Warranted Superior Medallions
Over on the Saws, using collecting, restoring buying
(Bob) asked the following question with the accompanying collage of warranted superior medallions:
"I have a question about Warranted Superior medallions. I'm most familiar with the eagle medallion, which came in several versions. There are several other WS medallions though (see pic below of medallions copied from the internet). My understanding is that some British sawmakers used the WS medallion on their saws, and some of these made their way to North America. When saws began being produced in the USA, some makers used the eagle WS medallion on their second line saws. I have a medallion like the one to the right of the eagle. Is there any way of dating this style medallion, or knowing what saw it came off of, or where it was made?"
Now I must confess that I hadn't really thought much about Warranted Superior medallions before now, but summerfi's question prompted me to do a bit of research. As a result, I'm quietly confident that all of the medallions in the bottom row and the center medallion in the top row are from saws made in the United Kingdom. I've never seen a medallion like the image top right which looks like a Knight on horseback. If that is what it is, then it is probably English too. My reasoning for saying the other four medallions are English is simply because they are all based on the Official Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland.
On the left, the shield is supported by the English Lion. On the right it is supported by the Unicorn of Scotland. The unicorn is chained because in medieval times a free unicorn was considered a very dangerous beast that could only be tamed by a virgin. I bet you didn't know that did you?
This coat of arms bears two mottos:
1) DIEU ET MON DROIT
- The English translation of this French phrase is widely accepted to mean 'God and my right'. This motto was first used by King Richard l (Richard the Lionheart) in 1198 as he prepared to go into battle with three lions on his shield. It was later adopted as the Royal motto of England by Henry VI.
2) The other inscription which is partially obscured on a garter around the shield reads:
HONI SOIT QUI MAL Y PENSE
- This is the motto of the Most Noble Order of the Garter which dates back to Edward III and is the highest pinnacle of achievement in the English honours system. Legend has it that one day when the Countess of Salisbury was dancing with the King, her garter slipped down to the floor, much to the amusement of the other courtiers. To save her from further embarrassment, the king picked it up and tied it to his own leg exclaiming "Hone Soit Qui Mal Y Pense" which translated into English reads: "Shame on him who thinks ill of it" or "Evil to him who evil thinks." So now you know why it's called the Order of the Garter, but I digress.
There is much more one could say about this coat of arms and its history, but what I particularly wanted you to notice is that the Lion on the left and the Unicorn on the right, together with the motto: DIEU ET MON DROIT are found on typical English Warranted Superior medallions. There is also always some form of shield with a crown on the top. Whilst the design varied somewhat as shown in the medallions below, these five elements together with the words 'Warranted Superior' remained constant throughout.
By the way, these elements are not just found on saw medallions. They also appear on buildings old and new across the United Kingdom in the Royal Coat of Arms, which is similar to the UK coat of arms, but with an additional lion on top of the crown.
Other old tools made in the UK bore the WS medallion too as seen on the head of this brace.
The elements even appear on the 'Tails' side of some £1 coins.
I hope by now I've convinced you that the five elements outlined above together with the words Warranted Superior are historically and fundamentally tied to the United Kingdom.
Now that we have established that, it leaves us with a number of interesting questions.
1) Why did some saw makers in the UK use this coat of arms and the words Warranted Superior on their saw medallions and what did it mean to them?
Well simply put, they were proud to say their tools came from the UK and using the coat of arms certainly added prestige. After all, what self-respecting saw maker wouldn't want to use a saw medallion that sported a unicorn that can only be tamed by a virgin? Seriously though, in the UK it was seen as a mark of the utmost quality. The word 'Warranted' is really a guarantee given by the UK saw manufacturers. The word Superior simply means that the saw was made from the best materials available at the time. Saw makers who used the WS medallion were in effect saying that they wholeheartedly stood behind their tools and were prepared to guarantee their excellence.
It also made practical sense to use WS medallions if you think about it. As any saw restorer knows, removing and refitting split nuts on old saws can give rise to many an anxious moment. They are easily broken even when taking the utmost care. As one modern day sawright put it over on the hand tool forum on Woodnet "They are an abomination." I concur and guess what, they weren't any better when they were new and artisans of old, who possibly removed them in order to sharpen and work on their saws, surely faced the same levels of anxiety. That being the case, most saw mills and hardware stores sold replacements and when the medallion broke, the fact that a Warranted Superior medallion was common to a lot of manufacturers' saws made good economic sense to the store owner and a higher chance of finding a replacement locally for the tool owner.
2) Why did other saw manufacturers choose to use their own brand on their medallions?
