Golden Opportunity: Mid-West Tool Collectors Assn.

Under the banner of the Mid-West Tool Collectors Assn., a diverse group of collectors reach a milestone while preserving the past for a new generation.

| October 2018

  • Dave Christen
    Dave Christen at work at his forge. “I’m having too much fun to quit,” he says. “I can’t remember the last time I didn’t want to go to work.”
    Photo by Shane Christen
  • handmade blacksmith tools
    Handmade tools from Dave’s collection. Several were blacksmith-made for the smith’s personal use.
    Photo by Shane Christen
  • George Wanamaker
    George Wanamaker’s collection includes more than 2,000 tape measures. “Tape measures are colorful, they came in a huge variety and they cover a huge span of time,” he says. “I have one of the first tape measures patented in the U.S., and it was patented in 1864.”
    Photo by Leslie C. McManus
  • nail-straightening hammer
    A nail-straightening hammer from Scotty Fulton’s collection.
    Photo by Leslie C. McManus
  • Scotty Fulton
    Scotty Fulton.
    Photo by Leslie C. McManus
  • Scotty Fulton's hammer collection
    Coal hammers from Scotty’s collection, which numbers more than 18,000 hammers. “Some people say I’m a hammer nut,” he says.
    Photo by Leslie C. McManus
  • Susan Witzel spoon collection
    1909 from Susan Witzel’s collection. “The inventor felt batter needed more air for lighter cakes,” Susan says. “But as soon as the spoon touched the mixture, the propeller was stuck.”
    Photo by Leslie C. McManus
  • Susan Witzel Leroy Witzel
    Susan and LeRoy Witzel with their Freezette horizontal ice cream freezer dating to 1891. Ice and salt were inserted in an opening opposite the handle that was then plugged with a rubber-like stopper. A tray containing the cream mixture is below the cylinder. As the handle is turned, the frozen cream gathers on the cylinder and is scraped off into a tray in the front of the box.
    Photo by Leslie C. McManus
  • Susan Witzel collection
    Penny licks and a double-sided ice cream mold from Susan Witzel’s collection. Designed for those who could not afford the price of a full serving of ice cream, the penny lick – priced at 1 cent – held little more than a single bite. After the customer licked the tiny glass receptacle clean, he returned it to the server, who swished it in a bowl of water and refilled it for the next customer.
    Photo by Leslie C. McManus

  • Dave Christen
  • handmade blacksmith tools
  • George Wanamaker
  • nail-straightening hammer
  • Scotty Fulton
  • Scotty Fulton's hammer collection
  • Susan Witzel spoon collection
  • Susan Witzel Leroy Witzel
  • Susan Witzel collection

Many regard 1968 as the most historic year in modern American history. It was a year marked by assassinations of American leaders, capture of a U.S. ship, launch of the Tet Offensive, and the rise of the civil rights and student protest movements. It was a year in which we saw the first human orbit of the moon and the introduction of the 747 Jumbo Jet. Two groundbreaking television series made their debut in 1968: Laugh In on NBC, and 60 Minutes on CBS.

It was also the year when 29 Midwesterners — perhaps looking for a diversion from the news of the day — formed a regional affiliate of the Early American Industries Assn. (EAIA). Formerly organized as the Mid-West Tool Collectors Assn. (M-WTCA), the new group existed primarily to save early members the expense and inconvenience of traveling to New England to attend EAIA meetings.

Fifty years later, the group is going strong with more than 3,500 members representing 49 American states and eight foreign countries. Promoting the preservation and study of antique and traditional tools, the M-WTCA is an essential resource for today's tool collector. Through meetings, research and a quarterly magazine, the group remains highly relevant to an increasingly diverse community of collectors.

Members could, in theory, attend meetings 11 months a year. "The internet and online auction sites have altered the attendance at the meetings," says past president and longtime member Dave Heckel. "It's easy to go online to find tools. But there is nothing like going to a meeting to buy and sell, meet fellow collectors, watch programs on various aspects to tool collecting, and generally have a great time with people who have the same (or similar) interests as you do."



Meetings, magazine provide unique resources

The group holds two semi-annual meetings each year, and local meetings are held in each of 19 geographic areas two or three times a year. The semi-annual meetings, each held in a different location, feature a flea market (known internally as "tailgating") in the hotel parking lot, and inside space for buying and selling, educational displays, programs and a banquet.

"The camaraderie at the meetings is really special," Dave says. "It's like a family reunion of people you actually want to spend time with."