Although wrenches haven’t changed much over the last few centuries, there is something joyful in handling antique tools that your elders used to fix things. Vintage or antique wrenches sounds much more attractive when explaining to your friends why you have old rusty tools in the garage. And, who doesn’t want to flaunt them? It is neither easy to identify nor evaluate items when it comes to collecting antique tools.
First, it’s important to understand the difference between the terms vintage and antique tools. Vintage tools were used throughout the last 20 to 100 years. However, antique wrenches are older than 100 years.
Collecting antique tools may not be everyone’s cup of tea. However, those that have been well preserved without too much rust can be sold for several hundreds of dollars.
However, given that there are many wrench types, models, and brands around the world, identifying them can be quite difficult. Many collectors care about specifics like the brand and year of manufacture, so valuing wrenches that you can’t identify is even harder.
With this compelling guide we aim to help collectors identify wrenches and other analog tools in a straightforward way that won’t consume much of their time and lead to antique tool satisfaction!
We also provide a guide to evaluating your vintage and antique tools both on your own and professionally. Lastly, you can take a look at good places to buy antique manual tools such as wrenches and add them to your collection.
Brief History Of Wrenches
Some collectors may not see the wrench as a significant manual tool. However, it was a very significant asset to the development of the modern world, especially during the industrial revolutions. The world got introduced to various machines, and apparatus, but still relied on manual tools to help put these inventions together.
Wrenches were made for different purposes, from making manufacturing machines to, specially-shaped wrenches that’d were used to fix tractors and other vehicles like train wagons and locomotives.
The first patents were introduced during the 19th century. Although it’s not exactly clear who made the first wrench, history books attribute them to Solyman Merrick’s patent from 1834. There is some disagreement about this as many believe this patent was simply an addition to the patent of another tool made by Henry King in 1832.
The first screw-and-adjust wrench patent was sent for manufacturing in 1835. Further patents were developed to make a more specialized types of wrenches mostly in the middle of the 19th century.
Monkey wrenches were developed later in the 19th century by the brothers Loring and Aury Gates Coes.
Antique Wrench Identification
Let’s take a look at the wrench you just found. You can see that it’s old, and likely to be antique or at least vintage, but you are unsure about how to identify it properly. Don’t worry, although identifying wrenches can sometimes seem like a guesswork, if you have a patented wrench with a brand name, you don’t have to worry too much.
Basically, all branded and manufactured wrenches come with some kind of marking on their main body. They are either made by a forging company or a foundry so they should possess the initial or the full name of the manufacturer that produced them. More recently made wrenches may have a logo forged onto them.
The best sign to look for is the serial ID or identification number that is engraved into the wrench. If you can find that, you should be able to search an online product catalog or contact an old workshop specializing in antique tools and see if it fits with any of the wrenches made in the past.
Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. Some smaller companies didn’t have identification numbers for their wrenches and other manual tools. They sometimes used other trademarks which were part of bigger and more famous companies that were distributing wrenches at the time.
If you identify the trademark, you should still visit an antique store, a workshop, or consult online catalogs that can shed more light on the origin of your vintage or antique wrench. Some smaller companies also replicated popular wrenches made by bigger companies at the time. These replications look identical but possess some features that differentiate them such as quality and how they feel to use.
Many older antique wrenches came with some kind of a handle or lever that could be utilized for better comfort. Those handles would be made from wood or some other material like rubber. These materials are also important for evaluation because wrenches with a handle hint that the wrench may be a limited edition and could therefore be more valuable.
If the wrench doesn’t have any trademark signs on it, you can still estimate its value by looking at the signs of wear and tear, and overall sturdiness. You should be able to determine the original purpose of the wrench by looking at the shape and size of it. For example, does it have a straight shaft or a design that would make it reach easier into smaller areas of machines?
Another thing that is worth considering when it comes to identifying antique wrenches is whether it is adjustable or fixed. The oldest wrenches weren’t adjustable but specifically made for one purpose.
There are also transition wrenches, which were neither fixed nor adjustable. For example, some had multiple wrench heads that could be put onto one handle.
Famous Companies That Made Antique Wrenches
If you are struggling with identifying and evaluating your antique wrench, finding out more about the companies who made wrenches at the time can be very helpful.
Nowadays, there are dozens of different types of wrenches. In the past there weren’t as many so focusing on the brands rather than they type of wrench is more practical for identification. Let’s dig in!
- Craftsman: This is among the most famous antique tool brands on the market. It was established in 1927 and didn’t immediately specialize in wrenches. Thanks to this company, it’s much easier today to maintain your garden machinery such as lawn mowers. They excelled at making wrenches that are durable and still quite valuable today.
- John Deere: Besides wrenches, John Deere is famed to make powerful tools for gardening and agriculture. The company was established in 1837 and made good quality wrenches that can have great value today. They were also making heavy machinery, which is why they included wrenches in their manufacturing process. Some antique wrenches with this brand name can sell for tens of thousands of dollars.
- Keen Kutter: You might not always find this company etched on their tools, as they were a trade which was part of Simmons hardware company that made other tools for machinery, including wrenches.
- The Hazet Tool Kit: When it comes to Europe-based companies, this German company produced many tools for heavy machinery. Their wrenches are common and not as valuable as the John Deere wrenches. Some rare finds are worth $150-$200 if you’re lucky.
- SK Wayne: This company is especially known for making tools for fixing and maintaining cars. They patented the round-headed ratchet as well as the fine-tooth ratchet. It was a revolutionary patent for motorcycles and sped up repairs. All their tools are portable and convenient to use including wrenches of different types.
