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Panic, Patents, and Liberty Bell Planes

Updated: May 14, 2023

This post is a bit longer than those I’ve written in the past, but I hope you'll enjoy the story that's in here about another interesting plane from the Stanley Model Shop. 1873 to 1879 were tough years for the Stanley Rule & Level Company as well as the rest of the U.S. economy. The “Panic of 1873” began in September of that year when the Jay Cooke brokerage firm declared bankruptcy. Five Thousand businesses failed in the first year of the “Panic” and over 10,000 businesses closed their doors before the country came out of the depression in 1879. Several factors contributed to the collapse but much of it was due to post Civil War inflation and over speculation in rapidly expanding railroads. Despite the tough economic times, Stanley kept most of its workers employed and the inventive minds working at Stanley continued to innovate, develop new tools, and worked to meet the needs of their customers and the expanding country.

In the midst of this severe economic downturn, Justus Traut and Henry Richards combined a couple of their patents, submitted the results to Stanley’s Operating Committee, received the committee’s approval, and as a result, developed a whole new line of planes that Stanley introduced to their customers in 1876 just prior to the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition.

The #120 block plane I highlighted in my last post ( was based upon the cutter adjustment mechanism patented by Justus Traut and Henry Richards on April 18, 1876. I included only one of the drawings that accompanied that patent because it most clearly illustrated the adjustment mechanism I discussed in that post. The original patent showed the cutter adjustment mechanism on a bench plane. Traut and Richards filed for a reissued patent and were granted that patent on March 20th, 1877. The re-issued patent also provided a very clear illustration of their adjustment mechanism on a bench plane. This drawing is shown in Figure 1.

Traut & Richards Patent for Liberty Bell Plane

Figure 1. Justus Traut & Henry Richards Patent Drawings for Their Compound Lever Cutter Adjustment Mechanism

Justus Traut and Henry Richards had also filed an earlier patent application on June 15th, 1875 for an “improvement in bench planes”. Their patent application stated that,...“The object of the present invention is to produce a plane with a wrought-metal stock or shell of suitable shape and form to possess all the needed strength and stiffness at the points of greatest strain, and yet be neat and serviceable in all the details and particulars of its construction; and to this end it consists in swaging or stamping said stock or shell from a blank of sheet or wrought metal, properly cut so as to afford strong sides and stiff angles…” The patent for this steel plane body, No. 168,431, was granted on October, 5, 1875 (See Figure 2).

Justus A. Traut and Henry Richards Patent No. 168,431 for a Steel Body Plane

Figure 2. Justus A. Traut and Henry Richards Patent No. 168,431 for a Steel Body Plane

These two patents came together to create the Stanley Model Shop bench plane shown in Figure 3. This may in fact be the plane that Traut and Richards submitted to the Stanley Operating Committee for their approval.

Model Shop #104 Liberty Bell Smooth Plane

Figure 3. The Stanley Model Shop #104 Liberty Bell Smooth Plane

The plane is 9 inches long and 2 and 5/16ths inches wide (the same size as a Stanley #4 size cast iron plane). The cutter is 2 and 1/16th inches wide. The body of the plane is made of 1/16th inch thick cold rolled steel with a cast iron core riveted to the interior of the bed of the plane. The receiver for the rear tote and the frog are integral parts of the casting and are riveted to the area behind the plane’s mouth. The raised front knob receiver and the lip of the plane mouth are integral to the casting that is riveted to the toe of the plane. Both the rosewood rear tote and the rosewood front knob are held in place by a threaded rod and a brass barrel nut like those seen on Stanley’s Bailey style bench planes. Because of the arched casting on the rear portion of the plane, the rosewood rear tote has a concave groove on its bottom surface so it conforms to the arched shape of the casting (See Figure 4). All of the production models of these planes would have the concave groove on the bottom surface of the rear tote.

Rear Tote on Liberty Bell Smooth Plane

Figure 4. Showing the Rear Tote on the Model Shop Liberty Bell Smooth Plane with a Concave Bottom that conforms to the Shape of the Bed of the Plane

The interior of the plane is japanned, the sidewalls and sole are polished, and “PAT OCT. 5, 1875” is stamped on the left sidewall (See Figure 5).

