So far as I can discover the Ward & Payne Aristocrat chisel is the only chisel ever to have been granted a Design Award. The Council of Industrial Design (CoID) granted the award in 1959:
The CoID was set up by the British Government as part of its plan for post-war reconstruction. In a remarkable piece of foresight the Government of the day recognised the important part design would play in helping British firms compete in the global economy and this organisation was created with the aim of promoting:
‘by all practicable means the improvement of design in the products of British industry’.
It was deemed so important to reestablishing our position as a leader in international trade that it was approved by Churchill’s Cabinet in 1944 while the country was still fighting the war against the Axis powers.
Despite the noble intentions and prescient insight that led to the creation of the CoID the design awards sometimes received a sniffy reaction. Rather unfairly, in my opinion, as they did select some absolute crackers:
Was the Aristocrat a good pick too? Read on!
I was intrigued by these unusual chisels when I first saw them and, when a set came up on ebay, I bought them thinking it would be interesting to compare these premium models to my motley collection of old chisels.
They were pricey – nearly £20 each if you include postage – but based on the nearly intact Ward and Pane Transfers I was hoping they would be little used.
I was pleased to find they had not had much use. In fact the 1’’ and ¾’’ look like they still have the original grinding marks on the bevel. The 1/4” has been honed but appears to be the same length as when new. Only the 1/2” has seen a lot of use:
The catalogue was recently posted to archive.org and here is the page describing their high speed steel chisels:
Compared to standard chisels, Aristocrat chisels are rather uncommon, no doubt a reflection of their very high price and relatively short production run.
Other than looking cool, were they a good solution? Of course tradesmen have made do with simpler chisels for millennia, but we can at least agree that the Aristocrats resolve the problem with socket chisels: although it is arguably not a great inconvenience to fix a loose handle it will never be necessary with the Aristocrat.
I think it would be a bit harsh to judge the Aristocrat chisel a failure based on its apparent limited number of sales – the 1960s were a difficult time to be selling premium tools and the market was rapidly changing to suit the needs of infrequent DIYers rather than people using tools to make a living.
A design classic? Yes, why not.
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||you can see the rest of the 1959 winners (and other years) here: CoID winners 1959|
|2.||↑||to be fair they did patent the manufacturing technique, although HSS tools were a bit of a rage in the 1960s|