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Early Craftsman Tools and Their Makers


Table of Contents

Introduction

This is the first of several articles covering Craftsman brand tools. This installment will focus on the development of the Craftsman brand during the 1920s and 1930s, as well as covering some of the tools sold by Sears in the pre-Craftsman era, in order to provide background context. Later articles will cover the Craftsman "BE" and H-Circle Socket Tools from the 1930s and 1940s, and then the Craftsman Modern Era that began around 1945.

Company History

Sears Roebuck was founded in 1886 by Richard W. Sears and initially operated as the R.W. Sears Watch Company in Minneapolis. From its modest beginning as a merchandiser of watches, the company grew to become the largest mail-order company in the United States, and eventually became the largest retail company.

As a large and unique organization, Sears has been the subject of many publications and studies. The current owner of Sears maintains a website at www.searsarchives.com[External Link] with extensive historical and background information on the company, and the interested reader may want to review their page on Sears History[External Link].

For those readers primarily interested in tools, unfortunately most of the known references on Sears history have relatively little (or nothing) to say about tools, Craftsman or otherwise. If any of our readers have found a good reference covering tools at Sears, please let us know and we'll add the reference.

Craftsman History

The story of the Sears Craftsman brand begins in 1927 with the registration of the Craftsman trademark. A brief summary of the brand can be found on the Sears Archive site in the section on Craftsman History.


The Origin of Manufacturer's Codes

One well-known but undocumented aspect of Craftsman tools is the presence of a manufacturer's code marking on most (although not all) tools. These codes have served as a source of heated debate and endless speculation, as people interested in Craftsman tool history attempt to determine which company made a particular tool.

In this section we'll present some reasoned arguments about why such manufacturer's codes came to exist, and then draw some general conclusions about the codes. Our explanation for the codes is very simple to state: the manufacturer's codes existed so that Sears could sort tools returned under warranty and send them back to the original maker for a merchandise credit. Under this explanation the manufacturer's codes can be seen as a natural consequence of the lifetime warranty offered for Craftsman tools, plus the observation that as the Craftsman product line expanded, an increasing number of contract manufacturers were needed to produce the tools.

In observing the usage of manufacturer's codes, we've noted that most examples of the earliest Craftsman tools are not marked with a code. These examples would include the early "Chrome-Vanadium" open-end wrenches, "Vanadium Steel" open-end and tappet wrenches, and early pliers with checkered handle patterns. This raises the question as to when the manufacturer's codes first came into general use.

One of the first groups of tools with a manufacturer's code could have been the open-end wrenches with "CI" or "AF" codes. This style of wrench appears to have been offered as early as 1933, based on catalog illustrations, although some examples of this style have been found without manufacturer's codes. Another early group of tools with a code would be the "BE" series of socket tools, which were offered by the fall of 1935. Once again though there are a few examples of "BE"-style tools that are not marked with a code and which might represent early production.

Based on these considerations, it appears likely that the manufacturer's codes were first used sometime between 1934 and 1936, although not necessarily at the same time for different classes of tools. We will make use of this estimated beginning point in attempting to refine the manufaacturing date estimates for some tools.

Another observation is that some types of tools were never marked with a manufacturer's code, even if they were produced long after the codes were in general use. A prime example of this is the Craftsman 8-In-1 Socket Wrench, a well-known tool sold from the mid 1950s through 1960s, and produced only by J.H. Williams.

A Hypothetical Scenario

To help understand how the manufacturer's codes might have arisen, imagine that you are the manager of a tool company in the 1930s, and that your company has recently signed a contract with Sears to produce tools for their new Craftsman brand. You've sent several shipments of tools to Sears, custom marked with the Craftsman brand as required by the contract, and your company has started to receive payments from Sears.

In checking the most recent payment though, you notice that an amount has been deducted with the explanation "Returned Goods", and a few days later a package arrives from Sears with some broken and damaged tools. So you hand the package to your Quality Control department and ask them to analyze the problems.

A few days later the head of QC reports back that they have examined the failures and have recommended some production changes, which hopefully will reduce the likelihood of future problems. Then he mentions, "Oh, by the way, we found a few tools in the shipment that weren't made here ... take a look at these." He hands you some tools that look at least similar to the ones you make, but with a few details that seem out of place.

With the pile of stray tools on your desk, you call your contact at Sears and explain that some other company's tools have been included in the return shipment. The Sears representative then asks, "How do you know that those tools weren't made by your company?"

At this point the conversation could take two different paths. If your company's tools already have some type of very specific marking, you explain to the Sears person that your tools always have a "WF" (or whatever) forged into the shank, and that Sears should use that marking for identification. The Sears representative then records your particular code on the chart used by the tool sorters, and agrees to true up your account in the next invoice.

But what if your company's tools are very similar to the other production and have no special identifying marks? If you have to explain to Sears that your wrenches are a bit longer than the others, or that the shank is slightly convex instead of flat, Sears would probably respond that these differences are too subtle for the sorting personnel, and that you will need to add some kind of marking to the tools. Perhaps Sears even asks if you have a particular marking you'd like to use, or if you want them to assign a unique code.

