by Paul Van Pernis
After a series of ever more contentious disputes, Leonard Bailey left The Stanley Rule & Level Company in 1874 to strike out on his own in the tool-making business. Within weeks, he set up shop in Hartford, Connecticut, as Leonard Bailey & Co. and started to produce his Victor line of woodworking tools. His tool company lasted only ten years, but during those years he invented, manufactured, and marketed what seems at times, a dizzying array of bench planes, block planes, squares, bevels, spokeshaves and scrapers. These tools were functional, well made, visually appealing, and won many awards. Bailey tried hard to compete with Stanley, but the Victor planes were not quite as good as the planes he’d been in charge of producing at Stanley. In addition, he was unable to compete with the powerful and efficient marketing organization that ultimately allowed Stanley to dominate the woodworking tool market. The output of woodworking tools made during the ten years that the Leonard Bailey & Co. was in business was minuscule compared to those made during the same period of time by Stanley, and so they are more rare and highly sought after by tool collectors.
Bailey made multiple configurations of his block planes. Some were japanned, others were japanned and polished, and still others were nickel plated. Some had cutting iron adjusters and others didn’t. He offered tail handles on some of his block planes but not on others. Some of the Victor Pocket Block planes and the Little Victor block planes even had vermilion or gold paint applied to the interior of the plane body. Bailey’s somewhat confusing and convoluted system of assigning catalog numbers to all these differently configured planes can make identifying them a challenge! In an effort to make knowing which of Bailey’s Victor block planes I’ve got in my hand a bit less perplexing, I put together this “field guide”. Hopefully you may find it of some use the next time you come across one of these planes. The first figure below shows the first page of the field guide.
If you come across one of Bailey’s Little Victor Block Planes you can start at the top of the middle column and identify what type of adjusting mechanism the plane has and then follow the arrows to determine the correct catalog number of the plane. The same procedure can be followed if you have a Victor Pocket Block Plane by following the arrows in the right hand column. The second page of the field guide deals with the Victor Block Planes and is shown below.
The Victor block planes came in two body shapes – boat shaped and straight sided. All of the boat shaped block planes are 7" long, and the straight sided planes are either 6" or 7" long. Using the same system as shown on the first page, you can determine the catalog number of a Victor block plane. In addition, if the plane has a cutting iron adjusting mechanism, you can determine which adjustment mechanism the plane has by looking at the right hand column, and further narrow down its date of manufacture.
It may be difficult to get a good look at these two pages, so they been put together in a PDF file which you can find below:
If you click on the link above, it will bring up a box with the link to the PDF file; click on the link in that box, to open the PDF file. The information is in a larger format than what is in this blog post. This file can be printed on an 8-1/2” by 11” piece of paper; the printout will have both sheets of the field guide in a scaled format that is easier to read. If you simply cut that piece of paper in half, each page will be about 5-1/2 by 8-1/2". The two pages can then be taped or glued together, and if folded, they will easily fit in your shirt pocket or wallet. Or you could simply copy the images to your phone or tablet. I hope you find this little guide useful.
For more information on Leonard Bailey's Victor Block Planes, see Leonard Bailey and his Woodworking Planes, by Paul Van Pernis and John G. Wells, Astragal Press, 2019.