Friday, September 16, 2016

That Third Interesting Holland

When I started writing yesterday’s article, I had planned to explain each of these three early John Hollands:


While I was able to wrap up two of them in fairly short order, the story that emerged from the third was a little longer than one day’s worth of reading.  You wouldn’t know it from the fairly innocuous imprint on one side:


“Jno. Holland 7.”  As with yesterday’s 1876 patent Holland, the number is a reference to the size of the nib with which the holder was to be fitted.    I wish I could say this one was has a No. 7 Holland nib still in it, but alas, it’s a smaller No. 6 that’s a little buggered up.  What is really interesting about this piece, though, is what’s imprinted on the other side:


“A.G. Day’s Pat.Aug.10,58.”   In the early 1850s, hard rubber production was dominated by Nelson Goodyear, whose patent on its production, issued on May 6, 1851, is imprinted on so many victorian pencils.    Day’s patent pencils, though, are scarce as hen’s teeth. One of the pencils I had a hard time getting a clear shot of from the article the other day had that same imprint, although it was nearly impossible to make out the date:


Austin G. Day’s patent, number 21,122,  was not for the writing instrument itself, but for an improvement in the manufacture of hard rubber, or as it was called at the time, “caoutchouc”:


The text of Day’s patent reveals a bit of the scuffling that was going on in the hard rubber industry at the time, and of a bit of sleight of hand Day alleges Goodyear attempted:

“It is also known that Nelson Goodyear, in 1851, on the 6th day of May, patented a process of making what is usually called “hard-rubber compounds;” but which is exactly defined by the patentee calling it in his first claim ‘a hard and inflexible substance hitherto unknown.”  I call particular attention to that hard and inflexible rubber compound, because in a reissue of the same patent on the 18th day of May, 1858, the character of inflexibility then recently discovered and claimed by the patentee and considered as its chief recommendation is hardly recognized in the reissued patent of 1858; but other and different features seem to have taken its place.”

In short, Day alleges that Goodyear originally patented a hard and inflexible rubber; his reissued patent seven years later, however, wasn’t for the same stuff and was an attempt to bootstrap a new patent out of the old one – presumably, to preserve 1851 priority.  Is that true?

Here’s Goodyear’s original patent of May 6, 1851:


After Nelson Goodyear died, his successors sought the reissuance of his patent, apparently because of claims (by unnamed adversaries) that his specifications weren’t clear enough to support the issuance of his original patent.  His estate was awarded Reissue Patent 556 and 557, both on May 18, 1858:



To coin a patent law term, “Reissue, my butt.”  Day was absolutely correct that the “reissuance” of Goodyear’s 1851 patent was an attempt to expand the rights he previously secured, not to rearticulate them.  Litigation was swift and furious, courts seemed predisposed to give Nelson Goodyear the benefit of the doubt, and Day’s new flexible version of hard rubber, made with a much higher ratio of sulphur to rubber gum, was quickly absorbed under the umbrella of Goodyear’s newly reissued patents:


According to this summary, written a few decades later with the benefit of hindsight, it was Austin G. Day and not Nelson Goodyear who invented the hard rubber which would become useful in the manufacture of pens and pencils, among so many other victorian pieces.  However, while “Goodyear’s brittle compound has never been an article of commerce . . . his representatives have succeeded in monopolizing Day’s invention under the plea that it was covered by Goodyear’s patent.”

That’s a good story . . . if it’s true.  The part about Goodyear’s patent being held valid, even in its reissued state, and all comers who challenged it being vanquished in Court, is true.  But did Day truly “invent” a flexible version of Goodyear’s vulcanized hard rubber?

No.

Whether Goodyear should have been rewarded with a monopoly for his sloppy drafting in his original patent is a matter of opinion.  But if we assume the Austin G. Day was the father of flexible hard rubber because unlike Goodyear, he added a lot more sulfur to the mix – 1 part sulphur to every 2 parts of rubber gum, as opposed to Goodyear’s much smaller quantity – he didn’t come up with that idea on his own.  Charles Goodyear published a book in 1852 under the cumbersome title, Gum-Elastic and Its Varieties, with a Detailed Account of its Applications and Uses and of The Discovery of Vulcanization:


The book was uploaded to archive.org and can be read at https://archive.org/stream/gumelasticitsva121853good#page/n8/mode/1up.  On page 182, Charles Goodyear notes that hard rubber can be made flexible by varying the degree of heat and the proportions of the ingredients:


And here’s the clincher.  If you think it’s a stretch that Austin G. Day of Seymour, Connecticut would have read Charles Goodyear’s 1852 book, and drew from it the recipe he patented in 1858, there’s something else you should see:


The copy of Goodyear’s book which was uploaded to archive.org was the very copy owned by Austin G. Day.  And why shouldn’t he own a copy?


According to a 1954 article in Rubber World commemorating the 100th Anniversary of A.G. Day’s rubber business, G. was short for Goodyear – Austin Goodyear Day was Charles’ cousin.

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