Patent Date on #104 Liberty Bell Smooth Plane

Figure 5. Patent Date of Traut & Richards Patent Stamped on the Left Side of the #104 Liberty Bell Smooth Plane

The uniquely shaped and japanned cast iron lever cap is shown in Figure 6. It has a bell with the number “76” on its face and locks the cutter in place with a japanned lever cap screw (Later versions of the Liberty Bell Planes would have a nickel-plated lever cap screw). The cutter adjusting lever is “Y” shaped and this was used on the production models of this plane. This plane found its way out of the Stanley Model Shop and is in beautiful condition. The japanning is bright, the rosewood tote and front knob are pristine,and the steel body of the plane is in almost perfect condition except for a few fine scratches on the sole. The cutter has never been sharpened.

Liberty Bell Plane Lever Cap, Front

Figure 6. Liberty Bell Plane Lever Cap. Note the Fine Detail and that the Liberty Bell Even Has the Crack in it.

There are however, several features on this Model Shop Plane that make it unique and different from the production version of this plane:

  1. The plane has two raised ridges on the toe casting that angle back toward the plane’s mouth at a 45º angle (See Figure 7). The production versions of this plane don’t have the raised ridges on the toe.

Toe of Model Shop #104 Liberty Bell smooth Plane

Figure 7. Toe of Model Shop #104 Liberty Bell smooth Plane Showing the Raised Reinforcing Ridges Not Seen on Production Models of the Plane

  1. This plane has two large triangular supports set at a 45º angle which act as the bearing surface for the cutter. The production versions of this plane have two “U” shaped cut outs in the frog to accommodate the cutter adjustment mechanism and do not provide a continuous bearing surface for the cutter (See Figure 11).

  2. The cutter on this plane has an earlier Stanley trademark that was used on their Bailey bench planes in 1875(See Figure 8).

Cutter Logo on Stanley Model Shop #104 Liberty Bell Plane

Figure 8. Cutter Logo on Stanley Model Shop #104 Liberty Bell Plane

The trademark stamp on the cutters seen on the first production models is shown in Figure 9.

#120 Block Plane cutter logo circa 1876-1888

Figure 9. Drawing of the Logo Used on Early Production Models of the Stanley Liberty Bell Planes

  1. The cutter adjusting mechanism is identical to that shown in the patent drawing (See Figure 1). Using the same letter designations shown in the patent drawing I’ll attempt in Figure 10 to make clear to you how the cutter adjuster works. The primary lever “j” moves on a shaft that is held in place by a screw “m” inserted through the right sidewall of the plane. That shaft fits into a hole in the triangular cutting iron support “d”. The secondary lever “h” has a rocking spindle “f” and a groove “g”. This secondary lever “h” is attached to primary lever “j” via a pin “i” that fits into a slot cut into the lower end of the primary lever “j”. The primary lever “j” and the secondary lever “h” form a compound lever. The raised “stud” on the back of the combined cutter and cap iron fits into the groove “g”. When the primary lever “j” is moved up or down in moves the cutter in or out of the mouth of the plane and adjusts the cutter to the desired depth for planing.

Model Shop Liberty Bell #104 Showing Cutter Adjustment Mechanism

Figure 10. Model Shop Liberty Bell #104 Showing Cutter Adjustment Mechanism

  1. The production models of this plane have a modified cutter adjustment mechanism that reduces the number of parts required and reduces the amount of machining required to attach it to the frog. This modified cutter adjustment mechanism is shown in Figure 11. Note the large “U” shaped cutouts in the frog and the small raised wedge on the frog casting which allows the now rounded end of the primary lever “j” to be wedged into a hole in this small raised wedge. The “U” shaped cutouts eliminate the need to cut a slot for the lever through the side of the cutter support mechanism. This simplified arrangement still allowed for precise cutter adjustment while significantly simplifying the manufacturing process.