In either case, by the end of the conversation you have agreed with Sears on a manufacturer's code to be used for your company's tools, and this will presumably resolve the problem with incorrect returns.

Further Discussion

Although the hypothetical scenario above may not capture all of the details of the manufacturer's code system, it's plausible that at least some parts of this dialogue could have occurred, and probably on multiple occasions. As the sales of Craftsman tools increased, even a small one percent failure rate would have resulted in thousands of returns. If some of these returns were then sent to the wrong manufacturer, that almost certainly would have resulted in complaints and arguments. It would have been in the best interest of both Sears and their contract suppliers to make the return process operate smoothly and with minimal exceptional cases requiring further discussion or negotiation.

In the remainder of this section we'll go though some typical questions related to manufacturer's codes, then offer a plausible answer based on the framework outlined above. If any readers have additional questions in this area, don't hesitate to ask via email.

  • Q. Why are the early examples of some tools not marked with a manufacturer's code?

    A. When a new type of tool was introduced, initially there was probably only a single manufacturer, and the tools probably didn't closely resemble any of the existing tool models. Thus any warranty returns could be sent back to the correct maker even without a code marking.

  • Q. Why do some manufacturer's codes appear to be mnemonics for the maker's name?

    A. In some cases a manufacturer may have already marked their production with a suitable identification code, so that it was not necessary for Sears to assign a code. Since companies (and individuals as well) often chose initials or abbreviations related to their names as identification, one would expect some codes to have a mnemonic association.

  • Q. Why has Sears never published a list of its manufacturer's codes for hand tools?

    A. As a large retailer Sears was able to negotiate purchase agreements on very favorable terms, thereby allowing them to offer items at prices lower than what some smaller retailers could afford. Since many of the suppliers to Sears also sold products under their own brand names, these companies would have been concerned about undercutting their other sales channels, if it became widely known that the same items could be purchased less expensively through Sears. Thus, it would be reasonable to expectly that at least some supplier contracts would require that Sears not publically disclose the manufacturer of the products.

    Note that the above argument doesn't apply to products such as home appliances, for which spare parts and service are expected over the the lifetime of the item. Even if the maker of a washing machine wasn't disclosed, it would be obvious to an appliance repair person when the unit was opened for service. Thus in the case of electrical tools and appliances, Sears DOES disclose the list of manufacturer's codes, which is typically a three digit numeric code.

  • Q. Could one manufacturer use multiple manufacturer's codes?

    A. Using multiple codes should not have been be a problem as long as the maker let Sears know in advance. There actually are some examples of this -- New Britain Machine used both a "BE" code and an H-Circle code for its production of sockets and drive tools. The "BE" code was used first and may have been assigned by Sears, but the H-Circle code was almost certainly intended to indicate production at a particular factory, the old Husky facility in Kenosha.

    This example points out an implicit use of the manufacturer's codes. Since the codes are associated with failed product returns, a company may wish to use the codes as part of its quality control system, in particular to identify a production facility.


Table of Manufacturing Codes

After the brief discussion of manufacturer's codes in the previous section, in this section we'll provide a table of the various codes that appear on tools in the articles here.

One of the goals of the Craftsman articles is to identify the manufacturers responsible for the various lines of Craftsman tools, and for the associated brands such as Dunlap as well. Unfortunately it has proven to be fairly difficult to determine the manufacturer associated with many of the codes, and as a result there are still many "Unknown" entries in the table.

Currently the table is incomplete -- and will probably always be incomplete -- but more codes will be added as examples are found. Note that we do not intend to track codes added after the 1960s or early 1970s.

Code Description Manufacturer Usage Period Examples and Notes
A.0. Block letters J.P. Danielson 1934-1939 Code observed on earlier Craftsman Vanadium adjustable wrenches
with broached hanging holes. Also noted on Dunlap Pliers.
AF Block Letters Unknown 1930s to 1940s Stamped on open-end, box-end, and combination wrenches.
AZ-Circle "AZ" in a Circle J.H. Williams 1950s to 1960s Found on Craftsman Locking Adjustable Wrench.
BC Block Letters Unknown 1930s to 1940s Found on Craftsman Vanadium Cotter Pin Puller.
BE Block Letters New Britain Machine 1933 to 1940s Used on sockets and drive tools with knurled band
BM Block Letters S-K Tools 1930s to 1940s Known only on 3/4-Drive tools.
BT Block letters Vlchek Tool 1930s to 1940s Identified by Craftsman ratchet. Also used on Craftsman, Dunlap, and Merit pliers.
CI Block Letters Unknown 1920s to 1940s Stamped or forged on open-end, box-end, and combination wrenches.
F-Circle "F" in a Circle Unknown 1930s to 1940s? Found on Craftsman Four-Way Screwdriver.
G-Circle "G" in a Circle Unknown 1950s to 1960s? Found on Craftsman Star Drill.
H-Circle "H" in a Circle New Britain Machine 1933 to 1940s Appears on sockets and drive tools similar or identical to "BE" series.
JW Block Letters J.H. Williams 1960s to 1970s Stamped marking on adjustable wrenches.
K-Circle "K" in a Circle S-K Tools 1930s to 1940s Generally found on 3/4-drive tools.
LC Block Letters J.P. Danielson 1930s to 1960s Stamped or forged-in code observed on pliers and economy-grade wrenches.
Usage appears to overlap with "A.0." code. E.g. Dunlap Combination Pliers.
N-Square "N" in a Square Unknown 1930s to 1940s? Found on chisels and punches, e.g. Dunlap Center Punch.
P-Circle "P" in a Circle Wilde Tool 1940s to 1960s Generally found on pliers with rope-banded gripping pattern. Stamped or forged.
V Block Letters Moore Drop Forging 1938 Onward Generally stamped, but may be forged on early tools.
Y-Circle "Y" in a Circle Unknown 1950s to 1960s Forged-in code found on Craftsman and Dunlap adjustable wrenches.
312.1 Block Numbers J.P. Danielson Early 1940s Numeric code observed on later Craftsman Vanadium adjustable wrenches
with broached hanging holes. Also noted on Fulton Pliers.
N/A No code marked Hinsdale Mid 1930s Produced Craftsman box-end wrenches and socket sets during the mid 1930s.
E.g. Craftsman X1 Box Wrench, Craftsman Vanadium "Midget" Set.

