FTL Design
History of Technology

Edison’s Electric Pen
Early Price Lists
by Bill Burns

Introduction: Edison’s electric pen, developed in 1875 and patented in 1876, together with its battery, duplicating press, and other accessories, made low-cost copying available to anyone with [initially at least] $30 to spend. The first mass-produced electric-motor-powered appliance ever offered for sale, the pen was an immediate success, but it was superseded by improved methods after just a few years.

The first batch of pens was made by hand by John Ott, working under contract in Edison’s Newark Shop, while Gillland & Co. made the duplicating press, ink rollers, and other parts. Ott also made the tooling for the first production runs of the pens.

Once the pen went into regular production, Gilliland & Co., operating as Edison’s Electrical Pen & Duplicating Press Co., took over all the manufacturing. The company had offices at 41 Dey Street in Manhattan and a factory in Menlo Park.

In November 1876, Edison licensed the manufacturing and domestic sale rights for his Electric Pen and Duplicating Press outfits to the Western Electric Manufacturing Company of Chicago under the supervision of George H. Bliss, and Gilliland was then listed as General Eastern Agent.

The descriptions and prices on the left side of the table below are transcribed from a price list in the Collections of The Henry Ford museum (Dearborn, Michigan), Object ID 84.1.1630.32. This price list was created and printed using the electric pen and duplicating press, and was probably produced for the the 1876 Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia, where the electric pen was first displayed. The Exhibition opened on 10 May 1876, and the following month a bronze medal was awarded to Edison for the Electric Pen and Duplicating Press.

The descriptions and prices on the right side of the table are from a 12-page typeset pamphlet “Directions for the Setting up and Using of Edison's Electric Pen and Duplicating Press“, published by George H. Bliss, General Manager of Western Electric in Chicago, and dated 1877 in the records maintained by the Thomas Edison Papers project. From this it appears that the prices on the complete outfits and some of the spare parts were increased after Western Electric took over production and distribution of the system in November 1876, as noted above.

Further information on the electric pen may be found on the main page of this site.

—Bill Burns

 

The complete outfit: Ink roller and duplicating press, pen stand, battery, pen, and stencil

Electric Pen and Duplicating Press Price Lists

  1876 Price List    
  No 1 Outfit, 7 x 11 $40.00  
  No 2 Outfit, 9 x 14 $47.50  
       
  EXTRAS    
  No 1 Press 7 x 11 $12.50  
  No 2 Press 9 x 14 $18.25  
  Pen $15.50  
  Roller for No 1 Press 2.75  
  Roller for No 2 Press 3.50  
  Battery 6.50  
  Pen Stand 50  
  Cord 60  
  Bottle watch oil 10  
  Screw driver 10  
  File 20  
  Zincs, per pair 50  
  Carbon plate 25¢  
  Carbon clamp 25  
  Platina pointed spring 30  
  Platina pinted screw and nut 30¢  
  Tube & screw (pen handle) 75  
  Glass jars, each 40  
  Porous cups, " 50  
  Needle shank 40  
  Ink, small bottles 1.00  
  Ink, large bottles 2.00  
  Oil stone 25¢  
  Stencil paper, No 1 Press, same as sample per quire 40¢  
  Stencil paper, No 2 Press,     "    "     "     "  60¢  
       
       
       
       
       
       
 
  1877 Price List    
  No. 1 Outfit, Foolscap size, 7 X 11 $50.00  
  No. 2     "       Folio            "    9 X 14 60.00  
       
  Parts and Supplies    
  No. 1 Press, 7 X 11

12.50

 
  No, 2 Press, 9 X 14

18.25

 
  Pen

25.00

 
  Roller for No. 1 Press

2.75

 
  Roller for No. 2 Press

3.75

 
  Battery

6.50

 
  Pen Stand

50

 
  Cord

60

 
  Bottle watch oil

10

 
  Screw Driver

10

 
  File

20

 
  Zincs, per pair

50

 
  Carbon plates, per pair

50

 
  Carbon clamps, per pair

70

 
  Platina pointed spring

80

 
  Platina pointed screw and nut

80

 
  Tube and screw (pen handle)

1.85

 
  Glass jars, each

40

 
  Porous cups, each

50

 
  Needle shank

90

 
  Ink, per bottle

1.00

 
       
       
  Stencil paper, No 1 Press, same as sample,                                                 per quire

40

 
        "           "     No. 2 press, per quire

60

 
  Brushes, each

25

 
  Blotters, hard, per quire

60

 
          "        soft,       "

50

 
  Print Paper, Note size, per quire

10

 
      "        "       Letter  "          "      

15

 
      "        "       Legal Cap size, per quire

20

 

 

1876 Price List

Image credit:
From the Collections of The Henry Ford
Object ID 84.1.1630.32

1877 Price List

Image courtesy of
The Thomas Edison Papers
[D7711ZAR; TAEM 162:1021]

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Last revised: 10 April, 2021