Crescent Wrenches A to Z

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Ampco adjustable wrench Ampco, which began producing tools in 1914, is known for its line of all-brass tools. Steel-on-steel contact can generate sparks, but brass, which is softer than steel, won’t – making brass tools safer for use in specialized applications, like a gunpowder factory or a refinery. Still in business today, Ampco has produced a varied line of brass tools, including chisels, hammers and wrenches.
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Bahco adjustable wrench Bahco is the producer of the world’s first adjustable crescent-style wrench. After J.P. Johansson, Enkoping, Sweden, won a patent for the wrench on May 11, 1892, he formed an agreement with B.A. Hjorth to manufacture and distribute his wrenches under the name Bahco. Johansson was a prolific inventor with more than 100 patents to his name, including two awarded to him when he was in his late 80s. “Bahco wrenches made before 1910 are hard to find,” collector Joe Greine says. The company remains in business today.
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Channellock Grip Lok wrench This plier-type wrench is similar to a Vise-Grip wrench. “Every plumber used to carry a Channellock in his pocket,” Joe says. “The locking plier was not the best design. It almost took two hands to adjust it. It had a slide adjustment, so it was hard to adjust the locking part.”
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Dudly Tool Co. bicycle spoke wrench Built in Menominee, Michigan, this wrench is a remnant of the era when cyclists made their own repairs. Today, they’re more likely to take a bike to the repair shop if a wheel is bent. This wrench (patented in 1901) would have been used to true a wheel by tightening the spokes.
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Ellis adjustable wrench Patented Nov. 3, 1902 and manufactured by Patterson, Gottfried & Hunter, New York City, this highly collectible piece was one of the first adjustable wrenches with a handle that could swivel and be locked in different positions depending on the work being performed. “It was good for use in tight spaces,” Joe says. Unfortunately, it was costly to produce.
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J.H. Ferguson Co. combination nut wrench and pipe wrench. Produced by J.H. Ferguson Co. in Dayton, Ohio, this combination wrench was patented in 1910. “It’s kind of unique,” Joe says. “On most pipe wrenches, the wrench stands out by itself. This one is self-contained.”
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Griplock plier wrench Patented Jan. 22, 1924, the Griplock locking wrench was manufactured in Norfolk, Nebraska. The wrench is rather rare today, Joe says, likely the result of the manufacturer declaring bankruptcy before the wrenches made it to the marketplace.
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Hoe Corp. spring-loaded pipe wrench. The marketplace was crowded with self-tightening wrenches, but in the 1920s, Hoe Corp., Poughkeepsie, New York, was one of the heavyweights. Patented Feb. 21, 1922, this spring-loaded, self-tightening pipe wrench worked well, Joe says. “The harder you pushed, the tighter it gets,” he says, “but it takes two hands to operate.”
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Indian motorcycle wrench Produced by Wakefield Wrench Co., Springfield, Massachusetts, and patented Sept. 4, 1900, this wrench has the added appeal of being part of the original Indian package. “Everybody looks for that one because of the Indian motorcycle,” Joe says. “It’s a well-made wrench.”
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Jaguar automotive wrench Like the Indian motorcycle wrench, this wrench was part of the tool kit that came with new Jaguar automobiles in the 1930s. Manufactured by Garrington Co. for Jaguar, the 4-inch crescent-style wrench is highly sought by collectors today.
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Keystone crescent-style wrench Another wrench made rare by its small size, this 4-inch piece was manufactured by Keystone Mfg. Co, Buffalo, New York, in the 1930s. Keystone also built a bigger wrench that’s more readily available.
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Leader pocket bicycle wrench “Years ago, every farmer and cyclist carried a small wrench in his pocket,” Joe says. “If a chain jumped off or a wheel went out of line, he’d make a repair on the spot.” This Leader wrench, patented in December 1893, has a unique feature: an adjustable nut in the handle moves the jaw back and forth.
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Mathew’s Never Stall combination wrench Part of the ever-popular combination tool craze, this plier-type wrench contained 11 tools, including pinchers, pipe wrench, nut wrench, square openings for square nuts, wire cutters and tack puller. “They called it a windmill wrench because when you were making adjustments on top of a windmill tower you wanted to have everything you needed right there,” Joe says. Produced by Thomas Mfg., Dayton, Ohio, the Never Stall gained a new feature in 1909. An opening in the jaws and a set-screw converted the wrench into a vise. The Never Stall is a highly sought wrench.
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New Britain crescent-style wrench The wrench was manufactured by New Britain Machine Co., New Britain, Connecticut, which began building tools in 1917.
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O.V.B. crescent-style wrench Manufactured by Our Very Best Co., this wrench is a mystery. Little is known about the manufacturer. The 4-inch wrench is, however, very collectible; few are known to exist.
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Pollock’s Automatic adjusting wrench This quick-adjust/automatic-adjust wrench was manufactured by Wisconsin Stamped Steel Co., Madison, Wisconsin, in the 1920s. On most self-adjusting wrenches, the jaw slides tight on the nut. On the Pollock’s wrench, when the lever is pushed, a spring-loaded jaw flies open. Then, push the jaw back tight on the nut and the wrench locks in position. “It works opposite of most quick-adjust wrenches,” Joe says, “and it’s a hard one to find.” Made up of about 20 pieces of pressed steel, the wrench would have been expensive in an era when most wrenches sold for about $1.
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Quali-Kraft spiral-adjust wrench Another unique wrench, this one has an unusual spiral adjustment mechanism. A button on the side is used to engage a sliding spiral adjuster. “You wouldn’t believe it,” Joe marvels. “When you push that button, it holds real good; you don’t have to worry about it releasing.”
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Richards “shark” wrench Manufactured by Richards Mfg. Co., Aurora, Illinois, this adjustable alligator wrench was in production as early as 1910. To operate, pull the lever back on top and adjust the jaw, then push the keeper to hold in position.
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Stillson adjustable pipe wrench A granddaddy in the tool category, the Stillson wrench was patented in August 1882 by Walworth Co., Boston. Walworth was one of the first manufacturers of pipe wrenches. “You’ll still hear old-timers say, ‘Hand me that Stillson wrench,’” Joe says. The design remains in use today.
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Triplet wrench This combination 4-1/2-inch nut and pipe wrench never won market support, likely because it was over-designed and over-priced. The wrench is alligator-type on one side, and nut-type on the other. Today it’s a rare piece. “It’s really a nicely made wrench,” Joe says, “but it was just too expensive to sell well when it was made.”
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Utica crescent-style wrench The Utica Tool Co., which goes back as early as 1926, built crescent-style Utica wrenches for five or six companies.
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Vise-Grip locking wrench In the early 1920s, the first Vise-Grip wrench built by Petersen Mfg. Co., DeWitt, Nebraska, was a simple adjustable wrench tightened with a screw. The 1957 addition of a quick-release lever changed everything. The Vise-Grip clamping/locking wrench was an overnight sensation. Today’s version shows little change.
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Waterbury quick-adjust bicycle wrench The Waterbury Wrench Co., Waterbury, Connecticut, built tools for several industries, including automotive and bicycle. This 4-1/2-inch pocket wrench features a unique quick-release screw adjustment.
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Xcelite Co. crescent-style wrench Built in Orchard Park, New York, this very nice crescent-style 4-inch wrench likely dates to the 1930s.
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Yamaco crescent-style wrench 4-inch wrench, likely manufactured in Japan.
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Z quick-adjust machinery wrench Patented by F. Zwicker on Oct. 31, 1905, this wrench has an unusual adjustment mechanism. To use, open the handle and push to desired setting; serration holds the wrench in place.
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Leslie's Planet Jr. wrench, which represents her entire wrench collection.