- Snap-On: This company excelled at delivering simple and convenient designs for wrenches. They specialized in interchangeable sockets. Their designs are easily distinguishable from others through the snap-on trademarks that can be found on the shaft.
Valuing Antique Wrenches
After successfully identifying your antique or vintage wrenches, one would think that valuing them would be a piece of cake. Unfortunately, it’s not always that way. Workshops tended to replicate popular wrenches which deviated from the original quality and deceive collectors into thinking they are authentic.
That’s why the following tips can help you value antique wrenches better, without being deceived. Also, if you struggle with evaluation, you can always hire an antiques appraiser.
Valuing Antique Wrenches On Your Own
There are several things to look after when valuing an antique wrench, but one of the most important things is the brand and the patent number.
Brands play important role in valuing antique wrenches – you may have noticed how some of the tools sold higher than the others because they belonged to a certain brand. If you see the seal or mark of a certain brand engraved into the the shaft, it’s likely to be more valuable.
Of course, the age of the wrench also matters. Generally speaking, older wrenches are similar to the original patents that were released back in the 19th century. Older often means better value as long as they’re well preserved and functional.
You’ll have a much better chance to get a good price for your antique wrench if there’s a patent number engraved into the shaft.
What also can add to the value of the antique wrench is the visibility of cuts and other damage across the shaft and the heads of the wrench you’ve found. The more cuts it has, the more it’s worth because it’s a clear indicator of wear and tear throughout the ages of use. Collectors will appreciate that it’s seen a lot of repairs through the ages and will be more likely to offer a higher price.
Before the heavy machinery that runs today’s tool factories, most wrenches were made manually, by hand. What’s more, it wasn’t just the companies and factories making these, they were also made by independent mechanics and workshops.
Being hand made, a lot of wrenches look crude and uneven in some areas which can indicate an old wrench. For some people, that will also mean more value. Lastly, you should look at the general design of the wrench including the shaft.
Regular wrenches have a straight shaft, which was widely used in the beginning but not so much as time went on and wrenches became more specialized for spots that were hard to reach.
The more specialized the wrench, the more value it will have, especially if you can tell what it was precisely used for.
If you are struggling with some aspects of valuing the antique wrench, there are different websites and forums that you can visit to address the problem before you consult the appraiser or a local antique shop worker. Check out these forums and websites.
Having Your Antique Wrench Valued
If the wrench you discovered is particularly old or perhaps broken you may want to have it evaluated professionally, rather than explore it on your own or trust the internet opinions.
There are two things to do, either connect with a local antique shop where they specialize in identifying and valuing different tools or contact a car mechanics expert who specializes in recognition of different tools from the old days.
Some of them will be willing to do an evaluation for cheap or a small percentage if you decide to sell the antique wrench through them. However, for serious and authentic wrench evaluation services will cost.
Where to Buy Antique Wrenches?
There are different websites where you can purchase an antique or vintage wrench with a special story attached to it. While there are many small and independent online stores which you can consider, large marketplaces such as Amazon, eBay and Etsy remain the most popular ones.
Amazon – Small Choice of Vintage Wrenches
- Price range: $9-$40
Amazon is one online shop that can have everything at its disposal. Through this site you can settle for vintage wrenches with a sturdy and robust design. Some of them have a specialized purpose. There is a collection of very small sets to larger ones that are available for up to $40. They are made out of steel alloys, while some of them have a crude appearance indicative of their age.
Editor’s notes: Amazon is definitely not the best place to look for vintage and antique wrenches. Still, it’s a good starting point you can check for new finds, as antique stores are often present in this marketplace.
eBay – Large Collection of Vintage & Antique Wrenches
- Price range: $9.99-$500
With eBay, the story is different, there is a great variety of vintage and antique wrenches that were pre-owned and collected. Some smaller options with a straight shaft and handle are cheaper. However, those larger ones, with a crescent design, and other distinguishing features are worth a lot more.
It’s worth noting that most of the most valuable vintage wrenches can be found for $50 to $100. However, antique and authentic patented wrenches are also available for a much higher price tag, up to $500. Many sellers are down for some negotiation, so you can try your luck!
Editor’s notes: There are no particular complaints that we can make about the eBay collections. However, on some models, serial numbers and marks of the company that manufactured the wrench should be more visible. Ask for details if the listing lacks essential information.
Etsy – Wide Selection of Wrench Collections
- Price range: $10-$200
Etsy offers different designs at an affordable price. There are double-ended wrenches, crescent wrenches, and much more. Some of them come in different shapes and are hence put in various collections that are sold together. Some of them are pretty rusty and have visible signs of wear and tear for that authentic antique feel.
For some listings, although the price is high, it seems that the sellers weren’t successful at identifying the wrench serial number and value, so you’ll have to be super careful when purchasing so you don’t end up with a fake and useless wrench.
Editor’s notes: Some wrenches are visibly old but not completely identified so it’s something you’ll have to do on your end.
Vintage Tool Shops
Price range: $15-$50
This is the UK-based online store that contains a variety of different tools. They offer a rich variety of wrenches. Some of them are so old that they look very worn and rusty.
It’s worth noting that some of the products on the website are collections of different tools and objects that can also include wrenches of different shapes and designs, as well as different ages. If you are hunting for a whole collection of old tools, going after a toolbox seems like a good option.
Most of the tools are relatively inexpensive, but look out for bargains.
Editor’s notes: It’s not a convenient store to use by people who don’t live or work in the UK as shipping prices would probably be high.