#105 Liberty Bell Plane Cutter Adjustment Mechanism

Figure 11. Modified Compound Lever Cutter Adjustment Mechanism Shown on an Early Production Model of the #105 Liberty Bell Plane

6. The Model Shop version of this plane and a very few of the early production models had cutters with the raised stud that fit into slot "g" on the cutter adjustment mechanism attached to the cutter so that when lever "j" was moved, the adjusting motion was applied directly to the cutter, whereas later production models had the raised stud that fit into slot "g" attached to the cap iron so that the adjusting motion was applied to the cap iron rather than the cutting iron. The effect was the same because in both cases the cap iron is firmly attached to the cutter (See Figure 12).

Cutters for Early and Later Versions of Liberty Bell Planes

Figure 12. Early Version(top) and later version(bottom) of Cutter and Cap Irons for the Liberty Bell Planes.

Once this steel bodied plane was developed, Stanley chose to introduce it as part of whole new line of planes in 1876 called “The Stanley Adjustable Planes” Stanley’s advertising stated that the planes were “adjusted by a compound lever and are equally well adapted to coarse or fine work.” The line included two sizes of this steel bodied plane, the #104 and #105. The #104 was the same size as a cast iron #4 sized Bailey plane and the #105 was the same size as a #5 size Bailey cast iron plane. Both of these planes featured rosewood totes and front knobs (See Figure 13).

Metal Liberty Bell Planes

Figure 13. The Cast Iron #120 Block Plane with the Five-Point Star lever Cap and the #104 Liberty Bell Smooth Plane and the #105 Liberty Bell Jack Planes with Wrought Steel Bodies

It also included a series of transitional planes that used the same compound lever adjuster in a cast iron frames attached to beech wood plane bodies (See Figure 14).

Liberty Bell Transitional Planes

Figure 14. The Liberty Bell Transitional Planes

They full line of Liberty Bell Planes offered by Stanley included the:

  1. # 120 Cast Iron Block Plane - 7¼inches long, 2 inches wide.

  2. #122 “Liberty Bell Smooth Plane – 8 inches long, 1¾ inches wide.

  3. #127 “Liberty Bell Jack Plane – 15 inches long, 2 1/8 inches wide.

  4. #129 “Liberty Bell Jack Plane – 20 inches long, 2 3/8 inches wide.

  5. #132 “Liberty Bell Jointer Plane – 26 inches long, 2 5/8 inches wide.

  6. # 135 “Liberty Bell smooth Plane – 10 inches long, 2 1/8 inches wide.

When introduced, all of these planes were priced at $1.00 less per plane than the comparable cast iron or transitional Bailey style planes also sold by Stanley. All of the planes in this new line of planes had a liberty bell with the number “76” on their lever caps, except for the #120 block plane which had a five-pointed star on its lever cap. The star and liberty bell were Stanley’s effort to honor the nation’s centennial in a very striking and appealing way. The liberty bell on the lever cap led to this series of planes being called “Liberty Bell” by collectors. In addition, Stanley repeated this patriotic theme on the first production models of the transitional planes in this line by having the Stanley eagle stamped on the toe of the plane (See Figure 15). The eagle stamp is only seen on the earliest of the Liberty Bell transitional planes and was discontinued in 1886.This stamp had also been used on the early Bailey style transitional planes from 1869-1874.

Eagle Stamp on Stanley #122 Liberty Bell Plane

Figure 15. The Eagle Stamp on an Early Stanley #122 Liberty Bell Plane

Stanley introduced these planes to their customers in early 1876 and featured them prominently in their display at the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia. The United States wanted to let the world know how far it had come in just a hundred years when it brought the world to Philadelphia for the 1876 Centennial Exhibition. Officially known as the International Exhibition of Arts, Manufactures and Products of the Soil and Mine” the Centennial Exhibition was the first “World’s Fair” held in the United States. It opened on May 10, 1876 and ran until November 10, 1876. Over 9 million people attended the fair. Probably the most significant result of the Centennial Exhibition was to demonstrate America’s new industrial prowess. Within a decade of the fair, the U.S. had eclipsed every other country in the world in innovation and industrial production. Stanley was part of the exhibition and had a large display of its full line of products in Machinery Hall. Figure 16 is a picture of that display.

