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be expected constantly to increase. It would tax, it was said, the utmost powers of the best organised private establishment, pushed on by a commercial stimulus, to execute such a task. But, it seems that even at the end of the first


the Patent Office, thanks to the ability and untiring zeal of its superintendent, Mr. Woodcroft, had not only disposed of the current work, but was clearing off arrears. It was resolved to print every patent that existed from the earliest date, and by the end of 1853 this great undertaking was in rapid progress.

« The whole series of specifications of patents for reaping-machines, and the drawings accompanying the same, from the first enrolled, 4th July, 1799, to the present time, have been printed and published, and are sold at the cost price of the printing and paper, either separately or altogether, with an appendix, in one volume. The appendix, compiled by Mr. Woodcroft from a great variety of authorities and works, describes the instruments for reaping grain published and in use from the earliest period to the present time.

• The whole series of specifications of patents for fire-arms, cannon, shot, shells, cartridges, weapons, accoutrements, and the machinery for their manufacture, and the drawings accompanying the same, from the earliest recorded, 15th May, 1718, to the present time, have been printed and published in like manner. An appendix is in preparation and will shortly be published,

The Secretary of State for the Home Department has required the publication of the old specifications of patents for the consumption of smoke in furnaces, and for the making of drainage tiles applicable to sewerage ; and the Board of Admiralty has required the publication of the specifications of patents for improvements in propelling ships; these three subjects are now in preparation.'— Report 1853, p. 5.

The current of invention steadily sets in the direction in which it is urged by passing events, as is proved by the swelling number of applications for patents which relate to the engrossing subject of the hour. When the war with Russia broke out, the Patent Office was inundated with belligerent projects. No less than 600 patents have been since granted for military inventions, while the total of all that had ever been granted before was only 300.

The first patent for drain-pipes was granted in January, 1619, to John Etherington, for a certain engine to make and cast all sort of earthen-pipes for conveyance of water in the earth.' For upwards of two centuries afterwards the number of patents in this department was only 16, while from August, 1830, to August, 1855, the number granted is 104. Up to 1840 only 10 patents had been taken out for manures.

From 1840 to 1855 there were issued 128. Nothing can mark more plainly the period of agricultural progress. In consequence of this concentration of inventive ingenuity on



the special wants of the day, it was determined to classify the huge piles of parchment rolls, and print in a consecutive series the specifications which would meet the particular inquiries that were most pressing at the time. The stores of the office were thus at once rendered available for consultation, whereas, if the 12,977 old specifications had been published in chronological order, there would have been considerable delay before any one subject could be complete.

No time was lost in printing the ample indexes made by Mr. Woodcroft, and which the Commissioners were directed by Act of Parliament to purchase. These have been found on trial to answer completely. the purpose for which they are intended. They at once make known the contents of the huge mass of specifications and render all the assistance necessary to guide a search directed to any particular subject. More information may thus be obtained gratis in a few hours than could be acquired under the old system, at great cost, in as many days. The importance of these improvements is not easily overrated. The first necessity to an inventor is to ascertain what has been already done, or he may waste time and money in devising what has been accomplished long before, and the benefit of his ingenuity will be lost both to himself and the public. Again and again devices which were the same in all essential particulars were patented by successive individuals, who were ignorant that they had been often forestalled.

The Commissioners, in their Report, expressed a hope that the entire series of old specifications would be printed by the year 1860;' but, contrary to all expectation, the task was accomplished by the end of the summer of 1858. It may give some idea of the vastness of the undertaking to mention that, although they are sold at a price which gives no profit, a complete set, with their illustrative drawings, some of which are extremely beautiful, costs 10001. These volumes are a record of the folly and ignorance as well as of the ingenuity of mankind. Some of the patents are for objects which are utterly insignificant. One William Preddy patents, in 1849, a variety of inventions for closing the pipes of watch-keys when not in use.' Other devices, or pretended devices, are altogether preposterous. Lunacy, as might be expected, often takes the turn of imaginary discoveries, and half-knowledge leads to ludicrous blunders. M. Arago states that in France the spring is the usual time for the development of the fancies of madmen. A number of persons at that season are seized with such delusions as that they have discovered perpetual motion and the mode of squaring the circle, and sell everything they




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possess to take out a patent for doing that which in the nature of things cannot be done.

The Act of 1852 directed the Commissioners to present copies of their publications to such public libraries and museums as they may think fit.' They have been presented accordingly to various institutions all over the kingdom, on condition of their being daily open to the inspection of the public free of charge. “In their selection of towns for this gift,' says the Report of 1856, the Commissioners have been guided by the number of applications for patents proceeding from each. This gift has in most cases laid the foundation of public free libraries where none previously existed.' This has been no barren gift. Instead of being permitted to slumber in dust, the long array of volumes are in incessant use. The librarian of the Royal Museum and Library, Salford, thus describes the result in that town:

“The specifications have been in service at the library eleven months, and as many as 253 references per month have been made. The majority of the persons who have hitherto consulted them are working mechanics, foremen, managers, and overlookers of firms belonging to this and the neighbouring districts. Others are inventors and patentees who are anxious to examine the claims of existing correlative patents so as to avoid infringement upon their rights; and others, perhaps the smallest class, who are interested in the general progress of the mechanical arts and of science, examine the whole of the patents as they are received at the library.'

