It all started on April 24, 1971, in Vancouver, WA. Ken Bassett had collected a list of known or suspected tool collectors in Oregon and Washington and invited them to a meeting. The following attended: Ken Bassett, Longview; Harold Beall, Vancouver, WA; Dave Englund, Seattle; Robert Ferguson, Albany; Dudley Foreman, Portland; Dave Foreman, Portland; Mr. and Mrs. Dick Goins, Longview; Mr. and Mrs. Wilbur Magness, Yakima; Paul Marmont, Seattle; Vince Milligan, Salem; M. Mills, Salem; Bill O’Leary, Longview; Mr. and Mrs. Earl Pennington, Tacoma; Mr. and Mrs. Ray Salter, Gervais, OR; and Bill Trip, Salem. Arnold Gordon, then president of EAIA-West, also attended from Los Angeles. The meeting, which featured the “Cooper’s Craft” movie, was a big success, and the group decided to meet again. With some persuasion from Arnold Gordon, the group also decided to become a regional part of EAIA-West, predecessor to PAST.
From 1971 through 1977 this group remained one of three regional groups of EAIA-West. As with any new organization, there were lots of growing pains. It was difficult to attract and sustain the “critical mass” necessary to keep going and to grow. However, it did survive and grow through the continued support of a handful of faithful. By the fall of 1977 things looked pretty promising and there was a move afoot to become an independent organization. The Pacific Northwest Tool Collectors was formed and parted amicably from EAIA-West.
At the start, meetings were held somewhat irregularly but generally quarterly. Because of the club’s modest size, meetings usually took place in a member’s home and featured that member's collection. The smaller size also allowed for visits to various museums and craftsman’s shops. As PNTC has grown, these activities have been supplanted with speakers, demonstrations, and displays at the regular meeting locations. Today we meet monthly (excepting December) alternating between the Seattle and Portland locations. The first regular meeting at the Federal Center South in Seattle was in 1983. By 2000 we had outgrown that facility and found a new home at the Seattle Alki Masonic Hall in West Seattle. Keith’s barn in Sherwood, Oregon became a regular Oregon location starting in 1988. In 1992 Bill Racine hosted the first June meeting in Hillsboro, Oregon. Since that time we have variously met in Oregon at the American Legion Hall in Aurora, Washington County Fairgrounds in Hillsboro, and at both Keith's barn and Bill's barn. That latter has become the usual meeting location. Every June the meeting at Bills features a member's flea market.
Almost since the beginning there has been one major multi-day meeting every few years. At first they followed the pattern established by EAIA-West to have a big summer meeting every third year in each of their regions. Later they became the Best In The West meetings occurring every two years. As a part of EAIA-West, meetings were held in Portland in 1973, Eugene, OR in 1976 and Yakima, WA in 1979. These joint meetings had good attendance by California members. A PNTC meeting was held in Tacoma in 1982 which also had good California member attendance. The first Best In The West was held in Portland in 1985. Since then, Best In The West meetings have been held in the Seattle area in 1988, 1990, 1992, 1996 and 2000 and in the Portland area in 1994, 1998, 2002, 2006 and 2010. In 2004 the meeting was held in Fife, WA and in 2008 it was held at the Little Creek Indian Casino in Shelton, WA. 2012 will be at that same location. All of these meetings have featured a favor which has evolved into an outstanding miniature tool made by members of the club. Member displays are another feature of BITW that has grown over the years. There have been some truly great displays reflecting member's collections and special interests. BITW has continued to get bigger and better, attracting many out-of-region attendees.
Over the years the meetings have produced many interesting programs. There were visits to the Aurora Colony Museum, the Burke Museum, the Washington State Historical Society, the Shoreline History Museum, the Oregon Historical Society, the Mission Mill Museum in Salem, the Museum of History and Industry in Seattle and the History Museum in Yakima. The club visited a violinmaker’s shop in Seattle; wooden boat builder’s shops in Tacoma and Gig Harbor; and the blacksmith shop at the Weyerhaeuser sawmill in Longview. Outside speakers gave talks and/or demonstrations on coopering, wheel making, pattern making, metal spinning, turning, carving, blacksmithing, knife making, and logging. There was a memorable illustrated talk and demonstration on Northwest Coast Indian woodworking by Bill Holm of the Burke Museum. Members have contributed talks on their special interests and expertise; for example, Bob Kaune on Bedrock planes, Dave Englund on 18th century planes and Mel Miller on Davis levels. Theme-of-the-day displays and descriptions have turned up many bits of special knowledge.
Of course, meetings were always a place to buy, sell and trade tools. Very early in the club’s history the silent auction was introduced. This unique approach grew out of a desire to make all tools available, or at least visible, to all people who came to the meetings. Because the club covers a wide geography it was not possible for everyone to get to meetings early. Latecomers were missing out on purchases or even the opportunity to view tools that quickly disappeared from view after being purchased. Many tools never made it out of the parking lot. The silent auction approach has been a mainstay of the PNTC.
For many years the club operated without any bylaws, dues or formally elected officers. To cover expenses a hat was passed at each meeting for donations. Officers were whoever was willing to serve which is generally still the case although the “volunteers” are now formally elected instead of by acclamation. In 40 years eleven people have served as president as follows: Ken Bassett, 1971-1976; Dave Englund, 1973; Bob Durham, 1977- 1978; Jerry Billings, 1979-1980; Jack Birky, 1981-1982, 1994-1995; Paul Marmont, 1983; Rich Corbat, 1984; Steve Dice, 1985-1989; Darrell Six, 1990-1991; Jim Sebring, 1992-1993, 1996-1997; Bill Racine 1998 to the present. The bylaws were adopted in 1993 and have been revised since.
At the start, communications were focused on meeting announcements mailed out prior to each meeting. The first newsletter was published in 1981 with Jack Birky as editor, a position he has held continuously ever since. The club did, however, undertake one significant publishing effort. In 1973, “Tools From Pacific Northwest Collections, Group I, 1973” was published. This publication pictured some of the better tools from various member collections. Although this was a club effort, the leadership of a few stands out. Paul Marmont undertook the big job of editing and overseeing the publishing. George Rolstad took, developed, and printed all of the photos. Many members had a hand in selecting the tools. The book came out at a time when there were few publications available on old tools and thus enjoyed a good market. It also earned some significant money for the treasury. There were plans for a Group II and some photos were taken; however, it never came to be. By that time there were other publications on the market and the momentum was lost.
In addition to money raised by our publication, the club has been funded by modest dues and has raised additional money from tool auctions to its members. Most of these have been estate auctions of deceased members where the club helps the family dispose of the collection and takes a small percentage. It also puts the tools back into circulation with the members. It is a real win-win for everyone. A healthy treasury has allowed up-front funding of the BITW favors. In 2010 we also started offering two scholarships annually to students pursuing an education in manual trades.
In 1971 the club roster showed 32 names. This grew slowly at first with just 57 members five years later in 1976. By five-year increments, it was 103 in 1981, 163 in 1986, 260 in 1991, 460 in 1996, 523 in 2001, 476 in 2006 and is 394 in 2011. The numbers fluctuate both during the year as new member join and from year to year. Membership tends to climb in the years of the Best In The West meetings as more people want to participate. From the start there was strong participation from both Oregon and Washington. The first British Columbia members joined in the early 80’s and they have been host to a number of meetings in Vancouver, BC.
The PNTC is today one of the many active regional tool collecting organizations in North America. It is definitely in good health.