London: Published and sold at the Commissioners of Patents Sale Department [British Patent Office], 1880.
First edition, of the greatest rarity, of the first British patent granted to Edison for his most famous invention, that of an incandescent electric light. Perhaps more than any other, it was this invention that ushered in the modern age. This British patent, filed just six days after the US patent 223,898, enabled Edison and his English rival Joseph Swan to establish an effective monopoly on the electric lighting market in Britain until Edison’s patent expired in 1893 (see below). This is the finest possible association copy, having formed part of the working library of the English-born engineer Charles Batchelor, Edison’s ‘right-hand man’ for several decades, and his chief experimental assistant from 1873. This patent is extremely rare even in institutional collections – no copy is listed on OCLC, although there is a copy at Rutgers, which holds the bulk of Charles Batchelor’s papers (see edison.rutgers.edu/NamesSearch/GlocDocuments.php3?glocNum=MBP&glocOrder=1494.00&GlocFileName=sn04&start_offset=0). We have located no copy in auction records, and the last copy on the market was offered almost 80 years ago. The US patent has been selected as one of the 100 most important documents in the US National Archives (ourdocuments.gov/doc.php?flash=true&doc=46).
“The invention that Edison is most remembered for is, by far, the electric light bulb. At the age of thirty-one, he decided to focus his energies–and the manpower of the Menlo Park facility–toward creating an electric light system. He began work in the fall of 1878, after returning from a vacation with the physicist George Barker. Barker had encouraged Edison to work on creating an electrical system and discussed ideas with him about it. Edison recognized the staggering potential of an electrical light system and decided to focus on creating one, having just finished work on the phonograph.
“At this time, gas lamps lighted most American cities. Other inventors had already done some pioneering work in the electrical light field, especially Humphrey Davy in 1802 (who first produced “incandescence,” an electric current flowing through wire) and the Englishman Joseph Swan in 1860 (who produced many experimental incandescent lamps). But no one had been able to completely solve the practical problems of creating an effective and reliable lamp.
“From October 1878 until New Year’s Day, 1880, Edison developed the components for a lighting system. His experience with telegraph technology assisted him as he tried to envision a system of relays and circuit breakers that would be necessary to making a lamp work. The main problems were locating the proper filament for the incandescent spiral and constructing a lamp that had enough pressure to contain the filament. He perfected new vacuum techniques for the latter problem and rejected the spiral filament in favor of a filament of carbonized thread.
“When the lamp with carbonized thread lasted for forty-five hours the staff at Menlo Park realized that they had had a breakthrough. Edison claimed, “none of us could go to bed, and there was no sleep for any of us for forty hours.” In November 1879 they tried using carbonized cardboard, and soon they had created an experimental bulb that was superior to any of the others they had tested” (sparknotes.com/biography/edison/section5.rhtml)
While other incandescent lamps were created before his, Edison’s version was able to outstrip the others because of a combination of three factors: an effective incandescent material, a higher vacuum than others were able to achieve (by use of the Sprengel pump) and a high resistance that made power distribution from a centralized source economically viable. “The English scientist Joseph Swan (1828-1914) and Thomas Edison in the United States were the two men mainly responsible for the invention of a workable electric light bulb, a new stage in the development of electrical power. Swan demonstrated his tubular electric light bulb in Newcastle in 1878…. Edison ‘inventor of inventors,’ … displayed his incandescent lamp in 1879… In the same year he obtained British Patent 4576 [offered here] a few months before Swan” (Briggs & Burke, Social History of the Media: From Gutenberg to the Internet (2010), p. 118).
