How We Grade Tool Condition
The Best Things understands the importance of an accurate condition grading system to customer satisfaction in a mail order business. In keeping with our philosophy, no mediocre tools are offered here. This is a tightly vetted list and all of our tools will be special, either for their exemplary condition, aesthetic appeal, usability, or extreme rarity. Unless otherwise noted, all of our tools will be described by one of the following descriptors. Please look at these carefully, as our grading system is considerably more stringent that most accepted tool grading standards. Conditions below good are not listed because we do not deal in these grades.
Finally, the gradings we use here should not be compared with the gradings used in major tool auctions or by other dealers. Our gradings are much more stringent and accurate. We always try to err on the side of being too conservative. Some of the auctions we attend seem to pick the condition gradings out of a hat and other seem to add a couple of grades to every tool. And of course in less formal settings, like Ebay, who knows. The following amusing quote, taking from a molding plane listing in an online auction, says it all. "It does have some dings and dirt, but still rates fine." The tools pictured would have rated Good on our website. When you buy from us, there will be no unpleasant surprises. No replaced parts, not faked marks, no hidden flaws or repairs. If price is more important to you than quality, then there are other venues that you will probably find more promising, but if you appreciate good value, then we don't think you will find a better place to buy vintage tools.
The issue of how past cleanings impact condition is hard to quantify. A proper museum grade cleaning does not impact condition, but at the other extreme, an English tool auction cleaning job will drop the condition rating by at least one grade if not two or three. We will always mention if we feel that a detrimental cleaning has occured and rest assured that no tool is rated G++ or better on our site that has been had its surface damaged by in improper cleaning. Our preference is to find tools as they were layed down by the craftsman and let you carefully clean them.
This tool is in every way equivalent in condition to the day it was originally sold, as if it was vacuum packed from the day of manufacture until now. This condition grading should almost never be used, and then only on twentieth century tools.
Few tools are truly mint. Tools were used, and once a tool has been used once or twice, it is not mint anymore. To us mint means showing no signs of having ever been used, and appearing in essentially the same condition as when it was new. The difference between mint and new is that mint tools can have slight patination of a pleasant kind. A new tool should show no signs of age and should look like it did the day it left the store. If you see a dealer offering a lot of mint tools, then they viewing the world very differently than we are. If they are offering a lot of minty tools, you why they are using a candy flavor to describe a tool.
A fine tool shows signs of careful, very moderate use, but absolutely no signs of abuse. A fine tool will have a pleasing overall patina. If applicable, more than 98% of original finish should remain. If a fine tool has a very minor mark or ding on it, it will immediately be downgraded to Fine-. A fine tool should have not unsightly marks of any kind.
A tool in G++ will show signs of very light use, and no abuse. This grading is equivelant to what we often see being called mint or near new in tool auctions or by many other dealers. We use this rating a lot, because we have a lot of tools that are nearly fine, but are just not quite as good as we would like for a fine tool.
A tool in G+ will show signs of moderate use, but no serious abuse. This condition is often seen graded as Fine or even mint in tool auctions or by many other dealers. G+ tools on our website will always be nice tools.
A tool in good condition can show signs of considerable use, and some neglect, typcially from less than optimal storage. Any signs of abuse should be very minimal, such as a few hammer dents in the back of a molding plane, a common result of trying to loosen an overly tight wedge without the right tool. Tools in good condition should still have plenty of collector's appeal, with nice patina and an overall pleasing appearance.
Most of old tools that we see in our travels, really fall in the Good or below categories. However, we don't sell tools that are below Good, unless they are of some extraordinary significance. A Fair tool is well worn and may have some problems related to neglect and abuse. Connoisseurs don't buy tools in Fair condition without a compelling reason.
This is not a condition grading, but I often use this expression. User grade tools will probably not appeal to a collector's critical eye, but can still be very usable tool. For example, a tool that has been overcleaned, unless it is extremely rare, is only valuable as a user. Similarly, signs of abuse, such as a banged-up wedge on a wooden plane, destroy collector interest but normally don't impair usability. This description will be applied in addition to a condition grading. For example, a tool rated Good might also be called, User Grade, with a caveat, such as because of the steel wool damaged patina.
A Plus or Minus
will often follow a condition rating, such as Good + or Fine -. This means that the tool is really close, but not quite good enough to be at that grade, or in the case of a plus, a bit better than that grade. For example, we often use Fine- because really, any tool with some age on it can't be perfect, and I expect near perfection out of fine condition. Remember, we always try to be conservative in our gradings.