Scientific American, v 4 (ns) no 4, p 55, 26 January 1861
The "Original" Revolver -- Colt's Patent, etc.
Messrs. Editors: -- I notice that a correspondent of the Petersburg (Va.) Daily Express has come to the conclusion that the original revolver of the Colt style is the one described by that celebrated traveler, Bayard Taylor, in his book entitled "At Home and Abroad." From what this distinguished gentleman says, I am led to believe that he is of the same opinion. My object in writing this letter is to deny that conclusion, and to point out the genuine, original revolving firearm. I will quote Bayard Taylor's words: --
Warwick Castle, only six miles distant, offers a remarkable contrast to Kenilworth. Like the latter, the date of its foundation is unknown, and its most ancient part bears the name of "Caesar's Tower;" but, while Kenilworth is fast crumbling to pieces, this remains entire, and is inhabited in every part. ... We saw, also, the armory, which is usually closed to visitors. It is rich in the ancient armor and rare and curious objects, among which I may mention the crystal-hilted dagger of Queen Elizabeth, her skirt of chain mail, her saddle and the trappings of her horse; but I was most struck with two things -- a revolving musket, more than two hundred years old, and a mask, taken from the face of Oliver Cromwell after death. The revolver (of the antiquity of which there can be no doubt) is almost precisely similar to Colt's, having a single barrel to which is attached a revolving cylinder containing six chambers. There is a flint lock and pan to each chamber, and the firing of one discharge brings the succeeding chamber to the barrel. I had been aware of the existence of this curious weapon, but was not prepared to find the idea of a revolver so perfectly developed. (Page 56 et seq.)
The original one, similar to Colt's in style, is in existence at the present time, and was on exhibition at the Mechanical and Agricultural Fair at Newbern, N.C., in 1859. The inventor was a poor man (a blacksmith), and scarcely could get the necessary funds to pay his traveling expenses and for his patent. His friends (?) laughed at his folly -- the absurdity of spending what little money he had in such a reckless manner. He finally started, but between Richmond and Washington City he lost his fortune.
It is useless for me to say more; the balance of the story may be imagined. The poor man returned home to be laughed at and scorned and reproached for his shallowness of mind. Alas! poor Gill, the blacksmith, died, and was buried
"Unwept, unhonored and unsung."
Any information concerning this revolver can be obtained by addressing the Mayor, Frederick Lane, or the Matthews family, at Newbern, the latter of whom own this "implement of warfare." The one intended and used as a model has fourteen chambers, instead of five or six, as have the most of Colt's make. The barrel is brass. While I was editing the Newbern Gazette, I kept putting off my description and illustration of this instrument until the paper was discontinued. Revolving fire arms have an origin, and the nation should know who is the original inventor. I am, etc.,
Thomas R. Murray
Lake Landing, N.C., Jan 12, 1861
The New President and the Commissioner of Patents
The President elect has recently passed through this city, on his way to Washington, to assume the duties of Chief Magistrate; but, while he has been warmly welcomed everywhere by thousands of people, if we take the concurrent testimony of the daily press, a crowd of hungry office seekers have followed the Presidential train, the number increasing at every point of arrival and departure, doubtless much to the annoyance of the "coming man." Even the legislative and executive authorities of this State got into a petty squabble as to which should do the honors at the State Capital, one facetious Senator, looking on and enjoying the fun, having moved to telegraph the President elect to switch off at Schenectady, and proceed direct to New York by the way of Troy. All the way down to the Federal Capital the expectants pushed on, and are now waiting under the eaves of the Presidential mansion, in breathless suspense, for the working of the political machine.
These free demonstrations are entirely in consonance with our ideas of enlarged freedom. All native-born citizens being eligible to the highest office in the gift of the people, and few unwilling to accept it, or almost any other on the sliding scale; patriotism to serve the State thus becomes a business commodity, which drought and rains cannot affect. It is supposed that no office has less than one hundred applicants, while for some a State or city directory might be filled in with a list of patriots to be selected from at random. We understand that there are half a hundred aspirants for the office of Commissioner of Patents, fifty of whom we hope to see doomed to disappointment. This matter is not to be left to the free choice of the President, to whose judgment we would gladly defer, but that special engineering is to be resorted to, in order to fill the office with a Simon Pure politician, one who will be true to all the blinding behests of party.
Our readers will bear witness that we have earnestly contended against debasing the Patent Office into a political cesspool, to be groveled in by a mess of loafers, such as hang about Custom Houses and other hot beds of political corruption. The Patent Office has gradually become demoralized, and is losing that dignified position which it enjoyed even but a short time ago, some of its attaches being unfitted, either mentally or morally, to fill the places they now occupy; and inventors have become, in some degree, disgusted with the whole concern. Who is qualified to assume the important office of renovating this great national repository of genius, and administering its legal and scientific details? who shall succeed Judge Mason and Joseph Holt in this important office? are questions that concern every citizen. Shall he be a Congressional lobbyist? Shall he be a broken down politician, without wit, wisdom or reliability? Or shall he be a man against whom the breath of suspicion cannot be raised? It is well understood that no man can administer the duties of that office acceptably, without proper legal qualifications. He may have all the scientific knowledge of Solomon Gills, be able to make a clock, take down the north star and weigh it, solve all the difficult problems in Euclid, operate for cataract on the eye, stuff patients with gamboge, bleed, blister and bolus -- he may even have been a member of Congress -- served in patent committees and tried his hand in vain attempts to patch up the patent system, and yet utterly fail to make an acceptable Commissioner of Patents.
