Lee Valley & Veritas
Woodworking Newsletter
  Volume 8, Issue 2 - November 2013    
What Is It?
What Is It?
Wait! What's that? It's one, it's two, and it's three. This is not baseball!

Having bemoaned the dearth of good "What Is It" subjects in numerous past articles, I now find myself with an interesting conundrum. Just exactly what does an item's obscure history have to do with its rarity? Is it that only one turns up and finds its way to the masses to be examined at length? Or can it be a very common item that has gone out of favor because of technological change due to the ever-shifting marketplace? This item may have once been most common and perhaps was something that was never examined or recognized by the tool pundits searching for the eternal answer. The solution seems to lie with technological change: a new idea equals a new method and out goes the old method along with the purpose-built device. I'm not sure how popular this item was in the trades or manufacturing, but it became a rather good candidate for the current "What Is It" subject.

This item appeared this autumn almost simultaneously at three different sources in three different countries. All seemed to be in good original condition. Coincidence? Was it a dumping of old stock by a manufacturer? A thinning of the herd by an obsessed collector? Or perhaps was it just, as I think it was, one of those unexplained phenomena that always seem to happen, like when you go to use a special tool and it's broken or needs a lot of adjustments. This item appeared in an English auction where it was incorrectly described as a milk bottle cap sealer. Its other two appearances were in Canada and the United States, where both merchants were unsure as to its origins.
What Is It?
F. Cortez Wilson of Chicago, Illinois, sought with patent #502,339, dated August 1, 1893, to improve the method of sealing metallic containers by providing a crimping tool to positively seal sheet-metal caps. Previous known sealing methods of glass vessels used in the emerging oil and gasoline trades were prone to breakage and seepage. By incorporating a metal cap and providing a positive crimped seal, a metal container could be used, thereby eliminating the costly glass containers. The patent illustration clearly shows the method of use. This tool would have been used solely in a manufacturing process and generally would not be found in the average sheet-metal mechanic's workbox.

New owners of old tools always seem to attempt some type of rehabilitation, be it cosmetic or actual mechanical manipulations. In the case of this device, it apparently was disassembled but not overly cleaned. The reassembly, however, was incorrect. The three small crimping rolls were inverted in the reassembly making this tool unusable.
D.S. Orr

D.S. Orr has been a collector, user and student of woodworking and metalworking tools and practices for more than 40 years. Recently retired, he has devoted even more time to these endeavors.
Lee Valley Tools on Facebook
Lee Valley Tools on Twitter
Lee Valley Tools on YouTube
Subscriber Services: Subscribe | Privacy Policy | Newsletter Archive