Aging creates value in a wide array of commodities. Sometimes it’s an organic process like in wine, cheese or lasagna on the second day. Everything has a special value when it’s brand new. It will never again be as clean and bright, smell so good or make the same crystal clear sounds. Once the original luster of an object begins to fade depreciation sets in at a terrifying pace. A magic age, defined at one time as 100 years, is reached and the depreciation stops and value can rise once again even though there has been no physical improvement in an object.
The 100 year mark is not as hard and fast a rule as it used to be. I think this changed when collecting became accessible to the masses with the growth of the middle class. When I was a kid we repainted or stripped and stained old furniture all the time. Now we preserve the patina and grumble at anyone who would dare fill a scratch. Antiques have been manufactured for quite a long time with the judicious application of chains, bricks and even the occasional shotgun. The secret of the “distressed look” con was let out of the bag when furniture makers by the score started turning the stuff out direct from the shop to the showroom.
The patina distress/factor has always seemed to me to be disingenuous except in cases were an object has genuine historical significance or practical utility. I can’t relate very well to Chippendale furniture that is better suited to a museum setting than my dining room. However, I can feel connected to an object that wears it’s age well because it has proven it’s usefulness and is within it’s own field hard to improve own with modern substitutions.
I see this happen in the area of antique tools. Because I have been a woodcarver and cabinetmaker by trade woodworking tools are best known to me. I currently work in a modern production facility. We have some excellent tools powered by all the electrical power we care to use in a day’s time. They are for the most part very precise and I carry a digital caliper that reads to three decimal places. But some jobs simply don’t need that kind of hair splitting accuracy. Chisels and block planes still make their appearance and handle some jobs quickly and with no setup time needed.
I don’t wish to disparage any particular manufacturer of tools. A lot of the old marques are log since dead anyway. I have two block planes from the same manufacturer and one is significantly better than the other. You guessed it the 70 year old model fits my hand like well packed snowball and the blade holds it’s edge longer and resharpens better than the newer one. The newer model is also made in a foreign land although it bears the name of an old line American corporation. I guess I could go on a rant over that but i won’t.
My time in antiques reinforced the idea that a tools value is in it’s performance, not it’s name. A respect for good materials similarly lends itself to the character of quality. In chisels especially steel is the determining factor of usefulness. For a while stainless steel was everywhere. Lot’s of claims were made about edges that would stay sharp for a very long time. Of course nothing stays new forever and resharpening the stuff is tedious and best done with special (i.e. expensive) equipment. Give me some good high carbon steel which holds it’s edge well and sharpens like a razor. I treat my tools with great care so rust is not an issue.
Tools that will work when the power goes out still have their place. I have a great old miter saw that is sort a monster. I call it my “cordless radial armstrong” saw. I don’t actually use it much but occasionally it has it’s uses and can perform in some very remote places.
The most ancient tool I have is an old gimlet. This item is as simple and uncomplicated a method for making a hole in wood as you can get. It is a classic antique item. It shows the wear of many years of use and a wooden handle that has real patina. The kind of patina that comes from perspiration, skin oil and some quantity of good old dirt. The gimlet has been buffed and polished over a long period of time to a luster that is genuine and true. It exemplifies the very best aspects of an historical artifact. This small work-a-day tool says only what can be read for certain from it’s visual appearance. No lies emanate from it and it always get’s the job done when the workman is willing.