Summary of Craftsman Tool Catalog Listings

Appendix A provides extensive reviews of the tool listings in the Sears catalogs. Since the detailed reviews are sometimes hard to follow for a specific tool type, we have summarized the listings in the table below. The table is not yet complete, but will be expanded to show the introductory dates of Craftsman tools in the major types covered by our articles here.

Category Sub-Category First Listed Discontinued Examples and Notes
Open-End Wrenches Forged-in Markings 1930 (Spr) 1931 Craftsman forged into shank.
  Craftsman Vanadium Steel 1931 1933 Craftsman block logo. "Craftsman Vanadium Steel" stamped on shank.
  Craftsman Vanadium 1933 (Fall)   Craftsman underline logo. "Craftsman Vanadium" forged into depressed panel.
Tappet Wrenches Long Format 1935 (Spr)   Tappet wrenches in 10 inch length.
Adjustable Wrenches Broached Hole 1934 (Fall)   Adjustable wrenches with broached hanging holes.
Pliers Angle-Nose Gripping 1931 (Spr)   Slip-joint pliers with angled nose. Size 8 inches only.
  Button's Pattern 1930 (Fall) 1937 Pliers with three Button's cutting slots. Sizes 6, 8, and 10 inches.
  Button's Pattern, 8.5 Inch 1938? 1942 Pliers with three Button's cutting slots in 8.5 inch size.
  Combination 1930 (Fall) 1935 (Fall) Slip-joint combination pliers with side-cutters. Sizes 5.5 and 7 inches.
  Diagonal Cutters, 5 Inch 1930 (Fall) 1938 Diagonal cutting pliers in size 5 inches. Later discontinued.
  Diagonal Cutters, 6 Inch 1930 (Fall)   Diagonal cutting pliers in size 6 inches.
  Diagonal Cutters, 7 Inch 1935   Diagonal cutting pliers in size 7 inches.
  Electrician's, 6 Inch 1930 (Fall) 1938 Lighter duty lineman's pliers in size 6 (or 6.5) inches. Later discontinued.
  Electrician's, 7 Inch 1930 (Fall) 1942 Lighter duty lineman's pliers in size 7 inches. Later discontinued.
  Electrician's, 8 Inch 1930 (Fall) 1938 Lighter duty lineman's pliers in size 8 (or 8.5) inches. Later discontinued.
  Lineman's, 6 Inch 1930 (Fall) 1935 (Fall) Heavy-duty (Klein Pattern) lineman's pliers.
In size 6 (or 6.5) inches, later discontinued.
  Lineman's 1930 (Fall)   Heavy-duty (Klein Pattern) lineman's pliers. Sizes 7 and 8.5 inches.
  Long Nose, 6 Inch 1930 (Fall)   Long nose (needlenose) pliers with side cutters, in size 6 inches.
  Long Nose, 7 Inch 1930 (Fall) 1938 Long nose (needlenose) pliers with side cutters, in size 7 inches.
Later discontinued.
  Nested Diamonds Pattern 1938 1959+ Pliers with the "Nested Diamonds" gripping pattern illustrated,
but probably available earlier.
Box-End Wrenches Short Offset 1933 (Spr)   Offset heads in short length. Three models available.
  Standard Angled 1933 (Spr)   Straight shanks with angled heads in standard length. Six models available.
  Standard Offset 1933 (Fall)   Offset heads in standard length. Six models available.
  Short Angled 1934   Straight shanks with angled heads in short length. Three models available.
Raised panels with "Craftsman Vanadium" markings.
  Raised Panels 1934   Raised panels with "Craftsman Vanadium" markings.
Socket Sets "C-Series" Sets 1932 (Fall) 1936 Available in 1/2-drive and 9/32-drive.
  "C-Series" "Fit-Mor" 1933 (Fall) 1936 C-Series set in 3/8-drive.
  "C-Series" "Midget" 1933 (Fall) 1935 Craftsman C-Series "Midget" 9/32-Drive Set.
  "BE" Series 1935 (Fall) 1947 Craftsman "BE" sets available in 1/4, 3/8, and 1/2 drive sizes.
  "BE" Midget Set 1935 1947 Craftsman "BE" "Midget" 1/4-Drive Set. In metal clip with thumbscrews.
  "BE" Reversible Ratchets 1938 1947 Reversible ratchets in 1/2-drive first illustrated.
  "BE" Super Socket Set 1938 1942 Large set with amber plastic handles on drive tools.

