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This article was published in the South Shore Now News
Original Article in PDF Format


East LaHave senior preserves history through his unique collection
By Stacey Colwell

Robin Wyllie's tool collection is more than a hobby. "To some people, they're just tools, but to me, it's always been about the history," says the East LaHave resident.
"It may be an insignificant little thing, but if it has provenance, then it means the world to me," said the 67 year old, as he gets up from a chair in the middle of his barn and gestures across a room full of tools.
He points out some tools from local businesses and residents who've long been forgotten by most people on the South Shore. "It keeps their name alive and who they were alive."

Mr. Wyllie picks up a plane that was brought here from Europe by Leopold Langille in 1752. "Blockhouse is named after Leopold Langille's mill … he got a grant of land there and originally called it Langille's Blockhouse Mill. All the Langilles in Lunenburg County are descended from Leopold - every single one of them."

He said reference books provide him with everything he needs to know. "You have to study what these tools look like, but sometimes you get lucky. This plane from Leopold Langille had the initials LPL and the date, 1751, so that one was easy, but if you want to do it seriously, you have to have reference books."
His interest in tools started during his youth in Scotland. "My grandfather had some old tools lying around and I had my eye on an old block plane. I thought it was nice, so I cleaned it up. Then, when I moved here in '67 or '68, I started seeing old tools in the junk shops. One day I saw a nice little one I liked and that was it - from there on in, I was a collector."
By the mid-1980s, he had more tools than space in his barn.
"A lot of people, when they start out, they'll pick up anything and everything just because they like the look of it, but eventually you get to the point where you look around and you say, 'damn, I can't move in here.' That's when you start to specialize.
Robin Wyllie looks at an 18th-century harpoon. Stacey Colwell photo credit
Robin Wyllie looks at an 18th-century harpoon. Stacey Colwell photo

"I took a bunch of stuff and sold it at an auction and that was it, it was all gone. Now I collect stuff manufactured in the Maritimes or Nova Scotia shop tools and 18th-century stuff."
Mr. Wyllie marvels at the quality of the tools he collects, all of which he has catalogued.
"The older ones have better steel. Mass production led to less-expensive manufacturing processes.
Newer steel, especially where woodworking planes are concerned, it's just not the same. It's very dull … you can take a Stanley plane that was made in the 1870s or 1880s and the steel in that blade would be better than the same Stanley plane made in the past couple years. There's an enormous difference."
He's also fascinated by the evolution of tools.
"They evolved over a very long period of time and then just stopped. Apart from the materials that were used in their construction, the design has stayed the same. An axe has looked like an axe since Lord knows when … you just reach a stage in a tool's design where you say, 'this is perfect - it works.'"
Despite being a rabid collector, his tools don't get used much. "I do odd jobs around the house with them. The other thing I use them for is to restore old tools," he laughs, adding the restoration process can be tedious.
"It has to be done gently. You can clean up the goop on it, but you have to be careful, because some of this stuff has been around for 250 years … you just try to get it back to looking like it should have when it was new. Some people have a tendency to overclean stuff, but I don't like that. You need to keep the original feel."
Because none of his children are collectors, he hopes to eventually find a suitable place to pass on his collection.
"I've identified the stuff with provenance, so hopefully that stuff will go somewhere that it'll be appreciated. In a lot of cases, it's not the museums, but some universities might show some interest. The rest will go to other collectors, who'll hang on to it and pass it on. "There are more collectibles just passed on from one collector to another than there is in any museum collection."

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Leopold Frederick Langille was born June 26, 1728 in Dampierre-les-bois, Montbeliard, France.
He died on September 17, 1817 in Halifax, Nova Scotia

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