SOUTHINGTON — The former H.D. Smith & Co location on West Street is slated to become a bourbon distillery, but the hand tools made by the company a century ago are still sought after by collectors around the country.
H.D. Smith, known for its perfect handle tools with wood and sometimes rubber grips, closed in 1920 after decades in operation. The company started manufacturing carriage parts in the late 1800’s but shifted to automotive tools and parts at the beginning of the 20th century.
Carl Hotkowski, owner of Connecticut Antique Appraisers, said he’s seen H.D. Smith tools throughout New England. Simple hand tools are common, but more specialized tools are rare and command high prices. There is a collection of H.D. Smith tools at the Southington Historical Society museum.
“The obscure tools will always have a demand,” he said. “The scarcer items, they’re still in demand.”
Michael Keough, a California resident, collects tools made by H.D. Smith. He hunts online auction sites to find products in the company’s catalogue that he doesn’t yet own. He’d hoped that the company building would be turned into a museum for H.D. Smith products.
Keough said he appreciates the craftsmanship and historical value of the tools.
“They represent an era gone by and mostly forgotten, and they also represent a transition from mostly hand made to almost all machine made,” he said. “The ‘Perfect Handle’ tools also illustrate the ingenuity of days gone by.”
A t-handle screwdriver can cost as much as $120. Hotkowski said rarer items can cost “much more” than that if they’re in good condition.
The company was bought around 1920 and has changed hands several times. The building wasn’t in use three years ago when Jon Rondeau bought it from the Florian family. He couldn’t be reached for comment Monday.
Southington Economic Development Coordinator Lou Perillo said Rondeau, when not working his full-time job, is working to restore the building and convert it into a distillery. He said the work is “moving forward.”
“It’s going to be a long project,” Perillo said. Rondeau was growing heirloom corn to make spirits, according to Perillo, but also planned to offer vodka or gin.
The long brick building at 24 West Main St. was constructed in 1910, according to town records.
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