Friday, 30 April 2010

Pooh paper patent

It has been quite a serious time on the project for the past couple of weeks. I am still ploughing through the company's financial records and I have managed to draft my colleague Matt in to catalogue the patents that I mentioned last week. Financial and legal records can be quite dry and formulaic so I had no expectation of being able to report any quirky and interesting finds amongst these records, until Matt came across a very interesting patent a few days ago. Most of the patents we have come across so far have been fairly standard and representative of inventions you expect to be associated with a glass firm, such as 'Improvements in the the manufacture of pipes or tubes of glass', 'Improvements relating to optical glass' and the obvious (if unhelpful) 'Improvements in the manufacture of glass'.

Yet Matt stumbled on a patent specification of Henrik Zander dated 1839 for 'Improvements in the manufacture of paper'. Already, the patent appeared to be unusual. It then becomes apparent that the patent is for the manufacture of paper..........from horse manure. It appears to be quite a time consuming process as the dung needs to be cleaned repetitively with cold water, boiled and then mixed with straw, caustic soda and linen to produce the necessary pulp. It is unclear why Chances took such an interest in this invention. It could be argued that they were one of the earliest green companies, interested in recycling (though this is highly unlikely). There are many producers of elephant dung paper on the internet today including and These producers all highlight the following benefits of producing paper from elephant dung:
1) Elephant dung is a renewable resource, unlike wood pulp.
2) It is a free waste product, therefore, good for business.
3) It is often produced in countries where elephants are deemed an agricultural pest, such as Thailand and Sri Lanka, enabling locals to see the animals as assets and not liabilities.
Whether Chances were aware of the eco-friendly benefits of using dung for paper or not, it does retrospectively appear to be a very good idea. And whilst Henrick Zander admits in his specification that he is not the first to produce paper from 'vegetable matter' (this invention can probably be assigned to the Egyptians), he does believe that he is the first to use horse dung in the production of paper. In years to come, when it is possible that we may all be taking notes in our dung paper notebooks, we can look back and be grateful to Henrick Zander: (possibly) the first inventor of horse dung paper.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

The 'Chance Brother' of all inventions

It is not an exaggeration to say that Chances were one of the most diverse and experimental of companies. They have an impressive list of accomplishments and here are just a few:

1) They were the first company to introduce sheet glass production to Britain
2) They were the exclusive producers of a very thin glass for use in microslides for over 100 years
3) They were the first company to produce interchangeable barrels and plungers for syringes, revolutionising modern medicine
4) They helped produce some of the first cathode ray tubes for television with John Logie Baird

The records testify to this desire to create new products and improve on others. There are mixture books and reports recording experiments in the laboratory for producing the perfect coloured and textured glass. There are also over 150 patents in the collection for inventions and improvements to glass making processes granted to Chance and its employees. Amongst these are around 20 original letters patents dating from 1842 to 1860 with their original seals and boxes. Letters patents are a legal instrument in the form of an open letter issued by a monarch or government, granting an office, right, monopoly, title, or status to a person or to some entity such as a corporation. These documents are very large and beautifully illustrated with a large decorative seal attached (please see below). A particular form of letters patent has evolved into the modern patent granting exclusive rights in an invention.

It is also clear from the records that Chances could be ruthless when it came to gaining the trade secrets of other firms. In 1887, Chance director Kenneth Alan Macaulay corresponded with an agent in Belgium called Achille Charlot who had found an ex-employee of a glass manufacturer called Baudoux who would sell their knowledge on how to re-produce Baudoux's ruby glass. Initially, the ex-employee wanted £120 but Charlot managed to bring his price down to £70. This equates to approximately £4,000 in today's money. A bargain for a trade secret, I'm sure you will agree!