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Spencer's Fruit Jar C.F. Spencer's
Pat. no. 37,647
February 10, 1863
Photo: G. Spurgeon
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Spencer Patent Lamp Charles F. Spencer's
Pat. no. 218,406
August 12, 1879
marked on fount
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Spencer Patent Lamp Chas. F. Spencer's
Pat. no. 207,314
August 20, 1878
marked on top of base
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Manhattan Brass Company Ad Manhattan Brass
Fall Trade, 1876
Price List
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    it's about more than just lamps...     
Charles F. Spencer, Inventor
Circa 1867 Advertisement for Spencer's
Self-Sealing Fruit Jar. Enlarge image [+]

Charles F. Spencer was a prolific inventor whose contributions spanned at least three decades during the mid- to late-1800's. It would appear that around every corner, Spencer saw a better way; his mind must have been stuck in overdrive. The beauty of Spencer's innovations was not in their sheer numbers, but rather in their diversity. While his lighting inventions and possible association with another Rochester entrepreneur, Henry E. Shaffer, originally piqued my interest, I became more intrigued with Spencer as I uncovered a legacy of unrelated innovations and improvements to everyday items; items that were used essentially from the cradle to the grave. In addition to his lighting patents, the first patent I discovered was for a child's see-saw that he patented on May 5, 1891. Later, I located two patents for burial coffins issued to Spencer in April and September, 1877. Other patents soon surfaced and the story unfolded.

Charles F. Spencer was born in Pennsylvania in 1833, the eldest child of Apollos B. and Lucinda Spencer. Charles had four siblings: Frances M., Flora L., Martha M., and Sherman B. Spencer. Little information has been located pertaining to his early years. In 1850, the family resided in Sweden, New York, a small town northeast of Rochester. Charles, then seventeen years of age, worked as an "iron turner," presumably in a machine shop or foundry. His father's occupation is listed as "laborer."

Sometime prior to 1853 the family moved from Sweden to Rochester. Apollos B. Spencer first appears in the 1853-54 city directory at 10 Gibbs, then again at the same location in the 1855-56 directory. The 1857-58 entry lists the residence at 1 Howell. By 1859 the family had moved to the corner of Delaven and Finney. The family continued at Delaven and Finney until 1869 which is the last entry noted for Apollos.

Apollos B. Spencer patent
Atmospheric Filter invented by Apollos B. Spencer,
U.S. patent number 65,515, issued on June 4, 1867.
Note Chas. F. Spencer as witness to the patent.

Charles married Esther R. Gorsline on October 23, 1855. They were married by the Reverend James Boylen Shaw; the ceremony took place at the Brick Presbyterian Church.1 Esther R. Gorsline, a native of New York State, was born on April 20, 1836, being three years younger than Charles. She was the youngest daughter of Richard and Aurelia Gorsline. Charles and Esther apparently boarded at the Spencer family home from the time they married until 1860-61 as he is listed at the same address until the 1861 directory entry, 26 East. In the 1860 U.S. Federal Census Spencer is listed as a "patent rights dealer," which is consistent with his activity during the period; he seemed to aggressively market his ideas and assign or sell patent rights to his inventions. He is listed with his wife, Esther Spencer. There are no children listed. Strangely, I find no listing in the 1870 census for either of them.

In the 1880 census, Charles' occupation is listed as "inventor." Again, no children are listed and he and Esther were then in their early forties. Esther's entry lists her occupation as "keeping house," so it is assumed that she was not a working woman at that time. In the 1910 U.S. Census entry for Esther, there is the numeral "1" in the column headed Number of Children Born, and a zero in the column headed Number of Children Living. This confirms that the Spencers did try to start a family and suffered a tragic loss. It is not known when the child was born or died. Esther R. Spencer entered into rest on May 2, 1917 at the age of 81.

