Tools & Trades History Society

Notes on Tools

RN06 Disposal of collections (including advice for owners of collections)

This note is to help you dispose of someone's cherished collection of tools etc. This can be a sensitive situation when the person is a close relative or friend and we hope the suggestions that follow may make the process easier.

Do please contact the society should you need further assistance. Contact
The Society is aware that such situations pose the risk that tools of possibly historic importance may be lost forever; and with such loss goes the history of the people who made and used them, (not to mention loss of value to the person disposing of them).

1 Disposal as quickly and easily as possible

We recognise that, although it might be desirable to take time over a considered disposal of different tools to different people (and the following pages suggest ways of doing this) there are situations where it is necessary to dispose of the collection as quickly and simply as possible.
In this case we suggest three options; more detail on each of these is given in section 4 below:

  • Give to an organisation to dispose of for you.
  • Sell to a specialist dealer
  • Sell through a specialist auction house.

Should you have time to give thought to a more detailed disposal plan, the following notes make some suggestions.

2 Before disposal - some immediate Do's and Don'ts


  • Do seek advice of a knowledgeable person; hopefully the Collector (ie the person owning the collection) will have nominated someone. TATHS may be able to provide names of local members to advise, but for practical reasons can offer no guarantees of competence or probity.
  • Do make a rough list, with photos, if one does not already exist.
  • Do check that the collection remains insured, and secure.
  • Do ensure the collection is kept in dry conditions.
  • Do keep groups of tools together, should you have to move the collection.


  • Don't do any cleaning/polishing/restoration unless you know what you're doing (Other than a light dusting/wiping with a slightly-damp cloth.)
  • Don't send to a local auction house – they may be unaware of the value of certain special items.
  • Don't throw out that funny grotty little wooden thing; it might just be a Robert Wooding moulding plane and worth £100's. (But it probably won't be.)
  • PLEASE don't just take the collection to the tip! (Yes, people really do this.)

3 Why we think this is important, by a TATHS member

Like others I have a passion for old tools, in my case woodworking tools, and I have assembled over many years a sizeable, if motley, collection. This is now largely located within my workshop and when other pressures allow, I take real pleasure in bringing old tools back to life. They are part of our heritage and should be preserved.
Much has been written on restoration and conservation but very little on how we should consider determining what should happen to the collection when the grim reaper comes a-calling.
The more astute of us will already have thought about this but regrettably history shows that most of us do not and consequently treasured collections and often important items get dispersed with little forethought or knowledge; and many are sadly destroyed, either immediately or by gradual deterioration due to lack of care, their importance not being appreciated. This is a great shame as the tools of our heritage, knowledge of their history and how they were used disappears, possibly forever. Almost as importantly, a huge pressure can be placed on our successors who understand how much love and attention was given to building the collection but have no knowledge about what to do with it.
Both are very unfortunate consequences and are largely avoidable with some forethought, a little work and leaving some guidance as to how the disposal of the collection should be conducted to the benefit of family, friends and our heritage.

4 Disposal options

Hopefully, the Collector will have left some indication of their preferences, in which case proceed accordingly. If no indications have been left, you will need to set your own objectives. A friend with an understanding of old tools is invaluable at this point; if required, TATHS may be able to provide a local member wishing to help.

For a large collection, split it into sections e.g. individual high value tools; lathe and turning tools; woodcarving tools; general hand tools; machinery. Then decide appropriate action for each. Contact details for some dealers and auction houses are available in TATHS guidance note ref RN.03 Old Tool Dealers. The following options may be considered; you may think of others.

4.1 Keep some items for yourself and the family e.g. to go to a nephew, niece or grandchild

This is in many ways an ideal solution, provided the end-user (ie the person who finally owns the tools) will appreciate them, as a tool or just as a memento.
Please try and save a decent group of "user-tools" e.g. a set of chisels, for any young family members to inherit when they grow up. This can provide a stimulus for them to value old tools and workmanship. If stamped with the Collector's name, ideal!

