A Historically Interesting Handsaw

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Blog entry by summerfi posted 02-16-2018 01:01 AM 2788 reads 0 times favorited 13 comments Add to Favorites Watch

A Historically Interesting Handsaw

I usually don’t give Warranted Superior saws a second look. It’s not that many of them aren’t good saws, but because their value is comparatively lower than vintage brand name saws. When this saw recently popped up on an online auction, though, I couldn’t pass it by. It’s not every day that you see a saw from Montana, much less one with an etch that includes the name of my home town, Missoula.

This saw was sold in the Kalispell branch store of Missoula Mercantile. Missoula Mercantile, a store that sold just about everything, began at the corner of Higgins Avenue and Front Street in Missoula, Montana in about 1880. That was nine years before Montana became a State, and only 20 years after the first European settlement was established in the Missoula Valley. The area was truly wild in those days.

“The Merc”, as it came to be called, served homesteaders, miners, railroaders, loggers, and other widely dispersed citizens within a 300 mile radius. Travel was difficult in those days. There were scant few roads, and railroads were just coming into the region. You couldn’t easily go to the store when you needed something. So, you ordered it from The Merc by mail or word of mouth, and they delivered it to you. If you were near a railroad, you got it by train. If you were off the beaten path, you got it by pack string. The Merc quickly grew to become the largest general merchandise distributor between Seattle and Minneapolis. Business was so good that they began opening branch stores in many surrounding communities.

Kalispell lies 115 miles north of Missoula in the Flathead Valley. The Kalispell branch of Missoula Mercantile began in a tent in Demersville, a community on the southern outskirts of Kalispell, in the late 1880s. By 1892, a large new store was under construction on First Avenue in Kalispell proper. The store’s name was changed from Missoula Mercantile Kalispell Branch to Kalispell Mercantile in 1911. My saw was sold in that store sometime before 1911, since the etch displays the name of Missoula Mercantile and the location of Kalispell. Here are pictures of the saw in the condition I received it.

The Kalispell Mercantile building still stands today, though it is no longer called by that name. It now contains several businesses, including a restaurant. The historic Missoula Mercantile building in Missoula was demolished just last year following a long and controversial discussion about its future. It was truly a landmark in Missoula and surrounding areas. A new large building containing a hotel and several other businesses is currently being erected on the site. It will incorporate some design features and some of the historic building materials from the old building.

Here is a picture of Missoula Mercantile Kalispell Branch taken in the early 1900s. This is where my saw was sold.

When received, my saw was actually in pretty good condition for being over 100 years old. The plate had some rust and needed to be cleaned and polished. The handle needed a couple of minor repairs. And, of course, it needed to be sharpened. After the cleanup and sharpening, this is what the saw looks like.

This saw is a very typical “hardware store” saw. That is, a saw made by a major saw manufacturer for resale by a secondary retailer, usually a hardware store. Such saws are often marked with a special etch of the store’s own design. The etch on my saw depicts a Phoenix bird and a ribbon containing the words Missoula Mercantile Co., Kalispell, Mont. It also shows the model, No. 30.

The natural question with this saw is who made it? That is sometimes hard to determine for hardware store saws, but often there are clues. The first clue on this saw is the handle. Having worked on a few hundred saws made by various manufacturers, I can say that this handle looks to me like it could have been made by Simonds. Compare the similarity between my saw’s handle and this handle from the 1912 Simonds catalog. Don’t get hung up on the style of the wheat carving, since manufacturers often changed the carving pattern on hardware store saws. Simonds did offer saws with wheat carving nearly identical to my saw’s.

The next clue is the etch. Note the image of the ribbon in my saw’s etch near the beginning of this article, and compare it to the ribbon on the Simonds etch below. They are not identical, but they certainly have similarities.

Another clue in the etch is the image of the Phoenix bird. The Phoenix was prominently displayed on a secondary line of saws made by the E.C. Atkins Co., the Phoenix Warranted saws. However, compare the image of the Phoenix on my saw to the Atkins image below. The birds are looking in opposite directions.

Finally, clues to the maker of a saw can sometimes lie underneath the handle. There can be markings stamped into the heel of the plate that indicate who the maker might have been. My saw has no such markings, so that is no help. The shape of the heel itself can also be a clue. The heel of my saw closely resembles both Simonds and Atkins saws that I own, but it is not exactly like either one. Based on the heel shape, though, I can say confidently that it was not made by Disston.