References and Resources

Photographs and observations of particular tools are based on items in the Alloy Artifacts collection.


Catalog Coverage

Product information was obtained from a number of Sears Roebuck general catalogs in the earlier years, and from Craftsman tool catalogs for the years after 1938. Detailed notes on the catalog listings can be found in the section on Catalog Reviews.

Year Title Number Notes
1929 Fall & Winter No. 159 General catalog.
1930 Spring & Summer No. 160 General catalog. First listing of Craftsman open-end wrenches.
1930 Fall & Winter No. 161 General catalog. First listing of Craftsman pliers and adjustable wrenches.
1931 Spring & Summer No. 162 General catalog.
1931 Fall & Winter No. 163 General catalog.
1932 Spring & Summer No. 164 General catalog.
1932 Fall & Winter No. 165 General catalog. First listing of Craftsman C-Series socket sets.
1933 Spring & Summer No. 166 General catalog. First listing of Craftsman box-end wrenches.
1933 Fall & Winter No. 167 General catalog. Lists Cross Country tools.
1934 Spring & Summer No. 168 General catalog.
1934 Fall & Winter No. 169 General catalog.
1935 Spring & Summer No. 170 General catalog.
1935 Fall & Winter No. 171 General catalog. First listing of Craftsman "BE" socket sets.
1936 Spring & Summer No. 172 General catalog.
1937 Spring & Summer No. 174 General catalog.
1938 Fall & Winter No. 177 General catalog. Craftsman "BE" 1/2-drive reversible ratchets available.
1938? Craftsman Tools N/A First catalog of Craftsman hand tools.
1939 Fall & Winter No. 179 General catalog. Pliers with "Nested Diamond" gripping pattern.
1941 Spring & Summer No. 182 General catalog. "Craftsman Vanadium" still illustrated.
1942 Craftsman Mechanics Tools N/A Notes use of "special alloy steel" where previous catalogs noted "chrome vanadium".

Patents and Trademarks

Patent and trademark information was obtained from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) uspto.gov web site. Patent documents were obtained from web sites offering free downloads, notably freepatentsonline.com.


Feedback

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


Tools of the Pre-Craftsman Era

Sears had been selling tools and hardware for several decades prior to the introduction of the Craftsman brand in 1927. This section will show examples of the kinds of tools offered in this early period, using a mix of catalog illustrations and actual photographs when the tools are available.


Fulton and the "Fulton Tool Company"

Fulton was a familiar brand of tools in the early 20th century by virtue of numerous listings for Fulton tools in the Sears Roebuck catalogs. In the pre-Craftsman days, Fulton appeared to be the most popular brand offered by the Sears for tools such as saws, axes, planes, chisels, hammers, pliers, and many other items. References to Fulton tools appear in Sears catalogs at least as early as 1908, with illustrations showing either "Fulton" or "Fulton Tool Co." on the tools.

Based on the wide variety of Fulton products offered, many of Sears' customers probably assumed that the Fulton Tool Company must be a major manufacturer, and that was our starting assumption as well. However, after an extensive and fruitless search for a Fulton business entity that could account for such a range of products, we eventually concluded that Fulton was not an independent manufacturer after all, but rather an unregistered internal brand used by Sears as a conduit for private branding.

Since some of our readers may be surprised by this conclusion, we'll outline the evidence gathered to date. The most important factor is the lack of advertising or product coverage for Fulton apart from the Sears catalogs. An independent company would normally not want to rely too heavily on one retailer, so given the wide range of products offered, there should be numerous advertisements and announcements for Fulton products in magazines and trade publications. Many such publications are now searchable online as part of the "Google Books" effort, but an extensive search turned up no apparent "Fulton Tool" entity that could account for the known range of products.

In fact, the only catalog (other than Sears) known to list Fulton tools is a publication from the United Hardware and Tool Manufacturing Company, which shows an extensive selection of Fulton tools such as wood planes. When we first found this catalog, we attributed Fulton as the "house brand" for United Hardware, but more recent information has identified United Hardware as a manufacturer's agent for the export market. In light of this new information, the listings for Fulton tools in the United Hardware catalog can be interpreted as an effort by Sears to develop export markets for its tool items.

Other evidence is summarized in the list below and will be expanded upon when time permits.

  • Too Much Variety for One Company.
  • Specific Makers Identified for Some Fulton Tools.
  • Fulton Mentioned as a Sears Brand in Company History.

In the figures below we'll show some examples of Fulton tools of probable pre-Craftsman origin, and where possible will identify the manufacturer. Examples of the continuing use of the Fulton brand in the post-Craftsman era can be found in a section on Later Fulton Tools.


Early Fulton 5/8x11/16 S-Shaped Wrench

[Fulton 5/8x11/16 S-Shaped Wrench]
Fig. 1. Fulton 5/8x11/16 S-Shaped Wrench, ca. Early 1900s to 1920s.