4.2 Give to a museum, or public collection

TATHS has its own collection at Amberley Working Museum, near Chichester. The Hawley Gallery at Sheffield has a large collection of tools. Other, perhaps local, museums might welcome the collection but many will not unless there is a very strong link with items already in their care and they can afford to catalogue, conserve and display them. Be aware that all museums are likely to sell any duplicates.

4.3 Give to a charity

"Workaid", Tools for Self Reliance" and "Tools with a Mission" all collect tools for refurbishment and then sending to developing countries, or selling them to aid their funds. Help for Heroes welcome tools for their workshops, and perhaps to pass on to those they have helped in setting up a business. Alternatively, offer to a charity of your choice (though they'd probably prefer you to sell the collection and give them the money. Contact details for these is included in RN.03 Tool Dealers.

4.4 Arrange that they stay together as a collection

In practice this is very difficult to achieve, as most people interested in taking the collection will already have many of the tools, and they won't want to keep the duplicates. Possibilities include giving to a young tradesman starting out in life; or to a teaching workshop just being set up (e.g. Help for Heroes).
However, keeping individual groups of tools together, e.g. "my wood carving tools" is more easily achieved.

4.5 Sell to a specialist Dealer

TATHS provides a list of tool dealers (ref RN.03 Tool Dealers) and there will be others not on the list.

PLEASE NOTE that TATHS can give no guarantee or recommendations regarding any Dealer.

If the Collector nominated a friend to help they may be able to recommend a dealer. Alternatively, local enthusiasts may be able to advise. You could invite several dealers each to make a bid for the tools, though this takes time.

4.6 Sell through a specialist auction house

The two main specialist auction houses in the UK are David Stanley Auctions, Leicestershire and Tony Murland Auctions, Suffolk. Other houses carry out occasional specialist tool sales. They will advise on values, and if necessary, collect from you.
Auctions can be unpredictable, but at least the items are exposed to many buyers so that you are more likely to get a fair market price.

4.7 Sell on eBay

A useful facility, but disposing of a large collection this way will involve a lot of effort. Costs are more complicated, but probably a bit less than a specialist auction house. Buyer pays for postage but you have to pack it up and send it.

4.8 Have a garage sale/go to a car boot sale or antique fair

Again, a lot of effort and you need to know the value of the tools. Buyers will expect rock bottom prices.

4.9 Advertise in the press; local or specialised

The specialist magazines e.g. British Woodworking, Good Woodworking, usually have a sales page. Again, a lot of effort and you need to know the value of the tools. Advertising in local papers opens you to people of unknown background.

4.10 Advertise in club newsletter

Can work well for a specialised collection e.g. walking sticks.

You will no doubt think of additional ideas. If appropriate, keep a set of domestic DIY tools for yourself. Good luck with this important task. Do please contact TATHS if you think we may be able to help further. Finally, 3 appendices that may be of help:

Appendix 1 - Suggested preparation by the owner of the collection

It is obviously helpful if the Collector has said what they would like to see happen to the collection, and left some description of it.

Specify what you'd like to happen to the collection

You can do this by leaving a simple letter with your will. Without being over-dramatic, it may be worth discussing with a close family member. Guidance might include:

  • I don't care what happens to the collection.
  • I'd like certain items to stay in the family/go to a chosen member (e.g. a niece or grandchild).
  • Ditto, but to a museum, or public collection.
  • I'd like it to go to a particular charity.
  • I'd just like it to stay together as a collection (in practice, difficult to achieve).
  • I'd like it to be sold to a nominated trusted Dealer, with proceeds going to (specify).
  • I'd like it to be sold at a nominated auction house, with proceeds going to (specify).

And there will most probably be other ideas; disposal likely being a combination of several of the above.
Most importantly of all, perhaps, it is strongly recommended that you name an experienced tool-friend or friends who can advise the Disposer when the time comes.