Stanley Rule & Level Company Display Cabinet at the 1876 Centennial Exhibition

Figure 16. Stanley Rule & Level Company Display Cabinet at the 1876 Centennial Exhibition. Photo used with Permission from the Free Library of Philadelphia

It is the only known photo of the display and while it is not a great photo, it shows the wide variety of tools manufactured by Stanley at the time. Figure 17 shows a July 1, 1876 Stanley Pocket Catalog, the Cover is over stamped with information about where the Stanley display could be seen at the fair. The blue printing on the cover reads, "Your attention is invited to a full line of Samples of our Goods at the CENTENNIAL EXHIBITION, Main Building, N, 89. The Tools may be seen in practical use, in Machinery Hall Section A,4, Column 35."

July 1, 1876 Stanley Pocket Catalog

Figure 17. July 1, 1876 Stanley Pocket Catalog Shown Turned on Its Side With Information Stamped on the Cover Regarding Stanley's Display at the 1876 Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition

The Model Shop version of the Stanley #104 is unique and helps to reveal the story of a Model Shop plane that led to the introduction of an entire line of planes to Stanley’s stable of woodworking planes. The Liberty Bell planes obviously sold well and remained popular with Stanley’s customers for many years. They were phased out in 1918 after being part of the Stanley line of planes for 42 years. Despite the fact that the wrought steel bodies on the #104 and #105 Liberty Bell planes were prone to rust and pitting, examples of all of the planes in the "Liberty Bell" line in good condition are highly prized by collectors.

By Paul Van Pernis

The Panic of 1873 and the long depression that followed had multiple causes. Chief among those was post Civil War inflation, large speculative investments primarily in railroads, property losses due to the Chicago fire of 1872, followed by another large fire in Boston in 1872, and economic disruptions in Europe caused by the Franco-Prussian War. The failure of the Jay Cooke brokerage firm set off a chain reaction resulting in multiple bank failures. The New York Stock Exchange suspended all trading for 10 days in September of 1873. 18,000 businesses failed between 1873 and 1875. The Panic of 1873 was called “The Great Depression” until it was superseded by the stock market crash of 1929

Traut and Richards, on June 28th 1876, just two months after receiving their patent for the compound lever cutter adjustment mechanism applied for and were granted a reissue patent #7,565, for this same adjuster on March 20, 1877. Once a patent is issued, the patent holder(s) may request a "reissue" of the patent to correct mistakes in the issued patent or make additional claims regarding the patent. Traut and Richards initial patent claimed only the compound cutter adjustment mechanism. In the reissued patent, they also claimed the inclined brackets on which the cutter rested, the slotted cutter, and the fastening nut used with the slotted cutter.

This same patent was applied to two other Stanley planes, the #80 and the #90 steel cased rabbet planes produced from 1877 to 1888.

To learn more about the trademark stamps on Stanley plane cutters see Roger K. Smith’s type study in Patented Transitional and Metallic Planes in America 1827-1927, Volume I, pp. 279-284. The circular Stanley trademark stamp shown in Figure 9 was never used on the Bailey bench planes produced by Stanley, but was used on some block planes and the Liberty Bell series of planes

Later versions of these planes would include later Stanley cutting iron trademark stamps.

These changes closely parallel the changes made in the cutter adjustment mechanism on the #120 block plane featured in my previous post. ( See

I speculated in a previous post ( that a block plane with a wrought steel body from the Stanley Model Shop may have been intended to become part of the Liberty Bell line of planes, but the plane was never put into production, and the #120 block plane filled that spot in the Liberty Bell line.

The Liberty Bell transitional planes are the same size as the #22, #27,#29 #32 and #35. Stanley chose to simply add a “1” in front of those numbers on the Liberty Bell planes so the size of each plane was clear to their customers.

37 different countries sent exhibits as did 14,420 U.S. businesses. There were over 250 separate “pavilions” on 285 acres of land in Fairmount Park. There were 8000 operating machines on display in Machinery Hall. Over 9 million people visited the fair during the six months it was open. The Main Exhibition Hall was the largest structure at the Centennial and the largest building anywhere in the world at the time. The glass and steel frame was 1,876 feet long and covered more than 20 acres, or six football fields, with well over eleven miles of walkways.


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