Henry L. Stevens

At the time of the award of his single brace patent, H. L. Stevens lived in Millers Falls, Massachusetts, and most likely worked for the Millers Falls Company.  His patent, No. 229,197 was registered on June 22, 1880 and is a curious one.

Remember that  William Barber patented his classic chuck and jaws on May 24, 1864, and sometime later sold the rights to it to the fledgling Millers Falls Mfg. Co.  His design featured two independent jaws, that separately hooked into the top of a coiled spring which pushed the jaws toward the open mouth of the chuck shell.  The jaws were kept from collapsing in on each other by a shelf of steel produced by the incomplete machining of the slot in the threaded core of the chuck that made room for the jaws.  As discussed on the Millers Falls page, this seminal design was dramatically improved upon just a year and a half later by Charles Amidon's "Improved Barber Chuck" ( Oct 3, 1865).  This improvement involved doing away with the spring, opening the slot in the threaded core completely, and loosely pinning the two jaws together at the base.  It almost immediately proved to be a superior design and quickly dominated the Millers Falls production line.

As pointed out earlier,  true Barber chucks are quite uncommon in Millers Falls Braces, supposedly because the Amidon's improved design was superior.  Indeed more true Barber chucks are found in non-Millers Falls braces (generally made by smaller companies) than are found in those marked by Millers Falls .  In fact, all of the true Barber chucks that I've seen in Millers Falls braces have been in those marked by the founding Millers Falls Mfg. Co. This suggests the conjecture that the Millers Falls Co. may have sold limited rights to the original Barber patent to smaller and non-threatening companies, while reserving the "improved Barber" chuck for itself.

Now enter Mr. Henry Stevens.  Stevens' 1880 patent is for what amounts to the classic Barber patent chuck, with the singular addition of a brass tube that contains the coiled spring into which the independent jaws are hooked.  The idea is simple, and probably effective.  Barber's original design uses three elements in the jaw system--a coiled spring and two jaws.  The spring, especially, was prone to escaping when the jaws were removed could be lost.  By containing the spring within a tube Stevens' invention makes that spring loss much less likely.  But, you have to ask, "So what"?

The patent is for an improvement on a jaw system that was less reliable and probably more expensive than that of the Improved Barber chuck.  It was awarded 16 years after the original Barber patent (that Millers Falls did not have in production) and 15 years following Amidon's improvement.  It certainly is possible that Millers Falls, through Mr. Stevens, was preserving its rights to a patent (Barber's) that may have been something of a cash calf--if indeed it was being sold to lesser companies.

If this is true, the strategy did not work for examples of Stevens' patent seem to be extremely rare--in Millers Falls braces as well as in smaller companies that might have been assignees.  Indeed, it is a patent recorded by Ron Pearson as being "Not Seen."  And to this point I had not seen one either.

But "this point" has come; and it was at the May edition of the Brimfield Antiques Fair in Brimfield, Mass. that I discovered an intact and clear example of Mr. Stevens patent.  And most surprising, it is in a Millers Falls No. 62 Ratchet Bit brace, clearly marked with the Millers Falls Co. name and the June 22, 1880 patent date on the chuck!

The brace, by the way, looks like an 1880s product, having pewter retaining rings at the wrist handle and a knurled and marked chuck shell.  Except for the addition of the brass tube, the jaws, spring, and chuck core are nearly identical to the original Barber patent chuck.

So, Millers Falls did use this patent!

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