Detail the contents of the collection

The Disposer will find it useful to have some idea of what the collection includes.
Identify, mark (if practicable) and list items as below. Take photos. Any mark should be removable; a splash of red paint on a metal part of the item may be appropriate:

  • Items of family or sentimental value.
  • Items of high financial value.
  • Items of historic importance or rarity.
  • Items requiring careful handling.
  • Any modern machinery that may have utility and financial value to family, friends and users.
  • Any groups of tools that may have more value by being kept together. For example sets of planes, shaves, carving chisels, turning tools, levels, rules, measuring instruments, etc.

Few people manage all of this! But any such detail is useful to the Disposer. Indications of value may be helpful, but ultimately their value is what others are prepared to pay.

Appendix 2 - suggested form for recording your wishes

    Disposal of collection of [name]. Summary of contents and disposal suggestions. (examples shown ) Ref::  
  Location Items Details Suggested destination comments  
1 Various Individual valuable tools Photos 7, 8. 9 The list makes suggestions See separate sheet listing individual tools, photos,  
2 Workshop wood turning tools and lathe Photo 1 Give to local turning group. Special hollowing tool is valuable. Photo 2  
3 Office Collection woodworking books. Photo 3, list 3 Auction at Stanley Let Fred Bloggs have his choice of these.  
4 Workshop Moulding planes Photo 4, list 5 Murland Auction    
5 Workshop Ashley Iles carving chisels Photo 6 Give to nephew John; he might enjoy them when he grows up. There is a presentation box, see photo  


Appendix 3 - What you might get paid from the different disposal routes

Let’s assume an End-user will be prepared to pay £100 for an item like yours, say a Spiers plane. The table below summarises the outcomes.





You receive £


End-user pays


Sell to an End-user


Ok if you know value of item and someone who wants it!


End-user pays £100 in each case


Sell to a Dealer

Dealer will ultimately sell to End-user for £100.   They have to make a profit, pay expenses, and risk not being able to sell. So Dealer might pay say £60-80.

Simple, quick. You need a knowledgeable and honest Dealer.

60 - 80


Sell via a specialist auction house

Sellers and buyers premium each 18% (15% + VAT).   They will collect, but may charge extra.   See note 1.

Auction always a lottery, but items are advertised and will be seen by a large audience.

£55 - 70

See note 1


Sell via eBay

Costs are less easy to summarise but are likely to be similar/slightly lower than specialist auction house as you are doing more work yourself. "Final sale" eBay fees are generally 10% of your total selling price including P&P.

You have to pack up the items, get them into the post, and deal with any problems.

Similar – perhaps /lower than specialist auction house


Advertise in the press

Advertising charges.   Some specialist magazines offer free advert service.

You’ve got strangers calling to inspect the items.



Note 1 - Sell at specialist auction.
If the buyer is the End-user he pays £100. He'll typically have paid 18% buyer's commission, so hammer price will have been £85. Seller will typically have paid 18% seller's commission [£15], so seller gets £70. There may be other costs e.g. for collection.
If the buyer is a Dealer, they will have paid a lower hammer price than the End-user, say £80 (he has to sell eventually for £100, and needs to make a profit/cover costs). So hammer price will have been £67. Seller will then have received £55 after £12 commission.

Disposal of Collections
Ref No: RN 06
Date: 16-10-2014
Author: Jim Carrick and Hugh Thompson 
Suggestions for improvement are welcomed, please email:
IMPORTANT: The advice in these notes is provided by members and others. It is given in good faith but neither the contributors nor the Society can endorse or guarantee the accuracy or safety of the information. The society does not recommend or guarantee any individual or organisation named.

Treatment techniques described may not be suitable for items of high or historical value. Users should always test first on a small inconspicuous area; observe safety and health guidelines given by suppliers, and dispose of used materials responsibly. The Society does not endorse or guarantee any proprietary products named (and it recognises that other products may be suitable). If in any doubt, expert advice should be obtained.