I don't know for certain, but I believe I'm right in saying that saws bearing manufacturers' own brand medallions appeared before saws bearing Warranted Superior medallions. Saw manufacturers such as Spear and Jackson and W. Tyzack, Sons and Turner were two such companies that used their own branding. As any marketing consultant will tell you, when a brand is established and successful, it is in effect a differentiator. It has history and a loyal following. You mess with it at your peril and at the risk of losing brand loyalty to your competition.
There were many more saw manufacturers in the UK who chose to use their own branding on their medallions. Companies like I & H Sorby, Mellhuish, Moulson Brothers, Taylor Brothers, R Groves & Sons, and Skelton Co. to name just a few.
3) Were Warranted Superior medallions only found on saw manufacturer's second line saws?
It has often been written (mostly by American bloggers and forum posters) that saws carrying a Warranted Superior medallion were second line saws produced by saw manufacturers. Whilst this is apparently true of American saw manufacturers such as Disston, Atkins, Bishop, Jennings, Woodrough & McParlin, and Simonds, it most certainly is not true of British manufacturers for the reasons given in the answer to question 1 above. The quarter-sawn beech used to make the totes was just as good as the beech used in named brands. The steel was the equal of named brands too and so was the workmanship.
Now you don't have to read too many old tool catalogues and advertisements to realize how fierce the competition was between the tool giants back in the day. It seems they all made increasingly bolder statements proclaiming their magnificence in a perpetual quest to outdo the competition and sway the punters towards their own brand(s) of tools.
I've read that US manufacturers such as Disston started using WS medallions on their second line saws in order to compete with other manufacturers on an even playing field. Maybe I'm just an old sceptic, but do you think it is possible that in order to win some market share from the WS saws imported from the United Kingdom, they actually did it in an attempt to brain wash the American public into thinking that any saw bearing a WS medallion was of lesser quality than their first line branded saws. I couldn't possibly comment, except to say that if true and the boot was on the other foot, English manufacturers would undoubtedly have done the same. When you think about it though, for American saw manufacturers to put WS medallions on second line saws is nonsensical. In effect, they are saying we guarantee that these saws are superior except for our first line saws that we've seen fit to put our name to. It doesn't make sense really does it? Either they are superior or they aren't.
4) Did UK saw manufacturers possibly make and install the US Eagle WS medallions normally found on saws made in the US and if so why?
Now we know that American saw manufacturers used Warranted Superior medallions too and until today, I've always thought the American ones sported an eagle and the English ones bore the coat of arms. However as part of my research, I read a thread
on Backsaw.net where they were discussing Warranted Superior medallions and one of the members remarked that the US style Warranted Superior eagle medallion is quite often seen on saws found in North America that were originally made in Sheffield, England. How the US Warranted Superior medallion came to be on English saws is however, open to speculation. Were the saws manufactured in England with the US medallions already fitted for the express purpose of exporting the saws to the US? Were the saws sent out to the US as parts and assembled once they arrived there? Were they fitted to English saws as replacements for broken English WS medallions? Truth is we haven't got a clue, so I'll leave you to ponder that one in the bath.
Now I realize that I've been rambling on a bit and I've suddenly remembered that summerfi (Bob) who prompted this post in the first place, had a question. "Is there any way of dating this style (WS) medallion, or knowing what saw it came off of, or where it was made?"
In my opinion, the short answer is not at the present time. Having said that though, we are better placed today than ever before to put together a database of WS medallions from both sides of the pond. If every woodworker and saw collector uploaded quality images of all their WS medallions together with a record of the saw's make and model where known, we would be well on the way to being able to identify and perhaps date a saw based on the WS medallion alone. To the best of my knowledge though, no such database exists as yet. Anyone care to start one? No? Me neither. So we are left guessing at the make and age of Bob's saw and all we really have to go on is that Bob says his WS medallion looks like this one. I'm not sure if he meant that his is the same as this one or similar to it.
Honestly Bob, if you meant the latter this could take some time, but let me kick it off. Is it this one Bob?
If it is, then slap my thigh and call me Sherlock. You've got an A. Ashton & Sons saw like the one shown below which is currently waiting patiently in my To Do pile.
Sorry Bob, I'm just messing with you
The truth is my friends that we all have a much better chance of identifying and dating a saw by closely examining the design features of the tote and any markings on the plate. Add to that the overall condition of the saw and the fact that we can ask the experts on Backsaw.net, the hand tool forum of Woodnet.net and the Saws, using collecting, restoring buying forum on Lumberjocks. All things considered, there is a good chance someone, somewhere in the world, will have one like ours and be able to identify it for us.
At the end of the day though, should all our valiant efforts lead to naught, we must man up, accept it, and learn to appreciate our Warranted Superior saws for the intriguing time capsules that they are.