nicely. I'm only guessing but it appears that the QC of the line was not up the the Stanley standard and it seems that a lot of sub standard planes made it through the process.
As if to add more insult to the steady decline in quality Stanley dropped to a new manufacturing low by producing the Two-Tone line of tools, all equally gaudy looking with sad performance. Apparently the management at Stanley forgot that they were in fact supposed to be making tools, not abstract art.
Produced as an advertising gimmick for the National Hardware Conventions in 1940/41 and again in 1950/51, they are reported to have been spotted on those lost and forgotten dime store shelves as late as the 70s but like Big Foot, later sightings are speculative and dubious. It's also reported that they were produced concurrent to the Victor and Defiance lines though less popular. (I wonder why) The planes are basic with few practical adjusting capabilities and with an eye irritating bright color finish. Many different color combinations and schemes are recorded and all the colors of the rainbow represented. (Maybe they should have called them "Skittles") Cutters are marked "Stanley Two-Tone" and they are numbered with an "OH" preceding the actual size, though the generic castings have no size marking. These planes are hard to sell and even harder to posses. A pristine example will hardly bring as much as a normal plane – maybe because they look like somebody on LSD randomly painted an otherwise perfectly good one. Best used as a boat anchor or fireplace stone you are lucky if you never made the mistake of spending good money on one. Model numbers with pre-fix OH were 4, 5 and 20.
After reading this you're probably asking yourself: WHY? It's not hard to see the pattern Stanley followed over the course of a hundred years, from having been "The toolbox of the world" to "The garbage can of the world". The early lines like the Liberty Bell and Four Square were and still are decent user planes, especially when properly tuned. But beyond that the management of Stanley must have had to stay up nights trying to figure out what the next tool atrocity would be. Clearly they managed to do just that. Small wonder that they quit producing planes to sell in the US until just recently when they reintroduced a Bailey No 4 and 5 size (made in Mexico) of low quality and even more recently a newly designed Sweetheart line of planes with a gauge or Norris style adjuster. A step up from Two-Tone but certainly not to compare with the beautiful craftsmanship of the early SW. Maybe this time instead of looking for ways to make it cheaper they'll look for ways to make it better.