Wanted: An aspiring entrepreneur willing to help preserve an important piece of American history.
That is the opportunity being offered for sale by H.G. “Skip” Brack, owner of Liberty Tool Co. in Liberty and author of nine books on the history of tools and technology in the U.S.
Brack has placed ads on Craigslist and his company website seeking a successor to carry on what has become his life’s work: Buying, refurbishing, collecting, cataloging and selling tools and implements produced as far back as the 17th century.
The 70-year-old Liberty resident, who also owns Jonesport Wood Co. in Bar Harbor and is curator of the Davistown Museum in Liberty, said he decided to spin off Liberty Tool while he still has the mental acuity and physical energy to convey what he knows to the next generation.
“I’d rather sell it while I’m still able to teach somebody how to be a tool picker,” Brack said.
A tool picker is a wholesale buyer of tools. It’s a job that Brack, a Renaissance man who has worked as a university English teacher and is a longtime environmental author and activist, has held since 1970. He is an enthusiastic art collector and possesses an encyclopedic knowledge of early American technology.
His books include a history of tools used by early New England shipbuilders, and a comprehensive catalog of every commercial toolmaker throughout Maine’s history.
Brack said tools are unusual as historical artifacts because they can be as functional now as the day they were made.
“I think it’s really valuable to recycle this stuff,” he said. “Some of the best antique stuff is useful.”
The centerpiece of Liberty Tool is a store at 57 Main St. in downtown Liberty that contains “2.6 zillion” used tools for sale, according to Brack, along with vintage baseball cards, comic books, art, pottery, glassware and other miscellaneous items.
Stocking and operating the store is a full-time job, he said, but the most difficult part is going out and finding new inventory.
Being a tool picker requires spending a lot of time negotiating with collectors, hoarders, widows and widowers, bereaved children and the recently divorced.
“You end up in a lot of sensitive situations,” Brack said. “The communication skills are tricky.”
Buying tools is only the first step.
They must be repaired, cleaned, polished, cataloged, priced and then sold. Popular tools sold by Liberty Tool include hatchets, hammers, picks, planes, chisels, calipers, saws, wrenches and pliers.
And then there are the more unusual items.
“People are always thrilled to get a good manure fork because they are hard to come by,” he said.
In addition to running the store, museum and Jonesport Wood, Brack said he spends several hours each week answering questions from tool enthusiasts.
“I probably get 100 emails a day asking about stuff, or what’s the value of their monkey wrench,” he said.
Liberty Tool has not been a profitable enterprise for Brack, but he said that’s only because he has funneled proceeds from the business into his nonprofit museum, which is focused on the history of toolmaking in New England.
If managed properly, he said, the store could be lucrative for its new owner.
“It can be a very profitable business,” he said. “We get thousands of customers from around the world.”
Brack said he hopes to get about $650,000 for the store, its inventory and a former garage and filling station nearby that he uses as a workshop to refurbish tools.
He said the property and inventory are worth more than that, but he is willing to sell at a discount in order to keep Liberty Tool in business.
“There’s so many tools out there that need to be refurbished,” he said. “There’s a good market for any of these useful implements.”
But just as important to Brack is conveying “the stories that the tools tell” to future generations, he said.
“A lot of tools have historical significance,” Brack said.
J. Craig Anderson can be contacted at 791-6390 or at: