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Exploring the Craftsman "BE" and H-Circle Series

The comparisons in the preceding section have hopefully established the manufacturer of the Craftsman "BE" and H-Circle tools with reasonable certainty. In this section we'll do some further exploration of the Craftsman series tools, without regard as to whether a comparable New Britain example happens to be available. (The Craftsman branded socket tools were hugely successful and are generally easier to find than their New Britain counterparts.)


1/2-Drive Tools


Craftsman Early "BE"-Style 1/2-Drive 13/16 Double-Hex Socket

[Craftsman Early BE Style 1/2-Drive 13/16 Socket]
Fig. 15. Craftsman Early "BE"-Style 1/2-Drive 13/16 Socket, with Insets for Broaching and Marking Detail, ca. Mid 1930s.

Fig. 15 shows an early Craftsman 1/2-drive 13/16 double-hex socket in the "BE" style, stamped with "13-16" and "Craftsman" in block letters, but without the expected "BE" code.

The socket construction is cold-broached with a relieved area below the broaching, with tapered upper walls and a wider base to maintain adequate wall thickness. The base has a band of finely cross-hatched knurling, and the finish is chrome plating.

The absence of the "BE" manufacturer's code on this socket might be simply a production accident, but it may also indicate that the early production of these tools was done before the "BE" code had been assigned. A few other "BE"-style sockets have been found without the code marking, but in some cases the sockets were worn or rusty, leaving the possibility that the code had been marked but was no longer readable. This particular example is in excellent condition with very little wear, and the other markings are quite clear.


Later Craftsman "BE" 1/2-Drive 1 Inch Double-Hex Socket with Hot-Broached Construction

[Later Craftsman BE 1/2-Drive 1 Inch Socket]
Fig. 16. Later Craftsman "BE" 1/2-Drive 1 Inch Socket, with Inset for Broaching, ca. 1940s.

Fig. 16 shows a later Craftsman "BE" 1/2-drive 1 inch double-hex socket with hot-broached construction, stamped with the Craftsman underline logo and "BE" code around the base.

The inset shows the interior of the socket to illustrate the hot-broached construction; note the ring of displaced metal at the base of the broached area. The socket has straight walls of uniform thickness, without the need for the wider base found on earlier production.

The base has a band of finely cross-hatched knurling, and the finish is chrome plating.


Craftsman "BE" 1/2-Drive Reversible Ratchet with Amber Handle

This next figure shows a ratchet from a Craftsman "Super Socket Set", a high-end set that featured amber plastic handles on the tools.

[Craftsman BE 1/2-Drive Ratchet]
Fig. 17. Craftsman "BE" 1/2-Drive Ratchet from "Super Socket" Set, ca. Late 1930s to Early 1940s.

Fig. 17 shows a Craftsman "BE" 1/2-drive ratchet with an amber plastic handle, stamped with "Pat. Pend." and the Craftsman underline logo on the cover plate, with a "BE" code at the bottom.

The overall length is 10.1 inches, and the finish is chrome plating.

The design of this ratchet is identical to the previously illustrated 1/2-drive ratchets, except that the shift mechanism has been refined by adding a sliding crossbar. The amber plastic handles offer a nice cosmetic touch, though the handle here has cracked despite the "unbreakable" promise in the catalog.

As far as is known, tools with amber plastic handles were offered only as part of the Craftman "Super Socket Set". Our catalog references for this set are from 1939 and 1942, suggesting that this example is from that period.


Craftsman "BE" Super Socket Set

We have a reasonably complete example of a Craftsman "Super Socket Set" in its original metal case. The set is currently being prepared for display and will be added in the near future.

Fig. 18. Craftsman "BE" Super Socket Set, To Be Added.

Craftsman "BE" 1/2-Drive 10 Inch Flex-Head Handle

[Craftsman BE 1/2-Drive 10 Inch Flex-Head Handle]
Fig. 19. Craftsman "BE" 1/2-Drive 10 Inch Flex-Head Handle, with Insets for Side View and Marking Detail.