Fig. 1 shows an early Fulton 5/8x11/16 S-shaped wrench, stamped with "Fulton Tool Co." on the shank, and with a forged-in number "102" at the left.

The overall length is 8.4 inches, and the finish is plain steel.


Fulton "Tool Steel" 8 Inch Adjustable Wrench

[Fulton Tool Steel 8 Inch Adjustable Wrench]
Fig. 2. Fulton "Tool Steel" 8 Inch Adjustable Wrench, with Insets for Side View and Reverse Detail, ca. Mid to Late 1920s.

Fig. 2 shows a Fulton 8 inch adjustable wrench, stamped with "Fulton" on both sides of the shank. The shank is also marked with "8" and "Tool Steel" forged into the front, with "8" and "Drop Forged" forged into the reverse.

The overall length is 8.1 inches, and the maximum opening is 1.0 inches. The head thickness was measured at 0.61 inches.

The finish is plain steel.

The markings and construction of this wrench suggest that the maker is likely the Diamond Calk Horseshoe Company. Diamond was active as a contract maker of adjustable wrenches from the 1920s onward, and their production of this era was marked with "Tool Steel" and "Drop Forged". An example of a similar wrench can be seen as the Diamond 8 Inch Adjustable Wrench.


Fulton "AD" 10 Inch Monkey Wrench

[Fulton AD 10 Inch Monkey Wrench]
Fig. 3. Fulton "AD" 10 Inch Monkey Wrench, with Insets for Side View and Reverse Detail, ca. 1920s to 1930s.

Fig. 3 shows a Fulton 10 inch monkey wrench with wooden handle inserts, stamped with "Fulton" and "AD" on the lower jaw. The upper (fixed) jaw is stamped with the B&C trademark logo on the front, with "Bemis & Call Co." and "Springfield, Mass. Made in U.S.A." on the reverse.

The overall length is 10.3 inches, and the maximum opening approximately 2 inches. The finish is plain steel.

The markings on this wrench clearly identify Bemis & Call (B&C) as the manufacturer for the Sears Fulton brand. Bemis & Call was a well-known maker of adjustable wrenches, with operations extending back to the mid 19th century. Additional information on the company can be found in our article on Bemis & Call Company.

The meaning of the "AD" marking is not known.


Early Socket Sets

Sears was probably supplying socket sets for automotive service by 1912 or even earlier. By this time the automobile market was growing rapidly and the socket sets produced by Bay State, Mossberg, and others were regarded as effective (even essential) tools for automotive maintenance.

[1913 Listing for Sears Aristocrat No. 1 Socket Set]
Fig. 4A. 1913 Listing for Sears Aristocrat No. 1 "Auto Kit" Socket Set.

Fig. 4A at the left shows our earliest Sears catalog reference for socket sets, a listing for an "Aristocrat No. 1 Auto Kit" from a 1913 "Automobile Supplies" catalog. This set is easily identifiable as a Bay State No. 1 Autokit by the distinctive ratchet design. We are fortunate to have examples of both a Sears branded Sears Roebuck Autokit No. 1 and of an original Bay State No. 1 Autokit for your viewing pleasure.

Within a few years the Frank Mossberg Company had become the prime supplier of socket sets for Sears, as a 1917 Justice Tires catalog lists several sets recognizable as Mossberg production, as well as ratchets, tools, and individual sockets. ("Justice" was a Sears trademark for automobile tires before they adopted the "Allstate" brand.) We also have Justice Tires catalogs from 1918, 1919, 1922, and 1924.

The 1917 catalog has a listing and illustration for the "Aristocrat No. 1 Socket Wrench Set", which includes a No. 350 ratchet, extension, universal, 27 hex sockets, and three square sockets. This set appears to match the specifications of the Mossberg Auto-Cle No. 1 set, but with the Auto-Cle cylindrical ratchet replaced by the standard No. 350 model.

A second smaller set called the "Aristocrat Junior Socket Wrench Set" is easily identifiable as a Mossberg No. 6 Socket Set by means of the distinctive folding Tee handle.

A somewhat later Justice Tire catalog from 1922 lists several socket sets identifiable as Mossberg production, plus a set that appears to be a Packer Auto Specialty "Ray" socket set.

The 1922 illustration for the "Aristocrat No. 1 Socket Wrench Set" has been updated with a different forged-body ratchet, but the description has the same specifications as before, matching the contents of the Auto-Cle No. 1 except for a different ratchet. The sockets in the illustration are clearly marked with the Mossberg M-Diamond logo.

A second set is called the "Universal Socket Wrench Set", and the illustration shows a large wooden box holding the sockets and drive tools, with a lift-out tray to hold open-end wrenches, pliers and other tools. The distinctive appearance clearly identifies this as the Mossberg No. 14 socket set, the largest and most complete set of sockets and tools offered by Mossberg.

In addition to the familiar pressed-steel socket sets, the early Sears catalogs also offered other types of socket tools, such as the socket sets of malleable iron made by the Chicago Manufacturing and Distributing Company.


