From Message # 137798 on the Old Tools List, October 2004:
I have recently learned of the death of Bob Nelson, who contributed so much
to this List. Bob had written a number of times about his failing health
and his last posting in mid-June talked about his impending surgery. I may
have missed mention of his passing on the List while away on vaction so I
hope the obituary below is not redundant. It was written by J.B. Cox,
PATINA member and a past EAIA President for incusion in the next EAIA
Shavings or Chronicle. I am pround to say my wife and I have several tools
from Bob's collection which we acquired at several MJD auctions a couple of
He is missed.
Round Hill, VA
Robert E. Nelson
On August 29, the Early American Industries Association lost a long-time
member and friend, Bob Nelson, to complications of lung cancer and surgery
for the removal of a brain tumor. Bob was recovering from his surgery when
he suffered a grand mal, from which he did not recover. Most members will
recognize Bob's name as the Editor of the Directory of American Toolmakers.
Bob was a founding member PATINA, the regional tool group in the
metropolitan Washington DC area. Patina lore has it that Bob really named
Patina at the first organizational meeting, saying, "Let's call ourselves
PATINA. Now, what does P-A-T-I-N-A stand for?" A group effort then
produced the full name - Potomac Antique Tools and Industries Association.
In addition to Bob's work in organizing Patina, he served as an early
officer, and was a member of other tool-related organizations including the
Mid-West Tool Collectors Association (MWTCA), CRAFTS of New Jersey, EAIA,
and The Tool and Trades History Society of Great Britain (TATHS).
Bob said he got into tools for the fun of it, not to make money. But let
Bob speak for himself, writing in his last column in the March 2003
Patinagram, as he was shipping his tools off to auction and the next happy
home for them:
I could have made more [money] with a passbook savings account or, maybe, by
orienting my tool buying more towards appreciation potential..I might have
done a few things differently if I knew then what I know now, [but] nothing
to do with making .money is among them. I can't imagine any other [hobby]
or any other way of pursuing this one bringing me 30 years of greater
Bob had a special interest in unusual measuring tools, such as calipers for
rope (calibrated for weight of standard length per measured diameter), or
measuring sticks for horse height (calibrated in "hands"). He used his
wide-ranging knowledge in his work on Directory of American Toolmakers
Beginning with EAIA Board approval in 1980, the DAT was a nineteen-year
effort to organize, write, and publish a directory of all commercial
toolmakers working in North America prior to 1900. During the last ten
years of this project, almost fifty file boxes, crammed with original data
pages, occupied the center of Bob's and Betty's basement while Bob manually
transferred the data from over 40,000 primary data entries into forms for
computer entry. Bob told me he spent about full time (eight hours per day,
five days per week) for about ten years to get all the data in the proper
form. I looked in Bob's basement shortly before all the primary data boxes
were shipped for storage. It was an awesome sight, not only with respect to
the volume of data, but also as the visible symbol of the dedication and
determination entailed to make the DAT "happen".
When the draft was printed, he edited and corrected the entire publication.
The final DAT comprises over 1160 pages, listing over 14,000 toolmakers by
73 tool types. Bob's achievement was recognized by EAIA when he (and early
project principal Gene Kijowski) was presented with EAIA's Long Time Service
Award in 1999, just as the first copies of the DAT were being printed.
Truly, if the DAT can be considered as one of the finest examples of how
EAIA has served the tool-related community, a significant portion of the
credit is due to Bob -- and to Betty, his wife, in support of his interest,
dedication, and efforts.
Bob will be missed, not only as one who made a substantial contribution to
EAIA and the tool world, but also as a friend who generously shared his