In the history of the company now known as Swingline, there are four staplers that have been the most important for the company. These are:
- the Babe Stapler introduced around 1928
- Model 4 introduced in 1937
- Tot 50 introduced in 1950
- Model 747 introduced in 1970
They were all important for different reasons, but the one reason they all have in common is that they were all revolutionary and innovative in an industry that is seen from the outside world as conservative and slow-to-change. And out of the above the most surprising fastener on this list would be the Tot 50
The Tot 50 was not the first Swingline stapler to hold this moniker. That honor belongs to the Tot Speed Fastener which was a smaller version of the popular models 3 and 4 series of staplers. This stapler was introduced around the same time as the models 3 and 4.
The Tot 50 was radically different though from the Tot Speed Fastener. It was much smaller measuring only 3″ L x .719″ W x 1″ H and weighing only 1.5 ounces. It was also less expensive with a suggested retail price of only 98 cents – and with that you received a box of staples and a plastic case. It was made of high-quality materials as well; chrome-plated steel and a type of plastic known as “Tenite” (you know you want to look this up on wikipedia). These materials were of such high-quality that I still have a Tot 50 that I use and it is at least 53 years old and works as well today as the day it came off the assembly line.
While the Tot 50 was available through normal office suppliers for businesses, its success really came from the consumer end – students and home/home office users. Its diminutive size meant it both traveled and stored easily and when space is at a premium these become important points. To its credit, Swingline was the first company to really identify this area and opened up a whole new customer base that hadn’t really been tapped before. These points, coupled with a high build quality, a kit that came ready with supplies, and a well-oiled marketing machine made this an instant hit. This was such a success that versions of the Tot are made even to this day.
The name of this stapler, Tot 50, is in reference to the year 1950 when it was introduced. There were three versions of the Tot 50 and there is a modern series of Tot staplers still made today that continue on the tradition. However, these modern versions vary from the original Tot 50 in a number of ways. The original versions of the Tot 50 used No. 10 or “Tot” staples. These were smaller than standard staples. The modern Tots use standard staples, are designed differently, come in different models, have a smaller “throat”, and are rated to staple only up to 12 sheets of paper at a time. The original Tot 50 was rated for up to 20 sheets of paper and could also be used for tacking.
This is the original, first version of this venerable stapler. Introduced in 1950 this version was advertised until 1980. It should be noted that these were also available in “executive” versions which were black and gold-plated and there was also a grey colored deluxe model.
This is the second version of this stapler. The changes from the first version are mostly cosmetic and consist of a more squared body making it look very much like a tiny model 747. The model name “Tot 50” is also no longer imprinted on the top. This was available from 1980 through 1987.
By 1988 Swingline had decided that some more design changes were necessary. They kept the more square body but removed the “PRESS” button on the rear that slid open the stapler for refilling. They also went back to printing the model name of “Tot 50” on the top. By 1989 they were also advertising this model in New Pastel Colors so it isn’t unusual to find this version in colors like lavender.
I’m cheating a little on this one by lumping the different versions into one category. The new Tot (no longer with the “50”) stapler came in a number of different bright colors and different models. There was a Grip model, a folding keychain model, and for lack of a better term their “standard” Tot model (see picture above). They now use standard staples which while easier to find, actually limits its usefulness. And while I would describe the overall quality of this stapler as “good enough” it’s unlikely this will still be used 50+ years from now.
Prices for the Tots ran as follows:
- from 1950-1971 the suggested retail price was $0.98
- By 1978 the suggested retail price was $1.49
- In the 1980’s prices ranged from $1.19 to $1.63 but were found regularly on sale for $0.99
- Throughout the 1990’s the standard price rose to $2.49 but again they were regularly on sale for $0.99
- In the early 2000’s the average sale price was closer to $2.00 and today you can buy them from between $2.75-$5.00.
SOME IMPORTANT DATES IN SWINGLINE HISTORY
- The Parrot Speed Fastener Corp is established in 1925 by Jack Linsky
- In 1939 the Parrot Speed Fastener Co changes names to Speed Fastener
- In 1956 Speed Fastener changes names once again to Swingline
- Swingline acquires Ace Fastener in 1957
- Merged with Wilson-Jones in 1963
- ACCO acquires Vail Manufacturing in 1966
- Swingline acquired by American Brands in 1970
- Jack Linsky was President and Chairman until 1975, his wife Belle continued to hold the position of Treasurer
- In 1986 American Brands acquires ACCO
- In 1987 American Brands merged ACCO with Swingline
- American Brands changed names to Fortune Brands in 1997
- Swingline factory in Queens, NY closed in 1999. After that all manufacturing moved to Mexico.
