The Hawley Collection: 3 Centuries of Tools

The Bramah press. The Sanderson saw. Embroidery scissors from the 1850’s. The Hawley Collection is an internationally important material record of tool making, cutlery manufacture and silversmithing from Sheffield, together with complementary material from Britain and the rest of the world.

The idea spring from British tool specialist and industrial historian Ken Hawley MBE, who for over fifty years collected rare tools, catalogues, photographs and information connected with the Sheffield tool, cutlery and silversmithing industries.  It was Ken Hawley’s wish that the Hawley Collection stay in Sheffield as a tribute to the craftsmanship, skills and excellence displayed over the centuries by Sheffield firms and workpeople.

Image Courtesy: Sheffield Industrial Museums Trust

The Hawley Collection is important not only because of the range and number of items – over 100,000 in total – but also because it includes examples of raw materials, objects at different stages of production and the ‘tools that made tools’. One of Ken Hawley’s great interests was to understand how things were made and used and to appreciate the skills and techniques of Sheffield’s traditional craftsmen. His background as a tool merchant also gave him an insight into the business of selling and the collection includes examples of packaging, advertising and promotional material.

Sheffield’s great industries of tool making, especially edge tools, cutlery manufacture and silversmithing form the core of the collection along with another lesser known industry, the manufacture of precision measuring instruments. There are also examples from other British manufacturing centres and from other countries. Tools were made in a huge variety of patterns and sizes to meet the specialist requirements of different trades and crafts and this is reflected in the range of trade tools in the collection.

The Hawley Gallery at Kelham Island Museum in Sheffield opened in 2010 as the first permanent display space for the Hawley Collection, with an ever-changing series of temporary exhibitions.