Whether you need a place to store your antique tools or you want a creative way to organize anything form art supplies to makeup, antique and vintage tool boxes offer lots of possibilities. Tool boxes have been around since 17th century, and they come in a variety of styles and materials. Some can be incredibly beautiful, and there are examples of antique tool boxes that are particularly valuable.
Popular Materials Used in Vintage Tool Boxes
When it comes to antique tool boxes, metal and wood are particularly common. You'll also find plastic examples. Each material offered distinct advantages and lent itself to certain design elements.
Wood - Beautiful and Custom
Antique wooden tool chests are among the oldest and most beautiful. Tool boxes made of wood were on ships' manifests dating back to the 1600s, and they were an important fixture of the carpentry and cabinetry trades in Colonial America. Wood offered unlimited options for customization, and this type of tool box could be anything from a simple open caddy to an elaborated design with drawers and fine woodworking. The earliest antique wooden tool chests had dovetail joinery at the corners, a hinged lid, and sometimes a rack on the lid for storing chisels, hammers, and other antique hand tools.
Later examples were more elaborate with some 19th century wooden tool chests designed to hold 300 or more tools. Vintage wooden tool chests from the 20th century sometimes have specialized compartments and drawers for specific trades. For example, a vintage wooden tool chest with drawers might below to a machinist who kept equipment running smoothly at a factory. Each felt-lined drawer would have held specific items for the job, including small screwdrivers, calipers, pliers, and other items.
Metal - Simple and Durable
During the early 20th century, metal became a popular material for tool storage. This type of toolbox could be mass-produced, so it's easy to find vintage metal tool boxes in a number of styles. The simplest examples featured a metal box with a hinged lid and a clasp to hold the lid closed. There could be a tray insert inside the box for smaller items like nails and screws, and many simple antique metal tool boxes had handles.
More elaborate designs opened out and had nesting trays with hinges. Some designs also feature drawers for smaller tools or specialized hardware. Many vintage metal tool boxes have colored paint to enamel, giving them a beautiful appearance that is decorative and fun.
Plastic - Affordable and Light
In the second half of the 20th century, plastic became a popular material for toolboxes. These are difficult to find as vintage examples, however, since early plastics didn't always wear well. Additionally, these pieces got significant use and abuse. These tool boxes were cheap to manufacture and affordable to buy.
Many plastic vintage tool boxes were crafted entirely from molded plastic. They had plastic handles, plastic hinges, and plastic trays and compartments. Pieces that got lots of use and movement tended to break down, especially if they were exposed to changes in temperature and light. Hinges often failed, as did handles.
Important Vintage and Antique Tool Box Brands
Many antique tool boxes aren't branded, especially if they were hand made or manufactured on a small scale. However, during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, certain tool box brands became popular. Some of these hold extra value as antiques today. These are a few of the brands you may encounter as you peruse the tool areas at thrift stores and antique shops:
- Craftsman - Usually made out of metal, Craftsman vintage tool boxes were especially popular throughout the last half of the 20th century. They came in a variety of styles, including those with double-hinged lids and lift-out compartments.
- Stanley - Popular with vintage tool collectors, Stanley is an important name in antique tool boxes as well. You'll see antique examples in wood and metal, including tool boxes with wheels, vintage wooden tool chests with drawers, boxes with double-hinged lids, and more.
- Union - Union made metal and wood tool chests for specialized trades, as well as more general tool chest designs for everyday use. They often feature the Union logo on them, but some of these chests were rebranded as Craftsman and other names.
- H. Gerstner & Sons - H. Gerstner & Sons made specialized machinist tool boxes, often out of wood. They had many small drawers and compartments, and they are usually lined in felt.
Factors Affecting Vintage Tool Cabinet Values
If you're looking for a vintage tool box for sale or are considering selling one you already own, it helps to know a bit about the value of these practical collectibles. They can range from under $30 to hundreds, but there are several factors that can affect the value:
- Material - Vintage plastic tool boxes are worth far less than carefully constructed antique wood tool chests. For example, a plastic tool box can be worth less than five dollars, but a beautifully made vintage wooden tool chest with drawers sold for $350.
- Brand - Tool boxes with an established brand name are often more valuable than those that are unmarked. Certain brands are especially valuable. An 11-drawer H. Gerstner & Sons oak tool box with a felt lining sold for $735.
- Age - The age of a tool box can also affect how much it is worth. For example, a vintage tool chest from the 1960s usually won't be worth as much as a handmade tool box from the 19th century. A walnut wood tool box dating from the 1800s sold for about $250.
- Condition - Tool boxes in excellent condition will always sell for similar tool boxes in rough shape, all other factors being equal. While a beat-up wooden toolbox might fetch under $100, a Union antique wooden toolbox with a handle and original keys sold for $1,500.
Modern Uses for Vintage Tool Boxes
If you have a vintage tool box, you can put it to good use in a variety of ways. It doesn't just have to be for holding tools. These are versatile storage solutions that can work with modern farmhouse decor and many other decorating styles. Try one of these ideas:
- Keep photographs and other memorabilia arranged neatly in an antique tool box.
- Use a tool box to organize your makeup and toiletries.
- Store jewelry in an old tool box with lots of drawers.
- Keep doll clothes and accessories organized in a tool box with plenty of felt-lined drawers.
- Use a tool box as part of a display on a shelf or dresser.
Beautiful and Valuable Collectibles
No matter how you use an antique tool box, they make beautiful and valuable collectibles. They're also a good way to store other vintage tools that are worth money, since they provide protection and a useful organization system. And, if you're tools are for sewing, you can also use vintage sewing boxes. Enjoy the beauty of these useful treasures.