The Patents of
Apollos B. Spencer

Patent     Date
 4,564 June 6, 1846
 20,176 May 4, 1858
 40,199 Oct. 6, 1863
 42,234 Apr. 5, 1864
 65,515 June 4, 1867
 135,251 Jan. 28, 1873
The old clich? "the acorn never falls far from the tree," rings true with Charles and his father. Apollos is listed as a "safe maker" in the 1853 and 1855 directories and as a "machinist" thereafter. He was an inventor as well, having received patents for at least four inventions. In 1858 he patented an apparatus to "ventilate and exclude dust" from railroad cars. This invention was assigned patent number 20,176, granted on May 4, 1858. On April 5, 1861, Apollos was granted another patent for an improvement in a railroad car ventilator. This design, patent no. 42,234, is substantially different from his previous patent. On October 6, 1863, A.B. Spencer was granted a third patent for railroad car ventilation, patent number 40,199. All three of his railroad car ventilator patents were basically roof-mounted systems designed to introduce fresh air into the passenger car and filter out dust and cinders - a condition which must have plagued the early locomotives. U.S. patent number 65,515, issued on June 4, 1867 for an improvement in atmospheric filters for pharmaceuticals, was granted to A.B. Spencer. This time, Chas. F. Spencer is listed as a witness to the patent.
Richard Gorsline's patent
Richard Gorsline's Burner
Pat. no. 80,281, July 28, 1868.

Esther's father, Richard Gorsline, entered the patent arena in 1868 when he patented an improvement in lamp burners on July 28th of that year. His invention, patent number 80,281, was a wire-framed, glass-bottomed burner plate designed to improve light output otherwise obstructed by conventional burner construction.

On June 1, 1886, Esther R. Spencer was granted patent number 342,940 for lacing bearings. These were essentially eyelets for corset laces. She assigned three-fourths of this patent to Joseph C. Wilson and Hobart F. Atkinson. On the same day, Wilson was granted a similar patent, number 343,146. Wilson assigned one-half to Esther and Atkinson. Esther obtained a second patent on May 31, 1887 for a similar improvement, this patent being assigned to The Self-Adjusting Corset Company of Rochester. An advertisement in the 1888 Rochester directory for The Self-Adjusting Corset Company notes that they are the "Sole owners and manufacturers of the Wilson patent." I assume this is for the Wilson patent previously noted. It also advertises "W.S.A. Corsets." Could this stand for Wilson, Spencer and Atkinson? Perhaps Esther was dabbling in a business venture. The evidence suggests it. There is no evidence that Charles was involved in the patent rights to any of his family member's patents, but it would not surprise me if he was.

Spencer's Fruit Jar
Charles F. Spencer's Improved Jar
Patent number 73,846, January 28, 1868.
Photo Courtesy of Greg Spurgeon

A fairly consistent timeline can be stitched together by browsing through the Rochester City Directories of the period. Spencer first appeared in the directories in 1853, when he would have been around twenty years of age, as a boarder at 10 Gibbs, his family's house. The 1859 listing mentions the manufacture of bed springs, which coincides with his patent listed below. In 1863 and 1864 he is listed as a "master mechanic." The following year as "clerk" working at 16 Main Street. For the next four years, 1867 through 1870, his listing notes "patents." There is a six-year hiatus from 1871-1876 when there are no listings for Spencer. On February 27, 1872, a Charles F. Spencer patented a tin can. The patent lists his address as Cleveland, Ohio, and it was during this time that his name was absent from the Rochester directory.2 Spencer's name again appeared in the Rochester directory in 1877, this time as "lamp manufacturer." This listing continued through the 1890 directory; after skipping one year, he shows up one more time, listed as "inventor," before his death in 1893.

In his 1972 article, "Flour City's Jars," William Putzier concluded that the 1872 fruit can patent was from the "Rochester" Spencer. I have a strong suspicion that it was not, although the evidence is inconclusive. There was a Charles F. Spencer living in Cleveland during that time, but he had been there most of his life. He appears in the Cleveland City directories for many years prior to, and well past the time period when the "Rochester" Spencer is absent from the Rochester directories, and indeed long after our Spencer had passed on. In 1872, "Cleveland" worked as a cashier at Smith & Curtiss, 125 Superior. Smith & Curtiss was a wholesale tea, coffee and spice business. Spencer remained with the firm through the 1870's. "Cleveland's" design could have arisen from his work environment and this can could have easily been invented for any of the sundries carried by the store. In the patent document, Spencer mentions fruit, oysters and paint as possible applications. Was our Spencer in Cleveland at the same time? We may never know, but he certainly doesn't appear to have been in Rochester.

There are a number of unanswered questions regarding Spencer in the early 1870's. As noted above, there is no entry for either of them in the 1870 census. It is also around this time that he is conspicuously absent from the directory listings: from 1871 through 1876. This could merely mean that he relocated outside the Rochester city limits. Additionally, if you look at his patent history, and dismiss the patents attributed to the Cleveland Spencer, there is no known activity between February, 1870 and December, 1875. Even if he and Esther had moved, what would explain the lull in his creative capacity? The patents from the Cleveland Spencer complete the void in the patent listing. It certainly makes you wonder what was going on during that period of time and where exactly he and Esther were. To add even more mystery, at the end of Esther's obituary it reads, "Cleveland and Los Angeles papers, please copy." But why?

