Medallion The medallions on Disston handsaws changed more over time
than any other feature on the saw. By using the medallion,
you can estimate the age of your saw.

  The Medallions and Timeline of Saw Manufacture


The medallions on Disston saws give the most accurate indication of manufacturing dates for handsaws, panel saws, and backsaws. The first complete timeline of Disston handsaws was written by Pete Taran and published in the Winter 2001 issue of the Fine Tool Journal. His article assigned manufacturing dates to Disston saws, based on the medallions, creating what is called a type study. Since the publication of Taran's ground-breaking research, the number of known medallions has increased significantly, and they have been featured on the Disstonian Institute website.

Medallions did not appear in the catalogs, only illustrated representations of the saws. So there is no printed original-source reference to put the medallions in order. Online auctions have increased the number of saws available for research since the time of Taran's article. This has brought many saws to the eyes of collectors for the first time, but has also pointed out there are far too many saws with medallions that were thought to be made in the 1840's. Most medallions dated from the 1840's were more likely made in the 1850's. The number of Disston saws on E-bay that have been advertised as 1840's production, based on information from the Disstonian website, exceeds the first several years of Henry Disston's output. This is an impossible feat.

Because so many collectors and tool sellers are using the "Institute" to assign manufacturing dates to their saws, I have wondered how to assign more accurate dates to Disston saws that are widely thought to have been made in the 1840's. We can date pre-Hamilton Disston saws to a 25-year period (marked "H. Disston", 1840-65), post-Hamilton saws (marked "and Son", 1865-71), and post-Albert saws (marked "and Sons", after 1871). We can identify saws made after 1875 because they have domed cap screws instead of split nut fasteners. One medallion has the 1887 Glover patent date on it. For a short time in the 1870's and 80's, some Disston saws had patent dates stamped into the handle. Every other date must have been derived by a medallion's presence on a saw that was introduced or discontinued by a certain date, as evidenced by its appearance in or disappearance from the product line in a dated catalog. Working with this type of information, Taran claimed the dates in his timeline were accurate within five years.

The manufacturing dates assigned to post-Civil War medallions are reliable because there are so many saws to compare and a good amount of information about the Disston company's history after 1865 is available. Of all the saws available to collectors today, perhaps 1 in 1000 was manufactured before 1860. This tiny sampling of information makes a timeline much more difficult to establish. The appearance of about ten pre-Civil War medallions that were not in the original timeline indicates that there is more work to do, but it has not been easy.

For several years I have piled all the data that has come to light since the publication of the original type study on top of the foundation it created. The result is inaccurate. All of the other medallions both large and small have been stacked in an incorrect series of dates on the Disstonian Institute website. I have tried to put every medallion that has come to light into the timeline. Some were found in online auction pictures and others were donated by visitors to the "Institute". What has resulted is probably a nearly-complete collection of all types of Disston medallions with the first twenty-five years of production dated incorrectly.

The new timeline in the Disstonian Institute will have two columns of photos. One for full-sized saws and the other for panel saws and backsaws. Another change is in the order and dating of several of the pre-Civil War medallions. Research is showing Disston backsaws had their design changed significantly over several years in the 1840's. This progression of design and the introduction of medallions sometime near the middle of that decade give evidence of which medallions were the earliest. The oldest Disston saws seem to be the few that exist with no medallion. Collectors like Phil Baker have much more data than I, and Mr. Baker has written about the saws extensively. He believes the first Disston saw medallion is the one some refer to as the "Eagle in Flight." The medallion can be seen in the timeline that appears below this article.

As before, this is a work in progress and will be revised again when the need arises. Because I don't think all things on the internet should be disposable, the first edition of this page will be kept on this site just like an old book that has been updated, there for reference and comparison to this, the second edition of the Disstonian Institute medallion page.

Erik von Sneidern
January 2009

Link to the old version of the medallion page.




1840's

The purpose of this section is to show that the earliest Disston saws had no medallions and to offer evidence of which medallions were first used when they appeared in the mid-1840's.

