Monthly Archives: November 2011

The Beauty of British Patents

I had the occasion recently to leaf through a couple of Crane patent portfolios from the mid-1890s. Most are quite boring in both their content and appearance. Not so when you come to British patent documents. Here are some adornments I came across today:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Leave a comment

Filed under American Industry

The Checkered Game of Life

In his letter to Crane & Co. of Nov. 11, 1881, Mr. Bradley seemed a bit put out that a company such as Crane would be ordering gummed labels of various sizes and colors for its samples.

“We should prefer to engrave you a neat business label, and make you a plain artistic  design, something that you could use on all your various sizes and papers…and all your labels would look uniform by having the same border design and the same tint of paper.”


Actually, this letter was likely not written by Milton Bradley himself; more about that in a bit.

Bradley was born in Vienna, Maine, in 1836 and moved to Springfield, Massachusetts, at the age of 19. Trained as a draftsman, Bradley got a job with the Wason Car Manufacturing Co., drawing the plans for the company’s line of locomotives and railroad cars. It was after Bradley was given a color lithograph of a particularly lavish car which he had helped to design for the ruler of Egypt, that he decided to go into the lithography business himself. In 1860, at the age of 24, he formed the Milton Bradley Company to produce lithographs for Springfield businesses. With the only color lithograph machine in Massachusetts outside Boston, Bradley was soon busy with orders, but making a profit was difficult.

The website Funding Universe tells us that one evening while visiting his best friend, George Tapley, Bradley played an old English board game and conceived the idea of inventing a distinctly American game.  Calling his game “The Checkered Game of Life,” he borrowed the format of the familiar checkerboard and incorporated into it a narrative of life as seen through the eyes of the New England puritan tradition. The object of the game was to achieve “Happy Old Age” instead of “Ruin.” Bradley spent weeks producing several hundred copies of the game and then set off for New York City to try selling this first production run to distributors. To Bradley’s surprise, dealers were unreservedly enthusiastic about the new game, which could be sold as a lesson in morals as well as an entertaining pastime, and within a few days Bradley had sold his entire stock.

Milton Bradley Checkered Game of Life

By the winter of 1860, Bradley had sold 40,000 copies of the game, and it was becoming a nationwide fad. Bradley became convinced that future success would come through producing games.

Bradley and his company would have an interesting and varied history from this point forward. Bradley attended a lecture in 1869 about the German movement toward kindergarten and became enthralled with the concept of pre-school education. Bradley’s company’s involvement with kindergartens began with the production of gifts,” geometric wooden playthings that he felt were necessary to properly structure children’s creative development. As he became more and more committed to the movement, Bradley began manufacturing other educational materials considered essential by Froebel including colored papers and paints. Bradley spent months devising the exact shades in which to produce these materials; his final choice of six pigments of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet would remain the standard colors for children’s art supplies through the 20th century.

The Milton Bradley company was acquired by toy giant Hasbro in 1984. Hasbro remains proud of its roots in association with Milton Bradley, and beginning Nov. 25, 2011, will open a new permanent exhibit at the Lyman and Merrie Wood Museum of Springfield History. Made possible by a grant from the Hasbro Children’s Fund, the new Hasbro GameLand pays tribute to Milton Bradley with games of memory, chance, speed, imagination, strategy and word play.

Leave a comment

Filed under American Industry, Uncategorized

B.F. Wade: Toledo Printer

Continuing our look at some of my favorite 19th-century letterheads from the Crane archives. Today is B.F. Wade, a prominent printer in Toledo. This was no small operation. Here’s a photo of their showroom. The business took up four floors:

BF Wade showroom

A couple of their wonderfully colorful letterheads. They used lots of metallic gold which doesn’t show up well, so you will just have to imagine the impact.

BF Wade Letterhead 1

BF Wade Letterhead 2

And an engraved stock certificate. These guys were good!