Thompson adertisement
William S. Thompson's advertisement, 1867 Rochester Directory. It should be noted that W.S. Thompson held three lighting patents as well: No. 34,080 dated January 7, 1862 for a lamp burner; no. 37,183 dated December 16, 1862 for a chimney holder; and no. 63,441 for a lantern dated April 2, 1867. This last patent was granted just one week after Spencer's first lantern patent.

Like his contemporary, Henry E. Shaffer, Spencer was a major player in the Rochester fruit jar trade. Between 1863 and 1868, he had obtained at least six patents for fruit jars or preserve cans. An article in the May 14, 1863 edition of the Union and Advertiser, entitled "Perfection in a Fruit Jar," praises Spencer's Patent Hermetically Sealed Jar. "A child of ten years can put up fruit in these jars as well as an adult, so far as the sealing is concerned. Mechanics who have examined this invention pronounce it complete." The article states that Wm. S. Thompson of 51 State street has the sole right to manufacture and sell Spencer's fruit jars. "Orders are coming in from all the great cities, including New York, Boston, Chicago, and St. Louis, and hundreds of towns from dealers to obtain supplies." William S. Thompson was also associated with Henry Shaffer; he and Shaffer were business partners, the latter sharing space at his State street location. The article appears to refer to Spencer's patent number 37,647 dated February 10, 1863. The jars were priced at $24.00 per gross for the quart size, the two-quart jars for $33.00 per gross. "It is destined to supercede [sic] all other articles of the kind as soon as the demand for it can be supplied."3

Spencer patent
C.F. Spencer's no. 62,784
Patented on March 12, 1867
"Why has it not before occurred to somebody that there is a great waste of time in sewing buttons upon garments, and that all this might be saved by some kind of an invention to make the button fast without thread? Such a thing has been invented by our ingenious townsman C.F. Spencer, and patented. It is applicable to all kinds of buttons, both metallic, iron and covered. A button can be instantly adjusted to a garment by any person, and made far more secure than by the needle. The button revolves on a pivot, thus making the wear even upon all sides. It is an ingenious thing and ought to be extensively introduced, as it no doubt will be. Messrs. Stave, Morrison & Co., manufacturers of clothing, at 10 Buffalo street, have control of this patent and plan to introduce it. It would be a large thing for our city if capitalists would take hold of this invention and establish a manufactory to supply the world."
-- Union & Advertiser, March 27, 1867   

C.F. Spencer obtained sixteen lighting-related patents over his lifetime. Two of his early lighting patents, numbers 63,321 and 66,902, both issued in 1867, were for improvements in dead-flame lanterns. Both patents were assigned to himself and Charles W. Barker. Barker appears to only be listed in the 1868 Rochester City Directory. There were a number of lantern makers from the Rochester area. Further research in this area might uncover which firm, if any, incorporated Spencer's innovations into their products, but the likely suspect is Kelly & Company (which would become The Kelly Lamp Works), manufacturers of lanterns and locomotive head lamps. Spencer's last lighting patent for a hanging lamp, number 236,792 from January 1881, was assigned to Adam Zimmer. Many of Spencer's lighting patents are covered in the text that follows. Follow this link to view a chronological listing of Spencer's patents. In addition to the items previously mentioned, the following are excerpts from the Union and Advertiser from 1858 through 18854 which further show the breadth of Spencer's innovative mind:

  • May 21, 1858, "We have seen an improved carpet fastener made by C.F. Spencer...which appears to answer the purpose fully...He manufactures them by machinery in Van Slyck's Building, Brown's Race." [referring to Spencer's no. 23,319, dated March 22, 1859.]

  • April 15, 1859, "A New Invention - An Easy Bed For Everybody.

    Spencer patent
    C.F. Spencer's Spring-Bedstead
    Patent no. 23,404; March 29, 1859

    It is on exhibition at the room directly over G.C. Buell's store, 75 Main street, where the article can be purchased and where rights to manufacture can be obtained of the patentee." [referring to Spencer's no. 23,404, dated March 29, 1859, patent drawing at right.]

  • February 28, 1860, "A Screw Without Friction. invention of our ingenious townsman, C.F. Spencer. ...a screw which may be turned as easily under a ton's weight as under a hundred pounds." [referring to Spencer's no. 28,613, dated June 5, 1860.]

