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Axe Book Review
by Peter Harper, B.Ed, M.A.
Member: Pacific Northwest Tool Collectors Association
Early American Industries Association
Axe Makers of North America by Allan Klenman Whistle Punk Books, Victoria, B.C., 1990(Author is a member of M-WTCA)
Once in a while a book comes along that opens up for us what has hitherto been an obscure field, exposing the parameters for all to see and providing springboards for further research. In the case of the axe, the tool that had won the west lapsed into obscurity because it had become commonplace and fell under the shadow of the power saw. Allan Klenman has changed all that.
In what must have been a labor of love over many, many years, Klenman has managed to provide us with a very rich and informative survey of axe manufacturing in North America between 1850-1960. Although the author calls this an arbitrary choice of time frame, the dates do coincide with the first made-in-America steel axes, and the demise of this industry just over a century later.
The first two chapters are very brief and cover the manufacture and uses of axes. I understand the difficulty of organizing the material in a volume so broad as this one, but nevertheless feel that more could have been made of Chapter Two, especially pages 13 and 14. How did those loggers chop trees down? Why are the corners of the falling axes so rounded? Of course, Chapter Two could become a book in itself. However, one should not assume that readers of pages 13 and 14 have any background knowledge of the subject. A three or four page addition is needed in this part of the book.
In Chapters Two and Three, the author provides detailed case histories of various individual axe manufacturers and conglomerates in the U.S.A. and Canada. This survey is where Klenman comes into his own, making a valuable contribution to individual history, and providing a clear directory of "what axes were made by what people." Axe collectors can use this as a clear map through the mine field of mergers, takeovers, and other corporate maneuvers. However, this is no ordinary, dry as dust survey. Klenman has enriched specific case histories with anecdotes and interesting tidbits of information from his vast storehouse of personal knowledge of the subject.
Illustrations in the book are confined to axe labels, trade marks, and information taken from tool catalogs. Again here is very helpful data to be used by collectors for identification purposes.
At the end of the book there are some 25 pages of appendices featuring very comprehensive chronological and alphabetical listings of manufacturers and their labels. One is struck by the sheer enormity of the numbers of manufacturers, which, in turn, shows how ubiquitous the axe was across this continent. For some, these appendices will be the most important aspect of the book, providing, for the first time, a catalog of the "Axe Makers of North America." This book is destined to become the bible for axe collector and a useful reference for historians.
Alan Klenman's new book is a landmark publication that should be on the bookshelf of those who are woodsmen at heart, and those more serious individuals who collect tools, and through research, help to preserve our heritage. The book is well worth the price.
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