For our part (and we utter the views of thousands), the office can best be filled by the appointment of some one who has had little or no experience in the corrupting influence of Washington life -- a new man -- who can grasp the details of the office, and administer its duties without fear or favor. Such a man can succeed, and gain the approbation of all. But if certain aspirants who are struggling for the office succeed in imposing themselves upon Mr. Lincoln, he will have occasion to regret his unwise choice, as such an appointment will surely degrade the office, and disappoint the just expectations of the people.
We referred, a few weeks ago, to the fact that Hon. Butler G. Noble, of Wisconsin, had been suggested as the person most likely to be appointed to the office of Commissioner of Patents. That his appointment would give general satisfaction, we have no doubt; but what his views of the matter are we do not know, as we never exchanged a word with Mr. Noble, either directly or indirectly, upon this subject, nor do we intend to. Some of his friends are urging his appointment on the ground of fitness, a question upon which there is but one opinion among those who know him. We wish very distinctly to be understood that we have no candidate for this office, and are prepared to support any man who is able and reliable. We think the selection should be made of some Western or Southern man, who is above all suspicion of complicity with patent schemes. We have no favors to ask, and shall expect none, from whoever is appointed, and shall support or oppose him according to his official acts. There are very many inventors who would rejoice to see Judge Mason returned to the office; but political considerations would overrule this. A few patent agents and their political friends are at work to secure the office for Hon. C.C. Chaffee, an ex-member of the House, and now Librarian of Congress. Dr. Chaffee is a very clever and deserving gentleman, and would make a polite and accessible Commissioner; but he is now enjoying a good office, for which he is well qualified, and this renders his appointment improbable. Dr. Chaffee, while in the House, was a member of the Patent Committee; but this Committee did nothing to benefit either inventors or the Patent Office, and his appointment therefore would not give satisfaction. Thaddeus Hyatt at one time had his eye on the office, but the wants of Kansas have called him off. Not to name others, we would state that the most formidable candidate, and the man most likely to succeed, is the Hon. Thomas C. Theaker, of Ohio. He has a host of friends, who are working for his appointment, knowing him to be not only free from all objection, but well qualified for the position. We have no personal acquaintance with Mr. Theaker, but letters to us, from reliable and influential sources, speak of him in the very highest terms. Such a man is wanted to fill this important position, and such a man only can succeed. We believe, from all we can learn about Mr. Theaker, that he would make a popular and able Commissioner -- one who can be trusted.
The New Commissioner of Patents
The interest felt by inventors in reference to the appointment of a Commissioner of Patents continues unabated, and letters are pouring in upon us from various quarters, evincing the greatest anxiety that the choice should fall upon a reliable and trustworthy man -- one who can be depended upon -- to assume the control of the office, and infuse new life and vigor into every department. The impression is rapidly gaining ground that the choice will fall upon the Hon. Thomas C. Theaker, of Ohio, as stated in our last number. We learn from reliable sources that he is the most prominent candidate, and most likely to receive the appointment. He is recommended by about ninety members of the House and a large number of Senators, and is indorsed by a large majority of both branches of the Ohio Legislature, as well as by the present Governor of that State, together with a great number of Judges and other distinguished men in various parts of the country. It is also gratifying to know that the patent lobby influence and patent speculators are not among those who support Mr. Theaker's claims to the office. These cliques and cabals have their own man well sugar-coated, so as to hide the drug; and, if there is the slightest hope of success, they will do all in their power to induce the President to appoint the eminently proper object of their choice; and it is excessively amusing and ridiculous that there are one or two obscure patent agents who are aspiring to this high position, their chief recommendations being that they have fared hard in Washington, and suffered a sort of business, social and political martyrdom. If the President should chance to disappoint their expectations, which he is most likely to do, they will have to raise funds to publish a pamphlet in order to let the world know that Fox's "Book of Martyrs" has not been brought down to this generation. But we dismiss these lachrymose candidates.
Mr. Theaker, who seems to have attracted most attention, is a native of the great State of Pennsylvania, but has resided in Ohio for the last 30 years. He is about 40 years of age, and is possessed of high social and moral qualities. He has studied law, especially patent law, and has risen by the force of his own character and efforts from a hard-working mechanic to the position of a member of Congress from Ohio, from which he retired on the 4th inst. He was regarded as one of the most useful members of that body, being a working instead of talking member. He has, moreover, a most thorough practical and theoretical knowledge of science and mechanics, and has had an extensive experience in connection with various branches of mechanical industry. Just such a man is wanted for this office, and we trust that the President will not hesitate to appoint him, as it would be an earnest of his intention to encourage the inventors of our country, and assure them that the policy of the administration will be to welcome them to the Patent Office, as did Mr. Holt, "not as strangers, but in free and frank intercourse." The great State of Ohio is thronged with inventors, and if we mistake not, she has had (with a minor exception) no official connection with the Patent Office. The Patent Office, since Commissioner Bishop retired from it, has retrograded into old habits that ought to be abandoned, and has so far lost the confidence of inventors that, to our certain knowledge, there are many who are now anxious waiting for a new order of things before they will seek its protection. There are many worthy men in the Patent Office whose places, if made vacant, could not easily be supplied, but there are others who have hung upon the Office long enough, and ought to be removed unless they can show a more proper appreciation of their duties.