Fig. 19 shows a Craftsman "BE" 1/2-drive 10 inch flex-head handle, stamped with the Craftsman underline logo and "BE" code on the shank.

The overall length is 10.0 inches, and the finish is chrome plating, with extensive losses due to wear.


3/8-Drive Tools


Early Craftsman "BE" 3/8-Drive Reversible Ratchet

[Early Craftsman BE 3/8-Drive Reversible Ratchet]
Fig. 20. Early Craftsman BE 3/8-Drive Reversible Ratchet, with Insets for Reverse and Side View, ca. 1935-1936.

Fig. 20 shows an early Craftsman "BE" 3/8-drive reversible ratchet with a sliding reverse button, stamped with the Craftsman block logo on both cover plates, and with the "BE" code on the reverse plate.

The overall length is 6.6 inches, and the finish is chrome plating, with some losses due to wear.

This ratchet has a distinctive design previously unknown before this example was found. The ratchet has a forged body with a knurled handle, and the cover plates are set into forged (or milled) recesses, then permanently secured with a rivet. The riveted construction prevents an inspection of the interior, but the ratchet appears to be a dual-pawl design.

This example is believed to represent an early transitional design for a reversible ratchet, made before New Britain developed the familiar models with the shift lever extending down the handle.

A review of the Sears catalogs provides the context for this tool. In the years before the development of reversible 1/2-drive ratchets, New Britain supplied ratchets of this earlier style for 3/8-drive (and possibly 1/4-drive) tools. However, the ratchet mechanism used here wasn't considered strong enough for 1/2-drive tools, so the 1/2-drive size used a push-through ratchet design.

By around 1938 New Britain had perfected a new reversible ratchet mechanism and began supplying ratchets using the new design in all three drive sizes. Using this background information, we can estimate the production dates for the early ratchets in the next few figures as 1935-1938.


Early Craftsman "BE" 3/8-Drive Lever-Shift Reversible Ratchet

The next two figures show the later stages in the development of the Craftsman "BE" reversible ratchets.

[Early Craftsman BE 3/8-Drive Lever-Shift Reversible Ratchet]
Fig. 21A. Early Craftsman "BE" 3/8-Drive Lever-Shift Reversible Ratchet, with Insets for Reverse and Side View, ca. 1936-1937.

Fig. 21A shows an early Craftsman "BE" 3/8-drive reversible ratchet with a shift lever, stamped with the Craftsman underline logo and "BE" code on both cover plates. The shank is marked with "Made in U.S.A." forged into one side, with "Forged" on the reverse.

The overall length is 6.6 inches, and the finish is chrome plating, with some losses due to wear.

This ratchet represents another transitional stage in the development of the Craftsman "BE" ratchets, previously unknown before this example was found. When compared to the previous example, the forged body has a wider shank with depressed panels, a design change to allow room for the shift lever. The cover plates are now secured with screws so that the ratchet can be disassembled for cleaning or repair.

The shift lever is stamped from sheet metal and pivots around the back cover screw. The lever is held in the selected position by an embossed dimple fitting into the depressions in the forged handle, and the opposite end of the lever selectively deactivates one of the ratchet pawls.

[Early Craftsman BE 3/8-Drive Lever-Shift Reversible Ratchet]
Fig. 21B. Early Craftsman "BE" 3/8-Drive Lever-Shift Reversible Ratchet, with Insets for Reverse and Side View, ca. 1937-1938.

Fig. 21B shows a slightly later Craftsman "BE" 3/8-drive reversible ratchet with a shift lever, stamped with the Craftsman underline logo and "BE" code on both cover plates. The shank is marked with "Made in U.S.A." forged into one side, with "Forged" on the reverse.

The overall length is 6.6 inches, and the finish is chrome plating, with some losses due to wear.

This ratchet is very similar to the previous figure and the comments for that tool apply here as well. Note that the sides of this example have been smoothly ground to remove the ridge from the forging operation, a detail found on the later Craftsman "BE" ratchets. Thus we have estimated the production date for this example to be slightly later than the previous figure.


