My first real collection was cameras. This was an extension of a photographic hobby started in my early childhood with a simple box Brownie and eventually to a Kodak 35mm camera. That lead to an antique enlarger and assorted other pieces of darkroom equipment. Then the vintage cameras just came naturally. I was a “tag-along” with my wife and sister-in-law at antique markets and garage sales. I had to zero in on something that I could collect, and the cameras provided me with a distraction as they picked their way though aisle after aisle at flea markets.
When the collection grew too large, I turned to vintage tool collecting. As most collectors will tell you, this collection was not planned. It started with the need for a decent level to actually use when we moved into the cottage style home we share with the owner, Reggie, our West Highland White terrier.
The stove, washer and dryer all required leveling and my one-foot bubble level was not adequate.
I found a longer example at a garage sale, not new, but I did not consider age in my decision to buy. After using the level, I had the sense to give it a good long look before storing it under my workbench. It was made of a hard wood, probably rosewood, and with unusual bubbles of a style I had never seen and of which I have still not found another example. The level has a handmade look about it and has no maker’s mark.
Most of the antique levels I have had and sold were made of mahogany, rosewood, cherry or other hardwoods and newer examples are often trimmed with brass as protection for corners and edges. Some have bubbles in two directions for both horizontal and vertical leveling. A few had a third at a 45 degree angle.
Of all the antique tools that collectors desire, these instruments have a certain beauty in their simplistic design both from the quality woods used and from the shiny accents in brass which often hold the horizontal bubble in place, on which the maker’s mark is stamped. These marks are common on levels with many you will recognize easily. Stanley and Starrett levels and Brown & Sharpe feature a bubble on their protractors. It’s the obscure names that serious collectors search for and I have had several that were made in England that caught buyers’ attention at our booth in antique shows.