Hey readers, here’s Part 2 of the New Deal tool chest find (Part 1 is here) by guest writer Dr. James E. Price. Dr. Price is an anthropologist, archaeologist and an accomplished joiner. You’ll find his bio down at the bottom. He’s managed to acquire a toolbox, still filled with tools, originally issued by the U.S. Government in 1933 for the Civilian Conservation Corps (read our story on the CCC here). It’s a very rare find with great American historical significance.
The rest of the entry is in Price’s words, edited for length and clarity. The photos and captions below are his.
Dr. Price writes:
Each of the tools in the chest was numbered by a stamp or engraving on the tool itself and there is a numbered brass tack beside the place it goes in the chest. I promised you that I would feature the tools on this page one at a time and you can assist with the research of its manufacturer, the years it was offered, a picture of it in a period catalog, or any other information pertinent to each tool.
We start this evening with the claw hammer which is Number 32 and is secured in the top till by a brass spring clip. The manufacturer’s imprint is on one cheek of the hammer and the other side is stamped “USVA”. The latter stands for The US Veterans Administration. They were used at The VA Hospital in St. Louis, Missouri.
Thank you for sharing your knowledge about a tool if you have information on it.
Next I continued cleaning and stabilizing tools in the top till. Here I’ll show you the three little Stanley Hurwood screwdrivers and two awls. The three screwdrivers are on the upper left of the photo below, each one in a spring clip with their tips in slots in a piece of wood glued in the end of the till. They are each marked “26”. One of the awls, the one with a beech handle, marked “25” is above the screwdrivers and the other one with an ebonized handle, stamped, “48” is to the left of the hammer. All the tools in the top till are marked, “USVA”.
It is likely the tools were issued in 1933 or 1934 and probably never used after the beginning of WWII. The chest and its tools gives us an intimate view of what was needed by finish carpenters in those years. To my knowledge no other complete government-issued tool chest and its contents survived from The New Deal Era so this one is a unique cultural resource that demands careful preservation and study.
Hand-tool beginners who frequently ask what tools they need, take heed. If you assemble a set of tools of the functional types found in this chest, you will have enough tools to make lots of wonderful wooden things.
The photo below shows the back left corner of the bottom of the chest. Note the three gimlets resting in holes in an upright board and the block plane secured to that board with a leather strap.
Stay tuned as I go through the rest. As I continue to remove tools from the chest I’ll describe them after I have given them a light cleaning.
Anthropologist and archaeologist Dr. James E. Price grew up watching his father make ax handles, gun ramrods, sassafras boat paddles, cedar turkey calls and furniture. His father taught him the art of joinery. “Woodworking was important on our Ozark farm. My family owned a small sawmill which produced lumber for use on the farm. We built buildings, repaired wagons, made furniture and boat paddles, and many other objects and structures of wood.”
Dr. Price, a sixth generation Ozark dweller, prizes the careful process of using hand tools to create objects that he sees as useful, functional art. “Without using any fossil fuel source, I can take a pile of boards and make them into an object of beauty. The tools are the instrument, and the piece becomes a kind of permanent music. If it doesn’t burn or blow away, it can last a thousand years—it will be impossible to pull apart.”