1/4-Drive Tools


Craftsman "BE" 1/4-Drive Open-Style Reversible Ratchet

In some early "BE" socket sets the 1/4-drive and 3/8-drive tools shared a common ratchet by means of a 1/4 to 3/8 drive adapter. This would have helped keep the cost lower, but in later years the "BE" line included separate ratchets for each drive size. The ratchet design for the 1/4-drive size was an open-style reversible ratchet with riveted construction, instead of the forged-body construction used previously for both 1/4 and 3/8-drive. This next figure shows an example.

[Early Craftsman BE 1/4-Drive Open-Style Reversible Ratchet]
Fig. 22. Craftsman "BE" 1/4-Drive Open-Style Reversible Ratchet, with Inset for Side View, ca. Mid to Late 1930s.

Fig. 22 shows a Craftsman "BE" 1/4-drive open-style reversible ratchet, stamped with the Craftsman underline logo and a "BE" code on the top cover plate.

The overall length is 5.2 inches, and the finish is chrome plating.

The ratchet is reversible by rotating the pawl to work on the other side, and the side edges of the pawl are serrated to provide a grip (see top inset). The pawl bias is maintained by a spring-loaded ball carried in the pawl itself, rather than in the handle shaft.

The 1/4-drive open-style ratchet is notable for being was one of the few examples (or possibly the only example) of "BE" or H-Circle tools without a known counterpart in the other New Britain tool brands. The open-style design was probably cheaper to manufacture and was likely included in the Craftsman line to meet cost requirements.


Craftsman [6113] "BE" 1/4-Drive Midget Socket Set

This next figure shows an example of the 1/4-drive "Midget" socket set in the "BE" series.

[Craftsman BE 1/4-Drive Midget Socket Set]
Fig. 23. Craftsman "BE" 1/4-Drive Midget Socket Set, with Inset for Top View, ca. Mid to Late 1930s.

Fig. 23 shows a Craftsman [6113] "BE" 1/4-drive "Midget" socket set in a distinctive metal holder, consisting of a flex handle, cross-bar, and nine sockets.

The sockets in the set have a mix of double-hex, hex, and double-square service openings. The sizes and types are, from left to right, 7/16 (double-hex), 3/8 (double-hex), 5/16 (double-square), 11/32 (double-hex), 5/16 (double-hex), 9/32 (hex), 1/4 (double-square), 1/4 (hex), and 7/32 (hex).

The sockets are all stamped with the Craftsman underline logo and fractional size, with some of the fractions written with a dash (e.g. 7-16) and some with a slash (e.g. 3/8). The finish is chrome plating.

The distinctive metal holder has three tabs at the top with thumbscrews to secure the flex handle and cross-bar. The holder has a black crackle finish, now worn away in many areas. The dimensions are 5.5 inches wide by 0.9 inches deep by 2.2 inches high.

Although not marked with a patent notice, the holder is covered by patent #2,030,138, filed by W.F. Costello in 1935 and issued in 1936, with assignment to the New Britain Machine Company.

This socket set is functionally similar to the earlier Craftsman "Midget" sets offered in the C-Series and Craftsman Vanadium lines. Examples of these earlier sets can be seen as the Craftsman C-Series "Midget" Socket Set and Craftsman Vanadium "Midget" Socket Set.

The present set differs from these earlier examples in several ways. The "BE" set uses 1/4-drive instead of 9/32-drive, and the drive tool is a flex-head handle instead of a sliding Tee handle. In addition, the "BE" set doesn't include an extension, which both previous sets did include. Finally, the "BE" set is furnished with an unusual compact metal carrier instead of a simple box. (Note though that other 1/4-drive sets in the "BE" and H-Circle line were supplied in metal boxes.)

Our earliest catalog reference for this set is the 1935 Sears Fall and Winter catalog, which lists this set as item number 6113 with an illustration closely matching the present example. The price was $0.98.


