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mass-produced electric-motor-powered appliance ever offered for sale, the pen was an immediate success, but it was superseded by improved methods after just a few years.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.

See also this transcript of an original Western Electric manual for the electric pen.

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 pointed 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:
Object ID 84.1.1630.32
From the Collections of The Henry Ford

1877 Price List
Image courtesy of
The Thomas Edison Papers
[D7711ZAR; TAEM 162:1021]


At some point after Western Electric took over the manufacture and distribution of the electric pen in November 1876, the company introduced a third size of duplicating press for 9" x 11" paper. The existing No. 2 outfit was renamed No. 3 and the new size became No. 2, so that the outfits could still be listed in order of increasing size.

A full-page letterpress flyer for the pen mentions that “The Electric Pen...was invented three years ago”, which would date it to about 1878, and lists the following outfits and prices:

No. 1 Outfit, with 7x11 Press, $40.
No. 2 Outfit, with 9x11 Press, $50.
No. 3 Outfit, with 9x14 Press, $60.

The price of the No. 1 outfit was reduced to $40 from the $50 shown in the 1877 price list above, with the new intermediate No. 2 outfit now carrying the $50 price and the 9 x 14 outfit remaining at $60

A small advertisement published in The Railway Review at various times during 1883 listed the same three outfits, but with significant price reductions.

EDISON'S ELECTRIC PEN,
Manufactured and Sold by
Western Electric Manufacturing Co.
222 to 232 Kinzie Street, Chicago.
62 to 68 New Church Street, New York.

No. 1 Outfit Complete (Press 7x11), $25;
No. 2 Outfit Complete (Press 9x11), $30;
No. 3 Outfit Complete (Press 9x14), $35.

The No. 1 outfit was now $25 instead of $40, the No. 2 was $30 instead of $50, and the No. 3 was $35 instead of $60. No intermediate prices have yet been found, so the exact date of these price reductions is is not known.


The 1884 Western Electric catalog has two pages on the Electric Pen and its parts and supplies.

EDISON'S ELECTRIC PEN AND DUPLICATING PRESS.

This Duplicating Apparatus is especially adapted to the needs of Railway and Telegraph Companies.

It is unequaled for the speed, economy and convenience with which circulars, notices, diagrams, etc., can be prepared and issued.

  No. 1 Outfit, complete, printing 7x11
inches
$25.00  
  No. 2       "             "                   "    9x11       " 30.00  
  No. 3       "             "                   "    9x14
      "
35.00  
       
  Presses No. 1, 7 x 11 $8.00  
  Presses No. 2, 9 x 11 12.00  
  Presses No. 3, 9 x 14 17.00  
  Roller No. 1 2.25  
  Roller No. 2 3.25  
  Roller No. 3 3.25  
  Pen 8.00  
  Battery

5.25

 
  Pen Stand

40

 
  Cord 25  
  Bottle Watch Oil 10  
  Screw Driver 10  
  File 15  
  Bottle Ink 50  
       
 

PEN PARTS

   
  Magnet, $1.20; Keeper, .20 $1.40  
  Shaft (Clip, .30; Collar, .05; Shank, .25) 60  
  Iron Frame, $1.10, and two Binding Posts, .30 1.40  
  Tube and Nut 1.40  
  Centre, .70; Balance, .90; Armature, 35; Hub, .15; Cam, .20 2.00  
  Guide 30  
  Platina Pointed Spring 50  
  Platina Pointed Screw and Nut 50  
  Pen Centre Screw and Nuts, per pair 40  
 
  BATTERY PARTS AND SUPPLIES    
  Zincs, each $0.25  
  Jars       "  25  
  Porous cups, each 35  
  Rubber Discs,    " 40  
  Carbons,             " 15  
  Carbon Clamps, each 25  
  Binding Posts,        " 20  
  Screw for holding Zinc and Carbon Clamps 10  
  Cross Piece 30  
  Shaft 50  
  Stand 80  
  Spectacles 50  
  Stencil Paper, No. 1 Press, same as sample per Quire 50  
  Stencil paper, No. 2     "   per Quire 50  
  Stencil paper, No. 3     "   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

 
  Carbon Paper, per Sheet, 5x8 10  
      "              "              "        10x15 15  
  Colored Ink, Red, Blue, Green and Purple
(a roller felt is necessary for each colored ink)
2.00  
  Woodbury Holder 5.00  
  Reed Pen 25.00  
  Music Ruling Pen 30.00  
      "           "     Attachment 5.00  
  Roller Felt No. 1 1.50  
      "         "    No. 2 2.25  
   


1884 Western Electric catalog pages 54 & 55
Scans courtesy of Doug Palmer

A number of special-purpose items are included in this price list.

The Woodbury Holder was patented on 23 April 1878 by Frank P. Woodbury of Rockford Illinois. It was an attachment for the electric pen which kept the pen vertical but allowed the user’s hand to rest at a more comfortable angle.

The Reed Pen was devised by Edison around 1878, and was an exceptionally rapid form of the pen intended to be used only by by very fast, skillful penmen.

The Music Ruling Pen was a modified electric pen having five needles, used to draw musical staves. The staff (plural staves) is the name given to the five horizontal lines on which musical notation is written.

The Music Rulilng Attachment allowed an existing pen to perform the same function as the Music Ruling Pen.


As late as 1904, the Western Electric Company still listed bulk replacement “Covered Tinsel Cord” for the electric pen in its General Catalog of Electrical Supplies, priced at 15 cents per yard:

For Electric Pen
List No. 90489
Double conductor tinsel cord,
with cotton and worsted covering

Return to Edison’s Electric Pen main page

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Last revised: 22 September, 2021