Although not the earliest patent awarded for an American brace (which belongs to Augustus Phelps, 1829 [#347]—but no example has been found), the earliest surviving patent brace is listed for Jeremy Taylor of Hebron, Connecticut (Hebron is a suburb of Hartford). This patent was awarded on June 30, 1836 (#.5115) and was subsequently manufactured by several companies over a fairly long period of time. Consequently it is not a rare brace today. Indeed, Ron Pearson lists it as "FF" (Frequently Found) in his book, "The American Patented Brace, 1829-1924."

This brace features a spring lever-operated chuck where the lever is depressed to release a notched tang bit from the chuck. Most of the examples of this brace that I’ve found were marked by the firm of Increase Wilson ("I. Wilson") who made tools in New London, Connecticut from 1818 through 1866 at least.  Wilson himself held a very early patent for a coffee grinder that dates to 1818.

Following his marriage to Rachel Wright at the beginning of 1810, Wilson manufactured and sold various hardware items, including the coffee grinder, peach pitters, and the Taylor patent braces.  By all accounts he was a prosperous man, and is recorded as one of the incorporators of the Savings Bank of New London, in 1827.

His daughter, Ann, married a young lawyer, Nathan Belcher in 1841.  Belcher had arrived in New London from nearby Griswold, Connecticut, and tossing his law practice found work helping Wilson run his hardware business.  After marrying the boss's daughter, Belcher steered the business on a very prosperous course.  Belcher himself prospered, serving two terms in the Connecticut Legislature as a Representative (1846 &47), and then as a Senator in 1850.  In 1853 he served as a Representative to the U.S. Congress from Connecticut.  Eschewing standing for re-election he returned to New London, and helped reorganize the Wilson hardware business as a public company, renaming it the "Wilson Manufacturing Co" in 1855.  Increase Wilson was listed as President and Nathan Belcher as its Secretary.  In 1861 Increase Wilson died, and Belcher became president.  About 1866 his interest in the company waned, and he no longer was in charge..  The Wilson Mfg. Co. also produced Charles Daboll's 1868 patent braces.  Indeed, Charles Daboll was a foreman working in the company.

New London is about 40 miles from Hebron.  The same patent brace was also produced by Joseph W. White working in Hebron, CT from at least 1838 through 1851, as well as by other makers Hebron makers (eg. H.O White, Hebron Mfg Co,   Naylor, C.G. Maples, etc.). The interesting point that one of the witnesses for Taylor’s patent application was "Joseph H. White," suggests a relationship between Joseph H. White, and Joseph W. White and H. O. White, both of whom manufactured braces in Hebron, where Jeremy Taylor was located. While Increase Wilson’s product was listed in a 1838 catalogue, he might not have been the first to produce this brace.


H.O. White is reported to have made braces in Hebron as early as 1830.  I have a brace of his marked, "H.O.White / No. 1" that is not a Taylor patent brace.  Rather it is an older style screw lock brace like that seen on many penny braces.  This could have predated the Taylor patent braces made by White and may be the oldest brace in my collection.

While Taylor’s patent was a new development in America, iron-framed braces with levered chucks may have been in use in Europe before 1836. Reg Eaton, in his book "The Ultimate Brace" (1989, Whitley Press Ltd), includes John Cartwright’s 1848 patent application for an iron framed brace in England, that included a spring loaded lever to hold the bit in the chuck. But the patent claims its innovative feature is the mouth (nozzle) of the chuck, which could be moved laterally to release the bit. Presumably the lever catch had been in use before 1848.

This unmarked brace is almost certainly British in origin and is of a form known as a "Scottish" brace. These braces typically have an elaborately turned wooden cup handle that is taller than most produced in America. This one is turned from walnut burl, and once had an ivory or horn button in the top. The swollen wrist region and hexagonal cross-section of the shaft are typical for this style of brace. The chuck on this one has a lever catch (formed in a heart shape and now broken) similar to the style of the Taylor patent braces in the U.S. Unlike most Taylor patent braces there is no obvious pin through the side of the chuck that forms the fulcrum of the lever. Like most Scottish braces, it is unsigned, although almost certainly from the latter part of the 19th Century.


The Taylor patent brace above is signed, "I. Wilson / J. Comstock / New London" and is typical of Taylor patent braces made by Increase Wilson.  The "Comstock" was John Comstock, who worked with Wilson for some time, and actually patented a brace of his own in 1853 (#10307), which rates a "B" for rarity in Ron Pearson’s book.


This brace is typical of Taylor patent braces, having the lever pinned through the side of the chuck, with an underlying spring. These braces almost invariably have a cast iron cup handle with a brass or iron washer/ferrule at the bottom. The cup handle rotates. The wrist region is only slightly swollen—and is not as ornate as the Scottish variety. The cup handles of these braces often have a central brass screw in the top that is often stamped with a number that probably relates it to other parts in the same hand-assembled brace. The brace shown here is in a 9" sweep size. Odd number sweeps (7", 9", 11") seem to be usual in these braces.


Here is another example of a Taylor patent brace, which is unsigned but has some similarities and some interesting differences from the Wilson/Comstock example. The sweeps are the same, and the cup handles are nearly identical, having the same cast rim, neck with turnings, and brass ferrule. The latter brace, however, has a shaft made from lighter stock, more abrupt bending at the wrist region, and a hexagonal iron elbow fitted at the top of the chuck. Moreover, the lever is on the outside of the chuck, protruding above the level of the lower horizontal portion of the shaft. The appearances of the two braces suggests a common maker of the cup handles, but different manufacturers of the lower parts of the braces. Because Wilson was not the only brace maker in New London, there could have been common local suppliers of parts.


Yet another unsigned Taylor patent brace is shown below. It gives some idea of the range of variation found in these braces. This one is interesting, first, because it is constructed of a hexagonal shaft, like the Scottish brace above—yet is clearly American. True to the American type it has a cast iron cup handle of the usual form, except that it is fastened to the shaft by two pins driven through the neck below a terminal flange on the shaft. Thus it has no top screw, nor can it be removed or adjusted. This brace has a 7" sweep. It has a lever with a small end protruding below the wrist-handle side of the chuck. And, finally, this one has a fairly large (1/4" diameter) hole bored through the side of the chuck at the level of the lever engagement with the tang. I suspect this is a "sight hole" to help align the notch in a bit’s tang with the lever catch. This brace has a small remaining piece of very heavy japanning on the top of the cup handle, and surely the brace was originally completely japanned when new. While this may have been typical of all of these braces, they are almost always found without that finish surviving.



The variations in Taylor patent braces, and their relative abundance make them interesting objects to collect. Perhaps someone will seriously study them to provide a time line of their variety and manufacturers.



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