We believe there is no office under government that requires a more prompt and judicious exercise of the appointing power than the Patent Office.
Comments on the New Patent Law
It is well known to the readers of the Scientific American, that for years past we have strenuously advocated a reformation of the Patent Laws. We have never contended for a radical, sweeping change, but for some simple modifications, such as the progress of events had rendered necessary. We have always maintained that the United States patent system was the most perfect one extant (when well administered) to secure the ends in view, viz., to promote the progress of the useful arts. One of the most objectionable features of our patent system hitherto, has been the odious discrimination against foreign inventors; so odious, indeed, that foreigners of every other nationality were regarded with more favor that British subjects. Thus an English inventor was compelled to pay $500 on presenting an application, while a Frenchman, or any other foreign inventor, was obliged to pay but $300. This feature of our generally excellent patent system was adopted in 1836, not, however, as some suppose, as a rap at Great Britain, but simply because that government charged a $500 patent fee while France required in the aggregate about $300, neither government, however, discriminating against foreigners. It is said that the continual dropping of water will wear a stone, so continual opposition to unwise and unjust laws will ultimately cause their repeal. We have for years denounced this partial feature of our patent system, and are now able to rejoice over the fact that it is swept forever from the statute book. It will be seen by reference to the new Patent Law, published on another page, that inventors of all nations are now on the same footing in this respect, "except those of countries which discriminate against the inhabitants of the United States." The only inventors who will be excluded under this provision are our Canadian neighbors, who refuse, in this enlightened day, to allow patents, except to resident subjects, who must be the inventors also of the object for which the patent is sought. We hope the Canadian Parliament will no longer hold on to a system so unwise and ungenerous.
We do not propose to discuss every provision of the new law; it is before our readers in simple legal phraseology, and will be readily understood in all its essential details. We will, however, refer to a few additional points, such as most deeply concern inventors at the present time:
The schedule of fees is entirely changed, and the awkward system of allowing a withdrawal of a portion of the patent fee in cases of rejection is abolished. This, however, does not apply to cases rejected before the passage of this Act. Inventors are now required to pay the small fee of $15, instead of $30, as heretofore, and if, on examination, Letters Patent are allowed, $20 more will be required before the patent is delivered. This is an increase of $5 on all patents now issued, but it is no more than just, since the law allows the patent to exist seventeen, instead of fourteen years. We think inventors generally will be satisfied with this change. The fee on filing a caveat is reduced to $10, but this sum will not apply toward the patent fee when an application for patent is completed. This change was rendered necessary in view of the alteration made in the rate of fees, but it would have been still more satisfactory if, under these circumstances, the caveat fee had been reduced to $5.
All patents granted, and now in force, previous to the passage of this Act, can be extended for seven years from date of expiration, under the same conditions as have hitherto existed, except in the amount of fees, which are clearly stated in the Bill. An attempt was made by the small lobbyists, and it was palmed off upon the Conference Committee of the House, to deprive patentees under the old system of the right of extension, seeming to forget that this right was solemnly guaranteed to them when they secured their patents. All patents (except for designs) issued under the new Bill, will exist for seventeen years, but cannot be renewed. This is, in some respects, a wise provision, as it will stop a great deal of filibustering and scheming, not only at the Patent Office, but also in Congress, as the people will expect that august body to obey its own laws. We need not trouble ourselves, however, about the matter, as the evils thus to be remedied will not cease till the 4th of March, 1878, and we may all be dead before that time.
One of the most important changes in the laws is that which relates to designs. It opens a very wide field not only for the protection, but also for the display of the esthetic talent of our people, and will, no doubt, attract much attention. We consider it a valuable change, and one that will stimulate the taste of the fine arts and afford a constantly widening field for the encouragement of artists and inventors.
We cannot close our brief comments on this law without an expression of gratitude on behalf of inventors of every liberal country on earth to Hon. William Bigler, ex-Senator from Pennsylvania, and Hon. Wm. E. Niblack, ex-member of the House of Representatives from Indiana, and now Chief Justice of Nebraska, for their untiring devotion to this work. But for the zeal of these gentlemen, the Bill would have slept on the dusty pigeon holes of the committee room.
The New Commissioner of Patents
It is announced that Hon. David P. Halloway has been appointed to the important office of Commissioner of Patents. This gentleman comes from the thrifty town of Richmond, Indiana, which numbers amongst its citizens many ingenious inventors and mechanics. We may therefore conclude that Mr. Halloway brings to this high office generous feelings toward those who will seek its protection, and who will look to him as the appointed conservator of their rights. Whenever the new Commissioner fairly gets the "hang" of his duties, he will be very likely to discover that the Patent Office needs some vigorous measures of reform to restore its former efficiency and popularity.
