George M. Thompson certainly thought big. Back in 1874, he patented what he must have thought would be his ticket to easy street. Thompson's patented bench plane was, as it turned out to be, just one of the multitude of patented iron planes to hit the market during the last quarter of the 19th Century. I know... I said 1874. So Mr. Thompson was off by a year. Certainly one of the more flamboyant trade cards of that period, Thompson went for a flaming bright colored card with seven separate font styles. Modern day typographists would turn green if a client asked for this combination of fonts. But our Mr. Thompson didn't do things in a small way. Although his planes are now exceedingly rare (read: such a flop that almost nobody bought one, or so fragile that they fell apart simply on sighting a length of hard maple) he seemed to have bet the laundry on this one.
In an attempt to produce a plane that incorporated design elements similar to other planes on the market, Thompson fiddled this and faddled that to come up with a metal plane that looked like it was designed by a committee. Certainly it was a peculiar looking beast and it must have caught the eye of the prospective buyer. If there were more than five buyers in total. Let's just say that this plane is almost never seen outside of the major tool collections. This was typical of the late 19th Century inventors. Function often came second to form. Flash and things that did something esoteric and mysterious held the attention of both the public and the inventor. If you doubt me, look up the Crystal Palace Exhibition of 1851. There you will see why the latter part of the 1800's exemplified excess of ornament. Take a look at the patent drawing for the Thompson plane and imagine just how much of a pain it must have been to adjust this thing. Possibly it made a good cheese grater?
George M. was an ambitious man. He was not satisfied to stop at one patented plane. This trade card reveals more about one person than does your typical store card. George seemed to be attempting to cover all the bases in his inventorship. Pat. Bench Planes, Horse-Car Couplings (the poor guy was not ahead of his time by any means), Belt Punch, Countersink Bits, Callipers, Dividers, Lemon Squeezers (??), Egg Beaters and Portable Blacksmith Forges. My guess is that he was a fan of lemonaid, had been left in the lurch at least once when the horse left him behind, was something of a compulsive individual who insisted on getting his measurements correct, took out his aggressions at the forge and simply liked scrambled eggs. The fact that all of his patent rights where for sale says that while George was a man of deep thought, his wallet was empty. Poor guy couldn't even hire an agent who would be available for more than 3 hours a day.
The commonly held understanding is that trade cards began as a means for a merchant or tradesman to note prices of goods, all the while using a small card or piece of paper that would remind the buyer to whom the money was owed. Our George did them all one better by offering his entire stock of patents for sale on one eye-catching card. Although I do have to wonder at the advisability of presenting oneself as an inventor who has too many inventions for sale at any one given time.
All that aside, this remains a particularly rare trade card from the inventor of a peculiar woodworking plane. Rarity aside, there's a wealth of information that can be derived from a careful examination of the card, along with a little bit of creative license.
This trade card, amongst others, can be found in the Manufacturing > Hand Tools section of The Toolemera Press website. It's actually one of the first trade cards that I collected, well before I was totally consumed by ephemeritis.
In subsequent posts I'll be digging up odds and ends to talk about as well as announcing new material at The Toolemera Press web site . Feedback and comments are always welcome. I'm still in the process of deducing the workings of Typepad, which is to say that I am fumbling my way around here figuring out what works and what doesn't.
The Toolemera Press & Toolemera ePrints