Given these clues, I am leaning towards my saw being made by Simonds. However, it is inconclusive, and my saw could have been made by any number of manufacturers. I will probably never know for sure. In the end, it doesn’t really matter. The value in this saw lies in knowing where it was sold, not in who made it.

I admit that I find saw trivia interesting. This saw may not be as interesting to most people as it is to me because of where I live. Whether you find it interesting or not, I hope you still enjoyed reading this blog. Until next time….

-- Bob, Missoula, MT -- Rocky Mountain Saw Works -- ~Non multa sed multum~

13 comments so far

View duckmilk's profile


4629 posts in 2479 days

#1 posted 02-16-2018 01:16 AM

Yawn…JUST KIDDING ;-))) Wow, that is an amazing find Bob and the fact that it was in such good shape for its age is even more impressive!
I’m glad this one fell into your hands. It finally found a home. Congratulations

-- "Duck and Bob would be out doin some farming with funny hats on." chrisstef

View Dave Polaschek's profile

Dave Polaschek

7938 posts in 1737 days

#2 posted 02-16-2018 01:25 AM

Good reading, Bob. And a heckuva find that cleaned up real pretty.

-- Dave - Santa Fe

View bearkatwood's profile


1835 posts in 2166 days

#3 posted 02-16-2018 01:53 AM

That is so cool Bob, my mom used to sell shoes in the Bon Marche as it was eventually called. I remember scouting out all the cool hidden passages through that building while I waited for mom to get off work. Too bad they tore it down. Very cool saw find, how much you want for it? lol
You did a hell of a restore job on it, it looks brand new. Sure must have been a site to see these brand new, nothing like them now. Cool story Bob, thanks.

-- Brian Noel

View summerfi's profile


4385 posts in 2842 days

#4 posted 02-16-2018 01:59 AM

Hey Brian, guess where I got this saw. Portland.

-- Bob, Missoula, MT -- Rocky Mountain Saw Works -- ~Non multa sed multum~

View bearkatwood's profile


1835 posts in 2166 days

#5 posted 02-16-2018 02:24 AM

Hilarious. Not at Star antiques?

-- Brian Noel

View summerfi's profile


4385 posts in 2842 days

#6 posted 02-16-2018 02:37 AM

No, private ebay seller.

-- Bob, Missoula, MT -- Rocky Mountain Saw Works -- ~Non multa sed multum~

View bearkatwood's profile


1835 posts in 2166 days

#7 posted 02-16-2018 02:44 AM

I can never keep up with the ebay auctions, I am not built for that. too stressful. Buy now option or nothing.
This is what my bench looked like at the end of the day Bob, do I have a great job or what?

-- Brian Noel

View Don W's profile

Don W

20120 posts in 3722 days

#8 posted 02-16-2018 02:07 PM

Nice read. Interesting even if it is completely across the country!

-- - Collecting is an investment in the past, and the future.

View johnstoneb's profile


3167 posts in 3327 days

#9 posted 02-16-2018 02:39 PM

Interesting story Bob. I have friends and relatives in both Missoula and Kalispel so it made a connection for me.

-- Bruce, Boise, ID

View handsawgeek's profile


663 posts in 2550 days

#10 posted 02-16-2018 02:46 PM

Great find and restoration! I also enjoyed reading about the history of this tool. As others have pointed out, I’m glad that the tool found its way into the hands of someone who appreciates it and spent the time restoring and researching it. Great post!

-- Ed

View theoldfart's profile


12732 posts in 3606 days

#11 posted 02-16-2018 05:33 PM

Pretty cool story Bob. It does look like the Simonds that I have. I also have a few hardware etched saws, the oldest id from Hammacher Schlemmer before it moved out of the Bowery.

-- "With every tool obtained, there is another that is needed" DonW ( Kevin )

View Brit's profile


8334 posts in 3997 days

#12 posted 02-17-2018 09:23 AM

Interesting and well-written history Bob. Really good read. You did a fine job on that saw.

-- Andy - Old Chinese proverb says: "If you think something can't be done, don't interrupt man who is doing it."

View Slyy's profile


2840 posts in 2810 days

#13 posted 02-19-2018 01:22 AM

Neat history Bob, and great detective work too!

-- Jake -- "Not only do we live among the stars, the stars live within us." - Neil Degrasse Tyson

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