The Washington Star, in noticing this appointment, says: It was settled in Cabinet council to appoint Mr. Halloway, of Indiana, late a member of the House of Representatives, to the position of Commissioner of Patents. Mr. Halloway is a man of clear head, excellent judgment, much energy of character, and unapproachable integrity. He is a mechanic rather than a lawyer, by profession, though through connection with general business and public trusts at home and here, he is sufficiently familiar with the principles of law (as shown in the manner in which he discharged the duties of his late position in Congress) to enable him to make a very successful administration of the important trust about to be confided to him."
It is generally known to our readers that an Appeal Board has existed in the Patent Office for a considerable time. It was constituted by Commissioner Holt with a view to facilitate the business of the Office, but until now it has had no positive legal standing. Under the new law this Board is legalized, and is to consist of three persons, who are to be appointed by the President, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate. They are designated as Examiners-in-Chief, and are to receive a yearly salary of $3000 each. Next to the Commissioner, these offices are by far the most important in the Patent Office, and ought to be filled by true men, upon whose ability and integrity there rests not one film of doubt.
The Examiners who are now performing the duties of this Board are Messrs. D.C. Lawrence and A.B. Little, both of whom have given much satisfaction to all who have had business with this department of the Office.
Our readers will learn with much pleasure that the President has appointed Hon. Thomas C. Theaker, of Ohio, to the chairmanship of this new Board. We hope Mr. Theaker will accept the position, as he is admitted to be well qualified for it.
The two remaining appointments will settle the policy of the Patent Office for the next four years; they are therefore of much importance to the interests of inventors.
We would respectfully suggest to the President that the two vacancies ought to be filled by those who have had practical experience in connection with the duties of this Board. To appoint new and inexperienced Examiners would seriously retard the large amount of business that constantly presses upon this department, and thus injury would be done to the claims of many applicants.
Our Secession Troubles
When Abraham Lincoln was elected President of the United States, it brought to mind an invention patented by him some years previous. The thought occurred to us that the fact would interest our readers, and, in publishing an engraving of it in our columns, we also expressed the hope that he might have better success in governing the country than he appeared to have had in introducing his invention. We do not know that Mr. Lincoln ever sold any territorial rights under his patent, or that his "marine bellows" had ever been practically tried upon a vessel. We also stated, what we believe to be a fact, that for the first time in the history of our country, a patentee had been elected to the high office of the President of the United States, the truth of which, we believe, has never been disputed. We think that the nearest approach to this fact was the case of General Jackson, who acted as agent for an old soldier in procuring him a patent for an improvement in saddles. The General brought the model from the West, carried it up to the Patent Office, and told the Commissioner to make out the papers without delay, and send them right on to the old soldier.
No sooner had our paper appeared which contained the engraving of Mr. Lincoln's craft, than some Northern correspondent took the matter up, and accused us of undertaking to cast a slur upon "Honest Old Abe." This zealous friend probably thought that the invention did not amount to much; and thereupon, in the fertility of his imagination, jumped at the conclusion that we had trumped it up for the purpose of casting ridicule upon his candidate. The matter, however, did not end here, for in a few days afterward we received letters from the South, threatening, on the same state of facts, to stop the paper, "because we rejoiced over the election of a Black Republican rail-splitter," and one whole club did actually stop taking the paper for no other reason.
The best joke of all, however, was the suggestion of a Southern correspondent, that our publication of His Excellency's invention would enable the Northerners to ride into Charleston at low water, and thus reinforce Fort Sumter.
In view of facts like these, we would like to ask our kind readers, North and South, what possible good we could do by expressing our views upon the agitating and perplexing questions that now harass the public mind. ....
The Commissioner of Patents -- New Examiners, etc.
We announced, two weeks ago, that Hon. D.P. Holloway, of Indiana, had been appointed Commissioner of Patents. The appointment has now been confirmed by the Senate, and he has entered upon the duties of his office. From all that we can learn respecting the new Commissioner, we believe him to be a gentleman of strict integrity, and with sufficient independence of character to take charge of the Department. We hope his administration may prove in every way successful.
Silas H. Hodges, Esq., of Vermont, George H. Harding, Esq., of Philadelphia, and Hon. Thomas C. Theaker, of Ohio, are appointed and confirmed as Examiners-in-Chief under the new law, and will constitute the Appeal Board.
Mr. Hodges filled the office of Commissioner of Patents for a short time before the close of Mr. Fillmore's administration. He is a most worthy and estimable man, and will make an upright and faithful officer. Though lacking in experience in the details of his new office, yet we believe he has excellent mental qualifications for it. Mr. Harding, we understand, will not accept. His law practice is probably of far more value to him than the combined honors and emoluments of the new office. He is eminently qualified for the place. There is now one vacancy in the Board, and in filling it we sincerely hope that the President will rise above mere political considerations. The interests of the Patent Office and the interest of inventors call for the selection of some one who has had experience in the Patent Office, and who understands practically the duties that devolve upon the Board. It is all very well to reward friends, but we have a right to claim something for those whose interests are at stake. In reference to Mr. Theaker, our readers have already been advised. There is some question as to his eligibility, owing to the fact of his having been a member of Congress which created the Board, but we hope the objection is unfounded, and that he will retain the position conferred upon him.