  • October 17, 1860, "C.F. Spencer, Improved hose coupling." [referring to Spencer's no. 30,261, dated October 2, 1860.]

  • April 6, 1867, "Patent Issues. -- The following have been obtained through the well known agents, J. Fraser & Co. C.F. Spencer, lantern." [referring to Spencer's no. 63,321, dated March 26, 1867.]

  • November 30, 1867, "Patents. -- The following have been recently issued to parties in this vicinity: C.F. Spencer, Preserve Can. The above were obtained through J. Fraser & Co., Patent Agents, of this city." [referring to Spencer's no. 71,239, dated Nov. 19, 1867.]

    Spencer patent
    C.F. Spencer's no. 296,886; April 15, 1884
    Assigned to C.F. Marsh & F.M. Thrasher.
    Marsh was a watchmaker; Thrasher was
    president of the Rochester Transfer &
    Baggage Co., and a confectioner.

  • August 22, 1868, "New Patents, -- We obtain the following of Burke, Fraser & Osgood, (late J. Fraser & Co.) the same being among their latest issues: C.F. Spencer, fruit jar." [refrering to Spencer's no. 81,116, dated August 18, 1868.]

  • March 13, 1883, "Charles F. Spencer...produced a fire escape which in repeated experiments was proven successful in the prime object of saving life." [refrering to Spencer's no. 272,389 dated February 13, 1883.]

  • December 15, 1883, "C.F. Spencer, of this city, has patented an invention that is destined to supply a long-felt want among opticians. It is a patent device that will hold spectacles on the thinnest nose without hurting the organ. Mr. Spencer has been offered big money for his invention." [referring to Spencer's no. 296,886, dated April 15, 1884, patent drawing shown above.]

  • July 2, 1885, "C.F. Spencer, Lacing and lacing for corsets, gloves, &c." [refrering to Spencer's no. 321,145 or 321,146, dated June 30, 1885.]

Spencer Patent Model
Charles F. Spencer's Patent Model Burner
For Patent Number 37,986, dated 1863

Charles Spencer's earliest known lighting patent, for an improvement in coal-oil lamps, was granted on March 24, 1863, and was issued U.S. Patent Number 37,986. His invention basically consisted of a sliding shank attached to a one-piece gallery and deflector, that could be lifted and pivoted off the burner base, "in such a manner that the shank is held firmly in place when lowered, but forms a joint when raised, so as to turn vertically the chimney and deflector back..." See figure no. 2 from the patent drawing below. An image of the actual patent model which was submitted to the patent office with his application for patent, with its original tag, is shown at right. The patent model was part of the Cliff Petersen Collection of U.S. Patent Models and may have been sold in the early 1980's.5

An article in the Union and Advertiser dated April 21, 1864, entitled "Another Rochester Invention - Spencer's Patent Burner" reads: "In the use of petroleum and kerosene lamps everybody knows the inconvenience of removing and replacing chimneys for the purpose of filling, trimming, and lighting lamps. It is in this process that many chimneys are broken, and there is at the best a considerable loss of time. A number of inventions have been brought out to obviate this difficulty, but all are liable to objections except the last one by Mr. Spencer." Spencer apparently lost no time in successfully pitching his invention to a manufacturer. "One of the largest manufacturing concerns in the east, with headquarters in New York, at once engaged to manufacture these burners, on a tariff, and has made arrangements to produce three hundred thousand dozen a year (author's note: that's over three and a half million burners!). It will be offered to the trade in about four weeks, and there is no doubt but it will be the first and only burner sought for in less than sixty days after its introduction." The article further noted that "W.S. Thompson, at 51 State street, who has been so largely engaged

Spencer's Burner Patent
Charles F. Spencer's first known lighting patent showing
Figure number 2 from the patent document dated
March 24, 1863, issued U.S. Patent Number 37,986

in the crockery and lamp trade, has an interest in this patent and will have the exclusive sale to the trade. He will be prepared soon to fill orders and hopes to be able to supply the demand after the manufacturers get fully under way in producing the burners."6

On September 28, 1864, a follow-up article in the Union and Advertiser entitled "Spencer's New Burner" reads: "It was announced some time since that our townsman, C.F. Spencer, had invented and patented a burner for kerosene lamps which was to displace all others. Since that time arrangements have been in progress for the manufacture of these burners on a large scale and are now complete." The article goes on to say, "The invention is very simple but effectual for the purpose sought. The chimney of the lamp is not removed when it is to be lighted or trimmed. It turns over at will [see patent drawing above], and when in its place is immovable, and all this without springs, catches or screws... Large quantities of these new burners have been made and will be at once introduced to the trade all over the country," and Spencer's invention is "...applied to No. 2 burners as well as those of smaller size, and this is not the case with other turn overs." Finally, "It has been discovered that this burner improves the light - as it causes more perfect combustion, though we believe this was not thought of by the inventor, but is now readily accounted for on well known principles."7

