One tool manufacturer which appears a lot in the British vintage realm is Sorby. But which Sorby? This post will provide a bit of insight into the different Sorby’s. There are three principle tool companies with the name Sorby: “I. Sorby”, “John Sorby & Sons”, and “Robert Sorby & Sons”.
“I.SORBY” was the mark used by Isaac Sorby, established in 1810, and trading under his own name until circa 1814. The company is best known as a plane-iron maker, and the irons can be found on numerous independently manufactured wooden planes. The company then became Sorby, Turner & Skidmore, until 1825 when Skidmore dropped out, and the company continued as Sorby & Turner. In 1833 Isaac Sorby died, and Turner continued the business. In 1854 John Turner died, and his son Joseph Turner continued. In 1860 he took Joseph Naylor into partnership with him, and in 1871 Northern Tool Works was bought jointly by Taylor, Naylor, and William Marples (for his youngest son Charles). In 1875 the company traded under the name Turner, Naples, and Marples. The company changed names numerous times over the coming decades, and by 1909 it was a subsidiary of Marples ( in 1893 they were bought by Turner, Naylor and Co., which was in turn bought by Marples in 1909, however Turner, Naylor and Co. continued operations until 1963).
“I.SORBY” had a number of distinct trademarks. One, “Mr Punch” was added by Joseph Turner in 1859.
The company did manufacture its own planes.
JOHN SORBY & SONS
This company existed in Sheffield and was established in 1797 by John Sorby (uncle of Robert Sorby). Its trademark was the “hanging sheep”, or Golden Fleece, registered by John Sorby in 1791. The company was engaged in the manufacture of edge tools, saws, sheep shears, and files. However they were not plane makers, but rather manufacturers of plane irons. After his retirement, the business was taken over by sons John and Henry, hence the trademark “I & H SORBY” (I and J were not separate at the time). This company was acquired in 1845 by Lockwood Brothers (cutlery manufacturers).
In 1932, the trademarks of John Sorby & Sons were bought by Turner, Naylor and Co., who continued to use the trademarks.
ROBERT SORBY & SONS
The forbearers of Robert Sorby had been cutlers in the Sheffield region, dating from the mid 17th century. Robert Sorby and Sons were registered in Sheffield in 1828 as a manufacturer of edge tools, saws, scythes and hay knives. In addition to manufacturing tools, they also diversified into the manufacture of crucible steel for tool manufacture. From circa 1860-1967, the Sorby factory in Sheffield was known as the “Kangaroo Works”. The Kangaroo Brand of tools was made by Robert Sorby & Sons. During the 19th century, they had a large trade in Australasia. By the early 20th century, they were manufacturing carving tools, planes and plane irons, circular saws, wood saws, butchers saws and cleavers, garden tools, pruning knives, coopers’ knives, bricklayers tools and joiners tools. In 1923 Robert Sorby & Sons was bought by Sheffield company Hattersley and Davidson. They are today one of the few remaining British tool manufacturers.