Antique Staplers & Other Paper Fasteners
Before Metallic Paper Fasteners: Metallic paper fasteners and machines to insert them began to arrive on the market in the late 1850s and were widely advertised from 1866 onward. Before these specialized paper fastening devices were available, the types of documents that today are stapled together were fastened in a number of ways that did not make use of metallic fasteners or mechanical devices. Papers were held together by any one of the following:1. Stitches made with a needle and thread
2. Paper or wax seals or wafers (which were marketed for use in sealing envelopes)
3. Strings, cloth tapes, or ribbons that were inserted through parallel incisions made with a penknife, then tied, and sometimes secured with paper or wax seals to prevent tampering with the document
4. Lines or dots of paste or glue
5. Straight pins
6. Strings or ribbons tied around groups of papers
7. Rubber bands placed around groups of papers While metallic paper fasteners and machines to insert them caught on quickly, the seven methods of fastening papers that are listed immediately above were still used for decades. For example, in the early 1900s paper clips were sometimes advertised as a superior alternative to pins for fastening papers. Next we provide information about the 19th century use of a few of the methods of fastening papers listed immediately above.
Needle and Thread: A document published in 1858 states: "The Candidates should leave their answers at their seats (with the Examination papers attached to them), after having carefully filed them all together in order through the upper left hand corner. A supply of silk twist and some large needles should be provided for this purpose." (Journal of the Society of Arts, v. 6, London, England, 1858, p. 577)
Sealing Wax: Sealing wax was used to authenticate and seal documents long before the 19th century. In the 19th century, F. M. Butler of New York, NY, exhibited sealing wax at the Exhibition of the Massachusetts Charitable Mechanic Association, Boston, in 1837. Waterlow & Sons, London, exhibited sealing wax in 1855, and Thaddeus Davids & Co., New York, NY, did so in 1876.Paste and Glue: It seems likely that lines and dots of paste and glue were used to fasten papers well before the 19th century, but our research goes back only to the second half of the 19th century. The following question and answer appear in 1860 testimony: Question: "Did the paper handed to you in the saloon in fact consist of two papers attached together by mucilage?" Answer: "It did." (Miscellaneous Documents of the US House of Representatives, 36th Congress, 1st Session, Mis. Doc. No. 12, 1860, p. 52) Mucilage, a water-soluble glue made from plants, was advertised along with other office supplies by Richard B. Dovell's Son & Co. and by Samuel S. Stafford, both New York, NY, in 1867, and by Carter Bros. & Co., Boston, MA, and Chase & Bush, Philadelphia, PA, in 1868. A number of sellers exhibited mucilage along with other office supplies at the 1876 International Exhibition. At least as late as 1912, well after numerous types of metallic paper fasteners had been placed on the market and widely adopted, mucilage was promoted as an alternative to paper clips for fastening papers. See the image on the right immediately below.
Straight Pins: Mass production of straight pins began in the first half of the 19th century, and it seems likely that straight pins were used to fasten papers once they were mass produced if not before. The photo below shows Pyramid Pins of the type sold for fastening papers in offices as well as for many uses in homes by the New England Pin Co., Winsted, CT. In 1878, Charles J. Cohen, Philadelphia, PA, advertised Pyramid Pins in a similar circular holder patented in 1871. An an ad for Pyramid Pins in a circular holder with a label similar to that in the photo here appeared in 1910.
Red Tape: The earliest reference we have found to use of red tape to tie papers is: "a bundle of papers, ty'd with red tape." (The Proceedings at the Sessions of the Peace, and Oyer and Terminer, for the City of London, 1730, p. 245) However, the use of red tape to tie a book containing notes and papers in 1708 suggests that red tape may have been used to tie papers by the very early 18th century. In any event, 19th century publications--particularly British ones--make many references to use of red tape for tying papers. The term "red tape" was used in its current figurative sense by 1833: "He hates the projects for centralising every thing in London, and putting the government of red tape and green ferrit in place of the time-honoured institutions of King Alfred." (Fraser's Magazine for Town and Country, v. 8, Oct. 1833, p. 488. Green ferrit or ferret is string or tape made from silk filaments and dyed green. In Britain during the 19th century, particularly during the early 1800s, it was sometimes used in the same manner as red tape.) The image below on the left shows an 1880 advertisement for red tape and green silk ferret along with other types of office supplies.
Rubber Bands: Charles Slack states that the British firm Perry & Co. introduced the rubber band in 1844, and that a licensee of Goodyear made rubber bands around the same time in the US. (Noble Obsession: Charles Goodyear, Thomas Handcock, and the Race to Unlock the Greatest Industrial Secret of the Nineteenth Century, 2002, pp. 144, 155) We found Perry's India rubber bands being offered for sale, along with stationery supplies, including wax and wafers for sealing envelopes, by a company in Calcutta, India, in 1848. (D'Rozario & Co.'s Library. Books, Pictures, Stationery & Miscellaneous Articles, Calcutta, 1848) We also found references to India rubber bands among office supplies in publications throughout the following decades. Waterlow & Sons, London, advertised pins, elastic bands, and red tape in 1855. Geo. N. Davis & Brother, Boston, MA, advertised rubber stationers' bands in 1856. (Illustrated and Descriptive Catalogue and Trade-Price List of India Rubber and Gutta Percha Goods)
Brass Paper Fasteners: H. W. Hall received an English patent for a brass paper fastener with two legs that the user inserted through a slit in papers and then bent outward in opposite directions. Unaware of the Hale patent, the US patent office awarded a patent for a brass paper fastener with the same fundamental characteristics to George W. McGill in 1866. The McGill paper fasteners were immediately popular, remained popular well into the 20th century, and (under other brand names) are still on the market.
Paper Clips: In 1890, a paper clip made from folded spring steel was introduced in the US. A bent-wire paper clip was patented by Fay in 1867 but the Fay design was not used commercially until 1896. The first paper clip made from bent spring steel wire to be marketed was the Gem, introduced by Cushman & Denison in 1892, and ever since the most popular paper clip in the US. To visit our exhibit on the History of the Paper Clip, click here.
Paper Fastening Technology TimelineThis table provides a chronological list of paper fastening technologies that were introduced after 1850. For most, there is a link that will take you to a separate page with a timeline for that particular technology.
The word "stapler" was used in its modern sense by 1884. (The American Bookseller, June 2, 1884, p. 547, referring to the Novelty paper fastener as the "Novelty stapler.") However, prior to the 1920s, the devices that we now call "staplers" were generally referred to as "paper fasteners," "staple drivers," "staple binders," and "stapling machines."
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