by Don Rosebrook
President, Southwest Tool Collectors Association

(Webmaster's note: This article was scanned from the April 1994 issue of ToolTalk. )

There are two (at least) illogical gaps in the numbering of Stanley levels. Those are the No. 05 of the non-adjustable series and the No. 20 of the Victor series. The Stanley levels with numbers beginning with 0 are typically non-adjustable models that have an adjustable counterpart. For example, the Stanley No. 1 is an adjustable mahogany level with the same style of brass trim. The non-adjustable levels in this series were previously thought to be 00, 0, 01, 02, 03, 04, 06 and 011 (John Walter, Antique and Collectible Stanley Tools, pp. 96-97). The 05 level was noticeably absent from this list. However, a No. 5 non-adjustable Stanley was obtained this year by the author. This level is a trilaminate of hardwood, 20" long. The patent date, February 18, 1890, is found on the top plate and the brass trim is typical of the No. 05 of this time period (full end caps, and scroll shaped lips on the side view with an arched top plate notched in the center). The wood appears to be cherry and 05 is stamped in the wood just above the top plate.

The Stanley Victor series in the early 1900's consisted of the nos. 17, 18, 19, & 21 carpenter's levels and the No. 20 mason's level. The No. 111 was added in 1910. Others, added after 1911, included the nos. 12, 13, 14, & 15. Here again, the No. 20 carpenter's level is noticeably absent from the original series. A Stanley No. 20 Victor series carpenter's level was obtained by the author this year. This 24" level is constructed of rosewood and can be described as a double plumb and level (with plumb vials near each end). The level that was produced from 1902 to 1909 but that confusion must have arisen from the numbering system. That confusion may have prompted Stanley to change the number to 111. The No. "20" is stamped into the wood on the end of the level between the brass tips.

Along with these two previously unknown levels, two previously undescribed styles of known Stanley levels were seen this year. The first involves a very rare version of the handihold groove patented by Stanley in 1891. That version is normal on one end but runs unto the plumb vial cutout on the other end. This is the version of the handihold described in the 1892 catalog for the No. 16 and has the June 02, 1891, patent date stamped into the wood on the side near the patented feature. In the only catalogs available to the author, the No. 16 is the only level pictured or described with this style of handihold. However, earlier this year, the author was shown a Stanley No. 1 3/4 with this style handihold. This raises considerable question about when the handihold feature, as we know it now, first appeared on any of the levels. How many of the various numbers of levels were produced with the original long handihold? When were they produced? I would like to receive any information about this issue.

The second previously undescribed style of a known level is a rare version of the Stanley No. 36 cast iron double plumb and level. A No. 36 was obtained this year that has the vial cases backed by what appears to be a center pinned steel plate. The purpose of the plate appears to be provision of support for the vial cases when they are adjusted. The normal construction of this model of level provides cast tabs for supporting the vial case. Addition of 3 riveted pieces onto what appears to have been a solid and successful design is somewhat mysterious. The additional labor would appear to increase production costs substantially. The old method of adjustment (use of paper shims) although crude would appear to be easy and convenient. The overall style of the level suggests that it was manufactured in the early to mid 1930's. There is no Sweethart trademark and there are no vial covers. I have heard discussion of another similar level.

In an apparent oversight, John Walter does not list the Stanley No. 8 1/2 mason's level. Remember that a mason's level has both plumb vials situated such that they are read from the same end of the level. This level appears in the Stanley catalogs beginning in 1910 and, insofar as I can tell, ending in 1917. The level is listed in 1910 and 1917 as only being sold in a 42 inch length. The author has had such a level for some time except that it is 30" long. I believe that it was an oversight in John's fine compendium because he generally listed all early 1900's levels that were manufactured for a short time only. It should be noted that the production of the No. 1X also seems to parallel that of the 1910 to 1917 production of the No. 8 1/2 and it is also omitted from John's book.

Finally, the author wishes to point out the existence of a trade mark similar to that called Type 4 (by Rick Benze) on the page 381 listing found In John Walter's book. This one has a space (or blank line) the word "and" and another space inserted between the two lines containing the patent dates. Part of this mark is shown at the end of the article. I have seen this form of the trademark on several early levels and believe it to be the earlier form of the trade mark. This leads to the speculation that there could be levels that carry only the 1862 patent date in the trade mark and that the 1872 patent date was added to this top plate with the word "and". Does anyone know of such a format?

Levels are a little researched tool. Many interesting and ingenious patented levels and inclinometers exist. The beauty of the wood and the ingenuity of the inventor make them a fascinating tool to collect. I will be writing a little note about Hall and Knapp levels soon for this newsletter based on my very limited knowledge and collection.

If you have anything to contribute about Hall and Knapp, or Stanley or any other level, I am eager to receive comments and pictures of levels in your collection. I would also hope to have the opportunity to get a first hand look at the levels in your collection that you consider rare and fine. I am also always interested in buying or trading for rare or fine levels.