There are certain vises that develop almost a cult-like following, and near the top of that list is the Wilton Baby. Technically, they are called a model 820, 920 or No. 20 depending upon age, and when they were cast, but most folks just call them the baby. Regardless of how they are marked, they all have 2″ wide jaws and are the smallest production vise Wilton made. There is also a 2.5″ jaw model that many consider a baby as well since they’re not much larger than the 2″ model, but there can be only one true baby, right?
For whatever reason, Wilton babies have developed into one of those things collectors go crazy for. In practice, the only people that probably want/need a vise this small are people doing jewelry work, or maybe small electronics, but everybody seems to want one. For such a small vise (they fit in one hand) the prices have gotten ridiculous, with nice examples starting around $300 and going up from there depending upon condition, whether they are on a swivel base or adjustable Powrarm Junior (yes, that spelling is correct, if awkward) and how original they are.
I think a few things led to the rise in popularity of the Wilton baby. One, they really are cute little devices that can actually be put to work, if on a limited scale. Two, anything on the extreme small or large end of the scale sells in the vise collecting world. Third, they aren’t made any longer, and haven’t been made in decades so the supply is limited.
An interesting thing to note about the baby is that most of them were cast at the Wilton factory in Chicago, which means 1957 or earlier, because Wilton moved to Schiller Park, Illinois in 1957. They must have loaded up a couple of trucks worth of babies that were cast in Chicago and took them to Schiller Park, because they were being sold for many years after the move, with date stamps to prove it. There were some babies cast in Schiller Park, but they seem to be far less common.
I never gave much thought to the Wilton Baby, but always figured I would buy one if I got it at a good price since people are always asking me if I have one. I’ve watched the prices they go for on eBay and saw a few pop up on Craigslist, but the prices were always way too high and most weren’t in great condition. I certainly didn’t expect to stumble onto one the way I did!
I was at my desk checking e-mail and surfing the web while having my coffee on a typical Saturday morning when I got a text from a coworker who is as much a friend as a coworker. It said “need any more vises?” and a couple of pictures popped up. The pictures were of a table covered with Wilton vises, and smack dab in the middle were two babies on Powrarm Juniors. I also noted my personal “holy grail” Wilton in one of the pictures, a model 450SJ which is 4.5″ wide jaws with the rear jaw having swivel capability. That vise will be the subject of an upcoming post in the near future.
The incredible thing I noted in the pictures was that one of the babies still had the factory sticker on the dynamic jaw, just above the spindle. That meant it was original paint, and original stickers, just like the model 9450 I featured in Saving Private Wilton http://mivise.com/2017/01/saving-private-wilton/! To find any older Wilton with original paint and original stickers is rare, but a baby puts it off the charts!
Luckily, my buddy told me he was at an auction he stumbled upon just driving by near his home and it was less than a 30 minute drive for me. It turns out an older gunsmith passed away and the auction was for all of the equipment in the shop, and there was a lot of it! I checked the website for the auction to look up the terms (times, payment methods, etc), grabbed my vise cash and jumped in the truck. The auction was already under way, but they weren’t going to get to the tools and equipment for another hour or so when he texted me, so I was able to get there in time.
I got to the auction, found my buddy, registered, and found the table with the vises. As I recall, there were nine Wiltons covering the table. I swear my heart skipped a beat when I saw them in person. They were all in extremely good condition, and I honestly would have bought every single one of them if I could have. The baby with the original sticker was just as nice in person, maybe better, than the pictures. I didn’t have much time, so I pulled out my notebook, wrote down a target number for each vise and double-checked all of them to make sure I hadn’t missed any damage on my first look. Then it was time to wait while people filtered by the table one after the other talking about the vises. I knew there was going to be a lot of bidding, but I also knew at least two of them were going home with me!
When the auctioneer got to the table with the vises I was set up next to shelving unit so most of the bidders couldn’t see me, but I was right next to the auctioneer, so he would hear and see me easily. Luckily, the bidding started on the vises I was least interested in and while I bid on them, I didn’t go over my maximum, and actually let some get away in the hopes the buyer would stop with just one, leaving less people to bid on the two I wanted most. When we got to the first baby I was locked into a battle with a guy I’ve seen bid on vises at other auctions, so I know he’s either a collector, or flipper. We ran the price up pretty quickly, and I think I could have still gotten it at the high end of my limit, but I let him have it, again hoping it would eliminate him from the other baby.
When the auctioneer got to this baby I let people start out with small increments, and low bids and then I jumped it up over $100 which caused a bit of a pause in the action and even got a bit of a “wow” from the group. Two more bids and everybody else stopped…right at the number I had written down before we started. Needless to say, I was thrilled, but kept my auction game face on because we were getting down to the other vise I knew I had to have. That turned out well, and I’ll write about it soon, but on to the details of this great little Wilton Baby!
As the pictures show, it’s really in amazing condition. The slide is date stamped 12-3-66, so it’s been around for just over 50 years, and the paint and sticker survived! I don’t keep many vises, and I originally didn’t give much thought to wanting a Wilton Baby, but I think this one is sticking around a while.
This first picture shows the view from my “hiding spot” next to the table…the shelving unit is to the left. You can’t even see all the vises from this angle!
This picture shows how small the baby is next to the 450SJ on the left and standard 4″ machinist model on the right.
Here’s the baby!