Backsaws often lived pampered lives inside toolboxes, taken out only to be used at a bench and put away. Handsaws were not so lucky, usually rode hard and put away wet, mostly used outdoors. There are not so many handsaws left to give evidence of how the design of the saws evolved and how they were labeled. Collector and researcher Phil Baker has a remarkable collection of early backsaws that demonstrate the evolution of Disston's saws, a few of which are shown here. Henry Disston's backsaw design changed dramatically over a span of five to eight years during the 1840's. This handle from a 16" saw has typically English full cheeks and a hook at the top, front of the handle. Baker estimates the date of this saw to 1842.

1840's Backsaw

Here is a similarly-sized saw from approximately 1846 featuring the hook and an "eagle in flight" medallion, which is described in the next section.

1840's Backsaw

This shorter backsaw has the hook, no medallion, and a finely detailed handle with lambs's tongue. Baker estimates its date to 1843-44.

1840's Backsaw

This similarly-designed handle has the medallion and may have been made 1845-46. The handle features a double nib, both top and bottom, which coincides with a brass back on these early backsaws.

1840's Backsaw

The hook is still featured on this 1846-47 saw. It has a different medallion with an eagle, but it reads "Warranted Superior".

1840's Backsaw

Baker estimates the date of this saw to 1847-48. It has the "optimistic" eagle medallion and the handle design is not as fussy, so was sturdier and less work to manufacture. The hook never reappeared on Disston saw handles. The other, more significant, design change taking place during this period was the deepening of the angle of the handle from 25 degrees to 35 degrees.

What follows is a progression of all medallions produced by Disston from the 1840's until 1955.

1840's Backsaw

1840's-1850's

Medallions have split-style nuts on the screws (also known as spanner nuts)

nut illustration
1" medallions
(found on full-sized handsaws)
13/16" medallions
(found on backsaws and panel saws)
earliest medallion The earliest medallions appear on saws with features that also appear on saws with no medallions. The beak on the top front of a backsaw handle appears only on saws with either no medallion or the medallion on the right. This evidence is the basis for putting this medallion first on the list, a departure from other type studies. The larger medallion on the left includes the phrase Keystone Works, which appeared in the first-known Disston sales literature, published in 1850. The first two medallions in each column, left and right, are identical. Two examples of each are shown for clarity. Collector and researcher Phil Baker has coined the term "eagle in flight" to describe this early medallion. The design makes it hard to see the head of the eagle.

Disston started out making only several hundred saws annually in the first years of production, increasing to perhaps 10 or 14 thousand saws per year in 1850. That figure is interpolation based on the statement in advertising that "dozens" of saws were made each day in the factory that year.

Disston's first employee, David Bickley, reported in an 1890 interview that Disston made no saws at all for the first two years of work in three locations, Arch Street, Third St., and Bread St. They made mason's trowels and cleavers. Disston is listed as a saw and tool maker at 21 Bread St. in the 1842 McElroy's Directory of Philadelphia. Directories from 1844 and 1846 list the address as 99 Mulberry St., which was at the corner of Third Street. Mulberry Street was the older name for Arch Street. On the same block stands the Betsy Ross house, between Bread Street and Third.

By 1847 Disston moved about a mile north to a rented 400 sq. foot space in the factory of William Mills on Maiden and Front Streets, where he worked with two apprentices until a boiler explosion in 1849 burned the factory down. Maiden Street was later renamed Laurel.

Disston purchased the lot next door and erected a new factory building within a very short time. By the end of 1850, the factory employed 65 men. Many more saws were produced in the year 1850 alone than had been throughout the decade of the 1840's.

