Thursday, March 28, 2013

Vanished Tool Makers: William Marples & Sons, Sheffield, England

I recently acquired this lovely Marples bow-saw:

Until the 1990's they were still made by Record Tools in England, with solid beechwood frames.

The Splendid Book for Boys.  London & Glasgow:  Collins, c. 1950's.

This adds to my very small collection of tools from this firm--an awl, a scraper and a wood chisel:

I also have a rose bit with their name on it:

And a lovely hand-forged spatula which I use very frequently:

In 1821, William Marples Junior joined his father’s joinery making business, and the company was founded in 1828.  In 1860, William's own sons joined him and the firm became William Marples and Sons.  Over the years, they acquired John Moseley & Sons (London plane makers) and Thomas Ibbotson & Co. (Sheffield edge tool makers), growing to become the most prolific and best known Sheffield tool maker.  Their large factory was known as the Hibernia Works:
Their trademark was a shamrock, which appeared on some of their tools (like the badge on my awl, pictured earlier above). 

In 1961, they had about 400 employees.  In 1962, the Record Tool Company and William Ridgway acquired a 50 percent interest in the company and in 1972 the companies merged with several others to form Record Ridgway Tools Ltd.  After 116 years at its Hibernia Works, the company was moved to Dronfield.  A 1982 takeover by A.B. Bahco of Sweden was short-lived, and in 1985 Record returned to British ownership, first as Record Marples Woodworking Tools Ltd. in 1988 then as Record Holdings plc. In 1993.   In 1998, the company accepted a bid from American Tool Corporation, subsequently trading as Record Irwin.  Irwin itself was acquired by Newell Rubbermaid in 2002, and was renamed Irwin Industrial Tool Co.  Both the Marples and Record names were rebranded “Irwin.”  However, the name has since been resurrected as Irwin/Marples and applied to wood chisels and table saw blades reportedly now made at Irwin's new facility in Udine, Italy (although some claim that the chisels are made in China).  I had a look at one of the saw blades in Lowes, and noticed that the package has a paragraph providing a very brief history of Marples.  As the original Marples firm never made circular saw blades, and is long gone now and so had nothing to do with the production of these ones which are not even made in England, I guess the use of their name is sort of a tribute on the part of Newell Rubbermaid. "Hey, we bought your company and closed it down, but some people remember that you made good tools, so we'll stick your name on another tool made somewhere else by someone else."  As the old saying goes, "Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me."

As an aside, William Marples was the uncle of Robert Marples and Joseph Marples, both of whom established competing tool-making business in Sheffield.  The Robert Maples firm disappeared early in the last century, but Joseph Marples Ltd. continues as one of the last old family-owned tool-making firms in Britain.


Anonymous said...

In fact the bow saw you show, was made by Joseph Marples, that apart the articles is fairly accurate, if a little sparse.

The Duke said...

A perfect example of praising with faint damns. Thanks for the lesson.

Unknown said...

All collectors start somewhere, I have a number of Marples items, I started collecting adjustable spanners around 6 years ago mainly from boot sales, auctions etc, I ended up buying box lots from auctions and now collect all manner of vintage tools.
I tend to find that they are all unique in there own way, and much better quality than modern tools.

Anonymous said...

Are you interested in a 1945 spoke shave tool made by Marples. It has what I assume is a serial number.I will visit site again soon.

Jess Darkblood said...

Thank you for the information, To me it was just a rusty old chisel so i decided to clean it up and found the marples and sons stamp with the clover stamp as well so what started as making a tool useful again i got a history lesson too.

Unknown said...

Hi I have just found a w marples & sons spirit level at my dads house can some one tell me its age its pat. no 423896. all wood not the torpedo shape.


Ross Wade said...

I have many paring chisels and gouges which I purchased new in the 1970's as an apprentice. They were not as good as the ones the older tradesmen had.

Howard said...

i am in New Zealand and was trying to list for sale a Robert Marples hand tool. cannot find what it is or used for Nice condition. looks a bit like a Dexter 34 knife but better
can do a photo

The Duke said...

Your best best bet is to examine some of their catalogues. The Internet Archives is an excellent source. Below, one starting point for William Marples, but you should be able to find something similar for Robert Marples.

Anonymous said...

Are you interested in a 17" W Marples & Sons block plane?

Gary said...

Nowadays, the Irwin and Marples brands are found on craptacular tools made in China.
Sic transit gloria mundi.