“The Alligator check protector and letter opener is a novelty that a man keeps and shows to his friends. It costs but little but does not look cheap. It can’t wear out and is used daily for two important purposes. One end is a paper knife. The other end, the handle, is open and corrugated inside the handle, making a convenient and absolutely safe check protector. The article is made of handsomely polished nickel plated steel and is furnished in quantities at attractively low prices.”
The American Stationer, July 1910, Novelties for the Trade – The Alligator
The above quote from 1910 is a fair description of the Alligator. It is a device that combines a letter opener with a check protector. The letter opener is of a design that hasn’t changed in over a century. You can still find this type of letter opener today. The check protector portion is built into the two-piece handle and works by embossing a quilt-type pattern in a rectangle measuring approximately 2″ x .5″. You would write out your check and then emboss over it. This was to discourage trying to make changes to the check after the fact.
The Alligator weighs in at 2 ounces and measures 7.5625″ L x .9375″ W. It is made of nickel-plated steel. It is a very high-quality item, extremely durable and well-built.
This was patented as a check protector under U.S. patent 826135. The patent was applied for on May 31, 1904 and granted on July 17, 1906 to Silas I. Atwater. It was first advertised in 1904. If you find this item stamped with PAT APPD FOR then you know it was manufactured between 1904 and 1906. Otherwise, they are all stamped PAT’D JULY 17’06.
The Alligator was manufactured by S.I. Atwater, later known as S.I. Atwater Specialties Company. It was available starting in 1904 and the latest reference I can find that specifically mentions the Alligator is in May 1920. However, as a low-cost “novelty” item it never did receive a lot of advertising. It is entirely possible that the Alligator was available after 1920.
The first mention I can find of S.I. Atwater is for 1904. During the sixteen years that I can find reference to they were located in the following places:
- 1904-1910: 369 Broadway, New York, NY
- 1910-1918: 335 Broadway, New York, NY
- 1918-1920: 105 Lafayette St, New York, NY – Now shown as S.I. Atwater Specialties Co
- 1920: 337 Broadway, New York, NY
In the January 1908 issue of the American Stationer it is mentioned that Hampden Hoge of the Hoge Specialty Co “has taken over the entire line of stationery specialties formerly manufactured and controlled by S.I. Atwater”. As S.I. Atwater is the only company ever mentioned in ads it sounds like S.I. Atwater simply became a subsidiary company under the Hoge Specialty Co.
- S.I. Atwater (1904, September). advertisement. The Book-Keeper and Business Man’s Magazine, page 514
- S.I. Atwater (1905, May). advertisement. Scientific American, page 393
- Beach, E.H.., Tools of Business, An Encyclopedia of Office Equipment and Labor Saving Devices, Detroit, MI, The Book-Keeping Publishing Co Ltd (1905). Print
- Editors (1907, June). Atwater’s Specialties. Geyer’s Stationer, page 25
- Editors (1908, January). Trade Items. The American Stationer, page 11
- Editors (1910, July). Novelties of the Trade. The American Stationer, page 14
- Editors (1920, May). Buyer’s Reference Bureau. The American Stationer and Office Outfitter, page 99