Just last night, in preparing this month's newlsetter for the Richmond
Antique Tool Society, I did a bit of research on H. D. Smith & Co. of
Plantsville, Connecticut (roughly rectangular New England state in the
former Colonies, Jeff) - makers of the much-sought "Perfect Handle" tools.
I thought y'all might be interested in what I found. I spent a couple hours
Googling - amazing what's out there. I probably should do some more serious
research to get complete the story and get more details - and document and
cite my sources. Anyhow, here is the article I hastily put together for the
H. D. SMITH & CO., PLANTSVILLE, CT
MAKERS OF THE “PERFECT HANDLE” LINE OF TOOLS
By Bill Taggart
Unfortunately, “Perfect Handle” has become a bit like “Kleenex”. People
often describe any tool with wooden handles as a Perfect Handle tool. But
“true” Perfect Handle tools were made only by H. D. Smith & Co., in
Mr. Henry D. Smith, along with G. F. Smith, E. W. Twitchell, W. S. Ward, and
E. P. Hotchkiss organized H. D. Smith & Co in 1850. The company originally
made carriage hardware in a factory located at 24 West St. in Plantsville,
on the Eight Mile River, which provided power for the plant. This photo was
taken in 1870:
The building became a landmark and the company’s executives became wealthy
and known in Plantsville and neighboring Southington. Booker T. Washington
wrote in his diary on May 1, 1882 that he visited Plantsville and called on
Mr. H. D. Smith at “8½ p.m.” Mr. Washington was raising donations for the
Tuskegee, Alabama “Normal School” and hoped Mr. Smith would contribute. Mr.
Washington wrote that Mr. Smith “rec’d me more kindly than I had ever been
by any white man” and that Mr. Smith was “a very cheerful old man” who
“gives all his income for charitable objects.” A New York Times article
dated August 1, 1888 indicates that Mr. H. D. Smith sought the nomination of
the Connecticut Prohibitionists Party for Governor of Connecticut.
Between 1900 and 1901, two employees, Amos Shepard and William S. Ward,
obtained three patents: Shepard’s No. D33,468 (Oct. 30, 1900) for forging
the handle of a nut wrench, Shepard’s 666,029 (Jan. 15, 1901), which
included reinforcing within the forged handle, and William Ward’s D34,136
(Feb. 26, 1901) relating to the handle. These three patents formed the
basis for the Perfect Handle tools.
By 1910 the company was making high-quality forgings and tools rather than
carriage hardware. Perfect Handle tools consisted of a high-quality forging
with wooden handles “riveted on, locked in under pressure [using a large
press], and waterproofed.”
On October 31, 1910 fire broke out in the factory building, which was
constructed of wood. The fire was catastrophic and totally destroyed the
According to one account, the president of the company, L. V. Walkley, did
not even wait for the insurance adjuster, but immediately set up the company
in a vacant “bag shop” down the road. He was so successful in maintaining
production that the company voted its usual dividends at the annual meeting
in March 1911 – only four months after the total loss of the manufacturing
plant. The company then moved into a brand new building built of brick and
steel later in 1911.
A reprint of the company’s 1920 catalog shows a full line of tools under the
“Perfect Handle” name. Other names claimed as trademarks include
“SharpenEzy” cold chisels, cape chisels and punches, “Gittatit” offset
slip-joint pliers, “Enchased” joint slot-cutting pliers, and the “Ultimate”
valve spring lifter. The common and familiar Perfect Handle screwdriver
appears first in the catalog, with the butt end of the handle marketed as a
“hammer head” for starting screw points into wood. Although these
screwdrivers are very common, many of the other tools shown in the catalog
are more rare and all are highly sought after by collectors.
In 1930, Trimont Mfg. Co. took over the Perfect Handle line after H. D.
Smith & Co. failed, an early victim of the Great Depression. Trimont
produced the same wrenches for a while, but apparently did not produce the
Perfect Handle screwdrivers and automotive tools.
You might find more recently manufactured screwdrivers looking exactly like
H. D Smith & Co.’s Perfect Handle screwdrivers with the “Irwin” name stamped
on the shank. You might also find a variation, slightly different in shape
(flatter and less rounded), marked “Made in Germany”. These are not true
Perfect Handle tools but typically are described as such anyway.
The H. D. Smith & Co. building in Plantsville at 24 West St. was added to
the National Register of Historic Places on September 19, 1977.