Antique and Vintage Tool Boxes

An antique tool box (also spelled toolbox) or tool chest is the fitting home for a set of treasured tools. In the early 20th century, tool chests were produced by companies such as H. Gerstner & Sons and Union Tool Chest Company to hold punches, tap wrenches, and other machinist tools—Union also made boxes for Sears that were branded as Craftsman. These wooden chests, usually built of oak, opened from the top and had numerous shallow felt-lined drawers so that tools and dies could be safely stored and easily accessed.

Tool maker Stanley also made chests, some bearing its Sweet Hart brand. Many of its boxes were designed like steamer trunks, which were meant to be opened only after being turned on their sides. Custom-cut blocks and pivoting cleats held everything from hammers and saw to planes and chisels in place so they wouldn’t rattle around and get damaged.

Stanley also made vertically standing tool chests with a pair of doors instead of a single lid, as well as ones with roll-top fronts, like the covers on a roll-top desk. Less fancy were its tool “totes,” which more closely resembled the small, single-handled tool boxes that most of us have in our garages.

Other types of toolboxes include cast-iron ones attached to tractors and farm machinery—the lids of these all-weather toolboxes were often stamped with words like McCormick, Harvester, John Deere, or Case. And red, wheeled, Snap-on toolboxes are such beloved fixtures in car-repair shops that some people who can’t have the real thing make do with a miniature toy bank version.

Finally, some toolboxes are as renowned today for their Tetris-like engineering as the tools they held. The H.O. Studley Tool Chest is one such box. Studley worked for a piano company in the early 1900s, so he custom built his chest from materials used to make instruments, including rosewood, mother of pearl, and, of course, ivory. Over the course of three decades, Studley packed some 300 pieces into his 39-inch-high by 18-inch-wide by 9-inch-deep box. It was not very practical, though—reportedly, it took three strong men to lift it.


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