Craftsman "BE" 1/4-Drive Flex-Head Handle from "Midget" Set

[Craftsman BE 1/4-Drive Flex-Head Handle]
Fig. 24. Craftsman "BE" 1/4-Drive Flex-Head Handle, with Inset for Side View, ca. Mid to Late 1930s.

Fig. 24 shows the Craftsman "BE" 1/4-drive flex-head handle and cross-bar from the "Midget" socket set, stamped with the Craftsman underline logo and "BE" on the shank.

The overall length of the handle is 5.8 inches, and the finish is chrome plating.

The upper inset shows the cross-bar inserted to form a Tee-handle, with a small stop-ball visible on the upper end of the bar. The cross-bar diameter is 3/16 inches and the length is 3.0 inches.


Craftsman "BE" 1/4-Drive Sockets from "Midget" Set

[Craftsman BE 1/4-Drive Sockets]
Fig. 25. Craftsman "BE" 1/4-Drive Sockets, with Inset for Broaching, ca. Mid to Late 1930s.

Fig. 25 shows the three largest sockets from the Craftsman "BE" 1/4-drive "Midget" socket set, each stamped with the fractional size and Craftsman underline logo, and with a "BE" manufacturer's code.

The socket sizes and types are, from the left, 7/16 (double-hex), 3/8 (double-hex), and 5/16 (double-square). Note that the sizes have been marked as "7-16" and "5-16" (using a dash separator) for the outer sockets, but as "3/8" (with a slash separator) for the middle socket.

The upper inset shows the broached service openings of the sockets. The sockets have been cold-broached with a relieved area below the broaching to allow for chip removal, with a wider base to maintain adequate wall thickness in the relieved area.

The base of the sockets has a band of finely cross-hatched knurling, a primarily decorative feature that helps give the "BE" series its distinctive appearance.

The finish is chrome plating. Note that the rightmost socket has a few areas with the finish worn down to the copper undercoating.


Craftsman H-Circle 1/4-Drive "15-Piece" Socket Set

[Craftsman H-Circle 1/4-Drive 15-Piece Socket Set]
Fig. 26. Craftsman H-Circle 1/4-Drive 15-Piece Socket Set, ca. 1944-1946.

Fig. 26 shows a Craftsman H-Circle 1/4-drive "15-Piece" socket set in its clamshell metal case, consisting of an open-style ratchet, a flex handle, a sliding Tee handle, two extensions, and nine sockets. The set as shown is missing one piece, the cross-bar for the flex-handle.

The tools in the set are all marked with the H-Circle manufacturer's code, but the Craftsman markings are a mix of the older underline logo and the later double-line ("=Craftsman=") logo.

The sockets in the set include both hex and double-square service openings. The sizes and types are, from the left, 7/32 (hex), 1/4 (hex), 9/32 (hex), 1/4 (double-square), 5/16 (hex), 11/32 (hex), 5/16 (double-square), 3/8 (hex), and 7/16 (hex).

The sockets are stamped with the fractional size and Craftsman logo, six with the underline logo and three with the double-line logo. The finish is plain steel.

[Top Cover of Craftsman 1/4-Drive 15-Piece Socket Set]
Fig. 27. Top Cover of Craftsman 1/4-Drive 15-Piece Socket Set, ca. 1944-1946.

Fig. 27 shows the top cover of the Craftsman 1/4-drive "15-Piece" socket set, marked with "Craftsman" across the center panel, with "Guaranteed Highest Quality" in an arc at the top and "Registered U.S. Pat. Off." along the bottom.

The clamshell metal case is finished with gray paint. The dimensions of the case are 7.2 inches wide by 3.1 inches deep by 1.0 inches high.

A review of the Craftsman catalogs indicates that this type of clamshell case was first offered some time after 1942. By 1947 Sears was offering a 15-Piece 1/4-drive set in this type of case, with the same specifications as the present example, but populated with the later modern style of sockets and drive tools. Based on the catalog review and the mix of Craftsman logos, this set is believed to have been produced in the 1944-1946 time frame.