Having read these two articles, one might believe that obtaining a specimen of the Spencer burner for research would be a simple task. This is not the case. A production model of this burner remains highly elusive. I have contacted more than two dozen advanced lighting collectors with no success. Few are familiar with the burner patent, and no one has an example of this burner in their collection, or is aware of the existence of one. Additionally, despite more limited attempts to locate it, the 1863 burner patent model has not been located. It is my hope that it is "alive and well" in someone's collection and will some day be available for examination and to obtain detailed images of same. Unless the 1864 newspaper articles were all "promotional media hype," or that something went terribly wrong with the order or shipment, I remain confident that one will turn up. Until then, the search continues.

Another Triumph for a Rochester Inventor -
A Handsome Parlor Stand and Lamp Combined.

Spencer patent
C.F. Spencer's no. 204,457
Patented on June 4, 1878
"It is a highly ornamental parlor stand of black walnut inlaid with gilt, the top being of nickle plate and hollow, thus forming a tank for the oil, which is furnished to handsome lamps at either side. This forms a combination superior even to Spencer's double student lamp, and far transcending every other invention of the kind." "The top and lamps revolve on a screw so that they can be turned in any position and be raised or lowered at pleasure." "While there is enough in these statements to arouse not a little curiosity the reader will be still more surprised when we say that this elegant piece of furniture and two lamps combined is manufactured and sold at prices ranging from $5 to $10. It will repay anyone to call at Nicholson & Smith's and examine this wonderful invention."
-- Union and Advertiser, April 3, 1878   

Spencer Adjustable Lamp
Adjustable Lamp bearing the following dates:
August 12, 1879 - pat. no. 218,406 to Spencer and
May 18, 1880 - pat. no. 227,731 to Cartwright.

Charles Spencer was granted a number of patents for adjustable stand lamps that convert to wall or bracket lamps. The adjustable stand lamp depicted here bears two patent dates: August 12, 1879 and May 18, 1880. The 1879 patent date is that of C.F. Spencer and relates to patent number 218,406.

Imprint from Adjustable Lamp

Spencer assigned this patent to Henry E. Shaffer. The 1880 patent date is that of Robert Cartwright, an engineer, also from Rochester. This patent, number 227,731, is generally for the mechanism that allows the lamp to be articulated for use as a wall-hanging lamp. The patent drawing is otherwise nearly identical to the drawing in Spencer's patent application. Cartwright assigned his patent to The Rochester Adjustable Lamp Company. At this time, little is known about this company. In the 1880 Rochester City Directory, Henry E. Shaffer is noted as the treasurer of The Rochester Adjustable Lamp Company at 25 Elwood Block. In the 1881 directory, there is the same listing, but the address is listed as 57 Arcade. It is interesting to note that Henry E. Shaffer is listed as a witness to Cartwright's patent. As you read further, you will discover that Spencer assigned other patents to Henry E. Shaffer.

This advertisement for The Rochester Adjustable Lamp Company appears in the 1880 Rochester City Directory.

Adj. Lamp Company Advert.
The Rochester Adjustable Lamp Company
No. 25 Elwood Block, Rochester, NY.   Enlarge image [+]

The ad states: "The STAND LAMP is easily adjusted to be a bracket lamp and is fastened to the wall with a small Screw Hook which accompanies each lamp... The Screw Hook is so small it does not deface the wall, and a dozen can be put up in different places in a room and not be noticeable, and the light can be shifted from one place to another wherever needed."

The lamp depicted is more consistent with the stem mechanism patented by Spencer on October 21, 1879, as is the L-shaped hook included to hang the lamp. This October 21st patent by Spencer, number 220,884, was assigned to Henry Shaffer. Spencer assigned patent number 223,254 issued on January 1, 1880 to Shaffer as well.

