Who’s Your Sweetheart?

2nd Sweetheart Logo (c. 1921-22)

Search for “Stanley Sweetheart Plane” on eBay and you’re likely to get some very confusing results.  Some are old, some are new, others fall somewhere in between.  But not all are actually Sweethearts, and not all Sweethearts are the same.  Just what is a Sweetheart, you ask?

Originally used from 1920 to 1935, the “S.W.” inside the heart trademark stamp stands for The Stanley Works, and “STANLEY”, obviously stands for the rule and level firm. The two companies share lineage.  The heart-shape is a memorial to The Stanley Works long-time president, William Hart (1884-1915).

The first version of the logo had “NEW BRITAIN,” “CONN. U.S.A.” in two lines under the heart, and dates from around 1920. The next version (shown in the photo), dating from 1921-1922, just had “MADE IN U.S.A” below the heart in one line. The final logo, dating from 1923-1932, is similar to the second, but the top of the heart drops inline with the bottom of the notched rectangle.  These trademark logos are collectively known as the “sweetheart” logos in the tool collecting world.  In the original type studies assigned to mark Stanley’s bench plane evolution, these three variations were used across Types 12 through 15.

Sweetheart era tools are usually more desirable today because most people consider the types 10 though 15 (1910-1932), which includes the Sweetheart years, to be the pinnacle of Stanley’s plane production quality.  Certainly, the slow decline of all bench tools began around WWII and after, as modern industrialization took hold and power tools became the standard.  By the time Stanley started using blue japanning in 1960, the entire hand tool industry was in its final throws.

To the Sweetheart of today…

In a brilliant marketing move, Stanley recently introduced its new line of premium “Sweetheart” planes (and chisels), capitalizing on the past glory of its name combined with the brand equity associated with the Sweetheart era of old.  I don’t own one, and probably won’t, so I can’t speak to their quality first hand.  I have, however, read enough detailed reviews from the industry’s most reputable folks to at least be able to summarize their state.  Evidently, while far better than the shrink wrapped home improvement center variety tools, and arguably better than the stuff coming out of Europe, India, and Asia, they are still inferior to vintage Stanley of the 1910s through 30s, and are nowhere near the class of the modern Lie-Nielsens or Lee Valley’s Veritas lines, both of which are exceptional, even if quite a bit more expensive.

With a fair bit of tuning, I’m sure the new Sweethearts are fine for casual users, but for my money, I’m sticking with vintage models for general use, and splurge on Lie-Nielsen or Lee Valley models when precision is worth the investment.

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