Jack Linsky was the man behind Parrot Speed Fastener/Speed Fastener/Swingline. Jacob “Jack” Linsky was born in 1897. He moved to the US from Russia in 1905. He quit school at age 14 to take a job as an errand-boy/stock clerk/salesman for a stationery firm in New York where he learned about staplers first-hand. He served in the US army during WWI. After he was discharged he traveled to Europe in search of a better stapler. He found a German firm that produced one with clear advantages over the ones then available in the US and with an initial investment of $500 started Parrot Speed Fastener Corp. This stapler from Germany was called the Babe. Mr. Linsky became the sole distributor of the Babe in the US and Canada. The Babe was soon copied by others and Linsky, who was unable to convince the manufacturer to keep improving their stapler, decided in 1931 to go into the business of manufacturing staplers and staples himself. Jack Linsky died June 3, 1980 at the age of 83 in Palm Beach, FL.
This is a picture of the bottom of the Tot 50 that I still use to this very day. They made the first version of the Tot 50 for thirty years without any design changes and this can make it very difficult to accurately date one.
So, just as I did on an earlier post about the Scotch C20 Tape Dispenser let’s look at the available clues and see if we can refine that thirty year timeframe to something more accurate. Note that I’ve circled four items and that I’ve numbered these from one through four. Let’s look at these in order.
- Patent D-164265 was granted in 1951. Patent 2702384 was granted in 1955. In order for patent 2702384 to be listed this stapler must have been manufactured on or after 1955.
- Swingline staplers were made in the USA until 1999 when manufacturing was moved to Mexico. That means this stapler must have been made prior to 2000.
- In 1956 Speed Products changed its name to Swingline. This means this stapler must have been manufactured after 1956. The term Swingline was used previously but it was a product name for their line of staplers.
- “Long Island City 1, N.Y.” uses an older addressing system with a city postal zone code. These were used until 1963 when ZIP codes were introduced, meaning this was manufactured prior to 1964.
Taking all the clues into consideration, we can determine that this particular stapler was made between 1956 and 1963. While this is still a seven year period it is considerably tighter than the thirty year period we started with.
My goal with the above was simply to look at the information that could be gleaned from the bottom of the stapler. Of course there are other clues such as the fact that this version was only made until 1980; which means that item 2 above doesn’t really add to our knowledge but would matter for other versions and other model staplers. Other clues to look for would be an ACCO logo and body color which would also help date a stapler. If you’re fortunate enough to have original packaging that often will greatly help in dating an item.
Patent and Other Information:
- C-M Office & School Supply, Inc. (1950, April), advertisement. Janesville Daily Gazette, page 5
- Utility Supply Company Catalog (1952), Chicago, IL page 93
- Editors (1958, December 20). Wilson-Jones Chief Accepts Swingline Offer to Buy Stock. The Bridgeport Telegram, p. 25
- Bechtold, Henry J. (1961, March 2). Manufacturing of Staples Big Business for American Firms. Medford Mail Tribune, p. 8
- Woolworth’s, (1961, August), advertisement. The Times-Record, page 23
- Perry Office Supply Catalog (1963), Syracuse, NY, page 53
- Editors (1963, July 13). Merger to Help Swingline, Inc. The Daily Times, p. 11
- Laffler, William D. (1965, December 15). Firm Grew From $500 Investment. The Daily Republican
- Editors UPI (1966, February 27). Stapler’s Success May Spell Doom for Paste Pots. Bridgeport Sunday Post, p. C-SIX
- Baker, Joe (1966, March 10). Ingenuity Made Staple Business. The Daily Sun, p. D8
- Editors (1970, March 26). Virginia News in Brief. The Register, p. 3B
- Swingline, (1970, September), advertisement. The Daily Tarheel, page 4
- Union Paper & Supply Co Catalog (1974), Wilkes-Barre, PA, page 57
- Swingline, (1978, September), advertisement. The Daily Tarheel, page 4
- Editors (1980, June 13). Jack Linsky Succumbs At Age 83. The Jewish Post & Opinion, p. 10
- SkyCity, (1980, August), advertisement. The Index Journal, page 19
- Thrifty Drug Store, (1980, August), advertisement. The Feather River Bulletin, page 7
- CVS, (1987, August), advertisement. Hazleton Standard-Speaker, page 7
- Hilley’s Pharmacy, (1988, August), advertisement. The Paris News, page 20
- Associated Druggists, (1990, March), advertisement. Hazleton Standard-Speaker, page 20
- MacFrugal’s, (1999, June), advertisement. Ukiah Daily Journal, page 39
- Walgreen’s, (1999, August), advertisement. The Facts, page 120
- Korkki, Phyllis (2013, March 23). The Attachment That Still Makes Noise. The New York Times, Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com
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