Craftsman H-Circle 1/4-Drive Open-Style Ratchet from "15-Piece" Set

[Craftsman H-Circle 1/4-Drive Open-Style Ratchet]
Fig. 28. Craftsman H-Circle 1/4-Drive Open-Style Ratchet, with Insets for Reverse and Side View, ca. Mid 1940s.

Fig. 28 shows the Craftsman 1/4-drive open-style ratchet from the "15-Piece" set, stamped with the Craftsman underline logo and the H-Circle manufacturer's code.

The overall length is 5.0 inches, and the finish is polished steel.


Craftsman H-Circle 1/4-Drive Sliding Tee Handle from "15-Piece" Set

[Craftsman H-Circle 1/4-Drive Sliding Tee Handle]
Fig. 29. Craftsman H-Circle 1/4-Drive Sliding Tee Handle, with Inset for Marking Detail, ca. Mid 1940s.

Fig. 29 shows the Craftsman 1/4-drive sliding Tee handle from the "15-Piece" set, stamped with the Craftsman underline logo and the H-Circle manufacturer's code.

The overall length is 4.5 inches, and the finish is polished steel.


Craftsman H-Circle 1/4-Drive Flex-Head Handle from "15-Piece" Set

[Craftsman H-Circle 1/4-Drive Flex-Head Handle]
Fig. 30A. Craftsman H-Circle 1/4-Drive Flex-Head Handle, with Inset for Side View, ca. Mid 1940s.

Fig. 30A shows the Craftsman 1/4-drive flex-head handle from the "15-Piece" set, stamped with the Craftsman underline logo and the H-Circle manufacturer's code.

The overall length is 5.8 inches, and the finish is polished steel.

The knurled handle is drilled for a 3/16 diameter cross-bar, but the bar was missing when this set was acquired.


Later Craftsman H-Circle 1/4-Drive Flex-Head Handle

[Craftsman H-Circle 1/4-Drive Flex-Head Handle]
Fig. 30B. Craftsman H-Circle 1/4-Drive Flex-Head Handle, with Insets for Side View and Marking Detail, ca. 1945-1947.

Fig. 30B shows a somewhat later Craftsman 1/4-drive flex-head handle, stamped with the Craftsman double-line logo and the H-Circle manufacturer's code.

The overall length is 5.8 inches, and the finish is chrome plating.

The knurled handle is drilled for a 3/16 diameter cross-bar, but this tool was acquired without the bar.

The chrome plated finish and double-line logo suggest production in the range 1945-1947.


Estimation of Manufacturing Dates and Other Topics

[ Ed. Note: This section is now badly out of date, as many additional catalogs have been acquired since the article was written some six years ago. The catalog review now shows that the "BE" series was introduced in the fall of 1935 and remained in production until around 1947. The H-Circle series probably was introduced a few years later and likely represents a second production factory. This section will be revised when time permits.]

If the discussion on the preceding pages has resolved the "who" question, the next question of interest concerns the "when", i.e. the approximate time when these tools were produced. In an ideal world, one could resolve this easily by simply looking through early Craftsman and New Britain catalogs to see when the tools were first offered. Unfortunately though, these old catalogs are not available here; our catalog resources are limited to a single New Britain catalog from 1941, plus three Craftsman catalogs from 1938, 1942, and 1947.

However, it turns out that a look at the Craftsman trademark records, plus a little knowledge of the socket manufacturing process, will allow a reasonable estimate of the manufacturing dates.


Craftsman Logo Styles

The first observation is that the Craftsman "BE" and H-Circle sockets cover three distinct styles of the Craftsman logo. The first Craftsman trademark was registered in 1927 with the mark "CRAFTSMAN" in plain block letters. A subsequent trademark introduced the underlined logo, with the initial "C" extended to underline the mark; the earliest reference to this at the USPTO is for 1934.

