American Levels and Their Makers

Stanley Rule & Level Company No. 96

The Stanley Rule & Level Company (Stanley) was the most prolific developer and producer of levels that this country ever saw. Their premier, full size level was the No. 96 - a brass bound rosewood level with a laminated structure to give it better stability. In 1898, this level cost $80 per dozen while two unbound Stanley rosewood of earlier design (Nos. 011 and 11) levels cost slightly more. Four years later this level still cost $80 per dozen but the cost of all other Stanley rosewood levels had fallen to nearly half of that price.

The level incorporated ground glass vials and various new patented features developed by Justus Traut, Stanley's virtuoso tool maker. The level in the foreground is an early version. As contrasted to the later version behind it, the early level has brass tips on the end instead of a brass plate; a nailed-on brass strip along the top edge instead of the brass corner bindings that were dovetailed into the wood of the later model; and, the edge binding of the early model stopped at the end brass instead of locking into it as the later version did. The change was made possible when the patents of their competitor, Stratton Bros., expired and Stanley was able to utilize the Stratton technique for the bindings.

Rosewood was used by all level-makers to make their premier models. It was a stable wood that was readily available and its weight gave the impression of extra quality. The beauty of rosewood was certainly a factor also, because not only could one find wonderful grain patterns as in the pictured levels, but occasional pieces would incorporate bits of light colored sapwood and the contrast of the two types of wood and their respective grain patterns could be spectacular.

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