Gum is a substance that is applied to the back of a sheet of paper. When that gum is then moistened it enables the paper to be adhered to another piece of paper or object. First used in the late 1830’s for postage stamps, eventually many office supplies used gum as a medium for sticking one thing to another.
The general idea is that a person would lick the gum, activating it, and then stick the item onto something. This could be unsanitary but more than that it was inefficient when needing to moisten a lot of items at one time. For instance, if you sent out a mass mailing you might need to lick hundreds of envelopes – not a pleasant thought. With this in mind there was a number of solutions manufactured that allowed you to moisten gum with just a swipe, a brush, or a squeeze onto a sponge. However, one of the most successful items made for this purpose was the Ideal Moistener.
The Ideal Moistener could be used to moisten postage stamps, envelopes, labels, packing tape, and any other items that utilized water-based glue. This type of moistener worked because of the cohesive properties of water. You’d spin the cylinder and a thin veil of water would cling to its surface for a short time. To use the number 3 model you first remove the cylinder, then place at least two, but preferably three, ounces of water in the rectangular trough. Place the cylinder back in, spin it a few times and you were all set. Take your stamp, envelope, etc. and simply move it across the cylinder and it would magically moisten it just enough to activate the glue. By using this kind of moistener you didn’t have to lick anything to get it to stick. It was due to this that the early versions of the Ideal were called the Ideal Sanitary Moistener. While the manufacturer eventually dropped the “Sanitary” portion of the name, all through the many decades that the different models of the Ideal were sold the benefit of this being sanitary was always touted.
Postage stamps and most types of tape now use a pressure sensitive adhesive that you simply peel and stick. While many types of envelopes also use this type of adhesive many still use the tried and true water-based glues that need to be moistened. Obviously, the Ideal Moistener wouldn’t be used with pressure sensitive adhesive but it can certainly still be used on items, such as envelopes, using water-based glue. It is literally only two parts and due to its being made of porcelain it can last forever. This last bit can’t be proved of course, but archaeologists have found porcelain items that are over 2,000 years old and for our purposes that is effectively forever.
Ideal Moisteners eventually came in three sizes; Junior, Senior (aka standard) and Major. The Major was the longest version. It was available in white glazed porcelain and weighs 2 pounds 14 ounces. The base with roller measures 7.125 inches long x 2.75 inches wide x 2.5 inches in height. The roller itself measures 6 inches long x 1.5 inches in diameter. The wide roller on the Major would be particularly useful for wide packaging tape and would probably have seen more use in mail and shipping rooms.
The Sengbusch Self-Closing Inkstand Company started in 1905. On June 12, 1916 Sengbusch acquired the Ideal Moistener new stock, machinery, trademarks, patterns, and trade from the Ideal Moistener Company of Findlay, Ohio. After that date, and until Sengbusch went out of business, all models of the Ideal Moistener were manufactured by them.
The model 3 Ideal “Major” Moistener was the last version released of this product. The first mention of this model was in 1955 and the latest found was in 1969, although it is reasonable to assume Sengbusch produced this model throughout the 1970’s until it went out-of-business. It was never really advertised but was available through office supply catalogs and better stationers.
Using the picture above of the box label, can you date the Ideal “Major” Moistener seen in this post? There is one clue and that is the last line on the bottom of the label where it shows “Milwaukee 3, Wis”. The “3” denotes a city postal zone code which stopped being used in 1963 when the United States moved to the modern zip code system. This system is still used today. Since the model 3 was available starting in 1955 that means this item was made between 1955 and 1963 – an eight year period which is much tighter than the 14-24 year period of time this model was available.
- Commercial Stationers and Office Outfitters Catalog (1955), Chicago, IL, page 305
- Grand and Toy’s Office Supply Catalog (1962), Toronto, Ontario, Canada, page 5
- Wosco Catalog (1963), Greensburg, PA, page 39
- McDonald, Stingel & Bush Office Supply Catalog (1964) Saginaw, MI, page 322
- Arrow Office Supply Co Catalog (1969), Chicago, IL, page 81
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