Is there a difference between "Vintage" Coticules and recently mined ones?
The answer is yes and no.
Till the second half of the previous century, Coticules have been mined at several different locations, all within the wider area of the Belgian town Vielsalm, by several mining companies. They all extracted raw Coticule rock from either one of 2 principle deposits, one extending from the village Regné all the way to the village Ottré, and another one extending from Salm-Château to the South of village Lierneux. There are a few additional, minor, deposits in the vicinity of the village Sart. The geological origin of all these Coticule deposits is the same. In spite of popular belief, the fomer mines were not abandoned because they were depleted, but because extracting the narrow Coticule layers is so labor-intensive that it eventually became no longer economically feasible in a shrinking market, with the laboring costs within a post-industrial country. It is in all fairness, not possible to assess the distinct properties of the hones produced by mining companies that closed long time ago. All the more because some wholesaling companies obtained Coticules from several mining companies and branded them with a large number of labels, sometimes marketed towards different user groups.
With the above in mind, the anwer is "yes". There are vintage Coticules that come form layers that are currently not under exploitation, mined at locations that are long abandoned. Although it is not possible to identify them, "vintage" Coticule can be bought that originate from obsolete layers.
On the other hand, the answer is also "no". From the currently mined layers, there is no single reason why the rock that is mined today would be any different from the rock that was mined 100 years ago. Coticule rock was formed approximately 480 000 000 years ago, a few 100 years more or less won't make any difference. One could argue that "they picked the best rocks first", but such an argument forgoes the fact that Coticule rock runs as thin layers almost vertically in the underground. Mining it is not a matter of grabbing what is best, but primarily a matter of what comes first and what is the easiest to extract.
Furthermore, elaborate comparison between a number of randomly obtained "vintage" Coticules and a large group of recently mined ones from all currently active layers, has not revealed any additional differences between "vintage" and "recent", other than the variance found within the recent production. That variance is mainly a matter of abrasive speed. There are vintage Coticules as fast as the fastest recently mined Coticules, and that statement can also be made for the slowest Coticules in the spectrum. When it comes to edge finishing properties when the whetstones are used without raising an abrasive slurry, the differences between Coticules, both vintage and recently mined are too small to be quantifiable within any scientific bearing. Such assessments remain in the field of vague impressions, easily overruled by differences in the steel of the tool and other external factors that interfere with objective assessment.
The bottom line is that, unless you are a collector who esteems the historical value of a yesteryears whetstones, their labels and boxes, the word "vintage" is out of place. For sharpening practices, it is fair to speak about second-hand Coticules, and if you can buy them at a second-hand price, they are as good a deal as a recently mined one.
Last update on 2010-10-31 by Bart Torfs.