The problem with collecting anything is that once the low-hanging fruit are gone you are stuck with trying to find the rarer things. So it goes with block planes. Now that my collection contains most of the more “available” block planes, the focus moves to those which are somewhat rarer – but only insomuch as they are rare because they are hardly ever seen in the market. Take for example the Millers Falls No.36/37/47 block planes – the knuckle cap versions of Stanley’s No.18/19/65. They just don’t seem to surface that often. But how rare is it?
It would be easier to conclude that something is rare if we knew how many were produced – but these statistics are mostly unknown. We can derive some measure of “rarity” based on when the tool was manufactured, and for what length of period. A plane which was made in 1873 and appeared in catalogs for two years could be quite rare. Or it is also possible that it was never produced. We make the assumption that if something was in a catalog for 10 years, then quite a few must have been manufactured and sold – but in reality it could have been in the catalog because it didn’t sell well, and it took 10 years for the stock to ebb away. We just don’t know.
A plane can of course be considered rare if it is in pristine condition, still in the original box, or an earlier type. It’s also possible that a plane becomes rare because it was manufactured well over a century ago, or that the company disappeared. Tools get lost, recycled, damaged, destroyed, misused. An excellent example of a rare plane is either of the chariot planes of British tool manufacturer Edward Preston & Sons (although they technically look more like a block plane). These “Irish pattern” planes were made with a cast bed and either a rosewood or ebony wedge.
These planes are rare due to: (i) their age (>100 years old); (ii) their geographical locality (produced in the UK); (iii) their design (a cast bed coupled with the use of a wooden wedge, reminiscent of the British infill planes); (iv) their style (chariot-style planes were predominantly a British thing); and (v) the fact that the company that made them dissolved (in 1934). There is currently a No.1364 for sale on eBay for US$686.