Sep 26, 2019 - Sale 2517

Sale 2517 - Lot 203

Price Realized: $ 4,000
?Final Price Realized includes Buyer’s Premium added to Hammer Price
Estimate: $ 2,500 - $ 3,500
(SCIENCE AND ENGINEERING.) Patent exploitation license for United States Patent #1. Partly printed Document signed by William Shotwell as attorney for his father-in-law Samuel Hopkins and by two witnesses. 3 pages on 2 detached leaves, 13 1/4 x 8 1/4 inches; separations at folds, moderate wear and minor dampstaining. New York, 23 May 1791

Additional Details

On 10 April 1790, President Washington signed a law authorizing the young United States government to grant patents. The first inventor to take advantage of this new law was Samuel Hopkins (1743-1818) of Philadelphia. On 31 July he was granted Patent #1 for his system for "the making of Pot-ash and Pearl-ash by a new Apparatus and Process." Hopkins was already an established manufacturer of potash (a chemical widely used in fertilizer with numerous other uses), but with patent in hand, he set about licensing the new process to other manufacturers across the country.
Hopkins had contract forms printed to set forth the terms of his standard agreement. Offered here is a licensing agreement between Hopkins and Eli Cogswell of Castleton, VT. It explains that Hopkins held a 14-year patent on "a certain improvement, by him invented and discovered, in the making of Pot and Pearl Ash, by burning the raw ashes in a furnace, previous to their being dissolved and boiled in water." It grants Cogswell the right to erect on his own land "one single Furnace or Oven, for the purpose of burning raw Ashes" and operate it for a period of 7 1/2 years, branding each barrel head with his license number and initials.
Hopkins set aside his own manufacturing operation to secure an additional Canadian patent and promote his invention across the northeast; after six years, he found himself with nothing but mounting debts. See David W. Maxey, "Samuel Hopkins, the Holder of the First U.S. Patent: A Study of Failure," in the Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, January-April 1998, pages 1-37. No other copies of this printed contract traced in OCLC, ESTC, or at auction. Vermont Historical Society holds a photostatic copy of the present example (cited in the Maxey article, page 19).
with--a binder of related research notes.