|By Jo Ann Hustis
NEWARK, Ill. — In earlier years when the military readied their dress uniforms for official inspection, they reached for small oval brass plate tools with three aligned holes to help with the task.
Laying the tool over a trio of buttons on his shirt front, retired tool-and-dye maker Stan Seevers of Cisco, Ill., picked up a polishing rag and swiped it across the tarnished buttons peeking through the holes. The rag wiped away the tarnish to expose a gleaming golden finish with no dirt or grime on the shirtfront protected by the metal plate. His audience showed their delight at the small Civil War-era tool, so simple and yet so cleverly devised.
Seevers, who also was fire chief for Cisco, a village of about 260 residents, was guest speaker at the annual meeting of the Fern Dell Historic Assoc. of Newark, about 40 miles southwest of Chicago. His talk was enriched by an assortment from his collection of unusual vintage and antique small tools, household and agricultural workshop pieces and medical and dental instruments.
“About 12 years ago, I had set up my booth at an antique show near Rantoul, Ill., and a lady from Urbana came to me and said, ’Stan, you have some of the most unusual items. Could you maybe bring some of them to the Urbana Spring Library and put on a program for us?’ I said I thought I could. A Champaign Gazette writer also was present at the show, and he was impressed. This led me into doing programs more often the last six to seven years. “
Seevers has about 28 small instruments. Most of the tools in his selection are patented by their creators and were used in homes, parlors, farms and by different tradesmen in a variety of shops.
“I enjoy doing tools,” Seevers said. “If you think about it, a tool is nothing but an extension of your hand and makes the task before you easier. Our forefathers invented these items and patented a lot of them and used them.”
Interesting, new patents are only issued on Tuesdays of each month, he noted. He was not successful in finding a reason for that and even used a calendar once to look up the date on one. “And it was on a Tuesday,” he said.
Seevers also has spoken with several practicing attorneys. They all said they were not aware of any reason for the Tuesday date. “Nevertheless, it’s a bit of trivia for patents,” he noted.
Seevers and his wife travel the Midwest yearly in his hunt for small, unusual vintage and antique hand tools.
“I enjoy finding those that I don’t know what they are, then doing research on them and identifying what they are,” he said. “The Internet is a tremendous resource in identification.”
A brass laryngoscope from 1855-1860 is the most unusual tool in Seevers’ collection at present. A medical instrument, it was created to help inspect the larynx (voice box) in the human throat. A laryngoscope procedure, which utilizes the instrument, is a means of obtaining a view of the vocal folds and glottis and facilitate tracheal intubation during various medical procedures on the larynx and tracheobronchial.
Seevers found the instrument while on his way to a show at Shipshewana, Ind., and brought it to the Midwest Tool Collectors Assoc. for possible identification. He waved the tool aloft for the audience to see. A retired physician spoke up. He said, “Gosh, I used one of those things. It’s a laryngoscope.”
“I talked to him afterwards about medical instruments generally being made of stainless steel, so why was the laryngoscope made of brass. He said because when this instrument was used, the anesthetic employed was ether, which is highly explosive. Any sparks created during the procedure would cause the ether to explode, so that’s why it’s made of brass.”
Other little gems in his hand tool collection include a Civil War-era pliers-shaped tooth extractor and a cow tail holder. The latter was designed to hold the cow’s tail tight against its leg while the animal was being milked. This stopped the tail from swatting the milker in the face or dipping the fluffy end bristles into the pail of milk.
“It actually made milking a pleasure,” Seevers said.
A Macadamizing hand hammer used by prisoners to break up piles of rocks in the earlier days made most the listeners in the audience wince. The instrument consisted of a wooden handle similar in appearance to today’s carpenter hammers, and a somewhat smaller oval shaped granite type rock strapped on for the head. The rocks the prisoners broke into small pieces were used for ballast under structures such as buildings and railroad beds.
Seevers calls himself a vintage tool accumulator and not a collector. He says the difference is that a collector sells nothing from his collection. An accumulator, however, will sell anything he has because the items can be replaced in a year or so.
A member of the Midwest Tool Collectors Assoc., Seevers donates payment from his tool collection presentations to building ramps for the handicapped in Piatt County, Ill., near the metropolitan area of Urbana/Champaign.
In 2015, they built 52 ramps, he said.
Seevers can be contacted by phone at (217) 669-2290 or (217) 855-1367 and by email at email@example.com.