When it comes to old iron, wrenches might just be the key to the hobby. Tractors, engines, combines, implements – all required wrenches from time to time. And not just any wrench would do. Each piece, in fact, was generally sold with a set of wrenches tailored to its unique construction.

Today, those wrenches are highly collectible. A hot category within the tool hobby, wrenches are further subdivided by size, type and function. Joe Greiwe, Batesville, Indiana, has spent the last 35 years building a collection of more than 3,000 wrenches. A big part of that is his display of 4-inch crescent-style, quick-adjust wrenches. “I feel like I have one of the largest displays of those around,” he says. “I have 309 brand names and 515 total, representing early and late models.”

Unique adjustment mechanisms

A retired carpenter, Joe has long collected tools. When he’d buy boxes of stray items at auctions, he often found wrenches in the bottom. As they piled up in a corner of his garage, he gave them a closer look. Fascinated by the varied adjustment mechanisms, he began to build a collection.

Joe finds crescent-style wrenches uniquely appealing, more so than any other tool. “Every wrench usually has a unique adjustment,” he says. “And there are so many categories: alligator, quick-adjust, implement wrenches and combination wrenches, just to name a few.”

The modern crescent-style wrench owes its development to inventor J.P. Johansson, Enkoping, Sweden, who won a patent for the first crescent-style wrench in 1892. In the U.S., Crescent Tool Co. did not build a crescent-style wrench until 1907. “A lot of people think Crescent built the first crescent wrench,” Joe says. “In fact, theirs is a copy of Johansson’s 1892 wrench.”

Wrenches from the farm

Recently, implement wrenches have become a hot item. “They’ve really taken off,” Joe says. “Years ago, all farm equipment came with a couple of wrenches that would fit every bolt on the piece.” More than a few wrench collectors delve into the history of the manufacturer. Some even find the specific piece of equipment that went with the wrench, and use that in their displays.

Combination wrenches are also popular. “They were a big thing in the 1930s and ’40s,” Joe says. Manufacturers and inventors tried to get as many tools as they could into one wrench.”

Joe refers to the years from 1925 to 1980 as the “golden era” for wrenches. “That’s when there was a real push for adjustable wrenches,” he says. Today may be the golden era for wrench collecting. “It’s the fastest-growing category,” Joe says, “because everybody is seeing how unique those adjustment mechanisms are.”

Need convincing? Take a look at these pocket wrenches from Joe’s collection.

For more information: Joe Greiwe, 206 Albers St., Batesville, IN 47006; (812) 934-2747.

Leslie C. McManus is the editor of Farm Collector. Contact her at

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