Hobbs Hardware Axes

1890 – 1940’s*
London, Ontario
(Maker unconfirmed)

Hobbs was a prominent hardware wholesale & retail business founded in London, Ontario in 1876 by businessman and politician Thomas Hobbs. It sold agricultural equipment, housewares, and sporting goods, with additional offices in Toronto and Winnipeg and operating until the late 1900s.

Hobbs also operated Hobbs Manufacturing Company (1890-1929) which was primarily a large-scale importer and manufacturer of glass, although I believe they expanded into some metal works in the later years.

Hobbs may have been way ahead of the competition when it came to selling branded axes. They introduced their first branded axe in the late 1800s, at least 20 years before other large Canadian hardware wholesalers caught up. However, their well-known Gold Medal line was introduced around 1910 (more on that further in).

Early Hobbs “London” Axes

An early Hobbs catalog from 1890 shows a simple stamped axe with “LONDON” on the pole. There were no confirmed axe makers in London at that time, as most of the smaller/independent shops seemed to have closed in the 1870s. So the “London” axe was likely house brand (although that is not confirmed).

There are other examples of branded hardware axes in the 1880s, but most of the large players didn’t introduce them until around 1910.

The London Machine Tool Co. was in operation at this time, and it’s possible the axes were theirs – however, they primarily focused on more complex machines like large lathes and drills.

Hobbs Gold Medal Axes

Hobbs Gold Medal line of tools (including axes) was launched between 1909 and 1912 and was produced into the 1940s.

Most major hardware competitors launched axe brands in this fairly small window, including Howland’s Samson, Howden’s Trueset, and Lewis Bros Black Diamond.

Hobbs axes were top-of-the-line and made with triple-overcoat crucible steel bits that went almost all the way back to the eye. This was a premium feature compared to their competitors who often only had single or double steel bits.

If you are unsure what an “overcoat” bit is, I have a diagram here.

These axes are made from selected materials of the highest grade. The bit is crucible steel, carefully tempered and ground. The head is of tough steel and will stand hard usage. The handles are of the finest selected second growth hickory, perfectly balanced and finished. Assorted weights. “The last word in quality of material and finish”. Guaranteed to give absolute satisfaction.

Hobbs Catalog No. 47 – 1922

Manufacture of Hobbs Gold Medal Axes

Unlike many of the other Hardware Wholesalers at the time Hobbs actually had a large manufacturing company as well. However, I think it unlikely they forged their own axes.

It’s much more likely they had a large manufacturer like Welland Vale Mfg Co. in St. Catherines or Smart’s out of Brockville. Both these brands were featured in various Hobbs catalogs, which is usually a good indication of who made private label axes.

It was almost always Welland Vale.

Dating Hobbs Gold Medal Axes

Hobbs Gold Medal did not exist in 1908, and the current earliest reference found is from 1916. But, it is unlikely they would have launched the brand during WW1 or waited so long after their major competitors introduced their brands.

It appears most Hobbs axes were sold with paper labels as catalog examples from the 1910s to early 20s don’t show any evidence of a stamped logo (although that doesn’t prove it wasn’t there). But, stamped logo Gold Medal axes were likely made in the mid-1920s into the 1930s or maybe 40s.

While the company continued into at least the 1980s, it’s unclear exactly when Hobbs stopped selling Gold Medal Axes. The rest of the Canadian hardware industry had stopped bothering with private label axes by the 50s, as the need and profits had plummeted thanks to the introduction of the chainsaw.

The last indicator we have so far is a company envelope from 1942 bearing the Gold Medal logo with the axes listed in the text. But this is far from concrete.

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  1. Hobbs Hardware Catalog 1908
  2. Hobbs Hardware Catalog 1917 (author’s collection)
  3. Hobbs Hardware Catalog 1922
  4. Hobbs Hardware Envelope 1942 (author’s collection)
  5. Hobbs Hardware Envelope 1942 (author’s collection)
  6. London Museum

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