Most folks today have heard about, and perhaps even followed, the multitude of court cases surrounding many of our modern computing appliances over the years; Apple versus Microsoft, Xerox versus Apple, Apple versus Samsung, AMD versus Intel – the list goes on and on.
What few realize is that historically when there has been a technological revolution there then follows many legal battles over patents, licensing, etc. Just as many of today’s tech giants battle it out in courts over such issues as patent infringements, this was also the case during the 19th century industrial/mechanical revolution.
By 1896, ten years after the U.S. Supreme Court weighed-in on the forging of checks, one of the more lucrative new areas of office technology was in the area of check protectors (see S&P Check Protector). In late 1896, Wesley Manufacturing Company introduced a new protector, the Indelible Check Perforator.
Made from cast iron and steel, the Indelible Check Perforator was a mechanically simple machine. To operate, you placed your check in between the two rollers by lifting the spring-loaded smaller upper roller. You would then turn the knobbed head so that the figure you wanted was in place. The last step was to simply press down firmly and that symbol would then be perforated onto your check. Once the symbol was perforated onto your check, the device would automatically advance your check one character’s distance ready for the next number. Where the “indelible” name comes in is that when you depress the head the perforating needles, after penetrating your check, would then press into an inked pad. When the perforating needles came back through the paper the edges of each individual hole would then be covered in red ink. This system would make it very difficult to then forge the check by any means.
When introduced the Indelible cost just $5. This was lower than many of the other check protectors on the market and in addition it was a high-quality piece. The Indelible was an immediate success and with that notoriety it took almost no time at all for the first patent infringement lawsuit to be filed.
The company accused of infringing Wesley Manufacturing’s patents was Rouss Manufacturing Company Inc. Rouss Manufacturing marketed a check protector called the Royal Automatic Check Protector. During the entirety of 1897 Wesley Manufacturing posted notices in all of the industry magazines, office suppliers, etc. giving everyone notice that they were going to take legal action against a manufacturer who was infringing on their patents. The pressure must have been telling because in April 1897 W.J. Coulson of Rouss Manufacturing went so far as to go to the offices of the American Stationer magazine and claim to a reporter ” The Stationer recently had a notice stating that the Wesley Manufacturing Company had notified a Brooklyn manufacturer of the Indelible check protector, who was selling an infringing machine at a cut rate, to stop his operations, and that he had agreed to do so. I am that Brooklyn manufacturer, and I want to say that I am the inventor and originator of the Indelible check perforator: that I made the machine before there was a Wesley Company; that I made it for that company, and when that concern declined to carry out a contract I had with it I made and marketed the machines myself; the company has begun no suit against me; I have been served with no papers, and furthermore there is no patent on the machine; I sell my machine at the same retail price that the company charges for its machine. My machine is the original in every respect, and I am not only the original manufacturer of it, but am the one who originated it.”
Mr. Coulson was technically correct when he stated that there is no patent on the machine. (side note: of course, Wesley Manufacturing was at that time claiming six patents and had a seventh that would be granted shortly. The Circuit Court made it a point however to effectively ignore the first six patents). However, the patent was filed and was granted a short 2 months later. It would appear that Mr. Coulson was incorrect on a number of other issues as well because later in 1897 a lawsuit was brought against Rouss Manufacturing Co Inc and on February 25, 1898, the case was heard in the Federal Circuit Court of Pennsylvania. The Federal Court found that there was a patent infringement and a preliminary injunction was placed against Rouss Manufacturing.
Skip forward about two years and in early 1900 it was being announced by Rouss Manufacturing in all of the industry magazines that the case (and supposed counterclaims) had been settled and that Rouss Manufacturing is now “enabled” to sell the Royal Automatic Check Protector under license from Wesley Manufacturing.
The Indelible Check Perforator was available from 1896 through at least 1915. It was made of cast iron and steel and measures 4.5″ L x 4.25″ W x 4.375″ H. It weighs a hefty 3.5 pounds but was still lighter in weight than much of its competition.
From 1896 to 1900 the Indelible was designed with 11 characters, the numbers 1 through 0 and a dollar sign. In 1901, a new symbol, a star, was added to the revolving head. Originally, the Indelible was only available in a japanned body with a nickel-plated head, but in 1902 a fully nickel-plated model began being advertised along with the japanned version. These variations will help you determine the date of manufacture of an Indelible.
Here is a sample of the perforations made by the Indelible.
The red ink being a bit smudgy is my fault. After 120 years the original ink pad in the Indelible had the consistency of a hard pencil eraser. I performed a complete “tune-up” and clean out of the Indelible and that included replacing the pad. However, I used what I had on hand which was not the correct type of felt necessary. It works great now otherwise and I’ll order a replacement stamp pad which I’ll cut to size and that should fix that issue. Only then will my checks finally be safe from all of the forgers and grifters still using 19th century technology in an attempt to steal my money.
Patent and Other Information:
- Patent 441057 granted November 18, 1990
- Patent 459544 granted September 15, 1991
- Patent 460257 granted September 29, 1891
- Patent 500258 granted June 27, 1893
- Patent 505577 granted September 26, 1893
- Patent 530470 granted December 4, 1894
- Patent 584518 granted June 15, 1897
- Editors (1896, October), The “Indelible” Check Perforator, The Book-Keeper, page 22
- Editors (1897, February 25), Going To Protect Its Patent, The American Stationer, page 32
- Wesley Mfg Co (1897, March 25), advertisement, The American Stationer, page 24
- Editors (1897, March 25), Roundabouts, The American Stationer, page 30
- Editors (1897, April 15), Chat By The Way, The American Stationer, page 17
- Medical Electric Co (1897, April), advertisement, The New Education, page 4
- Editors, The Federal Reporter Volume 87, West Publishing Company ,1897
- Editors (1900, February 3), Check Protector Suit Settled, The American Stationer, page 22
- Rouss Mfg Co Inc (1900, February 10), advertisement, The American Stationer, page 26
- Wesley Mfg Co (1901, February 21), advertisement, Geyer’s Stationer, page 27
- Editors (1902, August 16), Check Perforator, The American Stationer, page 48
- Wesley Mfg Co (1906, March 24), advertisement, The American Stationer, page 93
- FP Burnap Stationery & Printing Co Catalog (1915), Kansas City, MO, page 87
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