Okay, okay, it wasn’t quite as dramatic as the movie Saving Private Ryan, but it was still pretty cool. In my search for old vises to restore, I keep an eye on several online resources, with one of them being an estate sale listing website. The site I use lets you search for keywords, so periodically I punch in “vise” and see what turns up. I did exactly that several months ago, and I got several results nationwide, but one was going to be just minutes from my house, and it had one heck of a nice vise pictured. The problem was, I had to wait almost a month for the sale and I figured that other folks like me would have plenty of time to take note and then I’d have to fight to beat them to it. Still, a Wilton like this doesn’t turn up like this very often.
So, what exactly, was I looking at? A 1968 production Wilton model 9450 with the factory original paint and stickers still on it! To collectors, original paint is huge, and original paint, with original stickers is extremely desirable. It appeared to be in good shape other than a few scuff marks from a file, so I wrote it down on the calendar and waited, and waited, and waited for the sale.
I should point out now that I’m not really a morning person, regrettably, so getting to an estate sale really early takes effort from me. On the critical Saturday morning, I managed to get out of bed and get going early enough to be at the estate sale a full hour and five minutes before the start. I thought that would be pretty good, until I saw all the people there, and realized I was 22nd in line! We had an hour to kill, so people were standing around talking about what they were there for. It turns out this house was furnished with a lot of very desirable mid-century modern furniture. It also had a lot of vintage high-end audio equipment. Both of those things are really hot right now with folks a lot younger than I am, or so I’m told by the hip, younger people I work with.
When the estate sale folks opened the doors to let the first 25 of us in the house it turned into a mad scramble! The other people were running around from couch to chair, to amplifier, to turntable putting sold stickers on them, running back to the register for more, and claiming their prizes. I semi-calmly walked down to the finished basement, found the Wilton, pulled the price tag off, walked up to the woman taking money and paid for it. I headed back down to find a wrench to remove it from the bench and a few minutes later I had it in the back of my truck and headed home for a hot cup of coffee and an early lunch (did I mention it was really cold standing there in line?).
As best I can tell, the vise was bought new, bolted to the work bench, and didn’t move until the day I removed it. The owner obviously did wood working for his audio equipment, so the vise was almost like new aside from some spilled varnish/paint, a few pieces of tape, and a few file scuffs. Even the style of bench it was mounted on pointed to it being a late 1960s purchase. I looked around figuring I would find some tools that indicated the owner had been a mechanic, or machinist, because even in 1968 this was a pretty serious purchase, but nothing like that stood out. I can only guess the owner liked quality items, like his audio gear, and bought something that would last…and it sure did!
Now, I should also point out that I paid a lot more for this vise than I normally would….nearly double. Why? Honestly, most folks who buy a vise at an estate sale are going to paint it, and that would have been a true crying shame in this case. I love taking old stuff and making it look close to new again, but anything that’s original, and in good shape, is usually better just staying that way. I knew that if I didn’t buy it, there was a good chance it was going to meet Mr. Rust-Oleum and I just couldn’t bear the thought of it. As soon as I got home I snapped pictures of it from every angle, even before taking it off the tailgate of my truck. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with it, but after a few weeks decided to offer it to the largest community of Wilton collectors and put it on eBay….it lasted a week before it sold, and I’m honestly happy it went to someone who will appreciate it for years to come.
I did do one thing that may help secure its legacy. I had the paint from the bottom inside of the swivel base color-matched at a local automotive paint supplier. Nobody has a really good answer for what color paint Wilton used on the older vises, so we’re all guessing. People have tried finding matching spray cans, but they never seem to look like the originals did and most aren’t even remotely close. I don’t know what it’s called, but now I have a couple of cans of paint I can use to refinish an older Wilton and have it be more historically correct. I plan to paint a test chip I can use to have it recreated if needed again in the future.
It took some time, planning, and perseverance, but I’m happy with how it all turned out, and I hope the new owner feels the same.