You gotta love forgotten bits of Victoriana. I was scrolling through a Scribner’s Magazine from 1880 when this ad for Stickaline caught my eye. The label graphics are just so Gilded Age. But what was this stuff?
Turns out Stickaline was a simple adhesive and it was cheap: just 20 cents a jar. The name was trademarked in November 1877 by Asa L. Shipman’s Sons as “Peerless Stickaline.” Because, of course, it was the best thing going. An 1878 mention by the Vickburg Herald assured readers the stuff would keep papers pasted together “till the crows come home.” And it had a pleasant scent, too.
Despite its “peerless” posturing, Stickaline didn’t hang around long. By the mid-1880s it seems to have pretty much disappeared. But Asa L. Shipman’s company kept going. They were big in stationery products, including adhesive-coated file binders that let you organize letters or bills by pasting them in.
Fountain pens were another part of the Shipman line. And those got Mr. Shipman in a whole lot of trouble. Seems he lent some money to fountain pen magnates Lewis and Sarah Waterman in 1884.
Waterman assigned his fountain pen patents as collateral — security only, mind you, to ensure the loan was repaid. But the due date on the loan came and went, and no payment materialized. In 1888, Shipman’s company started manufacturing those same patented fountain pens for themselves. Waterman sued for patent infringement, and the case wound its way all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court. (138 U.S. 252 (1891)).
Asa Shipman would have been extremely happy at how that turned out; the Court found Shipman was the legal title-holder (even though the patents had been transferred only to secure the mortgage), and Shipman (not Waterman) was the only party who could sue for patent infringement. But like so many legal stories, that one decision wasn’t the end.
Waterman didn’t give up, and sued Shipman and sons again. This time the Second Circuit Court of Appeals sided with Waterman. In 1893 they ruled that a side agreement between Waterman and his wife had held back a “license” allowing Waterman to manufacture the pens. That license was still in effect, the court said, despite the patent’s assignment to Shipman — and despite efforts by Shipman to revoke Waterman’s license. (55 F. 982 (2nd Cir 1892)).
So Waterman won in the end and Shipman lost. The only bit of good news: by the time this disappointing news was delivered, Asa Shipman had gone to the Great Stationery Store in the sky. Shipman passed away on December 22, 1888 at the age of 75, and rests in a cemetery in Brooklyn.
How’s that for a forgotten Victoriana tale?!
And if Victoriana is your thing, check out this sweet Historical Romance under my pen name, Abby Rice!