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What Makes an Old Tool Valuable?

Antique and vintage tools are a common find at estate sales in Tacoma, Seattle, and Olympia. And when it comes to the antique tool market, you’ll find two kinds of buyers. Some choose to use the pieces they buy, because often an old tool, like a level, saw hammer, chisel or wrench, can be better for a skilled job than its modern equivalent.

On the flip side, other buyers simply collect these tools because they admire the craftsmanship, the aesthetic, or the uniqueness of the tool.

So how do you know if the tools in your grandfather’s garage are of any value? Like with most antique and vintage items, it depends. Through our experience, we have found there are three main ways to know if an old tool has value: demand for the tool, its condition, and the materials and markings.

But before we get started, we want to make sure you have a clear understanding between vintage and antiques. Generally speaking, antiques are more than 100 years old, and vintage items were made in the 1920s or later, but not within the last 20 years.

Here are three ways to determine if your old tool is of any value:


Antique and vintage tools usually come with a brand name, and a serial number. A simple web search will help you better understand what you have, and if there is any demand.

Material and Marking

Many 19th century tools were made from wrought iron and included long serial numbers and the manufacture’s name. Leather was also a common material to protect knives, or as the housing for a tape measure.

Just know, you will never see “Made in China” on an antique – this is a 20th century marking.


Making an old tool look new again is the wrong approach. Remember what we said before? Some collectors simply want to add to their collection and don’t plan on using the tool.

One common effect of age is that a patina is formed on the surface of some metals. Patina is a green or brown film found on the surface of metals like bronze, brass, or copper and is simply an effect of aging. In some instances, patina can provide a protective coating that prevents deterioration, and some find it aesthetically pleasing. So be careful before you remove it, removing patina from the wrong tool can drastically alter its value.

Most collectors recommend a simple cleaning solution of dish soap and water. If you have rust, simply use fine steel wool to remove it.

Old tools are gaining in popularity among many collectors and wood workers, if you think you have tools that may be of value, give us a call. We can help you price them right for sale.

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