Sears later introduced a logo with "CRAFTSMAN" bracketed by two parallel lines, so that the appearance resembles "=CRAFTSMAN=". We'll refer to this as the double-line logo. Although the exact date of introduction for the double-line logo style is not known, it appears to have been in use by the 1944-1945 time frame. (See our article on the Craftsman Modern Era for more information.)

[Sockets Showing Three Logo Styles]
Fig. 31. "BE" and H-Circle Sockets Showing Three Craftsman Logo Styles. (Click to Enlarge)

Fig. 31 shows a mix of "BE" and H-Circle sockets with the three different logo styles. (Astute observers may have already noticed the different logos in the prior figures.)

Based on just this trademark information, we could roughly estimate production dates of 1927-1933 for the earliest logo examples, 1934-1944 for the underlined logo, and 1945 and later for the "= CRAFTSMAN =" style, with the understanding that the starting date for the third style is uncertain.


Socket Manufacturing Processes

Now let's look at the manufacturing methods used for these sockets. Refer again to Fig. 31 and look at the leftmost socket, a "BE" series of size 1 inch with the oldest logo. This socket was manufactured using a "cold-broach" process, in which the socket was first machined to include a cut-out recess under the area to broached, so that the shavings from the broaching could be removed. Note that the socket is wider at the base; this extra shoulder adds strength to compensate for the metal removed from the recess.

The middle socket is also a "BE" series of size 1 inch, but with the underlined logo. This socket was made using a "hot-broach" process, in which the socket is first heated to soften the metal, and the excess metal then accumulates at the bottom of the broached area. The socket has a constant diameter, as there is no recess under the broached area and thus no need to widen the base.

[Detail of Cold and Hot-Broached Sockets]
Fig. 32. Craftsman "BE" Broaching Detail, from Left: Cold-Broached, Hot-Broached. (Click to Enlarge)

Fig. 32 shows the broaching of the two "BE" sockets, with the cold-broached socket on the left. The left socket has a recess under the broached area, though it's a bit hard to see, but the shelf under the broaching of the right socket is clearly visible.

During the 1920s most sockets were made using cold-broaching, but by the late '20s and early '30s, companies were experimenting with hot-broach production and shifted over as they perfected the technique. (Duro Metal Products filed their hot-broach patent #2,027,922 in 1935, and it provides an excellent discussion of the process and advantages.) From these considerations, it's reasonable to assume that New Britain would have changed their socket production from cold-broached to hot-broached around the mid '30s, which is consistent with the conclusions drawn from the trademark data.

Another factor to be considered is the finish applied to the sockets, which for both early and later "BE" series sockets was done in polished chrome. Chrome plating for sockets was relatively new in the early '30s; for example, Snap-On appears to have begun plating sockets in 1929, and by 1931 or 1932 had polished chrome finishes comparable to the "BE" sockets. This suggests that the "BE" example in Fig. 20 is probably from 1931 or later, as it would have been very advanced indeed if it were produced before then. (Of course, it's entirely possible that earlier "BE" sockets with more primitive finishes exist, so these conclusions are based only on the limited samples available.)


Confirmation from the Catalogs

Having gone through the above exercise, let's now check whether the New Britain and Craftsman catalogs can confirm or revise any of the conclusions. The currently available resources for this are the 1941 New Britain catalog 56-M and three Craftsman catalogs, dating from 1938, 1942, and 1947. We'll begin with the New Britain catalog.

1941 New Britain Catalog 56-M

The New Britain catalog, in its section on drive tools and sockets, shows a number of tools matching the examples in the above figures. The 1/2-drive ratchet (they only offered one model, the NS-40) is shown on page 10 of the catalog, and it closely resembles the examples above, but with a more refined shift mechanism.

[New Britain Late Model NS40 1/2-Drive Ratchet]
Fig. 33. New Britain Late Model NS40 1/2-Drive Ratchet Showing New Shifter, with Insets for Side View and Reverse Detail.

Fig. 33 at the left shows an example of a later-model NS40 1/2-drive ratchet with the new shift mechanism.

