A Plane With A Story
If you're a collector you probably have a lot of something, I have a lot of hand planes. People collect all kinds of stuff but some collectors, also like me, like old stuff. Consequently I have planes that date from the 1820s, really cool planes that date from the 1840s, 50s, 60s, all the way to contemporary stuff that was made 20 years ago. One of the things that makes collecting planes interesting is contemplating its history. I can sit for a long time wondering about the type of people that made shavings with it a hundred or more years ago. People who were trying to make a living, people who were successful craftsmen, people who just made stuff as a hobby, or even people like me who just collected it, sat it on a shelf and admired it. Rarely do you ever know more about it than just that, unless you knew the owner or the owner's family or had some personal connection to it, him, her, or them. So much time passes, so many owners, the likelihood of truly learning of its past life is remote
A couple of weeks ago, a very nice lady from Toronto contacted me through the website and explained that she, or rather her father, William Peard, owned a plane which they believe was a type 2 Bailey. Now if you know anything about plane type studies you know that the type 2s, produced by Stanley R&L between about 1868 and 1871, were the first real production planes that came from the Stanley factory after Leonard Bailey went to work for them. In other words, they were, for the most part, the first real Stanley/Bailey planes ever produced. Now that by itself makes this a very special example that Mr. Peard owned. But here's the rest of the story.
Mr. Peard had a long time friend by the name of Harry Kazarian who was a Providence, Rhode Island resident for many years and an avid violin collector. Mr. Kazarian generously gave the plane to Mr. Peard some 25 years ago. Interestingly enough Harry Kazarian had owned the plane for sometime before that, (just how long is not known), after having obtained it from the descendants of a fellow by the name of David B. Rockwell (D.B Rockwell) 1842-1925 and his brother Joseph H. Rockwell (1844-1930), both born in Maine.
Now apparently ol "DB" and brother Joseph were self-taught violin makers and began making them pretty early on in life after dabbling in other businesses. I'm guessing that the climate in Maine, to include the weather, wasn't all that conducive to the making of violins and other classical stringed instrument, so they moved about the country, (at least DB did) to such exotic locales as Boston in 1878 to about 1895, Providence about 1896-1901, Detroit, Hartford and eventually New York City in about 1920. While they were in Providence they apparently found some success as the shop they had opened in 1896 remained in business under Joseph after DB's departure a short time later. In 1930, the business continued under his Joseph's son, Harry Victor Rockwell (1878-1951). The shop (and plane) remained in the Rockwell family until Harry Kazarian bought it along with the contents, including the plane we are talking about, as well as the rights to the "Rockwell Violin" name . The date of that transaction has yet to be determined but it's speculated that the shop closed around 1950 or so. An ad found in the October 19, 1934 edition of "THE JEWISH HERALD" (Providence) read as follows:
"J. H. Rockwell and Son
Violin Makers and Dealers
Repairing a Specialty
All Kinds of Musical Supplies
In Providence Since 1896
385 Westminster Street
PROVIDENCE, R. I.
Tel. GA. 3183"
Today, 385 Westminster Street (The "Conrad" Building) is a pizza restaurant in the downtown area of Providence.
You might be asking yourself, "How does he know that this
plane belonged to DB?" Well, back in those days it was not uncommon for owners to mark their tools, some inconspicuously, some not so much. In this case the inconspicuous, very methodically and neatly incised "D B ROCKWELL" is indeed stamped on the left rear corner positively identifying it. There is another stamp atop the tote, likely also by a Rockwell but not clear enough to be confirmed as to which one. (You collectors of antique planes who don't like them with owner applied marks, take note) The pedigree of this particular plane is clearly established and though first ownership can not be positively confirmed, given DB's proximity to Boston and New Britain at the time of its manufacture in about 1870 or so, I think the odds are that DB was indeed the original owner. The fact that Rockwell violins are renown and highly collectable only adds to the interest that this plane possesses.
Interestingly, as I was cleaning it up and removing the cutting iron I noticed that the bevel on the likely replacement but very early "P" (1886) trademark iron, untouched for decades, still had an amazing mirror finish, clearer than any I have ever been able to produce. The flat side was untouched and the bottom of the plane as it came from the factory. Consider that a luthier used this plane for perhaps 50 years, sharpening only the bevel and producing fine musical works of art. Kind of flies in the face of those who believe that the bottom of a plane must be as close to perfectly flat as is humanly possible. But that's just me.
150 years after its creation, through the hands of skilled craftsmen, artisans, collectors and just folks, this plane ended up in mine, unused for a very long time, thanks to a very generous gentleman in Toronto who wanted to place it with someone who would appreciate its history, character and service. So, the next time you take one member of your collection down off the shelf to admire and speculate on its history, remember this story about how one family of artisan-craftsman made a living for at least two generations, using their hands, beautiful wood and a tool made by another brilliant artisan-craftsman.