Hang Holes, Owner Applied Names and Other Aggravating Stuff
I belong to a group on Facebook (which may in itself be the issue) that talks about planes. Some of
the members are collectors, including yours truly, many are users and many others are kind of both. We talk a lot about stuff pertaining to restoration, care, maintenance, usage, all kinds of things related to planes and how or why they fascinate so many of us. Well, the other day, the subject of hang holes came up and a lot of the members stated their disdain for such, as well as other owner applied modifications to an original plane. One fellow went so far as to say that he thought that anyone who defaced a Bailey should be shot. Now, I'm sure he wouldn't have actually pulled the trigger but I was amazed at the strong opinions and vitriolic comments that were posted about such a thing.
As a collector, some of the planes I look for I want to be complete, little or even unused examples so I can actually see what it looked like when it was taken out of the box for the first time. I have a few of these, some even with the original box. Most of my collection is user grade, replete with owner applied adornments, which most likely sat on someone's workbench for years as a shop companion for some craftsman, hobbyist, or even just an occasional user, before they landed in the "Plane Dealer Retirement Community For Planes"
Occasionally you'll come across a plane that has what I like to call "personality", a "conveniently placed hang hole to facilitate storage readally above the workbench" or a name etched, stamped, or tattooed into a side. These seem to be the things that irritate some collectors to no end, including my friend who apparently assumed that these were placed there in a malicious attempt to piss him off. My response was an explanation of the times. :
"Think of it like this, I'm working in a carpentry shop in 1897 and spent 2 days wages on a new plane just so I could make a living. Because I don't have any place to put it I leave my tools at the shop. My plane gets stolen by one of the other guys with no self respect but because they all look alike I couldn't prove "nuthin". So the boss says "Hey, you don't got no plane so you can't do your job. You got 2 days to come up with the tools you need or your fired". So I spend another 2 days wages to get one at the local hardware and when I bring it to work I engrave, stamp, etch (your choice) my name or initials into it. It IS a tool after all and one with which I put food on the table to feed my family. Sadly, a week later it gets stolen but this time as I walk through the shop, I spot that shady character Zeke with a new plane. I walk up to him and see my initials on the plane he's using so I take it back...right after I throttle him. Moral of the story: It's hard to judge someone for something that they did 120 years ago in order to survive. It was a different time and a plane was indeed a means to an end, not a collectable. Besides, owner marks are whatcha call "provenance", that give a tool character and personality...at least that's my belief."
I got to thinking about this a bit and how it really relates to the drivel we are seeing and hearing everyday in the news. We have developed our "high" standards over hundreds of years of mistakes, changed attitudes and social evolution. We all have personal peeves, and belief systems that we hold ourselves and our contemporaries to whether it be hang holes or the definition of a racist or a sexual assault. What was OK to do or say when I was a kid is in many cases no longer socially acceptable. Moreover, social mores were different 100 years ago and so were practices in the workplace and how you treated your tools and how your boss treated you. It's a different world and for us to judge the acceptable actions of someone 50 or 100 years past is like blaming the dinosaurs for creating the fossil fuel that is allegedly causing a mass extinction of our own.
So, the next time you find one of those beautiful corrugated type 6 Bedrock No 604 1/2 at the local thrift store for $35 bucks, grab it, even though it has "MSP" neatly stamped into the side. and a hang hole conveniently drilled into the toe. It's as big a part of that plane's history as that scar on your chin that you got from falling off a slide when you were 7 years old. Besides, it may have once belonged to Marvin S. Pumpernickel, (the greatest cabinet maker of the 19th Century).