Sears Roebuck Autokit No. 1 Socket Set

With the thousands of artifacts at Alloy Artifacts it's always difficult to pick a favorite, but this next set would certainly be high on the list. It offers both an interesting and innovative design with historical importance as our earliest documented example of a socket set sold by Sears Roebuck.

[Sears Roebuck Autokit No. 1 Socket Set]
Fig. 4. Sears Roebuck Autokit No. 1 Socket Set, ca. 1910-1914.

Fig. 4 shows an early Sears Autokit No. 1 pressed-steel socket set in its wooden box, consisting of a rotating head ratchet, two extension bars, a screwdriver bit, a universal, a spherical end-piece, 27 hex sockets from 5/16 to 1-9/32, three square sockets (including a union), and a spark-plug (deep) socket.

The set is labelled with a placard inside the top lid printed with the text "Sears, Roebuck Autokit No. 1" in block letters. The "Autokit" name and distinctive rotating head ratchet immediately identifies the set as a Bay State No. 1 Autokit, produced by the Tudor Manufacturing Company from early 1909 onwards.

The 27 hex sockets include all sizes from 5/16 to 1 inch by 32nds, plus the four larger sizes 1-1/32, 1-3/32, 1-5/32, and 1-9/32. The sockets are arranged from smallest to largest beginning left to right with the fourth socket in the bottom row, continuing left to right in the middle row, then continuing right to left in the top row.

The three square sockets at the left of the bottom row include a 1/2-drive union, followed by 13/32 and 21/32 pressed-steel sockets. The 29/32 spark-plug socket at the far right is a replacement for the missing original socket.

Currently our earliest catalog reference for this set is from a 1913 Sears "Automobile Supplies" catalog, where an illustration and description of the set appears on page 99 under the heading "Aristocrat No. 1 Auto Kit".


1917 Listing for Aristocrat No. 1 Socket Set

[Listing for Aristocrat No. 1 Socket Set]
Fig. 5A. Listing for Aristocrat No. 1 Socket Set, 1917.

Fig. 5A shows a listing for the "Aristocrat No. 1" socket set published on page 39 of the 1917 Justice Tires catalog.

This socket set can be identified as production by Mossberg by the illustration and contents. In later catalogs the illustration for this set shows the sockets spilled in front of the box, with the Mossberg M-Diamond logo visible on the sockets.

The set is functionally identical to the Auto-Cle No. 1 Set, but differs by the substitution of a standard Mossberg No. 350 Ratchet for the tubular ratchet normally included in the Auto-Cle set.


1917 Listing for Aristocrat Jr. Socket Set

[Listing for Aristocrat Jr. Socket Set]
Fig. 5. Listing for Aristocrat Jr. Socket Set, 1917.

Fig. 5 shows a listing for the smaller "Aristocrat Jr." socket set, also appearing on page 39 of the 1917 Justice Tires catalog.

This set can be easily identified as a Mossberg No. 6 Socket Set by the distinctive folding Tee-handle. The set is functionally identical to the examples shown in our Mossberg article, but is illustrated in a fiberboard case instead of the wooden box or leather cases used for earlier sets.

The catalog page with the Aristocrat socket sets also included other socket-related tools. Tools available separately included the Mossberg No. 330 Tee-handle, No. 350 ratchet, No. 355 ratchet, and individual hex and square sockets. These items were not identified as the Mossberg brand in the text, but the illustrations for the sockets clearly show the M-Diamond logo.


1917 Listing for Mossberg Hex and Square Sockets

One of the more significant listings in the 1917 Justice Tires catalog is a table offering individual Mossberg hex and square pressed-steel sockets, as this next figure shows.

Listing for Mossberg Pressed-Steel Sockets in 1917 Justice Tire Catalog]
Fig. 6. Listing for Mossberg Pressed-Steel Sockets in 1917 Justice Tire Catalog.

Fig. 6 shows a table offering individual Mossberg hex and square pressed-steel sockets, printed on page 39 of the 1917 Justice Tires catalog. Note that each socket size and type is listed with its own catalog number, and that all sizes carry the same 15 cent price.

Although the text doesn't mention the name Mossberg, the illustration clearly shows the Mossberg M-Diamond trademark on the sockets.

This catalog listing goes a long way in explaining why old pressed-steel socket sets of any brand frequently include Mossberg replacement sockets.


1922 Listing for Aristocrat No. 1 Socket Set

Sears continued to offer Mossberg socket sets at least into the mid 1920s. This next figure shows a 1922 listing for the Aristocrat No. 1 set.

[Listing for Aristocrat No. 1 Socket Set]
Fig. 7. Listing for Aristocrat No. 1 Socket Set, 1922.

Fig. 7 shows a slightly later listing for the "Aristocrat No. 1" socket set, published on page 41 of the 1922 Justice Tires catalog. The illustration is a little different from the earlier example, as a number of the sockets are displayed lying in front of the box, and a careful look shows that several sockets are marked with the Mossberg M-Diamond logo.

As with earlier listings, the catalog description notes the inclusion of 27 hex sockets, and the set as described is functionally identical to the Auto-Cle No. 1 Set.

