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Rubber Stamp Facts

Page 4: Multiple Choice for the Inventor of the Rubber Stamp - part 2

Shortly after he established the factory, the Dental Rubber Syndicate demanded that Witherell pay a ten-dollars-per-pound royalty, in addition to the three-dollars-per-pound he was already paying for the flesh-colored dental rubber. Even at three dollars a pound the rubber was considered an expensive material, and Witherell found the economics of the whole thing too much to cope with. He sold the factory to Austin Wiswall of Princeton, Illinois, "who said he had friends who could make him cheap rubber that would not infringe on the dental patents."

Witherell devoted his later years to a variety of mining enterprises and his "scientific collection of pre-historic mammals." He never relented on his numerous claims and, while in his hearty seventies, continued to remind anyone who would listen that he was still making perfect impressions with stamps he had made almost fifty years earlier... and that he had sold over four-thousand-dollars worth of vulcanized stamps long before anyone else made a single one.

Candidate number two is James Orton Woodruff of Auburn, New York, whose historical honors were zealously and frequently defended in stamp-trade periodicals for years by his cousine Alonzo Woodruff, who was himself to play a pivotal role in rubber-stamp history.

Perhaps as early as 1864, and no later than early 1866, James O. Woodruff visited a shop that manufactured patent washtubs where he observed the names and other identifying information being printed on the tubs with a curved wooded block which had rubber letters mounted on it. The letters had been carved from a flat piece of rubber by a man named Palmer. The lettering is said to have covered a surface four by six inches. When used with printer's ink, it left a decent, ledgible impression on the curved tub surfaces. While watching the tub marking, Woodruff speculated that if impressions of letters where made in vulcanizer molds, one could produce vulcanized-rubber letters.

Woodruff began playing around unsuccessfully with a vulcanizer, trying to set up a letter mold. Help was just around the corner in the person of his uncle Urial Woodruff. A dentist, Uncle Urial was very familiar with rubber, vulcanizers, and the practicalities of dealing with both. Additional experiments with a regular dental vulcanizer and uncle Urial's advice and cooperation netted some good-quality stamps. James Orton proceeded to outfit a factory with modified versions of the dental vulcanizer, which Alonzo Woodruff described in 1908 as follows: "...made of boiler iron that was about 18 inches in diameter by 24 inches high, which was placed upon a stove. From the ceiling above the vulcanizer was suspended a tackle which was used to place and remove the heavy top and flasks."

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