Revival of the Proto J100


The Revival

Proto has finally given me the green light to tell the world that they have the first new batch of J100’s in hand. In the next couple of months you’ll start seeing them pop up at your favorite Proto retailer. By now you’re asking yourself what a J100 is aren’t you? Well, it just might be the one tool you’ll carry with you everywhere you go (quite literally).

In today’s world where marketing is largely based on clicks, likes, and shares, websites, forums, and social media have made it easy for companies to get their products in front of hundreds of thousands of people in a short amount of time. With over 16,000 YouTube subscribers and several million page views from around the globe, TIA is a great example of how the internet has changed the way companies showcase their products over the last 20 or so years.

At it’s core, the idea of marketing is the same as it’s always been. The goal is to make sure consumers know your name and trust your products, but the method of achieving this is drastically different. In the days of old companies used any number of advertising trinkets some of which were pens, lighters, calendars, matchbooks, and (todays focus) keychains, in addition to TV and radio advertising. Most of these trinkets were temporary. A matchbook lasts as long as a pack of cigarettes, and a calendar for a whole year, but the keychain….. it had staying power.

 

The J100 Backstory

As far back as the 1920’s Proto (known as Plomb until 1948) was distributing keychain screwdrivers (J100’s) as an advertising item. Proto distributers and customers would order them with their name or logo stamped on the back to give to customers as a sort of business card. For a period of time they were also given out free with a catalog request, and they were of course available for purchase. They were also handed out as souvenirs for special events, conventions, etc.

Here is the J100 as it appeared in the 1933 catalog for $ .20
Here is the J100 as it appeared in the 1933 catalog for $ .20

 

The J100’s were a popular item and remain collectable even today. They pop up regularly at flea markets and on eBay and the earlier, rarer examples can bring $50 or more in great condition while later, more common versions go from $5-$10. If they’re on the original card an otherwise common example can go for top money.

J100 5

Over the years as the Plomb logo changed, the company transitioned to Proto, changed ownership, etc., the J100’s changed too. If you know what to look for, you can easily narrow them down to a fairly specific period of time.

Even through Proto’s transition to Pendleton in 1957, their acquisition by Ingersoll Rand in 1964, and their purchase by Stanley in 1984, the J100 remained. They remained in production until sometime around 2002 when the tooling was broken during transport to a different production facility and was not replaced……until the summer of 2014.

 

Behold The New Proto J100

J100 New

Ok, so maybe that was a lot of building up to such a simple little tool, but as a Proto Junkie it does my heart good to see that Proto is reviving the tradition. It’s handy, it’s nostalgic, and it’s pretty darn cool. In true retro form, the new J100’s will be available only in slotted versions. Clearly the new J100 looks different than it’s predecessors, but it’s definitely a cool design.

J100 now and then

I’d like to be the first to welcome the J100 back to the Proto catalog. You’re probably not nearly as excited as I am, but in any event, you heard it first at Tools In Action.

 

Further Reading 

If I haven’t lost you yet, and you have any interest in vintage Proto, below is my fairly complete collection of J100’s as well as info on how to date them. The same stamping information applies not only to the J100’s, but just about any other Plomb/Proto item as well.

 

Pre-1934

J100 Pre-34

In 1934 Plomb replaced the O in Plomb with an upside down triangle in their stampings, so  we can easily tell this driver is prior to that.

 

1934 -1939

J100 34-39

This driver features the upside down triangle, but also says Los Angeles. In late 1939 Plomb began stamping their tools USA instead of LA, so we known this example is no older than 1934, and no newer than 1939.

 

1940 -1949

J100 40-49

We know this example is no older than 1940 (possibly late 39) as it contains Plvmb and USA. By the 1942 production year the United Staes was devoting all available resources to the war effort. Plomb was a major tool supplier to the military and it’s highly doubtful the J100’s were produced continuously (if at all) through WWII. There are lots of neat tools and unusual features from WWII that I’ll be happy to cover in another article if the interest is there, but in the interest of staying on topic, we know that the next distinct change didn’t come until at least 1949.

 

1949 – 1956

In 1946 Plomb was sued by the Plumb tool company for violation of what amounted to a handshake agreement that Plomb not sell hammers. It’s a long story and could be an article of it’s own, but the Cliff’s Notes is that Plomb ended up changing their name to Proto. There was a period of time where there were tools stamped both Plomb and Proto, “grind offs” with no name at all, and others, but what we know for sure is that as early as 1949 there were tools stamped Proto Los Angeles and the Plomb name was gone forever by March 25, 1950. There are 2 J100’s from this period and it was also during this era that Black Oxide finished J100’s appeared for the first time

J100 LA 1

 While I cannot say for sure what year the silhouette was added, I can confirm it was used by 1955 as I have a dated example.

While I cannot say for sure what year the silhouette was added, I can confirm it was used by 1955 as I have a dated example.

 

1957 – 63

In 1957 Los Angeles was again replaced with USA in the stampings. This example is pretty commonly found. There would not be another change until Ingersoll Rand purchased Proto in 1964

J100 57-63

 

1964 – 1984

Ingersoll Rand purchased Proto in February 1964 and changed the logo. Therefore, we can easily identify this example as being from that period by the distinctive silhouette. This was the longest produced and thus most common J100.

J100 64-84

 

1984 – 2002

Stanley purchased Proto from IR in April 1984 and there is absolutely no mistaking the J100’s from that period.