The left medallion appears on a No. 8 handsaw, the right, from a late 1840's or early 1850's backsaw. Both read "H. Disston. Philada". Note the eagle's head is pointed upward. The earliest medallions had optimistic-appearing eagles. A distinct possibility is that these medallions were not made in a progression like those after the Civil War. The variations seen in the 1840's and 50's may have been produced at the same time. All of the medallions made before 1868 are cast in sand. The later ones were made by the Washbourne patented process: stamped from sheet brass, impressed with a die to make the keystone and lettering, and the bolt was soldered into the back of the disc. The process used to form the early medallions was to make a line of impressions of the medallion in fine casting sand, connecting them with a channel. Molten brass was poured into the mold, and the resulting medallions were then cut apart.

earliest medallion
1849-1850's earliest medallions
1850's 1850's
1850s medallion There would have been an additional part put on top of the sand mold to form the bolt shaft, which was later threaded. There is no documentation to show how this was accomplished. This method must have had in a high rejection rate. Any voids, particularly in the shaft, would have resulted in scrap. The result was a brittle medallion of low density that makes a "thunk" noise when dropped. Struck medallions, somewhat like coins, make a ringing sound when dropped.

Late 1840's or early 50's medallions left and right with "H. Disston. Phila" in the stamp. Note the small size of the letter "A". This feature comes and goes for four decades, 1850's-1880's. This Federal-style was used for perhaps a decade before a stylized, Aztec type of eagle was introduced.

1850's medallion
1850's These eagle medallions have a bird similar to those above it, but the abbreviation for Philadelphia has been changed. 1840s medallion
1850's More medallions from the late-1840's early 1850's era. Note the full spelling of "Henry." Thanks to Mr. Strasil for the contribution. 1850's
1840's Medallon Two medallions, one from a full sized saw, the other from a backsaw. The eagle is similar to the designs above, except it is the mirror image. The lettering has serifs, six-pointed stars flank the eagle, and the city is abbreviated "Philada". 1840s medallion
1840's-50's I wish I could say exactly where this medallion fits in the order, but there is no evidence indicate that. It was found on a No. 7 handsaw from the late 1840's or early 1850's. Notice the style of the eagle has changed from the Federal-style eagle found, for example, on US coins and is more stylized. This style change appears in the later versions of the eagle medallions.
1850-60 This medallion dates to the middle and late 1850's. It clearly is different in style from those preceding it, and is much like those made in the 1860's, with only minor differences. This and the medallion from the 1860-1865 period below are the most common eagle medallions. 1850s medallion

1860-1865

Medallions have split-style nuts on the screws (also known as spanner nuts)
1" medallions
(found on full-sized handsaws)
13/16" medallions
(found on backsaws and panel saws)
1860 These are examples of the 1860's medallion used until the "one-son" medallion started to appear in 1865. The only significant difference between this and the medallion directly above it is the appearance of stars flanking the eagle. The established date for this medallion begins in 1860. It is necessary to point out that the date is not precise, as in, "it was put on saws starting on the date 1/1/60." There is no evidence to put most of these production dates to anything closer than a reasonable estimation. For example, this one may have appeared initially on any date between, say, 1858 and 1862; there is no evidence to say precisely. Some medallions from the 1870's can be said to have been introduced during a specific year, while others can be categorized only by decade, such as those made before the Civil War. 1860 medallion

1865-71

Medallions have split-style nuts on the screws (also known as spanner nuts)
1865-71 One-son medallion. Split sawnuts. The company changed its name to Disston and Son in 1865, when Henry Disston's eldest son Hamilton joined the business. He had apprenticed at the company in the late 1850's and early 1860's. During the Civil War he joined the Union Army against his father's wishes. Henry Disston relented and eventually encouraged other workers to volunteer. "Ham" Disston's war experience, volunteer work in the fire department, and hands-on work in the factory made him popular with the other employees.

This particular medallion is rarely seen, and was produced for only a short time before the keystone medallion was introduced. Often saws from the mid to late 1860's feature a Disston and Son etch on the blade and the earlier eagle medallion with only Henry Disston's name. The materials that were in stock were used even if the names on them were not up-to-date.

1865-71
1865-71 One son medallion, 1865-71. This is found more frequently than the previous medallion. When Albert Disston completed his apprenticeship at the factory in 1871, the company became Disston and Sons. Three younger brothers: Horace, William, and Jacob, eventually worked for the company as well.