The catalog touts the many fine features of the ratchet, including the double-tooth pawls, and also claims that it has been patented. Since the ratchets in my collection have a "Pat. Pend." notation (if anything), this indicates that these ratchets likely predate 1941. Although this at least helps to narrow the range of issue dates for the patent, thus far I haven't been able to locate the patent number after a fairly extensive search.

Catalog 56-M also offers a 1/4-drive model NM-40 ratchet, with an illustration that looks very similar to the None Better B40 3/8-Drive Ratchet shown in an earlier figure. (It has the same curled tabs on the shifter.)


1938 Craftsman Tools Catalog

The 1938 Craftsman Tools catalog features a blue cover with a streamlined airplane, train, and automobile overlaid by a Craftsman adjustable wrench. Although the date for the catalog is not given directly, it was easily determined by checking a table in the back of the catalog. (Early Craftsman catalogs included a table of tappet wrench sizes for various makes of automobiles, and as the latest model year in the table was 1937, this catalog is likely for 1938. The tappet wrench table can be used to date Craftsman catalogs up to and including the 1942 year; after that they stopped updating the table.)

The catalog shows many illustrations of sockets and drive tools matching those shown previously in this article, and generally confirms the conclusions drawn here. Of the tool illustrations where a logo is visible, all show the use of the Craftsman underline style.

One notable inclusion is the illustration of a 47pc "Super Socket" set on page 6 and on the back cover, including amber plastic handles for the drive tools; this is the set previously mentioned as the high-end Craftsman "BE" set. (The set sold for $21.95 in 1938.) One other interesting observation (though somewhat off-topic for this article) is that the 3/4-drive ratchet and sockets appear to have been manufactured by S-K. (See our article S-K Knurled-Base Sockets for more information.)

1942 Craftsman Mechanics Tools Catalog

The 1942 Craftsman catalog has a cover showing a white-coated technician performing service on a cylinder head, presumably using his Craftsman tools. The date is printed clearly on the front cover.

This catalog also shows a number of illustrations matching the figures in this article and again is in agreement with the conclusions here. In particular, the illustrations of the 1/2-drive and 3/8-drive ratchets show the distinctive shifter mechanisms found on the New Britain tools. However, the 1/4-drive ratchets shown have a different design: a knurled handle with two riveted plates instead of a one-piece forging. It's not yet known how these 1/4-drive ratchets relate to the other tools.

The illustrations of sockets and other drive tools generally match the expected form, although the detail provided in the catalog graphics doesn't permit close comparison. The description of one of the 1/2-drive socket sets mentions that the tools have a "highly polished, industrial-style finish", which corresponds to the polished but unplated finish generally seen on the H-Circle series tools. The catalog also offers the "Super Socket" set noted in the 1938 catalog (with one extra piece), but the price has risen sharply to $32.95.

One important detail noted in the catalog is that the Craftsman logos were all of the underlined form, showing that the transition to the double-line logo must have occurred somewhat after 1942. As noted previously for the 1938 catalog, the 3/4-drive tools offered were apparently made by S-K.

1947 Craftsman Tools Catalog

This Craftsman catalog (dated 1947 on the inside) has a cover showing a series of open-end wrenches in the double-line logo style, and lists both hand tools and some power tools. The most important observation gleaned from this catalog is that two distinct lines of sockets and drive tools were being offered in 1947. The catalog illustrations clearly show both the older New Britain models featured in this article, as well as the new model line that would become the Craftsman "V" series. We can thus identify 1947 as a transition year in which the older models were on their way out while the new models were being introduced.

Although it's not possible to see the individual H-Circle or "BE" markings on tools, the catalog illustrations do show some of the older New Britain models with double-line logos. Similarly, it's not possible to see whether the new tool models were marked with the "V" symbol, but the catalog does show the Craftsman double-line logo on both the drive tools and wrench models. (The illustrations of sockets in both model lines are too small to show the logos, but presumably would be the double-line logo as well.)

Based on this catalog, we can identify 1947 as being at or near the end of the model life for the "BE" and H-Circle line of tools.


