One of the fun things to show folks coming to our shop is our collection of vintage axe labels. Like labels adorning old vegetable crates (think "Mr. Asparagus") the creativity, artistry, and sense of humor found in the thousands of different paper axe labels is amazing.
Many collectible axes have beautiful etchings on them which allow identification of the maker, factory, year of production and in some instances even the craftsman who tempered the axe. However, the vast majority of the axes found in garages, barns, antique stores and flea markets around the country are unmarked mysteries.
Paper axe labels were introduced in the mid-1800's as the number of axe makers increased leading to the need to differentiate their products from those of their rivals. It was certainly easier to paste a cheap paper label on an axe than go to the trouble of etching a name on the axe head. The earliest known trade name registered in the U.S. for use on an axe label was the "King of Cutters" by Julius Meyer of St. Louis in 1870.
From here the number and diversity of axe labels exploded. Here are just a few examples of labels from Oakland, Maine axe makers:
In the Maine State archives are some of these labels and documents pertaining to their production. Here is Oakland's Emerson & Stevens working on its "Forest King" label.
Maine axe makers were not the only ones coming up with unique and interesting axe labels:
Using paper labels also allowed axe makers to sell their goods to distributors and hardware stores who private labeled them under their own trade names. These labels don't usually have the same level of artistry (or any) but demonstrate just how many different trade names axes were sold under.
One of the great on-line collections of axe labels can be found in Tom Lamond's Yesteryears Tools site. It is a treasure trove of information on axe companies, their trademarks, and label designs. Mr. Lamond also wrote a nice article on axe label diversification in the Spring 2006 issue of Fine Tool Journal.
If you want to wear one of these labels on your chest we have turned some of our favorites into T-shirts which are for sale on-line or at our shop. And for the month of January we'll take 10% off these shirts. Use discount code LABEL18 when shopping at bnctools.com .