The Chicago Check Perforator falls under the category of check protector. Check protectors, still used today, were a way to mark or complete a check so that it made them very difficult to alter in any way that wouldn’t make it obvious that they were tampered with. There were different technologies used for this purpose; embossing, special inks, punching and the type we’re talking about today, perforating.
A check perforator punches small round pin-sized holes that form numerals, letters and/or symbols. The person preparing a check positions the check in the check writer so its print-head (a series of very small needles) are centered over the field on the check where the amount of the check would otherwise be written out. Using the lever and dial combination on the check protector, the operator enters the monetary amount of the check by first turning the dial to the desired number and then pressing down on the lever. This amount is then perforated onto the check. The check is then automatically forwarded by a single space ready for the next number or symbol.
There were at least two different models of the Chicago Check Perforator, this being the later one. This model weighs-in at a staggering 6 pounds and measures 8.5″L x 4.5″ W x 4.75″ H. It is made of very heavy-duty iron/steel. Oddly, this model is quite a bit smaller than it’s predecessor which must have been a real beast. I have seen versions of this item in a brass finish, nickel-plate and “plain”. It is possible that the “plain” version is simply a heavily used plated protector where over time the plating has worn off.
The Early Office Museum states that this model was advertised from 1889 to 1930. Here is an ad from an 1896 magazine publication that B.F. Cummins used for a number of years with only minor revisions.
Note the “reduced to $10$” in the above ad. Before 1896 this was more expensive but the company took a chance and reduced the asking price. This greatly increased sales of this protector.
On the forward part of the base is a brass plaque which, among other things, shows the dates of the three patents in force for this item. The first patent, number 409324 was applied for in December 1887 and granted in 1889. The other two patents (see below) were granted in 1890 and 1892 respectively.
B.F. Cummins Company was incorporated in 1887 and manufactured various hand perforating machines. These machines consisted mainly of check protectors or postal marking machines. Benjamin Franklin Cummins (B.F.) was the President of the company. He was also a practicing lawyer in Chicago until 1893. (note 1)
The Chicago Check Perforator was built to last. The mechanics are a bit difficult to get to if you need to fix one but otherwise fairly straightforward. The heaviness of the machine was actually one of its strengths. If you are using an item such as this regularly, say on a wood-top or laminate top desk, the rubber feet and heft will keep it from moving around while you print-out checks. The operation is very simple, smooth, and intuitive. Best of all, it plain works. It’s obvious why this sold so well when it was introduced.
1. page 169, Albert Nelson Marquis ed. (1911) Book of Chicagoans: A Biographical Dictionary of Leading Living Men of the City of Chicago, second edn., Chicago, IL: A.N. Marquis & Co.