The Significance of the "BE" and H-Circle Markings

This section will look at various aspects related to the meaning or significance of the "BE" and H-Circle markings on the Craftsman tools. These codes are examples of "manufacturer's codes", a set of markings on Craftsman tools that are associated with a particular manufacturer. A more detailed discussion of these codes can be found in the section on Manufacturing Codes in our article on early Craftsman tools.

Relative Production Order

One obvious question is whether the tools marked "BE" and H-Circle were in production at the same time, or whether one code superseded the other. In the collection of Craftsman tools here, there are numerous examples of "BE" tools with the early Craftsman block logo and underlined logo, but no "BE" tools have been observed with the Craftsman double-line logo. For the case of the H-Circle tools, there are examples with the Craftsman underlined and double-line logos, but no examples of the H-Circle mark with the early block logo.

These observations suggest that the H-Circle production came later and eventually replaced the "BE" production toward the end of the life of the tool series.

Origin of the Codes

Another reasonable question concerns the origin or meaning of the particular "BE" and H-Circle codes. Although we don't have any particular insight for the "BE" code, we can offer a good explanation for the H-Circle code.

From our earlier discussion of the New Britain Machine Company, the company's use of the Husky brand from the 1930s onward is well known. It turns out that by the early 1930s the Husky Corporation had adopted the use of an H-in-a-Circle logo similar to the Craftsman marking, in addition to its familiar Husky underline logo. This usage of the H-Circle logo was noted on the cover of a 1931 Husky catalog, discovered long after the original publication of this article.

Although the details of New Britain's acquisition of the Husky Corporation haven't been found yet, it's reasonable to think that New Britain would have acquired Husky's production facilities, located at that time in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Based on these observations (and assumptions), we believe that the H-Circle mark on Craftsman tools was used to indicate production in the old Husky factory.

As further evidence, we have noted the use of the H-Circle logo on some wrenches marked with the None Better brand, suggesting that other New Britain production was being marked to indicate the facility.

If we accept that the H-Circle marking indicates production in the Husky factory, then the "BE" code would presumably indicate production at the company's main facilities, located primarily in New Britain, Connecticut. The observed patterns of usage for the codes can then be summarized by assuming that New Britain Machine began production of Craftsman tools at its home factory, then expanded production to the Husky facility as demand for the tools increased greatly. Finally, as production began to wind down in the mid 1940s, the Husky facility handled all Craftsman production.


Postscript: Confusion from the Hinsdale "Fat" H-Circle Logo

At least one other company made use of a logo that could possibly be confused with the Craftsman H-Circle mark, so it may be helpful to examine the other logo and observe the differences.

[Hinsdale Wrench Showing Fat-H-Circle Logo]
Fig. 34. Hinsdale Wrench Showing "Fat" H-Circle Logo.

Hinsdale Manufacturing, a company active from the early 1920s until at least the late 1940s, made use of a logo that resembles a very rotund "H" in a circle. Fig. 34 shows an example of the Hinsdale rounded or "Fat" H-Circle mark, although sometimes it more closely resembles a pair of parentheses with a dash in between.

The reader can see that this mark is quite different from the H-Circle mark used on the Craftsman tools. In the example photograph the logo appears in the middle of the Hinsdale name, but sometimes (especially on sockets) the name was omitted, and the "Fat" H-Circle is the only indication of the Hinsdale maker.

For more information about Hinsdale and its tools (including a Craftsman connection), see the article Hinsdale in Hindsight.



References and Resources

The photographs and observations in these pages are based on items in the Alloy Artifacts collection.

Product information was obtained from the 1941 New Britain Machine Co. catalog 56-M, and from Craftsman catalogs from 1938, 1942, and 1947.

Patent and trademark information was obtained from the USPTO web site. Patent documents were obtained from web sites offering free downloads, notably freepatentsonline.com.


Feedback

If any readers have additional information about Craftsman "BE" or H-Circle tools, please let us know via the "Contact Us" link on the home page. Your comments and suggestions are welcome as well.


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