Because I love doing projects that involve hand tools I probably have way more than any reasonable person should have. But if you work enough with your hands you know that the right tool makes all the difference. Traditional hardware stores are now a dying breed of retail but back in the day they were the one-stop shop for most tool needs. The McLennan, McFeely & Co. Hardware Store opened in Vancouver in 1885 and for many years was a substantial business enterprise.
These pages are from that merchant’s 1912 catalogue. Among the wrenches above, the crescent adjustable wrench must have made quite a splash because it was only first introduced around 1907 and to this day is a standard in any well-equipped tool box. Though less common nowadays, variations of the hand drills pictured below can still be found today and are quite useful.
The City of Vancouver Archives has digitized some of the old McLennan, McFeely catalogues, and flipping through the pages makes for an interesting diversion as you ponder how much more laborious it was to do various chores over a century ago.
At one point or another, I owned or used all of them [even a hand drill] except for the wrenches with the curved handles. I don’t think I’ve even seen them. It makes me think that now I put an extension on a power drill and it still doesn’t get into a tight spot — a long hand drill would be the solution.
Those curved ones I’ve seen in antique shops but have never felt moved to need one like that.
Though I am less than competent with tools, I also appreciate how appropriate tools make the job easier, more likely to result in success. It was fun seeing these vintage tools!
Henry Ford (the founder, not the grandson), to paraphrase a whole lot, used to say that if you needed to buy a tool to do a job right and didn’t buy it you ended up paying for it anyway – through increased variation, scrap, rework, customer complaints, employee injuries, downtime, future sales.
Henry Ford had that one right, I think.
I could spend a good day reading through those catalogs. I have a few of those tools.
Dan, it’s fun reading.
What would the old grandpas make of the sound of a pneumatic tool like the ones they loosen and tighten the wheel nuts with? One quick BRRRP and the nuts come off the wheel. Another quick BRRRP and they’re fastened on more tightly than a person could do. But those old tools had the advantage of working anywhere, whether there was electricity and a compressor handy or not.
I like that BRRRP sound you did — nice writing! I think the people from that earlier era would be amazed at modern technology in so many ways.
Yes, they sure would. I hope we don’t forget how to do a lot of the old crafts though. If technology ever fails us, we would be in a bad way because so many of the old skills are not being passed on to the next generation.
Fascinating, aren’t they, Brett? I noticed the, “Yankee” Reciprocating hand drill. I do wonder how that tool came by its name from this company in Vancouver? Despite the fact I’m not what you would call a, ‘handywoman’, I do appreciate the variety and usefulness of these tools from more than 100 years ago! Cher xo
Yes, Cher. I think Yankee was a large American tool making company at that time and Canada, as now, bought quite a bit of American products back then.
Ah, that explains it! Thank you, Brett!
I LOVE old catalogues, probably more than a person should. And there’s something extra special about the older ones that are illustrated. Fabulous!
The old Sears catalogues are fun to look at for “silly” fashions, even though we all once happily wore some of that stuff.
One of the joys of New England for my husband is being able to find old tools like that at barn sales. He always goes straight to the tools.
I’m with him as I always look for old tools at garage sales and antique shops. 🙂
The illustrations of antique tools remind me of antique kitchen implements I’ve seen, some of which I have no idea what they would have been used for.
Kitchen work was more demanding back then. This old hardware catalogue has a section devoted to kitchen implements and housewares that is worth browsing.
Thank you for the trip back to the old tool shed I’ve had several of the old tools that you show in your picture. The one sure looks to me like a genuine Ford wrench you got one with every Model T Ford that you bought. I have rebuilt car engines and worked as a jet mechanic in the Air Force, I was no stranger when it comes to tools in my hand. Now my hands are so crippled, I have trouble holding my Fork, it is hard to keep a happy face, but I still try to. Best wishes as you travel Canada.
Very cool! I’ve got an old catalog too, it’s one of my favorite possessions! I digitized quite a few of them at http://www.hardwareillustrated.wordpress.com
Alan, thanks for sharing the link to your site, which I happily follow. I appreciate the spare simplicity of your layout and the item descriptions are terrific in the catalog that you highlight.
Thanks Brett! I haven’t updated it for awhile, but I appreciate the feedback! 🙂
Very cool tools. I used to work at a heritage museum just outside of Ottawa and all of our work during open hours was done with period hand tools like these. I loved how, less like modern tools, they forced you to slow down and work with the wood. It’s a dying art. Thanks for the post.
That’s a great point about having to slow down and focus on the work in a different way.
Cool post, Brett !!!!!!!!!!!!
I enjoy looking at antique items, mainly out of curiosity, Brett.
Really interesting, Brett. I’m researching logging camps in operation during their 1800s. You’ve inspired me to search for info connected to the making and maintenance of these axes and saws. Thank you.
That would be interesting, Gwen. I’m sure there’s a backstory there somewhere worth exploring.
Your research sounds interesting, Gwen! Are you writing a book?
Ah, thanks Liz. I am in fact applying my research to a new novel. The story is set in the mid 1830’s in the Ottawa Valley.
Do you have an e-mail list? I’d be interested in buying your book when it comes out.
I do, Liz. Thanks so much for asking. The submission form will appear when you visit my site.
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Tool stores – the adult version of Toys R Us and a favorite of mine.
Yes, I think of hardware stores in that way! 🙂