This article has been edited and included in The Leadhead's Pencil Blog Volume 6, now on sale at The Legendary Lead Company:
These are over-the-top steampunk cool, as far as I’m concerned:
I’ve seen a few of these over the years, but I’ve passed on them because they are usually made of thinner metal and they are usually pretty beat up – yet they still run a lot more than I’ve been willing to pay regardless of condition, because of the cool surprise inside.
The surprise is what happens when you slide that square outer section down towards the tip:
Concealed inside are an ink pad and stamp, which spring into position automatically. This example is better than most; the metal is thicker, so it’s held up much better than most and has a nice, substantial feel to it. There’s what looks like a cigar piercer on the top end:
Well, if it isn't a cigar piercer, that would be a good use for it judging from the cut it left on my thumb when I forgot how these dumb things work and pushed down on it!
As you can kind of see in that last picture, there’s quite a bit of patent information . . . and I love me a good patent story:
“Patented / Sep 20 ‘87 - Apr 3 ‘88 / Jan. 15, 1889.” I opened American Writing Instrument Patents 1799-1910 to see what these were all about, turned to September 20, 1887, and . . . I listed two patents, one for a pencil sharpener and the other for a stylographic pen. Nothing that has anything to do with this one . . . swing and a miss, I guess.
On to April 3, 1888 . . . I didn’t list any patents filed on that date. Strike two.
With an 0-2 count, I turned the page and moved on to January 15, 1889, hoping I didn’t entirely whiff on this one – and crack! – this one sailed right out of the park:
Edwin Reynolds applied for what would be issued as patent 396,233 on August 29, 1887, for his “rubber stamp” which just happened to be attached to a pencil (and therefore, just happened to be filed in category 401, where most other writing instrument patents are). The drawings and text don’t say whether that sharp ring on the top is supposed to be a cigar punch, and the text says the pencil “is provided with a removable point-cap, B.”
Because a non-removable “point-cap” would be terrible. I kid . . . no, I’m just salty that mine might be missing a cap. Maybe, maybe not – it certainly wouldn’t have been essential, and I’ve never seen one of these with a cap.
I was also salty that only one of the three patents imprinted on Edwin Reynolds’ pencil was listed in the book. It’s like Ted Williams said: “Baseball is the only field of endeavor where a man can succeed three times out of ten and be considered a good performer.”
And this ain’t baseball.
So I went back to retrace my steps. I wrote American Writing Instrument Patents 1799-1910 because when all you have to go on is a patent date, without the book you might not find the one you are looking for without reviewing all the patents issued on that date one by one – and there are hundreds that were issued on each day.
Why bother when you can just do a Google Patent search, you might ask? Reynolds’ patent right here is the perfect example: the title of the patent is “rubber stamp,” and the metadata preserved by the USPTO (and perpetuated by Google) is . . . drum roll . . . “Title is not available.” All Google Patents does is make what text there is searchable, and as with all OCR scans, it contains errors. Even when I search “rubber stamp” “January 15 1889,” I get nothing, and that assumes I could have known the title of the patent was “rubber stamp” when I went looking for it.
Fortunately, Google Patents was helpful once I had both a date and a name – and also fortunately, our man Edwin Reynolds was the same person who took out patents on September 20, 1887, for a rubber stamp having nothing to do with writing instruments:
And on April 3, 1888, for just the top part, which could be mounted on anything . . . even, to carry on the analogy, on the end of a baseball bat:
Both of these patents were filed in category 101, and neither was filed in category 401 for writing instruments. American Writing Instrument Patents 1799-1910 was right three times out of three, after all.
I haven’t found advertisements for Reynolds’ stamping pencil, but that may be from the fact that they’ve been overshadowed by all of the man’s other accomplishments. This biography of him was published in Modern Machinery in March, 1900:
By the way, I found it interesting that this biography turned up when I searched “Edwin Reynolds stamp,” but there’s no mention of today’s patents in the piece – the stamps referred to were much larger pieces of machinery which “stamped” rocks in order to crush them and extract copper ore.
He was born in 1831, and after working as a machinist at machine shops in Connecticut and Ohio before becoming the superintendent at Steadman & Co. in Aurora, Indiana, which manufactured engines, sawmills and drainage pumps for Mississippi plantations, an industry which was abruptly halted at the start of the Civil War in 1861.
(Social justice warriors take note: industrialization of the Antebellum South reduced the need for slave labor, so don’t go painting Reynolds in a bad light for that chapter in his career!)
With the decline of Steadman’s fortunes, Reynolds left Indiana and eventually settled in Providence, Rhode Island, which he still claimed as his residence when his stamping pencils were patented in 1889. However, after the financial panic of 1873, he was sought out by Edward Allis, whose Milwaukee machine shop was bankrupted and reorganized as the Edward P. Allis Company. Reynolds joined Allis in 1877 and the company became very successful manufacturing steam engines. Allis died in 1889 and Reynolds assumed control of the company.
In a fateful meeting around 1900, Reynolds met William Chalmers, who ran a local machinery and stamping mill firm (there’s “stamps” again). You guessed it – the Allis-Chalmers Company was incorporated on March 8, 1901. For all you city types who have never heard of an Allis-Chalmers tractor, that might not mean much . . . but the move transformed Reynolds from accomplished inventor and businessman to major industrialist.
By 1902, Reynolds’ resume continued to expand even further; he had become president of both the German American Bank and the Milwaukee Boiler Company, in addition to remaining Chief Engineer at Allis-Chalmers. Presidency of the Edward P. Allis Company had been passed on to Edward Allis’ son William. Pictures of the two men were prominently featured side by side in Notable Men of Wisconsin in 1902:
On January 16, 1902, Engineering News reported that Edwin Reynolds had been elected President of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. “Few men, who have attained such eminence in the engineering profession, have risen from humbler beginnings, or have had less to aid in their progress, aside from their own energy and ability, than Mr. Reynolds,” the announcement said.
Edwin Reynolds died after a long illness on February 19, 1909, leaving behind an industrial legacy few others have achieved. He also left us one unassuming footnote to his career – these odd little stamping pencils – by which I’ll always remember him.
Edwin’s great idea persists to this day, including this recent incarnation: two of his patents were referenced in a patent issued to Herbert Rigoni on September 19, 2000:
That list of patents also includes a patent that predates the Reynolds: an “Emerson” patent issued in January, 1886 as number 334,008. Out of curiosity, and since I already had the patent number in hand, I had to take a peek:
Victor H. Emerson’s patent, issued on January 12, 1886, is titled “Hand-Stamp.” However, his drawings clearly shows his invention attached to a writing instrument, so I stepped back up to the plate and checked American Writing Instrument Patents 1799-1910.
Yep, it’s in there. Batted a thousand this time!