Our Editorial Correspondence
Washington, April 5, 1861
Whoever visits Washington in these days if pretty sure to be set down as an office seeker. The hotels are well thronged, and the rivalry for a share in the distribution of the spoils of office appears to be sharp, and ofttimes acrimonious. ...In reference to the Patent Office, in which the readers of the Scientific American feel such a deep interest, such influences are at work more or less, though much less, I think, than in many other bureaus; still, there are many who are seeking to get into this office. Its mysteries attract the curiosity of the curious, and the pressure to pry into them is therefore considerable; and there is a painful anxiety on the part of those who are deeply interested in its successful management, to know what the policy of the office is to be.
Mr. Holloway, the new Commissioner, is in the active discharge of his duties, and all his movements are watched with a degree of solicitude which, in all my experience with the Office, I have never before seen. The political change in the government is radical -- it naturally looks to its friends to rally to its support. They do rally, "In hosts they come, in legions march away." And in this critical juncture of public affairs an unusual scrutiny is exercised in making removals and appointments.
The Patent Office ought, in some degree at least, to constitute an honorable exception to an indiscriminate proscriptive policy, and be as free from political influence as possible; its operation may be compared to a delicate piece of machinery that performs well all its functions under the guidance of skillful hands. A clumsy boor comes along and throws chunks of iron into its delicate mechanism, and speedily all its parts are thrown into disorder. To tumble every man out of the Patent Office for mere opinion's sake would show a reckless disregard of the objects for which it was founded, and demoralize its character; yet it would be equally injurious not to depurate the Office of all such officers as are dangerous to its vital being. Of this class there are a few who are generally unpopular and objectionable. Mr. Holloway, thus far, is liked very much. He seems to have entered upon the duties of the Office with a full appreciation of their magnitude and importance; but what he will, or will not do, are now matters of mere speculation. He is said to be a good listener, a careful thinker, willing to be advised, slow to promise, but firm to act whenever his judgment is convinced. One thing I feel warranted in saying, viz, that he means to be the inventor's good friend, and will endeavor to maintain the policy of ex-Commissioners Mason and Holt.
Mr. Holloway comes from the thriving, populous town of Richmond, Ind., which numbers among its citizens many ingenious mechanics and inventors. He has done much to promote the mechanical, manufacturing and agricultural interests of that place, and is now President of the Board of Agriculture of that State. As a member of the Thirty-fourth Congress, he was chairman of the Committee on Agriculture, and rendered efficient service to that important interest, and has given liberal support to the interest of the Patent Office and the mechanic's art. He enters upon his duties under favorable auspices. The business before the Patent Office is large, and under the favoring influences of the Patent Law Amendment Act, the number of applications is increasing, thus securing a revenue sufficient for an energetic administration of the duties; and if the policy of the Office is made to conform to the progressive spirit of the times -- if it shall meet the inventor in a liberal manner, and adjusts his claim upon that basis -- then there will be no trouble. There are, however, powerful and subtle influences in the Office which will be exerted against any such policy; they were sufficiently potent during the recent administration to bring a deserved odium upon it, and it remains to be seen how far Mr. Holloway will tolerate the spirit of crotchety technicalities to bear rule in the Office, and against which Judge Mason and Mr. Holt had to contend with great earnestness.
I am inclined to the opinion that a majority of the present Examiners will be retained for the present, at least. Some changes have already taken place, and some appointments have been made; two or three Assistant Examiners have been removed and one Examiner-in-Chief (Mr. A.B. Little), who has been connected with the Office since the days of Edmund Burke. He was one of the most able and accomplished men in the Office, and his removal is generally regretted. He was appointed with the Appeal Board, and under the new law the President appointed Messrs. Hodges, Harding and Theaker. It is understood that Mr. Harding will not accept the appointment, and the greatest anxiety is felt on the part of solicitors here as to who shall fill this vacancy in the Appeal Board. The necessities of the Office require an experienced person, and if the president fails to realize this important fact, the business of the Board will, for a time, at least, go very slowly.
Mr. Hodges and Mr. Theaker are here, but have not yet commenced their duties, and cases are rapidly accumulating for the action of the Board.
James M. Blanchard of Indiana, Clifford Arick of Ohio, and D.S. Stewart are appointed Assistant and Junior Assistant Examiners; and it is reported that Professor Hedrick, of New York, has been appointed a Chief Examiner.
Ex-Commissioner Thomas' Revisory Board still continues to exercise its functions, the practical effect of which is to obstruct the business in the Office, as has been frequently alleged in the Scientific American. It costs the patent fund at the rate of $5,000 a year to maintain this useless appendage. It is thought that, when Commissioner Holloway comes to fully understand its nature and operation, he will abolish it. I have consulted with several solicitors here, and they all agree that the Board was a hindrance to the business of the Office. In my next letter I will give an account of the examining process which applicants for situations in the Patent Office have to undergo.