“Believing both his initial incandescent lamp lacked patentable inventions and that the technical details were practically public knowledge, Swan did not even attempt to take out a patent on any of these early activities. Yet since the UK Patent Office did not then examine for anticipation, Edison was able to file the first British patent on a carbon filament incandescent electric lamp on November 10, 1879 [the offered patent]. As Edison explained from the provisional specification, in the new patent carbon threads or strips are used in place of metallic wires. I use a block of glass onto which are sealed two platinum wires. These wires serve to convey the current to the electric lamp within a bulb, which is blown over the lamp and united to the glass block … The burner consists of a filament or thread of carbon, preferably coiled, with the ends secured to the platinum wires… this patent turned out to be of great significance for both Edison’s and Swan’s companies, later used to establish a monopoly in Britain…
“Since Swan had entrepreneurial experience of patenting activities and patent law, he realized that he might have made a miscalculation in not patenting carbon filament lamps, and that this could prove harmful for his efforts to manufacture them commercially. In response to Edison, Swan’s first patent in 1880 was not for carbon filaments but for improvements that were needed to overcome practical problems in the production of lamps… In a practical sense, Swan’s patent supplemented Edison’s and together they provided the foundation patents for manufacturing carbon filament incandescent lamps…
“By 1882, the British Edison Company was established and planning active involvement in the British electric lighting market. It had plans to start developing electrification networks for public or private installations, controlling the electric lighting market by using the Edison patent of 1879. It started legal action against the Swan Company to prevent it from using or further developing carbon filament lamps that, it claimed, were produced with knowledge and practices covered in Edison’s patent. However, the Edison Company realized that, although lacking a strong patent, Swan could defend his claims through evidence of his prior research and publication. As they faced the prospect of a long and costly court case with a highly uncertain outcome, negotiations soon began for an alternative, mutually beneficial solution for the Swan and Edison companies. Finally, the lawyers and directors of both proposed a merger as the Edison and Swan Electric Lighting Company.
“The combined Edison-Swan Company capitalized on the Edison patent of 1879 to establish a monopoly that, practically speaking, lasted until Edison’s patent expired in 1893” (Arapostathis & Gooday, Patently Contestable: Electrical Technologies and Inventor Identities on Trial in Britain (2013), pp. 178-183).
“Charles Batchelor is famous as being Thomas Edison’s “right hand man” during much of Edison’s long and prolific career. In his rarefied position Batchelor was involved in some of the greatest inventions and technological developments in history.
“Batchelor was born on Christmas Day, 1845, and raised in Manchester, England, then the heart of the British textile industry. The textile industry employed many engineers and mechanics, including Batchelor. He was apparently working for a textile equipment manufacturer in 1870 when he was sent to the United States to install some equipment in a Newark, New Jersey textile factory. At this time, Thomas Edison’s main laboratory and shop were also located in Newark. Edison met the 25-year-old Brit, and the two formed a working relationship that would last for years.While Edison basked in the spotlight of fame, the self-effacing Batchelor made his contributions behind the scenes. Over the course of several decades, Batchelor assisted Edison with some of his most important projects in the fields of telegraphy, telephony, the phonograph, and electric lighting. In 1873 Edison named “Batch” his chief experimental assistant. Together Batchelor and Edison would come up with prospective products. Edison also frequently entrusted him with responsibility for special projects, such as setting up a demonstration lighting system at the International Electrical Exposition in Paris in 1881. In fact, Batchelor stayed in Paris for the next three years as manager of the Edison electric light companies that were established there.
“It was Edison’s practice to give his key assistants shares in his companies and to let them invest in the business ventures that resulted from their inventive activity. Batchelor received shares in the Edison Electric Light Company (found in 1878) and later invested in the Edison Lamp Company (founded in 1880), the Edison Machine Works (1881), and the Edison General Electric Company (1888). He even managed the Machine Works for several years. Eventually, he was named treasurer of Edison General Electric when it was created in 1892” (IEEE Global History Network, ieeeghn.org/wiki/index.php/Charles_Batchelor).Dibner 70 (for the US patent).
Contemporary half-calf (a little rubbed, some well done leather restoration to spine), spine label titled ‘Edison’s Electric Light – British Patents 1878-80.’ Charles Batchelor’s library stamp on front paste-down, two labels from a later institutional library on rear endpapers.