Lee Valley Tools    Woodworking Newsletter
   Vol. 6, Issue 3
   January 2012
   From the Collection

Smoothing Plane

  Smoothing plane
This tool is an important part of the Lee Valley collection and an excellent example of a German, Austrian or perhaps even Scandinavian smoothing plane. The style can be traced back to the early 16th century; German artist Albrecht Dürer depicted a similar plane in the engraving Melancholia, dated 1514. However, this plane is not of that age, which we know because the maker stamped it with the year 1810. At 7" long, it gives a 1-3/4" cut and has a slightly curved sole from front to back. Perhaps it was a scrub plane or a cooper's plane? We have no idea about its ultimate use. The plane is constructed from some type of fruitwood. The carved horn is exquisitely dovetailed into the body, which has been decorated with gouge cuts, fluting and an abundance of stamped decoration. The mouth escapement is carved in a cupid's bow. In short, this plane personifies the maker, who not only took the time to decorate it, but also included the date of manufacture. This, along with the evidence that the plane has been ravaged by some type of insect, brings up two issues that have become more common in the tool and antique world in the last 25 years.

  Smoothing plane
The first issue has to do with authenticity. Since the dismantling of the Eastern Bloc, a large group of decorated and date-stamped tools and other items for sale have been shipped to North America from middle and Eastern Europe. In some cases, the style of carving and its apparent recentness forces the question about the antiquity of some of the tools and other objects. This has been the case, to a degree, with goose-wing axes. There is no reason to think that the same could not be done with wooden items. If a Rembrandt painting can be faked, so can a simple woodworking tool. (That's not to say that making artistic reproductions for public consumption is not a respectable business for many.) However, this tool has almost certainly not been reproduced. It came from a private collector who obtained it from Europe and retained sole possession of it for more than 35 years until Lee Valley acquired it more than 10 years ago. Therefore, there is a verifiable trail of the tool's history for at least 50 years of its 200-year history. Additionally, the original cost of the plane was quite modest, so it seems reasonable to think that a seller would not invest the time to recreate such an article for such a small profit.
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