Two other Rochester inventors, Henry H. Barnard and George V. Hanna obtained a patent for an improvement to an adjustable bracket lamp which they assigned to Shaffer. Barnard and Hanna were business partners in the firm of Barnard & Hanna. They are listed in the business section of the 1880 directory under the heading of "Machinists." In their patent letters, they reference Spencer's lamp when talking about the fount, " cylindrical and of a considerable length, and of the same shape as in what is known as the 'Spencer lamp.'" Barnard & Hanna's patent issued on October 21, 1879 (the same day as Spencer's patent) was assigned patent number 220,788. Thus, there is good reason to say that Henry E. Shaffer was actively involved in The Rochester Adjustable Lamp Company, more than just its treasurer, and quite possibly the "brains" behind the whole operation.

Spencer Double Student Lamp
Spencer's Double Student Lamp, original condition.
Lamp photo courtesy Heinz and Ursula Baumann.
Click here to see the Manhattan Brass ad for this lamp.

The Manhattan Brass Company manufactured a number of double student lamps patented by Charles F. Spencer at their factory located at 1st Avenue, 27th & 28th Streets, New York. The office was given as 83 Reade Street.8 In their Fall Trade, 1876 - Price List, reprinted by The Rushlight Club in 1983, there are four double Spencer lamps depicted. The cover features "Spencer's Patent Two Light Student Lamps. Hurricane, Storm, IXL and Woodward All Brass Lanterns, &c."
Imprint from Double Student Lamp

One version is a table or stand lamp, shown at right, which is consistent with Spencer's patent number 171,537 granted on December 28, 1875. It is interesting to note that in the pamphlet, and on several examples of the lamp that I have inspected, the patent date is listed as December 21, 1875:
I am not aware of an actual patent granted to Spencer on the December 21st date, although it was a Tuesday and other patents were issued on that day. The application for patent number 171,537 was filed on December 21st, so it is assumed that this is the source of that particular date, not the actual date the patent was issued.

Imprint from Double Student Lamp
Embossed patent date "SPENCERS PAT. OCT. 26, 1876"
Photo: Ritchies Auctioneers and Appraisers Inc., Toronto

Here's another interesting anomaly - the stamped patent date found on a Spencer Double Student lamp. This is not a "valid" patent date. Patents were granted on Tuesdays. This date, October 26, 1876, fell on a Thursday. Additionally, there are no known Spencer patents on or about this particular date, so it neither corresponds to a patent application date nor does it have any other logical connection to other Spencer patents.

The other three lamps depicted in The Manhattan Brass catalog are ceiling and wall mounted versions of the above lamp. These are clearly variations of patent number 179,620 issued on July 4, 1876. These lamps are height-adjustable on a rod which is either attached to the wall or ceiling. While most versions of the lamp were designed for use with seven-inch diameter shades, one larger ceiling version was sold with an adjustable shade holder which would accommodate a ten or twelve inch shade. "This lamp is suitable for Billiard Tables, Parlors, Stores, Store Windows, &c."9

Manhattan Brass Company
"We would call your special attention to our new Two Light Student Lamps as represented in the following cuts. These lamps are entirely new, finely Nickel Plated, fitted with the Crystal Light Argand Burner, and seven inch rings, nickel plated. They make the best Fine Lamps ever offered to the trade and at a moderate price. Your orders are solicited for sample lots, which we guarantee to give satisfaction. Very respectfully yours, Manhattan Brass Co. "
-- Fall Trade Price List, 1876.   

The Spencer wall-mounted lamp patented on April 1, 1879 appeared later that year in the 1879 Rochester City Directory (p. 537) in an advertisement for Jones & Sugru's of No. 43 State Street, Rochester. The partnership of Jones & Sugru dates back at least a decade and they were always associated with Singer sewing machines, as agents, and purveyors of related sundries and sewing notions. The lamp was marketed as The Student Portable Bracket Lamp. It is assumed that these lamps were actually manufactured by them as the patent, number 213,951, was assigned by Spencer to Harry C. Jones and Edward J. Sugru. The design of the lamp was relatively simple and could have easily been assembled by local craftsmen as it basically consisted of brass parts, soldered together, then plated.

Jones & Sugru Advert
The Student Portable Bracket Lamp, Warranted Non-Explosive.
Manufactured and sold by Jones & Sugru's, No. 43 State Street.
Charles F. Spencer's pat. no. 213,951, issued April 1, 1879.
  Enlarge image [+]

The lamp was a fixed type, not adjustable, like other Spencer designs. It was simplistic in design and easily moved from wall to wall, on unobtrusive L-shaped hooks, as lighting needs changed within a given space or room. According to the advertisement, the lamp was fitted with the LEADER burner and shade ring manufactured by The Bridgeport Brass Company in Bridgeport, Connecticut, "giving nearly double the light of ordinary lamps." Bridgeport Brass also manufactured The Leader Student Lamp, patented by W.O. Lincoln on October 28, 1879. Lincoln and Spencer's lamps share many similar design characteristics.