Our Editorial Correspondence
Washington, April 10, 1861
I alluded in my last letter to the examination of persons who are appointed to places in the Patent Office. This is required by a law of Congress passed in 1858, which provides for a proper classification and examination of the clerical force employed in the several departments. There are four grades of salaries established by this act, viz.: $1,200, $1,400, $1,600, and $1,800.
This examination is conducted with reference to the duties which are to be required of the appointee. Inwardly chuckling over his successful experiment in office-seeking, the candidate is summoned to appear before the examining tribunal; he begins to realize that Jordan may possibly be "a hard road to travel," and sets about to summon from every corner of his cranium, all those special qualifications which his friends recommended him to possess, for now his mettle is to be tested. The Examining Board,
"Whose visages do cream and mantle like a standing pool,
With purpose to be dressed in an opinion of wisdom, gravity, profound conceit."
proceed to a sort of intellectual tilt with the subject. He must fight his way to the spoils in reserve for him, for it is evident that he is to be handled without mittens.
He is questioned as to his knowledge of the mother tongue -- whether he can spell, read, write and compose correctly. The examination in Lindley Murray being completed, he may be expected to tell what he thinks about the reinforcement of Fort Sumter, and to answer all such questions in military science as may be put to him touching the feasibility of that scheme, and as to whether he would shoot from the right or from the left shoulder. He may then be examined in the higher branches of mathematics; one sample question will suffice. "Suppose corn is worth 65 cents per bushel, and you feed a hog three times a day for three months, and sell your pork for $7 per cwt, how much do you gain by the operation?" Then geography, topography and hydrography, including Maury's wind and current charts, philosophy and law. If the candidate shows a proficiency in these learned sciences, he is supposed to be qualified without special reference to the soundness of his theological views. Fearing a little want of sharpness in the candidate, he is asked how he would proceed to survey the Patent Office? Discovering what he regards as a sort of gum game in this proceeding, he replies "I would hire a surveyor to do it!" Lest it might appear as though I am disposed to make light of so grave a subject, I will state that one of the candidates informed me that the two questions I have quoted were actually put to him on his trial. It is reported that one candidate ran aground on the question: if he knew how to manage a certain kind of printing press? It is evidently in the power of this Board to put an extinguisher on the ambition of many youths who seek office.
The new law authorizes the Commissioner to cause to be printed ten copies of the specifications and drawings of each patent. A contract for this work has already been made with Gideon & Co., of this city. The specifications are to be printed in royal octavo pamphlet form, something after the style of the English patents. The drawings are to be traced on linen and attached to the printed specification. The law provides for ten copies; but it was supposed that an arrangement could be made so that the contractor would be able to furnish all such duplicate copies as might be ordered by Congress or by patentees, upon the payment of a fair compensation for them. As the contract is now given out, this expectation is completely frustrated, and there is some disappointment about it. Five copies of the ten, at least, will be needed for the use of the Patent Office, leaving but five for such disposition as the Commissioner may see fit to make of them. It is to be hoped that it is not too late to correct this difficulty, and I believe the Commissioner may give more attention to it.
As I stated in my last letter, Mr. Harding, who was appointed one of the Examiners-in-Chief, has not accepted the office. I am reliably informed, however, that he has not formally resigned, and may decide to act temporarily, with a view to get the Appeal Board into efficient working order. It deserves honorable mention that the President selected Mr. Harding solely on the ground of fitness. In spite of this, there is nothing connected with the position that can encourage a well-known patent lawyer to abandon a good practice in order to accept an office with small pay, moderate honors, and severe labors. Mr. Harding, from the fact of being retained as counsel in several important law cases, could not act independently in the Patent Office without abandoning his clients unreservedly. He will probably hesitate before he takes a step like this.
Commissioner Holloway, in the meantime, has requested D.C. Lawrence, Esq., who has long been connected with the Appeal Board, to assist Messrs. Hodges and Theaker in their duties. This is certainly a creditable move. It shows that the Commissioner means to take care of the interests of the Office; at the same time, he recognizes the services of an able and upright officer.
The Patent Office is now supplied with printed copies of all English patents, except a single one (No. 12,054) which have been granted by that government from 1617 down to May, 1860; and if bound up according to the English system, there will be 408 volumes of specifications and 408 volumes of drawings. Professor Jillson, the accomplished Librarian of the Patent Office, informs me that he intends to reduce the number of [volumes of?] drawings.
Caveat Fees and Applications for Patents -- The twenty dollars paid into the Treasury on caveats filed in the Patent office prior to the passage of the new law, will be allowed toward the completion of the application for a patent, but not as the first fee required on the application. Every application for a patent, except for design patents, must be accompanied with fifteen dollars in payment of first fee, and on a patent being ordered to issue, twenty dollars more is required to be paid, except in cases where caveats were field in the same invention previous to the new law, which went into effect March 4th, 1861. In such cases no second fee is required.
