Norris “Prototype” Plane

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Norris Prototype Plane

Unfortunately very little is known about a small group of prototype planes supposedly made by Norris. I say "supposedly" because the planes found so far have been stamped with either "Buck", "Musgrave", "Copley" or "Norris". Having said that, it's a pretty safe bet to assume that they are indeed Norris-made, as Norris supplied handplanes for all of those dealers. It would also make sense that Norris manufactured these planes to try them out in the market, perhaps sending them out to the bigger dealers for assessment. So few have been found (I know of only seven - two marked "NORRIS, LONDON", three marked "BUCK", one marked "COPLEY, LAMBETH" and one marked "G. MUSGRAVE, LINCOLN"), which makes them extremely rare. They were either too expensive to produce or didn't quite meet market expectations - I suspect the latter. However, they are interesting planes in their own right, as can be seen from the pictures.

Suffice to say that none have turned up in any catalogues, so pinning them down to an exact era is difficult. Some collectors believe that they're very early planes made in the 1870's or 1880's, but I personally think that they are more recent than that. I believe, in some ways, that they are "transitional" to a degree - possibly when Norris was extending the range from purely dovetailed infills to include planes with cast bodies. While more of an up-front cost, casting plane bodies is quicker and cheaper than dovetailing, and it's fairly obvious that Norris needed to offer a cheaper alternative to help combat against the imported planes from America. These prototypes may have been a step in that direction.

For the time being it's all conjecture but, who knows, something new might turn up down the track which will give us a better insight into the reasoning behind these planes.

The images below are of a damaged and modified plane marked "COPLEY, LAMBETH". The front knob is a replacement, taken from a late model Preston smoothing plane. Unfortunately the lever cap screw has been reshaped so it could be tightened by a spanner! The body has also been repainted black. Apart from the replacement knob (the original was missing) none of the modifications were done by the present owner.

Thanks to Richard for the images and for the rescuing of this very rare handplane.