BF Wade stock certificate

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Loving 19th-Century Letterheads

I’m a big fan of 19th-century letterheads. They range from the minimal to the artistically overblown. I prefer something in between. I have encountered many of these letterheads over the year, and I would like to share some of them.

Let’s start with my favorite:

Nichols LeFever letterhead

In this case, the elegance of the image on the letterhead is mirrored by the elegance of the shotguns made by Nichols & LeFever in the 1870s.


Daniel LeFever began his gunsmithing apprenticeship in 1851 in Central New York. After partnerships with James Ellis, Francis Dangerfield and Lorenzo Barber, he joined up with John Nichols in Syracuse. They continued to make breechloading rifles and shotguns. In the meantime LeFever is working on a hammerless system involving a lever on the side to cock the firing pins after the breech is closed. In 1878 a hammerless breechloading shotgun was awarded First Prize for the best breechloading shotgun in America at the St. Louis Bench show and Sportsman’s Association.

In 1879 (there’s that date again!) the partners decided to go their own separate ways. But their three-year legacy has been a favorite among collectors for years.

And just who is George E. Hart & Co. mentioned in the letter above? Hart started a company in 1874 that primarly made watch-making machinery. But he was also the patentee and manufacturer of the “Sportsman’s Favorite” metallic shell for breechloading shotguns and rifles.

Nichols Le

Why were Hart and Nichols & LeFever in need of Crane paper? Stay tuned!

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Edison’s Light Bulb: 50 Years Later

We recently took a brief look at the year 1879 and noted its importance to Crane and a couple of its customers, including Thomas Edison.

We’re still researching that relationship over the years, and were delighted to find the following in the archives:

Interestingly enough, parts of the event were captured on film. In 1891, the Edison Company successfully demonstrated the Kinetoscope, which enabled one person at a time to view moving pictures. In 1896, Edison showed his improved Vitascope projector and it was the first commercially successful projector in the United States.

The video which follows was produced in conjunction with Light’s Golden Jubilee, a campaign celebrating the 50th anniversary of Thomas Edison’s invention of the commercially available electric light bulb, which ended with an event held in Dearborn, Michigan on October 21, 1929.

In the evening, after a banquet in Edison’s honor, Edison, Henry Ford, and Herbert Hoover went to Edison’s reconstructed Menlo Park Laboratory. Here they met with Edison’s former assistant, Francis Jehl, for a re-enactment of Edison’s creation of the first successful incandescent light bulb 50 years before. Modern subtitles have been added to compensate for the primitive late 1920s sound recording of the event. Many thanks to The Henry Ford for preserving these moments. More can be found here.


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

1879: Money, Soap and Light

Folks who are familiar with Crane & Co. understand that 1879 was a big year. It was in 1879 that Crane was awarded its first contract to manufacture paper for United States currency. Crane has won every competitive bid since then.

And 1879 was a big year for at least two Crane customers you may be familiar with.

Proctor Gamble letterhead 1880

William Proctor & James Gamble founded the company in 1837 in Cincinnati and produced modest amounts of candles and soaps for the Midwest market. It was left to the next generation to make the first breakthrough product in 1879 that would launch Proctor & Gamble onto the national and world stage:

Ivory soap drawing

From the modest beginnings of a soap that floats and is 99 44/100 percent pure, Proctor & Gamble today operates in 80 countries and generates revenues in excess of $82 billion.

In 1879, the world became a little brighter, as Thomas Edison invented the incandescent light. Edison had used Crane papers for his experiments for quite some time. Here is just one such invention:


George Bliss, who wrote the instruction manual for the Electric Pen, recommended Crane’s Bank Folio:

Edison Electric Pen bank folio

Edison’s Electric Pen never really caught on, but Edison evidently appreciated the quality of Crane’s papers, as he continued to order them. In this case Crane’s Parchment paper. For which of his inventions, we may never know, but there are more documents in the Crane archives yet to explore!


Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized