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Most people say that the best was the last of the "sweetheart" embossed planes. Type 15 1931-1932.
Sweethearts are Type 12 - 15 or 1919 - 1932.
I have a type 8 that is very nice with the low knob (nicer than the high knob IMO) but they have no frog adjusting screw.
Much after 1932 the quality declines exponentially. Dot be too quick to discount the WWII planes though, some were awesome as they were made with parts that were left over from the earlier models and most of the soles were thicker cast iron during those years. I have a 4 1/2 from WWII and it is perfect, only thing that really defines it as WWII is the fact that the blade adjuster is bakelite instead of brass.
From what I have been able to garner, the type 15 study plane is considered the optimum that Stanley built because it has the frog adjusting screw, high front knob with the embossed ring in the casting that prevents it from cracking, the larger diameter adjusting knob for the iron depth, the solid iron adjusting lever, and the rosewood totes. That said: its what you find the best if you are going to use it. My "newest" one of four Stanleys (#s 4 - type 10, 5 - type 11, 6 type 14, & 7 - type 13) is a type 14, which has the high front knob without the embossed ring (the only difference between it and the 15). I keep the iron sharp and have not had a problem with the front knob cracking. I have not found the smaller adjustment knob on the #4 and #5 a problem, but that could be because they have the 2" wide iron and the #6 and # 7 have a 2 3/8" wide iron (both of those have the 1 1/4" diameter adjustment knob). I also have a #5 Marshall Wells plane (Stanley knock-off) that does not have the frog adjusting screw, and the tote is some other wood?? In reality, it is not much more of a problem to adjust the frog than the Stanleys. You still have to remove the iron to loosen the frog screws on both. The blade is thinner, tho, and it did not come with a cap-iron, so I bought a heavy Hock cap-iron, and it performs quite well. As for the high or low knob, I am used to what I have and have never really given it a lot of consideration.
If you are going to buy one as a collector, you need to get very familiar with the different parts (irons, cap-irons, lever caps, adjusting screws, depth adjustment knob, tote design, knob design, casting marks, tote screws, lateral adjustment levers, frogs, etc) to match all the parts to the particular type study plane. Many have a mismatch of parts when you buy them.
If you are buying one to use, you want to make sure all the parts are there, and that the sole is not too badly warped/corroded, and not cracked around the mouth. Severe wear in front of the mouth will also cause one not to function properly. Totes/ knobs can be made or bought. A reconditioned original rosewood tote can cost as much as the rest of the plane, tho and there is no way to tell if it is an original (without a forensic laboratory!). If the blade depth adjustment yoke is cracked or broken, it will not work.
A good condition #5 Stanley type 15 is readily available for about $50. Other types in good condition are readily available for about $40 - 45. I bought my #5 type 11 for $15, but had to put some hours into it to get it fettled where it works like I want.
If you want to use the plane, and are not familiar with hand planes, my advice, (which is not worth anything) is to buy a complete plane and use it. Get to know how to "fettle" it from the internet or an experienced user, and then you will know what to look for. Even if you plan to be a collector, getting a cheap one and learning how to use it will greatly assist you in evaluating one's worth.
My credentials are minimal: I am retired and build some furniture for my home and other family members. I do not have a power thickness planer, so use hand planes to joint, square, flattten and dimension boards (with the help of my TS3650) I use mainly mill lumber (rough cut) for the raw source of material.
Look in the June issue of Popular Woodworking magazine, issue #162. There's a good article on handplanes and shows the difference in the construction of the old Stanley planes and their top of the line planes.