Jones and Sugru ran the same advertisement in the 1880 Rochester Directory, but the reference to Spencer, "PATENTED BY CHA'S. F. SPENCER," had been removed. The following year the company is listed as H.C. Jones, successor to Jones & Sugru; no mention of the lamp. By this time E. Jay Sugru had moved on to The Singer Manufacturing Company as their agent. It is not known if this marked the end of production of The Student Portable Bracket Lamp. If so, it was possibly only produced for two years and is likely a scarce find today.

Spencer gravesite

The Spencer grave site at the Mount Hope Cemetery, Rochester, NY. Charles F. and Esther R. Spencer are interred side by side in the center of the image in the Gorsline family plot. Neither of their graves are marked. To the left of center, in the foreground, there is an oval stone which says "OUR BABY." It is to the left of Charles grave. The records of the cemetery are inconclusive as to whether this is indeed their child's final resting place.

There is no doubt that Spencer's inventions, particularly his fruit jars and lamps, were commercially successful. Examples of many of his inventions survive today as a testament to his ingenuity and entrepreneurial spirit.

Charles F. Spencer died of paralysis10 on April 27, 1893 at his home, No. 29 West Avenue, Rochester, New York.11 He was buried April 29th in the southeast corner of Lot 7 in Section M of the Mount Hope Cemetery. He was only fifty-nine years of age. Imagine what he might have accomplished had he lived another twenty years and remained an active innovator! Oddly, all that appears in the local newspapers regarding his death is a terse, two-line obituary notice. His final resting place is unmarked. One would think that someone of his apparent stature in the community would have received a more substantial farewell. Sadly, it appears that by 1893, Charles F. Spencer had faded into relative obscurity, not having near the notoriety that he enjoyed during his earlier years.



Lighting Patents granted to Charles F. Spencer
between February 10, 1863 and January 18, 1881
37,986 63,321 66,902 73,663 171,537 179,620 181,491 204,457
207,314 213,951 218,406 220,884 223,254 231,688 236,190 236,726
Charles F. Spencer's Fruit Jar & Other Non-Lighting Patents
23,319 23,404 28,613 30,261 37,647 42,517 59,090 62,784
68,319 71,239 73,846 81,116 115,252?/FONT> 124,171?/FONT> 189,809 195,669
266,062 296,886 321,145 321,146 451,583 RE2,242 99,724 120,339?/FONT>
272,389 240,472
Note: list was amended on 09/29/2006 with two add'l patents.
?May not be the "Rochester" Spencer's patent.
Apollos B. Spencer's Patents
Esther R. Spencer's Patents
4,564 20,176 40,199 42,234 65,515 135,251 342,940 364,059

To view any of the above patents, enter the number in the box below and select Query USPTO Database. This will take you to the specific patent images on the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office Database. Learn more about the USPTO here.

Enter Patent Number ?/B> 



Delmore image: Copyright ?1968
Victorian Miniature Oil Lamps
by Mrs. Edward J. Delmore,
Height of the lamp is 11 inches.

Author's note: Assuming that some readers and collectors will make the connection between the full size Spencer student lamp and the diminutive version, I thought it prudent to include a blurb here regarding miniature lamps.

There were a number of night lamps made in the manner or style of Spencer's Double Student Lamp and one similar to the Student Portable Bracket Lamp. Many of these lamps favor the style of W.O. Lincoln's lamp that was manufactured by The Bridgeport Brass Company. In fact, many of these small lamps bear the patent date of October 28, 1879. The lamp on the left mirrors the style of the Spencer lamp, but bears the Lincoln patent date. Other examples are not marked or dated in any manner. It should be noted that these types of lamps were being reproduced as recently as the 1960's and probably later.12

There seems to be little consensus regarding the authenticity of many of these lamps. The only thing that I can say with some certainty is that most Charles F. Spencer's lamps bear patent dates and many include some form of his name. If these lamps were manufactured during the period, and could be attributed to Spencer, I am certain they would be similarly marked.

Update, January 6, 2007:

I think I may have solved the mystery of the Rochester-Cleveland connection! This was due in part to the recent release of Google's Patent Search which brought to light an additional eleven patents by C.F. Spencer (four of them for lighting) and two more by his father, Apollos. Apollos' final patent was obtained while in Cleveland in 1873. It also helped fill in the absence of patent activity of Charles during the suspect period. A cursory Internet search of the Cleveland burial records showed that Apollos died on June 6, 1874 and is buried in a Cleveland-area cemetery. With this information in hand, I believe that I can document that Charles was in the Cleveland area during the time he was absent from Rochester, and returned to Rochester after his father's death in Ohio. At such time as this can be confirmed, I will formally amend the article to reflect these facts.