Antique tool sellers, including both a big-name auctioneer and countless small-time dealers have made the mistake of saying the appearance of "and Son" followed by "and Sons" was a type of birth announcement. The name changes came as Henry Disston's adult sons became his business partners.

1865-71

1871-75

Medallions have split-style nuts on the screws (also known as spanner nuts)
1" medallions
(found on full-sized handsaws)
13/16" medallions
(found on backsaws and panel saws)
1871-1875 The company changed its name to Disston and Sons in 1871.

This medallion often appears on saws with the "one son" etch, making it the first medallion to feature the word "sons." It still features the old-style split sawnuts that were used until about 1876. The perimeter is also sanded flush with the surface of the handle, as were all previous medallions. This changed with the introduction of the new-style saw nuts in the mid-1870's.

Early 1870's medallion

This medallion, the one before, and the next, are all variations on the same design and time frame, the 1871-74 period. It has a dot at the end of the word "SONS". The left medallion is from a No. 7 handsaw with the older style handle that was less ornate. On the right is a medallion from a No. 7 panel saw of the same period.

Early 1870's medallion
1871-1875 As you can see, there were several medallion designs in the 1871-76 era, with subtle differences in appearance. This medallion also has a larger letter "A" at the end of word "Philad'a" than on earlier saws. I have no evidence to say whether this medallion or the one immediately above is older. Early 1870's medallion

The lettering on this small medallion has serifs, unlike those before or after its production. There is no evidence to say exactly where in the sequence from 1871-75 this medallion appeared.

Mid-1870's
Mid-1870's This medallion is mounted on a No. 7 handsaw with the later style handle with the lamb's tongue and other details. Its perimeter is flush with the handle's surface, like all that precede it, but the lettering and design of the keystone and scale are identical to the unique "Choice" saw medallion shown below. This dates the medallion close to 1874-75. The split-nut or spanner style of fastener is about to be phased out. The ring of dots around the perimeter of the medallion is gone as well. The "A" at the end of "PHILADA" appears small again, so this feature is of no help in establishing the medallion sequence. Mid-1870's
Mid-1870's This medallion is on a mid-1870's "Choice" saw, which was introduced about 1875. The perimeter is serrated, which is unique. It is raised above the surface of the handle, the first time that feature is seen. The saw has five split nuts on the handle, which also is unique to this model.


All medallions appearing after this point have domed-style nuts on the screws


1876-77

1" medallions
(found on full-sized handsaws)
nut illustration

These medallions first appeared in 1876 and have a major difference from those made before them, they are attached with cap screws instead of split nuts. The design was patented by Disston on August 29, 1876. Instead of sitting completely flush with the handle like earlier medallions, there is a slight radius to the perimeter of the medallion, which rises above the wood.

13/16" medallions
(found on backsaws and panel saws)
1876 medallion 1876 medallion

1878-88

1" medallions
(found on full-sized handsaws)
13/16" medallions
(found on backsaws and panel saws)
1876 medallion This medallion is actually a little older than previously shown. This example is from a No. 99 handsaw that was presented to President Rutherford B. Hayes at the factory on April 16, 1878. It was manufactured while he was touring the plant.
1880 medallion This appears to be of the same design as the Hayes saw. Although it's hard to see in the image of the Hayes saw, both medallions have a comma after the word "sons".
1880 medallion The images of medallions from this period show small variations in the design, particularly in the punctuation and design of the keystone and scale. The bottom example has webbing in the keystone shape. 1880 medallion
1880 medallion

1888-96

1" medallions
(found on full-sized handsaws)
nut illustration

1888-early 1890's. Patent date for Glover's design of saw nuts, which are stronger than those manufactured in the 1870's and early 1880's. For an interesting anomaly in this medallion click here.

13/16" medallions
(found on backsaws and panel saws
as well as No. 16 full-sized saws)
1887 patent date medallion 1887 patent date medallion
1887 patent date medallion This version is similar to the medallion above except the placement of the patent date is different and the stars flanking the keystone have six points instead of the usual five. Some examples of this medallion have six-pointed figures that look decidedly like a daisy. Whimsical.

