Schoolcraft collector goes plumb loco

By Jef Rietsma

Collector? Phil Czuk.

Collection? Plumb bobs.

OK, what is a plumb bob? “For the most part, surveyors, construction workers and carpenters in years past would have used plumb bobs. The definition reference I found for them is they are a pointed weight attached to a string or cord, used to find a vertical line called a plumb line. Now, with GPS, a plumb bob is more or less a thing of the past.”

Czuk elaborated, noting that construction workers in high-rise buildings would use plumb bobs to help identify an exact location, specifically from one story to another, where to cut out portions of a floor to install piping, for example.

When did your collection begin? “At one time, I enjoyed collecting antique hand tools and I also had a few of these, but it was difficult to display the tools … they’d just end up in a tote box down in the basement. Well, plumb bobs can hang from the ceiling, they’re easy to display and they really don’t take up any shelf or floor space. So that’s how I got started, which was about eight years ago,”

How many plumb bobs do you own? “Eighty-six. I just picked up a wooden plumb bob a few weeks ago at the Paw Paw flea market. That was my most recent addition.”

Where do you find plumb bobs? “I see them on occasion at antique shops, but they’re almost always way overpriced there, so I like to look at flea markets. We spend quite a bit of time in Florida so there are plenty of flea markets down there and that’s where I’ve found most of them. Some people selling plumb bobs at flea markets aren’t even sure what plumb bobs are.”

Do you have a favorite in your collection? “I do. It’s one I made in machine shop class way back in high school. I have it hanging right in the front so people can see it easily.”

What’s the most you’ve paid for a plumb bob? “I’ve never paid over $20 for one of these. It’s really hard to determine the value of plumb bobs because they’re just not collected in a very widespread manner. But as much research as I could do, I’ve found that I have one that is probably worth about $140. It’s one I picked up, most likely at a Florida flea market, for $15 or $16.”

Do you spend a lot of time online looking for plumb bobs? “My greater interest going online is to try finding one for sale – usually on eBay – that looks a lot like one I have bought, for no reason other than to determine if I got a good deal or not.”

Are you a member of any group or association specializing in plumb bob collections? “If there’s one out there or any other plumb bob collectors out there, I’m unaware. There is one plumb bob association I have found, but it’s based in Germany; it’s called the International Plumb Bob Collectors Association. I look at their website often but the wording is in German so I don’t really understand anything it says. I do enjoy looking at the pictures, though.”

Is there a plumb bob you don’t have that you continue to search for? “I’d like to get one with etching on it. Typically, that would be a pattern of some sort. They’re out there but just not real easy to find.”

What materials are plumb bobs made from? “I’ve seen them in copper, brass, wood, bronze and cast iron. As far as shapes go – and I never knew they came in different shapes until I started collecting them – there’s acorn, tear drop, conical, pendulum and pear-shaped.”

Footnotes: Czuk, 72, is a Schoolcraft Township resident. He is retired from the Kalamazoo County Road Commission.

Leave a Reply