Patents in the Seceded States
Jefferson Davis, in his message to the Congress of the Confederate States, on the 29th ult., uses the following language in regard to establishing a Patent Bureau:
I refer you to the report of the Attorney General, and concur in his recommendation for immediate legislation, especially on the subject of patent rights. Early provision should be made to secure to the subjects of foreign nations the full enjoyment of their property in valuable inventions, and to attend to our own citizens' protection, not only for their own inventions, but for such as may have been assigned to them, or may hereafter be assigned by persons not alien enemies.
The Patent Office Business is much more extensive and important than had been anticipated. The applications for patents, although confined under the law exclusively to citizens of our confederacy, already average seventy per month, showing the necessity for the prompt organization of a bureau of patents.
It would appear from the number of patents sought per month in the Confederacy, that inventive talent has suddenly sprung up among the Southern people; but when we consider that no government fee is charged for registering applications for patents, it will be understood that many will file drawings and descriptions of almost any well known invention which has been patented in the United States, in the hope that, when the Patent Bureau is established, their applications being foremost, such claims will be made secure to them, which is very doubtful. This will explain where the seventy applications per month for patents came from.
Letter from our Washington House
Washington, May 7, 1861
Messrs. Editors: During the last week several regiments of the New York State Militia, quartered here for the defense of the capital, have gone into encampment, and are trying a few of the realities of soldier life. ...
Colonel Ellsworth's Firemen Zouaves are causing some consternation to our quiet citizens, and much trouble to their estimable commander. It is very evident that doing nothing formed no part of their intention when they enlisted. The Colonel is taking the most prompt and effective measures to single out all who are disorderly, and send them back to "the place from whence they came;" but in spite of all his efforts, we hear daily of some of their mischievous and original freaks. ...
Joseph J. Coomb, Esq., of the District of Columbia, has been appointed to the office of Examiner-in-chief, completing the Board of Appeals of the Patent Office, and Dr. Thomas Antisell has been definitely promoted to the position of Principal Examiner, in which capacity he has acted for years past as head of the chemical department.
Letter from Washington
Washington, May 20, 1861
Messrs. Editors: We are most happy to be able to state that, amid all the turmoil and excitement incident to other governmental departments, the Patent Office is now exhibiting a highly creditable degree of efficiency and activity. The Rhode Island soldiers, which, for a short time past, have occupied some of the halls of the department, have removed to their encampment, so that the public now enjoys the usual free access to all the models and records. ...
The new Commissioner of Patents, Hon. D.P. Holloway, evinces abilities and qualifications for the office of a very high order, and his administration thus far gives eminent satisfaction to the public. His position is no sinecure. His whole time, early and late, is zealously devoted to the duties of the office which, under the new law, are exceedingly onerous. Many old errors and abuses that had crept into the department, under the preceding lax administration, are in process of eradication; new regulations are being prepared, and everything indicates that the establishment is beginning to feel, beneficially, the control of an energetic and able governor.
The provisions of the new law respecting the printing of the patents are now being carried into effect by Commissioner Holloway. We have examined some of the proofsheets of the letterpress, and they are admirable specimens of typography. The drawings that accompany the patents are to be copied by the photograph, and reduced in size to pages that correspond with the letterpress. The public will thus be put in possession of accurate printed copies of all granted patents at a reasonable price, done in splendid style, occupying but little bulk, superior in convenience and in other respects to the famed English and European patent publications. We predict that the inauguration of this excellent plan will constitute one of the crowning features of Commissioner Holloway's administration. It is the commencement of a great and imperishable work, with which his name will be inseparably connected.
Another very commendable movement by the present Commissioner, consists in the abolition of the "Revisory Board." Its members have been disbanded, and the useless appendage no longer exists. It was founded in passion and folly by the ex-Commissioner, Governor Thomas, and its operations in the office were hurtful rather than beneficial. We believe that, for the most part, this Board was in the habit of glancing over the claims allowed by the Examiners, and with a stoke of the pen, approving them, without further examination, thus making a farce of the "revising." The exception to this rule was an occasion now and then, of which the members of the Board took advantage to spread upon the records their personal, antiquated, chronic, but erroneous views concerning combinations, patentability, etc., with which everybody in the Patent Office was familiar, and knew to be incorrect. Previous decisions of the courts, often upon points precisely similar to those in issue, seemed to have no weight with this Board. They had their own notions of the patent law, which were so bred in the bone that no judges or courts ever established precedents for them. The result was that in nearly every case where the Board undertook to decide adversely and discuss the legal aspect of a case, the Commissioner was compelled to review the matter and set aside their decisions. These proceedings occasioned great delay to applicants, and no benefit resulted. But the Revisory Board is abolished, and we are glad of it. The members have returned to their former duties.
We are glad to hear that the Commissioner of Patents contemplates some change in the method of disposing of interference cases. At present they are all decided, in the first instance, by a single Examiner, who makes it a special duty. We regret to say that a very strong prejudice against the official fairness and reliability of this officer prevails, which, to our minds, renders it imperative that a change should be made. Besides, the present method strikes us a being directly at variance with the plain provisions of the new statute, which requires that interferences shall be decided by the Examiners; i.e., by the Examiners of the class in which the interference arises. If our view be correct, then the impropriety of placing all the interference decisions in the hands of one person will be apparent.