1896-1917

1" medallions
(found on full-sized handsaws)
13/16" medallions
(found on backsaws and panel saws
as well as No. 16, D-20,
D-21, D-22, and D-23 full-sized saws)
pre-WWI Probably 90% of Disston saws that collectors find will have one of the medallions shown from this point down to the bottom of the page. By 1900 Disston was making more saws than any other manufacturer worldwide, and their share of the market increased each year. Also by this time, Disston had bought over a dozen of its competitors, leaving only Atkins, Bishop and a newcomer to saw making, Simonds as major sawmakers in the US. Bishop stopped making saws in 1920, and Simonds made a strong impression on the market for only a short time, closing down in 1926. 1896-1917 medallion

1917-1940

1" medallions
(found on full-sized handsaws)
13/16" medallions
(found on backsaws and panel saws
as well as No. 16,
D-20 and D-23 full-sized saws)
1917-1940 At the same time this medallion appeared during World War I, Disston increased advertising in popular magazines and introduced new logos with the company name, saying simply DISSTON in capital letters arched over the keystone. The modified logo in advertising and shorter name on the medallions was probably done to improve brand identity. This medallion is found on Disston saws made both before and after the major product line change of 1928.

Because of changes in the saws' etches, the manufacturing date of saws with this medallion can be identified as being either before or after 1928. All handsaws were made after 1928 have a letter "D" in the name, for example: D-7, D-8, D-12. The letter is to the left of the number with a hyphen between them.

d8 d8

Some saws had a letter "D" in the name prior to 1928; the most common being the D-8. In all cases, those models with a "D" have etches in which the number appears inside of the letter. No handsaws with names like No. 7, No. 12, or No. 16 were made after 1928.

1917-1940

1940-1947

1" medallions
(found on full-sized handsaws)
13/16" medallions
(found on backsaws and panel saws
as well as D-23 full-sized saws)
1940's medallion This medallion appeared no later than 1940 because it appears on the 1940 Special handsaw that marked the 100th anniversary of the company. It reflects the international status of Disston products by this time, calling attention to the country of manufacture, not merely the city.

radius of 1942 medallions
profile of medallion
1940's

1947-53

1" medallions
(found on full-sized handsaws)
13/16" medallions
(found on backsaws and panel saws
as well as D-23 full-sized saws)
late 1940's medallion Saws from the late 1940's and early 1950's had this medallion with sloppy execution. Its perimeter is wide. D-8's and D-12's were nickel-plated; D-7's were the same style, but not plated.

radius of late 1940's medallions       radius of 1953 medallions
profile of large medallion    profile of small medallion
late 1940's medallion

1953-55

13/16" medallions
All medallions were this size
The last Disston saws made under family ownership of the company were made in period 1953-55. The medallions were all 13/16" in diameter. When Disston was sold to HK Porter, most existing saw models were dropped from production and new home-handyman models were introduced along with a line of power saws. And that was, as they say, all she wrote.

  radius of 1953 medallions
profile of medallion          

1950's



Warranted Superior Medallions

Warranted Superior

Warran and Ted Superior were not brothers in the saw manufacturing business.

Warranted Superior medallions are found on secondary lines manufactured by Disston and other major saw makers with other brand names on the etch. Some smaller 19th century saw makers may have bought sawnuts and medallions from the bigger factories.

After 1900 or so the "small guys" were actually secondary lines of the "big guys." The small companies were bought up by bigger ones and some of their products were continued for a time. Harvey Peace is one example. Most American saws from the 20th century, regardless of brand name, were made in the works of Disston, Atkins, Bishop, or Simonds.

In the case of Disston, their replacement medallions were stamped Warranted Superior rather than "Disston." I would speculate their rationale was they didn't want their name on lesser-quality saws. Brand loyalty in the U.S. was much stronger in the first half of the 20th century than it is today.


more about Warranted Superior medallions



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