The librarian of the Literary and Philosophical Society of Newcastle-on-Tyne stated that the collection was chiefly consulted by manufacturers and the managers of manufactories, and were sometimes followed to the binder's shop. He adds that the specifications principally in request were those which concerned the manufactures carried on in the surrounding district. The same was the case at Kidderminster, where the good people mainly directed their studies to the class of inventions which applied to machinery and looms for manufacturing carpets. At the Marylebone Free Library the majority of the patent students are workmen, and the number of monthly issues is about 500. There the contrivances which relate to steam-engines in some form or other are most in request, and it is to this department of industry that the bulk of intelligent London mechanics belong. The immense majority of inventions have been generated in towns, and generally apply to the local manufactures of the respective places from which they spring. The study of the annals of past discoveries will both add a new stimulus to useful exertion, and will assist in checking wild or barren schemes. In these matters idea begets idea, and the invention of


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yesterday gives birth to the invention of to-morrow. Complete sets of the publications of the Commissioners have been offered to our colonies and dependencies, and twenty-one have accepted the gift.

It is not every one that is within reach of a public library, and the Commissioners have therefore brought out a series of smaller works, of which the purpose is thus described in the preface :-

· The indexes to patents are now so numerous and costly as to be placed beyond the reach of a large number of inventors and others, to whom they have become indispensable. To obviate this difficulty, short abstracts of the specifications under each head of invention have been prepared, and are arranged so as to form at once a chronological subject matter, reference, and alphabetical index to the class to which they relate.'

These handy books' contain information in its most condensed and accessible form. By looking through the contents of any one of the series the whole subject to which it relates is spread open before the reader, who can lay his finger on the exact spot where he is to sink his shaft and open his mine. If fuller information is desired, he is referred to the original specifications and the drawings describing the invention. The list of the abridgments already published or in the press comprises drain-tiles and pipes; manufacture of iron and steel; manure ; sewing and embroidery; marine propulsion; preservation of food; aids to locomotion; steam culture; printing calicoes and woven fabrics ; typographic, lithographic, and plate printing; combustion of fuel ; watches, clocks, and other timekeepers ; manufacture of paper; fire-arms and other weapons, ammunition and accoutrements, and steam-engines. Many of these little volumes, the whole of which cost only a few shillings, contain introductions full of curious information, the result of laborious research. The respective inventions are there considered with relation to their early history, their gradual progress, and the sudden impulse given to them by special circumstances.

The Act of 1852 directs that true copies of the specifications be open to the inspection of the public in the office of the Commissioners, and that the indexes shall be open to the public in such place or places as the Commissioners shall appoint, subject to their regulations. It is obvious that these specifications and indexes would most advantageously be open to the public' in connexion with a good library of works upon kindred subjects, though the Act is silent about it. This want has been supplied.


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The free public library,' says the Report of 1856, established in the Patent Office has been numerously attended during the past year by professional men, by the agents of foreign and provincial inventors, and by practical mechanics and operatives. In addition to the indispensable books of reference lent to the library by Mr. Woodcroft, a valuable collection of works on science and art, the property of the late Mr. Prosser of Birmingham, has recently been purchased, and the system of interchange initiated by the Commissioners has already led to numerous gifts of official and scientific publications from the governments of foreign states.' It were to be wished that the Commissioners would secure the entire library for the public; for if at any time the portion stated in the extract to be lent should be withdrawn, it would be difficult to get together so complete a collection again. In addition to the library, a large collection of models has been formed, and is placed for the present by the Commissioners in the Museum at South Kensington. Their proper home, however, is the Patent Office itself.

The Great Seal Patent Office has opened relations with nearly all the governments in the world; for it was of obvious importance that English inventors should know what was done abroad as well as at home.

America transmits to the Commissioners a weekly list of all patents granted in the States-France permits an agent of the Commissioners to take a copy from the official register once each week-Prussia transmits a list of grants and annulments of patents every fortnightSardinia forwards a similar list once in three months ; and from other states where patents are few an annual list is presented to the Commissioners.'

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The information thus gathered from the four corners of the civilised world is presented to the public in the • Journal of the Commissioners of Patents, which is published twice a week. Along with the lists of the inventions patented at home or abroad, very valuable explanatory notices are occasionally given; and these might be advantageously extended. The combined result of these changes is to put the inventor in a very different position from what he occupied before. All the information he can desire is spread open before him: he learns what to do, and what to leave undone; and being placed at once upon the boundary line of discovery, he can go forward with confidence and effect, and make fresh conquests for art and science.

These changes have required a large expenditure, but the revenues derived from the fees for patents have been ample for the


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