To modern eyes, the Bostitch B5 stapler doesn’t seem all that special. The black crackle enamel, the geometric design with the closest thing to a curve being some 45 degree angles; it’s almost Brutalist in its design aesthetic (although technically Modernist). It looks the part of a strictly industrial tool, like an evolutionary forebear to more modern staplers. But what it really represented when introduced was the future of staplers.
And that is exactly what the B5 is, the design and mechanical antecedent to which all modern staplers are ultimately based on. But while the design is one thing, there is another aspect that sets the B5 above all previously manufactured staplers. Do you see it? No? The B5 staple carrier, push assembly, push spring, and the staples themselves are all 100% internal to the stapler.
The internalizing of the mechanics may not seem important, but previous fasteners such as your Acme No 2, your Parrot Speed Fastener Babe, your Hotchkiss 1A, your Arrow A44, your Markwell RX-45, and yes, even your Boston Wire Stitcher model B1 (see note 1) were all open to the elements and all the issues that comes with that. Oops! Spilled a little coffee on your stapler? You may have ruined it and when you try to clean it out the parts will likely rust and become forever sticky. Leave your stapler on your desktop? Well, it won’t be long until dust and other pollutants collect on the mechanisms and start affecting the operation of your stapler. And if there are smokers around (remember, this is the early 20th century) you can be sure that the nicotine will act as a glue for dust and other detritus that will gum up your stapler. There is a reason why most every ribbon spring you see today on these older staplers have spots of rust, even if they’ve been well taken care of for their entire existence.
Many staplers of the era were well-built but the Bostitch B5 fastener took it up a notch. Cast iron has a tendency to get brittle and is heavy but the B5 is made from steel. There were other staplers on the market made with steel parts also, but the B5 was made from 100% steel (note 2) and it was a high-quality, thicker than usual steel. It measures 2.2 inches wide by 7 inches long by 3.25 inches high and weighs 1.5 pounds. That puts it at about the size and weight of a modern all-metal stapler. It has a 4.25 inch throat which is actually deeper than most modern staplers.
The B5 is a front-loading stapler which can hold 210 standard-size staples. You simply open the “gate” on the front by pulling it upwards and outwards then it will swing open. Push in the staples and close the “gate” and you are ready to staple. The anvil on the B5 only allowed for permanent clinching although a variant was available very early on that had an adjustable anvil with two settings. There is a button on the bottom of the body that when pushed unlocks the body and allows you to rotate the base 180 degrees so that it can be used as a tacker.
The Bostitch B5 fastener only ever came in two colors: black crackle and grey crackle. While the black crackle finish was available during the entire manufacturing run of this stapler the earliest reference I can find to the grey crackle finish is 1963. However, it is entirely possible that this finish was available in the 1950’s but not any earlier.
newspaper advertisement from 1935
The first known advertisement was in 1935 and the latest mention was from a Bostitch pamphlet released in 1986. It is possible that the B5 was available two to three years after this time period but is unlikely to have been available much before 1935. Towards the 1980’s Bostitch wasn’t making much effort marketing this stapler and it was no longer widely available from office suppliers so it is difficult to determine when production of the B5 ceased.
newspaper advertisement from 1939
Bostitch was first established in 1896 as the Boston Wire Stitcher Company just outside of Boston, Massachusetts and is still in business today in nearby Rhode Island. The word Bostitch is a portmanteau of “Boston” and “Stitcher” and was used so extensively and was so well-known that in 1948 the company decided to rename itself.
A brief history of some important dates in the Bostitch story:
- 1896 – Boston Wire Stitcher Company formed in Arlington, Massachusetts
- 1904 – production moved to East Greenwich, Rhode Island
- 1920 – October 26 “BOSTITCH” trademark registered – first use of the term listed as November 1919
- 1930 – Bostitch Sales Company formed and located in East Greenwich, Rhode Island
- 1948 – Boston Wire Stitcher Company officially changes name to Bostitch
- 1957 – Bostitch headquarters moved to East Greenwich, Rhode Island
- 1966 – Textron acquires Bostitch
- 1986 – Stanley acquires Bostitch from Textron
newspaper advertisement from 1969
As the style of the B5 stapler did not change over the years, it can be difficult to date one. Look for the following tells:
- The earliest B5’s had an anvil that was as wide as the base (see figure 1), by 1940 it was reduced to the smaller size seen in the pictures here.
- Look on the bottom of the base, if it has “Boston Wire Stitcher Co” inscribed it will have been manufactured between 1935 and 1948 (see figure 2). If it states “Bostitch” then it will have been 1948 or later (see figure 3).
- Towards the end of production Bostitch stopped inscribing patent numbers on the bottom of the base.
- Earlier produced models through at least the 1950’s had two screws in the rear of the base holding on the two rubber feet on the bottom. Later models did not have these screws attached from the top to the rubber feet.
- Earlier produced models used crackle paint on all surfaces except for the bottom of the base. The base bottom was painted in a smooth enamel. Later manufactured models used crackle paint on all surfaces including the base bottom.
- Around the 1940’s on the top of the base the words TRADE MARK BOSTITCH REG U.S. PAT. OFF. were painted in high-contrast yellow paint.
figure 1: the anvil for the initial version of the B5 highlighted in yellow
There were a number of variant models of the B5 available that were released over the years:
- B5T (tacker)
- B5P (plier type)
- B5-12 (long reach with 12 inch throat)
- B5-18 (long reach with 18 inch throat)
The B5 was also used in the Model 4 electromagnetic stapler and in the Model B5E3J Bostomatic electric stapler.
page from 1955 office supply catalog illustrating different model B5’s
The Bostitch B5 is an excellent stapler and were made for so long that they tend to be easy to find. As they also use standard size modern staples if you can find one in good condition they will make an excellent addition to your vintage office setup.
Patent and Other Information:
- I’ll qualify this statement by saying that most pre 1930 magazine stapling machines were not fully enclosed. I’d say all pre 1930 magazine stapling machines but despite an exhaustive review of models it is possible there is one that had a fully enclosed mechanism and staple guide that I missed. Unlikely, but possible.
- Again, to be pedantic the Bostitch B5 fastener had a plastic strike cap and rubber feet. These parts of course aren’t steel – but they’re also not necessary for the operation of the stapler.
- “A Legacy Brand History”, Bostitch, Stanley Black & Decker Inc., https://bostitchoffice.com/history/
- Bostitch Sales Co, (1935, October 6), advertisement. The San Francisco Examiner, page 22
- The Weatherford News, (1939, July 27), advertisement. The Weatherford News, page 5
- Utility Supply Co Catalog (1940), Chicago, IL, page 328
- Utility Supply Co Catalog (1945), Chicago, IL, page 389
- Utility Supply Co Catalog (1950), Chicago, IL, page 373
- Standard Stationery Supply Co Catalog (1955), Chicago, IL, page 311
- L. Moylan Co, (1960, March 22), advertisement. Guam Daily News, page 3
- McDonald, Stingel & Bush Office Supply Co Catalog (1964), Saginaw, MI, page 360
- Associated Press (1966, August 3), $64 Million Set In Stock Trade, Newport Daily News, page 24
- Whitehorse Star, (1969, January 20), advertisement. The Whitehorse Star, page 14
- Shirley Office Supply Co Catalog (1975), Pennsauken, NJ, page 202
- Brogan, Jan (1985, August 30), Textron Plans to Sell Bostitch, 2 Other Units in Debt-Cutting Move, The Providence Journal, page A-11
- Bostitch Sales Co (1986 circa), advertising brochure, Fasten It Better and Faster with Bostitch Staplers and Staples
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