One notable difference though is that the illustration shows a forged-body ratchet in the set, instead of the pressed-steel ratchet shown in earlier Sears catalogs, or the tubular ratchet normally included in the Auto-Cle set. Some of our readers may recognize this as the infamous W.&M. Co. Mystery Ratchet.


1919 Listing for Chicago Manufacturing Socket Set

Listing for Chicago Manufacturing Socket Set]
Fig. 8. Listing for Chicago Manufacturing Socket Set, 1919.

Fig. 8 shows a listing for a "Socket Wrench Set" found on page 13 of the 1919 Justice Tires Sales catalog. The illustration shows a set of seven sockets in a box, with a ratchet handle, universal, and extension displayed in front.

The distinctive design of the tools allows the maker to be identified as the Chicago Manufacturing and Distributing Company, and the illustrated set is very similar to the Chicago Manufacturing No. 60 Socket Set. Note in particular that the illustration shows the "A1" model number on the ratchet handle and the "A25" model on the extension. The socket sizes in the catalog listing differ somewhat from the sizes in the No. 60 set, but this may be confusion arising from differences in actual and nominal sizes.

The Chicago Manufacturing and Distributing Company was notable for making sockets and drive tools of malleable iron, a less common construction method at a time when pressed-steel sockets were the dominant technology. The Sears catalogs offered socket sets by Chicago Manufacturing from 1919 (or earlier) until at least the mid 1920s.


Late Pre-Craftsman Socket Sets

By the late 1920s Sears was offering socket sets under a number of brands, including Durobilt, Hinsdale, Merit, and others. These sets were built around 1/2-drive tools and cold-broached machined sockets, the dominant technology in the 1920s and 1930s, and were very similar to the sets eventually offered under the Craftsman brand.

We have several examples of pre-Craftsman socket sets, from Duro Metal Products, Hinsdale, and other makers, and are currently preparing them for display.


Early Duro Metal Products "Double Guarantee" 1/2-Drive Socket Set

Duro Metal Products Double Guarantee 1/2-Drive Socket Set]
Fig. 9. Duro Metal Products "Double Guarantee" 1/2-Drive Socket Set, ca. 1929-1931.

Fig. 9 shows an early Duro Metal Products 1/2-drive socket set with a Sears Roebuck "Double Guarantee" paper label on the lid. The set consists of a No. 672 ratchet, a No. 660 L-T convertible handle, an extension, a drive plug, and 15 hex sockets ranging from 5/16 up to 1 inch.

The No. 672 ratchet is stamped "Duro Metal Products Co." and "Chicago" on the handle and has a "Patent Pending" notation, known to be a reference to patent #1,798,481. (This ratchet is a familiar tool and further information can be found in the section for the Duro 672 Ratchet.)

The No. 660 L-T handle also has a patent pending marking, in this case a reference to patent #1,744,413. The pending status for the ratchet and L-T handle places the manufacturing date for the set in the range 1929-1931.

The socket sizes from the front left are 5/16, 3/8, 7/16, 1/2, 9/16, 19/32, 5/8, and 21/32, and from the back left are 11/16, 3/4, 13/16, 7/8, 15/16, 31/32, and 1 inch. The sockets are all stamped with the fractional size, and most are marked with a stylized "D" referred to as the Duro D-Trapezoid logo, although the "D" marking has been omitted on at least one socket.

The metal box has dimensions 10.9 inches wide by 4.3 inches deep by 1.6 inches high.

This set is very similar to "Merit Tool Ratchet Wrench Set" listed in the 1929 Sears catalog. The Sears set includes the same drive tools with 14 hex sockets and a screwdriver socket, and the listing even mentions the green metal box. Assuming that this is the set described in the Sears catalog, the photograph includes one extra socket (possibly the 31/32) and is missing a screwdriver socket. The 1929 Sears price was just $1.98 postpaid.

This set is also displayed as the Duro Metal Products "Double Guarantee" Socket Set in our article on Duro/Indestro, which has additional photographs of the tools and sockets in the set.


Duro Metal Products No. 660 1/2-Drive L-T Convertible Handle

Duro Metal Products No. 660 1/2-Drive L-T Convertible Handle]
Fig. 10. Duro Metal Products No. 660 1/2-Drive L-T Convertible Handle, with Inset for Marking Detail, ca. 1929-1931.

Fig. 10 shows the Duro Metal Products No. 660 L-T convertible handle from the "Double Guarantee" set, configured as a Tee-handle for the photograph. The sheath is stamped "Duro Metal Products Co." and "Chicago U.S.A.", with a "Pat. Pend." notation at the right.

The overall length is 10.6 inches, and the finish is nickel plating.

The pending status refers to patent #1,744,413, filed by E.H. Peterson et al in 1929 and issued in 1930.

The L-T convertible handle consists of a 5/8-diameter Ell-shaped bar with 1/2 square drive studs on each end, together with a sheet metal sheath to form a hand grip. The sheath can be placed either over the short end of the bar to form a Tee-handle, as in the photograph here, or placed on the long end of the bar as a grip and extender. The sheath can be completely removed from the bar if not needed.


Duro Metal Products Large Sockets from "Double Guarantee" Socket Set

Duro Metal Products Large Sockets from Double Guarantee Socket Set]
Fig. 11. Duro Metal Products Large Sockets from "Double Guarantee" Socket Set, with Inset for Broaching, ca. 1929-1931.

Fig. 11 shows the three largest sockets from the Duro Metal Products "Double Guarantee" 1/2-drive socket set, with sizes (from the left) 15/16, 31/32, and 1 inch. The sockets are stamped with the Duro D-Trapezoid logo on each side of the fractional size, except that the 1 inch socket has only one "D" logo.

The finish is nickel plating.

These larger sockets have a distinctive design with a reduced diameter at the 1/2-square drive end, a pattern mirroring the reduced diameter at the service end for the smaller sockets. The sockets have a band of cross-hatched knurling at the service end, with the knurling coarse enough to assist with turning a nut by hand.


Durobilt "36-Piece" 1/2-Drive Socket Set

The 1930 and 1931 Sears catalogs offer a number of "Durobilt" brand socket sets, and the tools in the illustrations closely resemble the sets from Duro Metal Products and Indestro Manufacturing. (See our article on Duro and Indestro for more information on these important companies.) Although these Durobilt sets are now seldom found, we have acquired two examples of the sets and can confirm that Duro Metal Products was the manufacturer.

Our first Durobilt set is listed in the Sears catalog as the "36-Piece Wrench Set" and consists of drive tools and sockets in a hinged metal case. (The catalog listing is on page 483, for any readers with this Sears catalog.) A check of the contents with the catalog listing showed that our set is nearly complete, with only a few pieces missing.

Durobilt 36-Piece 1/2-Drive Socket Set]
Fig. 12. Durobilt "36-Piece" 1/2-Drive Socket Set, ca. 1930-1931.

Fig. 12 shows the Durobilt 36-piece 1/2-drive socket set as acquired, but with two missing tools filled in from our general inventory. The set consists of a No. 672 ratchet, a drive plug, an Ell-handle, a speeder, an extension, a universal joint, 18 hex sockets, eight square sockets, and several miscellaneous attachments.

The No. 672 ratchet is stamped "Duro Metal Products Co." and "Chicago" on the handle and has a "Patent Pending" notation, known to be a reference to patent #1,798,481. (This ratchet is a familiar tool and further information can be found in the section for the Duro 672 Ratchet.) The ratchet's patent status, together with the known catalog reference, places the manufacturing date for the set around 1930-1931.

Durobilt Decal from 1/2-Drive Durobilt Socket Set]
Fig. 13. Durobilt Decal from 1/2-Drive Durobilt Socket Set.

Fig. 13 at the left shows the Durobilt decal on the inside lid of the socket set. The decal is printed with "Durobilt" and "Special Analysis Steel" in the center of the diamond, with "Unconditionally Guaranteed" and "Heat Treated Hardened" along the borders.

The decal matches the one shown in the Sears catalog, making the identification of the set quite certain.

This set is also displayed as the Durobilt 1/2-Drive Socket Set in our article on Duro/Indestro, which has further information on the tools and sockets in the set.

This set was quite a significant find, as it is one of the earliest known examples of 1/2-drive socket tools sold by Sears Roebuck. The 1930-1931 origin of this set means that it predates the Craftsman C-Series Socket Sets by a year or two.


Durobilt "20-Piece" 1/2-Drive Socket Set

The 1930 and 1931 Sears catalogs offered a Durobilt "20-Piece Socket Wrench Set" with a note that it was especially suited for Model "A" Ford owners. We were fortunate to acquire an example of this set, as presented in the next figure.

Durobilt 20-Piece 1/2-Drive Socket Set]
Fig. 14. Durobilt "20-Piece" 1/2-Drive Socket Set, 1930.

Fig. 14 shows a Durobilt 20-piece 1/2-drive socket set, consisting of a No. 660 L-T convertible handle, 15 hex sockets, three square sockets, and a screwdriver socket.

The set is marked with a Durobilt decal on the inside lid, badly chipped but still mostly readable. The decal is printed with "Durobilt" and "Special Analysis Steel" in the center of the diamond, with "Unconditionally Guaranteed" and "Heat Treated Hardened" along the borders. Readers can refer to the Durobilt Decal shown with another set for a more readable example.

The No. 660 L-T handle in the set is basically identical to the Duro No. 660 L-T Handle shown in a previous figure.

The hex socket sizes are, from the left in front, 11/32, 3/8, 7/16, 1/2, 9/16, 19/32, and 5/8, and from the left in back are 21/32, 11/16, 3/4, 25/32, 13/16, 7/8, and 15/16. The large hex socket at the back left corner has size 1-1/8.

The three square sockets in the main compartment have sizes, from the left, 3/8, 7/16, and 1/2.

All of the sockets are stamped with the fractional size, but only three of the original sockets are marked with the Duro D-Trapezoid logo. The finish is nickel plating.

The nickel finish of these tools provides a 1930 estimate for the production year, based on the nickel finish noted in 1930 Sears catalog, but with cadmium plating noted in the following year.

This set is also displayed as the Durobilt "20-Piece" 1/2-Drive Socket Set in our article on Duro/Indestro, which has further information on the tools and sockets in the set.


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