Stanley vs. Bailey – A Short History
April 23, 2012 5 Comments
The question comes up now and then from folks investing in one of their first vintage planes… What’s the difference between Stanley planes, Bailey Planes, and Stanley Bailey planes? It’s confusing, because the terms are often used interchangeably. Worse, depending on the tool and the time, the terms may indeed be quite correctly used interchangeably, whereas with other tools and times they may not. It’s enough to make a new collector’s head spin! To make short work of figuring this all out, let’s start with Stanley.
The Stanley company itself originated as ‘The Stanley Works’, founded by Frederick Stanley in 1843 in New Britain, Connecticut, and eventually incorporated in 1852. They subsequently spun off the ‘Stanley Rule & Level Company’ in 1857. This stood until 1935 when the company reorganized simply as Stanley Tool.
Leonard Bailey was a designer and plane maker who patented several designs for hand planes in the mid 1800s. In 1869, Stanley Rule & Level bought seven patent rights to Leonard Bailey’s designs. While their relationship with Mr. Bailey only lasted until 1875, Stanley retained those patent rights and eventually the use of the Bailey name.
After the relationship between Stanley Rule & Level and Leonard Bailey fell apart in 1875, they ended up in court over a patent infringement dispute (which Stanley eventually won) over the designs of Stanley employee Joseph Traut. Bailey returned to plane making on his own and introduced his Defiance and Victor lines. Both of these lines struggled and Stanley ended up buying both in 1880 and 1884 respectively, but then discontinued them by 1888. Leonard Bailey thus retired from plane making and passed away in 1905. In a nod to his contribution to their overwhelming success, or perhaps for branding reasons, Stanley started casting the Bailey name into the beds of their plane bodies around 1906.
Regardless of which name is stamped on them, virtually every bench and block plane Stanley made from 1869 forward are all referred to (somewhat generically) as ‘Stanley Bailey’, or simply ‘Stanley’ or ‘Bailey’ – all are technically correct. The Bailey planes comprised Stanley’s basic bench plane line and the company made millions of them. Some (years of manufacture) had the Bailey name stamped into the bed, while others did not. All, however, refer to the various design patents originated by Leonard Bailey, as ‘Bailey’ was never actually part of the Stanley company name.
As the patent rights expired late in the 20th century and hand tools began falling out of favor, the Bailey name was eventually dropped from use. The designs and patents of Leonard Bailey, Joseph Traut, and others, however, still live on in many of the hand planes available on the market today. Lie-Nielsen, perhaps most notably, manufactures a very high quality line of planes based specifically on Stanley’s premium line of Bedrock planes.
So, to answer the question… all Stanley Baileys can appropriately be referred to simply as Stanleys, as can many Bailey planes as well – the terms are frequently used interchangeably. Just remember that not all Baileys were Stanleys. It depends on the model and when they were made. The early non-Stanley Bailey planes tend to be more rare and quite valuable.