J100 84-02

 

Specials

In addition to the examples above, there were 2 anniversary drivers. A 50th Anniversary edition in 1957, and a 75th in 1982. These are hard to come by and sadly, I can’t even offer a pic. These are rare and if you happen to locate one, email me. Seriously, get ahold of me. I’ll pay good money or offer you a killer trade.

Other specials were given out as souvenirs at special events and such. This example on the original card comes from the Los Angeles Tool Convention on November 18, 1955 and was acquired when the Plomb museum collection was being sold off:

J100 3

There were also Proto Canada versions as well as plain Ingersoll Rand version from that era.

J100 1

 

If you’ve made it this far I commend you. This was a true tool nerd moment and I’m honored to have shared it with you. As always, thanks for reading, and stay tuned to TIA.

 

 

 

22 COMMENTS

      • Hi Travis, regarding Proto Tool and screwdriver key , my Husband’s Aunt worked for Morris B Pendleton for many, many, many years. I have Gold ones and many, many black ones all with Proto tool, Pendleton Tool 1907-57 one of the gold on back reads Challenger Chicago. Please email me or I’ll come look for you. I have so much info on Morris as he and Evelyn had a muchroom ranch in Orange County too. I have all the keys!!! He had her name engraved on some but the solid gold ones Ii found in an envelope. Evelyn worked all her life for Morris.

    • I started formatting this article back in the spring when I first found out the J100’s were coming back so that when the new one finally came, I could just add in the info on the new one and be done with it. Guess I’m not much of an Editor huh? 😆

  1. Good article.

    I have a promotional J100 that my Grandfather gave me in the ’80s. There are no manufacturer stampings on it, only advertising for a local Dealership on one side and a local Ag Supply company on the other. I have carried it daily since then and it still works and looks great!

    Would sure be nice to have the name of our current business on a run of these for customer appreciation!

  2. I have one with Pendleton tool 1907-57 stamped on one side and M.S bandoli on the other side and I can’t find any information on it

  3. Mine looks like a 57-63 model, stamped “Adroit Supply Co, 620 W Adams” on the back. Found this in my Dad’s stuff when packing his workshop. I looked up the Adroit info, was a supply company in Arizona, Dad must have picked it up during a summer teachers training program at ASU in the late ’60’s (he was an Illinois resident his entire life). I now carry it with me.

  4. Too fun! I never suspected to find any info on my grandfather’s old 34-39 Plomb J100 but I now now more than I thought possible.
    Still carry it around and got thinking of finding similar ones as Christmas stocking stuffers.
    Darned good steel in that thing! I hope newer versions are as hard.

  5. Travis – I have a chrome plated 75th anniversary PROTO pocket screwdriver.
    I can part with it when I know it’s going to your collection.
    Email me if you’re interested.

  6. Hard to believe, I have had a Proto catalog for 3 years now, and only knew these existed early this year. Proto’s main dealers always showed something that didn’t quite look like either J-100 at all–a thin, stamped steel affair; with an eyeglass screwdriver at the top. The Proto website doesn’t have a photo; and the Proto rep I contacted was as confused as I was. After the 2019 catalog came out this week–I noticed Grainger finally updated the photo. So, at $6 each, I bought four; mainly as keychain pry tools to replace the gimmicky, imported Nite Ize Doohickey. The old Craftsman 4-in-1 is a good design, but not long enough (or sturdy) to be a good pry tool. It doesn’t have the carabiner clip of the Doohickey, but Nite Ize does make some tiny S-Biners that work great for things you’ll often be removing from keys–such as lights (the Olight i1R on my keys is rechargeable, and I charge it weekly), pry bars, and knives.

    Nowadays, anything that isn’t pen or paper is just something that’ll break in a week. Nobody gives quality anything out anymore. I know of only one company in my area that still gives out pocket screwdrivers; when during the period my Grandfather was heavily involved in the coal mining industry; ’70s-mid ’90s)–there were dozens! He and I both still use those screwdrivers; I often carry a couple of the knives (he still has most in his collection; I got a few as a kid when I got into collecting), and there are nail clippers we both still use as well (he had dozens of those as well). Bassett is out of business–so no more good nail clippers! At least a few still give out pretty good baseball caps that last years before wearing out. What companies do give out; is quite embarassing. Pens that don’t write well at all (as of late, I’ve noticed very, very few are Bics or Papermate), chintzy gimmicks that break in a couple days, or a phone charger that is more likely to burn a house than charge a phone (besides, it’s not even UL tested!).

  7. Thank you! I’ve been carrying one of these on my keychain for a while now, but I didn’t know it had much history. Now I know I’m toting a vintage, 1964-1985 model. If only there were some explanation for the cryptic stamping on the back that reads:

    Overseas
    MED. CT.
    L.A. 17

    Even if I never figure that out, it’s a great, stout little tool–I use it more for light prying tasks that anything else.

  8. A friend of mine found one in a fishing box, neither of us knew nothing about it other than it was a screwdriver, he gave it to me and I decided to investigate more about it, now I know that it’s a 1949 – 1956 era one, on the back side it says Urich-Nelson Motor that it was a mercury dealership on 501 South Atlantic Blvd East Los Angeles CA.
    it is something awesome to have a piece of metal thats near 70 years old, i can’t imagine all the things that been through and how helpful it was to the previous owners

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