Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Last Piece of the Puzzle

Note:  the first part of this story can be found at http://leadheadpencils.blogspot.com/2015/11/nooks-and-crannies-at-patent-office.html.

A few years ago I bought something not as a collector, but as a preservationist.  I thought this was important and I felt an obligation to preserve it, even though I wasn’t entirely sure what it meant.  The first part of the lot was this document:

“In consideration of the sum of Thirty Dollars the receipt whereof in full is hereby  acknowledged, I, George B. Adams, of Newark, New Jersey, do hereby sell and assign unto the Eagle Pencil Co. of New York City, the whole right, title and interest in and to certain inventions in Rubber Tip Attachments for pencils as fully set forth and claimed as per samples attached to this instrument.
. . .
“And I authorize and request the Commissioner of Patents to issue said letters patent to said assignees for the sole use and behoof of said assignees, their heirs and assigns.
“In witness whereof I have hereunto signed my name this 21st day of September, 1887.
George B. Adams”

This document was enclosed in an envelope indicating it was “received from A. Zoll” on June 20, 1958:

A note that accompanied the document contained an explanation, although a cryptic one:

One “Hy Blueweiss” sent a thank you note to Mr. Zoll for sending the agreement, and requested that a “Mrs. Coughlin” add it “to her collection for the museum.”   I don’t know who Blueweiss, Zoll or Couglin were, nor what museum they were referring to, but it does add an aura of provenance to the document.

I think Blueweiss’ comment that the agreement was accompanied by “the same of the idea” was a typo, and  “a sample of the same of the idea” was intended, since as the envelope suggests, there was a weird “rubber tip” pencil that accompanied the paperwork:

This group of stuff had to have all come together: the pencil, the 1887 document, the memorandum and the envelope with the notations.   Had I looked no further, I’d be content to say, as Blueweiss and company said nearly sixty years ago, “Nice.  Stick it in the museum.”

But this is where things get weird, and where my investigation was derailed for a few years. True, the pencil does a weird rubber tip, consistent with the documents.

However, on closer examination, something isn’t right.  The attachment was marked Eagle, but the date was about a decade off:

Patented March 7, 1876, eleven years before George B. Adams signed over rights to something to The Eagle Pencil Company.  Furthermore, when I tracked down that 1876 patent, I found that it didn’t have anything to do with the pencil I was holding in my hand:

That’s a round eraser, which is “advanced” as the ferrule is screwed down the pencil around it.  At this point, I was stuck.  I couldn’t find any patents that were issued to Eagle or its known agents, or to George B. Adams, after September 21, 1887 which matched the pencil included with the paperwork.  For the next five years or so, this one languished in the dead letter office, and I was beginning to think I had the wrong pencil with the paperwork. I wasn’t sure what the right this one was.

When I sat down to start writing my first patent book in late 2013, the George Adams mystery was on my short list of things I was hoping would be revealed after I went through all the patents in category 401.  It was not, but I came close: I found a patent issued to George B. Adams in August, 1887, as patent number 368,440:

Close, but not quite.   Adams applied for this on June 14, 1887, it was issued on August 16, 1887 and it was assigned on publication to Eagle.  Why would George sign an assignment of an idea to Eagle more than a month later, encouraging the Commissioner of Patents to issue letters to Eagle’s “behoof”?

The answer finally came, as these answers usually do, when I was looking for something else.  While I was researching an Eberhard Faber patent from January 31, 1888 for the article which posted yesterday, I found that the Faber patent was categorized under an odd classification I hadn’t known about before, and in which only 38 patents have ever been classified:: Class 15, “Brushing, Scrubbing and General Cleaning,” in Subcategory 434, “Eraser, directly adjustable erasive body.”  The Faber patent was only the second ever issued in that subcategory.  What do you suppose was the first?

Joseph Hoffman, Eagle’s prolific inventor and the man who patented Eagle’s “Stop Gauge” pencils, received patent number 376,196 on January 10 1888 for what is definitely my pencil.  The application date that is important: March 12, 1887.  Hoffman applied for his patent three months before George B. Adams applied for something nearly identical, yet Adams received his patent while Eagle’s remained pending.

I don’t know whether Adams was employed by Eagle in the 1880s, or whether he was an independent inventor - his 1887 patent was the only one he assigned to Eagle.  What is clear is that Adams stepped aside for the princely sum of thirty dollars, clearing the way for Hoffman to receive patent number 376,196, issued in an obscure, out-of-the-way category.  Perhaps Hoffman’s patent was filed there in order to avoid an interference action to determine whose invention came first!

Yes - this paper is important.  Now that the full story is revealed, yes – I believe this is in fact the pencil which accompanied the paperwork when it was signed in 1887.  I believe it is a prototype for Hoffman’s 1888 patent eraser retainer, fashioned from an older model Eagle attachment which just happened to be stamped with an 1876 patent date.

And maybe . . . just maybe . . . it was Joseph Hoffman himself who cobbled this together in his workshop.

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