Monday, November 30, 2015

Nooks and Crannies at the Patent Office

My last purchase at the Ohio Show this year was this little guy, which Myk Daigle brought over to show me just as I was packing up:

This bullet-shaped metal case is stamped “E. Faber / NY / Pat Jan. 31, 88" on the side:

The top pulls off to reveal what appears to be a very old eraser:

An eraser is exactly what this turned out to be.  You won’t find the patent in my book, because it was classified off the beaten path in class 15, “Brushing, Scrubbing and General Cleaning,” in subcategory 434, “Eraser, directly adjustable erasive body.”  The January 31, 1888 on this little guy refers to patent number 377,209, issued to Frederick G. Osborn and assigned to Eberhard Faber.

Osborn’s patent was supposed to solve the problem of erasers stuck so tightly in their holders that they could not be turned and advanced.  His invention featured a slightly necked-down holder which only comes into contact with the eraser at the threaded portion, so that (in theory) the eraser can be turned and advanced.   Maybe, at one time, this worked – but 130 years later, this fossilized hunk of rubber isn’t going anywhere now.

Note also the squared-off, hexagonal cap shown in the drawings.  “I prefer to provide a polygonal head . . . so as to prevent the case rolling when laid down,” Osborn writes.  Faber apparently elected instead to prevent the case from looking less cool than it could by giving it a bullet-shaped profile.

All of the above is pretty neat.

And now that I’ve done the research, none of the above is what has me excited.

As I mentioned earlier, this patent wasn’t in my book because it was in one out of those mind-numbing number of little subcategories into which little piles of obscure patents like these have been tucked away.  Usually, I only stumble across these when an artifact stamped with a patent date surfaces and leads me in that direction.

So here I was in one of those out-of-the-way little corners, in a subcategory that has only been used 38 times since 1790.  Osborn’s eraser holder was the second earliest one filed, so out of curiosity, I clicked on the oldest – patent number 376,196.  My jaw dropped.

There, glowing from my computer screen, was an invention with which I was intimately familiar, and for which I have been searching for years.

Note:  the second part of this story can be found at

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