The Board of Examiners-in-Chief, by whom all appeals are heard in the first instance, is now complete, Mr. J.J. Coombs, of Washington City, having been appointed to the vacancy. Mr. Coombs is a lawyer of some note, and was the candidate for the District-Attorneyship of Washington. We believe that he is a gentleman of ability; but what his views are upon patent law remains to be seen. The new Board, being now fully organized, will have a fair opportunity to show the public the stuff that it is made of. We hope that it will earnestly seek to establish itself in the confidence and esteem of the people. This can only be done by the adoption of systematic and inflexible rules of liberality toward inventors, in accordance with the well established decisions of the courts. The Board has not acted upon very many new cases as yet, and of course no permanent rules or regulations have been fixed. We notice, however, that, in some of its actions, it has failed to place the reasons for its decisions on record. It has contented itself by merely reporting that it thinks that the application "does not present patentable novelty," or that it thinks "the patent ought to be allowed."
We have already heard much dissatisfaction expressed at this summary way of disposing of cases, and we think there is just reason for complaint. It certainly does not accord with the usual method adopted in all courts of review. The Examiners-in-Chief are appointed at a high salary to hear and weigh every fact and matter that can be adduced in regard to any case. Their decisions should be carefully given and their reasons for action fully recorded, so that the Examiners and all who have intercourse with the Office may be thereby directed and guided. In no other way can the decisions of the Patent Office be rendered uniform. To secure uniformity was the express object of the law makers in creating the Board.
Patent Office Matters
It will be seen from the letter of our Washington correspondent that business in the Patent Office is progressing favorably. The troops recently quartered there have gone into encampment, leaving all parts of the building now unobstructed. The Commissioner has disbanded the Revisory Board. He probably found, what we discovered from its foundation, that its labors were worse than useless. This action of the Commissioner shows that he intends to allow no obstacles to stand in the way of a prompt and energetic administration of the duties of his office. This Board was established by ex-Commissioner Thomas while in an ill-natured mood, and was never popular among the Examiners in the Office, or persons having business with the Office, and to the credit of the persons appointed to the Board it was even deemed a useless appendage by themselves.
Letter from Our Washington House
Washington, May 30, 1861
Messrs. Editors: The rapid succession of events which have transpired since the bombardment of Fort Sumter, seven short weeks ago, have kept our community in a state of feverish excitement ....
In the Patent Office, matters have returned to their accustomed routine. The business of the Office has fallen off much less than was anticipated. This accords with an idea expressed by you in a recent issue, that inventions is usually active during a period of war.
The troops recently quartered in the model rooms of the Patent Office succeeded in breaking fully four hundred panes of glass during their short stay. This damage was easily repaired; but another evil resulted from it, the inconvenience of which is only now beginning to be felt. It appears that the ready access thus afforded to the interior of the cabinets, formed too strong a temptation, and some models were abstracted; how many it is impossible to say. Such as are missed hitherto are articles of no great intrinsic value, but their loss for purpose of reference may, in some instances, prove very serious. The soldiers doubtless regarded them as placed their merely for exhibition, and did not appreciate their value as legal evidence in connection with the patents which they represented. ...
It will be recollected that, during the early rush of troops to defend Washington, the Capitol buildings were occupied by soldiers. The walls are now undergoing reparation. They were not materially injured by its occupation by the troops, though somewhat defaced in respect to their mural decorations. o
Confusion at the Patent Office
The clerical force at the Patent Office seems to be in a most confused state; and while the Commissioner and the Examiners seem to be trying to do their duty, the mailing department of the office seems to be managed in a very indifferent manner. For the credit of the Patent Office and the convenience of persons having business with the department, we ask the Commissioner, in behalf of the inventors throughout our country, to have the following abuses which have recently crept into the office, corrected.
Formerly, all patents issued during a week were mailed on Tuesday, and bore date corresponding with the time they were sent from the office. Latterly, we are receiving patents scattering along every day in the week -- instead of the whole weekly issue by one mail -- and we presume other attorneys suffer the same inconvenience. The lists of claims are very irregular in reaching us, sometimes coming on Monday, sometimes on Wednesday, and sometimes not at all, and then again two week's issue reach us by the same mail. And, again, we are continually having letters from the Office alleging that a specification or drawing accompanies the letter, which is not enclosed; and as often we receive specifications and drawings without any letter to indicate for what purpose they are returned, in both of which cases we are obliged to write to the department for explanation, which consumes time, causes unnecessary delay in the issue of the patent, besides rendering unnecessary trouble to the attorney. We are in constant receipt of letters from the Patent Office designed for other persons. We call to mind six such letters which have come to us this week. There is nothing like system in every department of business; and while we were willing to bear the inconvenience of some irregularities in the Patent Office while the troops were quartered there, and while the department was experimenting with the printing of the specifications, now the soldiers having left, and adequate time for systemizing the printing department has elapsed, we call upon the Commissioner to martial his forces, and see that every man does his duty.