Update, April 8, 2007:

Spencer Patent Burner
The Spencer Burner. Photos courtesy Larry DeCan.
I am happy to report that through the efforts of Larry DeCan, fellow collector and researcher, that an example of the elusive Spencer patent burner has been located. Larry was very generous and helpful during my initial research and this is truly the piece de resistance!

The burner conforms substantially to the patent drawings and description therein. This particular burner takes a 1-5/8 inch lip chimney and fits a number one collar. The thumb wheel is marked: CF SPENCER PATENT MAR. 24, 1863.

I am still puzzled as to why more examples of this burner have not been reported. Perhaps they were produced in more limited quantities than stated in the newspaper articles; perhaps they were not durable or convenient in actual use.

Here's another view of the burner in the closed position. At such time as I update the article, I will add additional images.


End Notes
  • 1 Rochester Daily Union, October 24, 1855.
  • 2 William Putzier, "Flour City's Jars," Old Bottle Magazine, July, 1972, p. 48.
  • 3 Rochester Union and Advertiser, May 14, 1863.
  • 4 Union and Advertiser, various dates as noted.
  • 5 Cliff Petersen Collection, Catalog of U.S. Patent Models, Volume 8, February 1982, p. 738.
  • 6 Union and Advertiser, April 21, 1864.
  • 7 Union and Advertiser, September 28, 1864.
  • 8 Fall Trade Price List, 1876, Manhattan Brass Company
  • 9 Ibid.
  • 10 Burial records, Mount Hope Cemetery.
  • 11 Democrat & Chronicle, April 28, 1893.
  • 12 Ann Gilbert McDonald, "Miniature student and sleigh lamps made in 1950s," AntiqueWeek, February 1, 1993.
  • Cliff Petersen Collection, Catalog of U.S. Patent Models, Volume 8, February 1982.
  • Delmore, Mrs. Edward J., Victorian Miniature Oil Lamps, Forward's Color Productions, Inc., Manchester, VT, 1968.
  • McDonald, Ann Gilbert, "Brass Student Lamps and Night Lamps," Antiques & Collecting, 1989.
  • McDonald, Ann Gilbert, "Miniature student and sleigh lamps made in 1950s," AntiqueWeek, February 1, 1993.
  • McDonald, Ann Gilbert, "The Lamp Patents of Charles F. Spencer," Antique Trader, July 19, 2000.
  • Putzier, William, "Flour City's Jars," Old Bottle Magazine, July, 1972.
  • Scientific American magazine, various issues from 1855 through 1893.
  • Smith, Frank R. & Ruth E., Miniature Lamps, Schiffer Publishing, Ltd, Exton, PA, 1981.
  • Smith, Ruth, Miniature Lamps-II, Schiffer Publishing, Ltd, Exton, PA, 1982.
  • The Rushlight Club, "Fall Trade Price List," Manhattan Brass Company, 1876, (reprinted in 1983).
  • United States Federal Census reports for years 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880 & 1910.
  • Wenrich, Jeanne P., "Lamp and Lantern Manufacturers in Rochester," The Rushlight, Volume 54, No. 1, The Rushlight Club, March 1988.

  • The author would like to thank the following individuals, in alphabetical order, for their contributions:
    -- Bill Allen, for images and burial records from the Mount Hope Cemetery;
    -- Larry DeCan, for the loan of the Manhattan Brass Company reprint, the Cliff Petersen Collection catalog image, and for assisting with my ongoing search for an example of Spencer's 1863 burner;
    -- Frank Gillespie, The Friends of Mount Hope Cemetery, for researching the burial records from the Mount Hope Cemetery;
    -- Robert J. Scheffel, Local History Division, Rochester Public Library, Rochester, New York, for the copies of the articles from the Union and Advertiser and additional information on Spencer and Henry E. Shaffer;
    -- Greg Spurgeon, for the images of C.F. Spencer's fruit jars;
    -- Glenda Subyak, a researcher from Rochester, New York, for transcriptions of early newspaper articles; and
    -- Christopher Wood, History & Geography Department, Cleveland Public Library, Cleveland, Ohio, for the information from the Cleveland City Directories on the "other" Charles F. Spencer.

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