This article originally appeared in The Chronicle of the Early American Industries, Vol. 54 No. 3 of September 2001

 

A Spiral Screwdriver Update:

The Decatur Coffin Company 

 

By Clifford D. Fales

 In In this journal in 1996,1 in the article, “Spiral Screwdrivers of Decatur, Illinois” — I presented information on spiral screwdrivers of the Decatur Coffin Company and H. Mueller Manufacturing Company, both of Decatur, Illinois. The portion of the article relating to the Decatur Coffin Company included information on authentic, documented handle styles because there are a variety of handles that a collector may see, including user-replaced handles.

The information in the 1996 article was based upon observed Decatur Coffin Company screwdrivers. Even though these screwdrivers had been made with different handle styles at different periods of time, they were all of the same mechanical model and were all based on the same 1884 C. H. Olson patent. The article also included information on the four patents of C. H. Olsen, the patentee, and an additional patent of O. Z. Greene who was associated with the Decatur Coffin Company. In the intervening time I have found additional information relating to screwdrivers produced by the Decatur Coffin Company. and it is offered now.

 

Figure 1

Figure 1. Decatur Coffin Co. original handle styles which appeared on the cover of "The Chronicle, March 1996 (Vol. 49, No. 1).



ADDITIONAL STYLES OF ORIGINAL HANDLES

The information in the 1996 article was based upon observed Decatur Coffin Company screwdrivers. Even though these screwdrivers had been made with different handle styles at different periods of time, they were all of the same mechanical model and were all based on the same 1884 C. H. Olson patent. The article also included information on the four patents of C. H. Olsen, the patentee, and an additional patent of O. Z. Greene who was associated with the Decatur Coffin Company. In the intervening time I have found additional information relating to screwdrivers produced by the Decatur Coffin Company. and it is offered now.

Additional original handle styles.

Figure 2. Additional original handle styles. Documentation has not been

found for these additional styles, but they are believed to be original. 

 

EUREKA IMPROVED SPIRAL SCREWDRIVER

EAIA member Ed Mahoney has provided information on a model which appears to be based mainly on Olson’s 1884 patent (Figure 3, No. 306,096), the most common model. But, Mahoney’s model also had one feature taken from O. Z. Greene’s 1890 patent (Figure 4, No. 422,520), of which no examples have been found to date.

Although Mahoney’s model (Figure 5) follows very closely the 1884 patent, it does incorporate a chuck/bit holder for holding a removable, double-ended bit, the same feature claimed in O.Z. Greene’s 1890 patent.  It is marked: EUREKA IMPROVED / PAT. MAR.- 4 1890 / DECATUR COFFIN CO. / DECATUR, IL. This model was obviously intended as an upgrade to the common Decatur Coffin Company screwdriver, which was sometimes marketed as the  “The Eureka Screwdriver.”

Another feature of Mahoney’s model, which does not appear in the Greene patent or in any of the four Olson patents, is a pair of lugs on the rear of the chuck/bit holder.  These lugs engage in notches at the front of the barrel for positive engagement to produce counter-clockwise motion to remove screws without forcing the handle to move longitudinally. This function is accomplished on the common Decatur Coffin models by notches at the rear end of the internal “nut” or clutch, which engage with a lateral pin at the rear of the brass tube to produce a positive lock. (The bit pictured in Figure 5 is a reproduction. The handle on this example is not shown since it is not original.)


Figure 3. Patent illustration for the C. H. Olson patent of 7 October 1884.

This is the patent for the most commonly observed Decatur Coffin Company screwdriver.


Figure 4. Patent illustration for the O. Z. Greene patent of 4 March 1890.  O. Z. Greene was a founder

and presidentof the Decatur Coffin Co. Note chuck and removable, interchangeable bit.

Except for the chuck/bit-holder and the positive engagement lugs, this model follows more closely the common version, based on the 1884 patent (#306,096) of C. H. Olson, than it does the 1890 patent (#422,520) of O. Z. Greene.  While in the patent the clutch is enclosed within the bit-holder/chuck, in this example the clutch is enclosed in the tube at the rear of the shaft as in the common version.  It is marked: EUREKA IMPROVED / PAT. MAR. - 4 1890 / DECATUR COFFIN CO. / DECATUR, IL.

The lugs on the rear of the chuck/bit holder engage in notches at the front of the barrel for positive engagement in order to produce counter-clockwise motion and to allow removal of screws without the handle being forced into longitudinal motion. This function is accomplished on the common Decatur Coffin models by notches at the rear end of the internal "nut" or clutch which engage with a lateral pin at the rear of the brass tube to produce a positive lock.  The handle on this example is not shown since it is not original. The bit pictured is a reproduction. (Figure 5.)

 This model was apparently intended as an upgrade to the common Decatur Coffin Co. screwdriver which was marketed as the  "The Eureka Screwdriver" as well as "The Decatur Coffin" and "Olson's Patent."  However, due to the extremely limited number of examples of this model which have been seen, the "Improved Eureka" must not have found acceptance with users.

INTERCHANGEABLE BIT MODEL

A seldom seen variation on the usual model incorporates a chuck/bit holder for the removable, interchangeable, double-ended bit similar to the above model (but without the locking lugs) and also similar to the chuck/bit holder in Greene's 1890 patent.  Otherwise, this model is mechanically similar to the c ommon model and the marking is the expected: DECATUR COFFIN CO. / DECATUR, ILLS. / PAT. OCT. 7 - 1884 The bit pictured is a reproduction. (Figure 6)

Fig_5

Figure 5. Bit holder and locking lugs on a variation of the usual Decatur Coffin Co. screwdriver.  Marked:
EUREKA IMPROVED / PAT. MAR. - 4 1890 / DECATUR COFFIN CO. / DECATUR, IL.
  The bit is a reproduction.

Removable bit

Figure 6. (above) Variation on the usual Decatur Coffin Co. spiral screwdriver featuring a bit holder

for a removable, interchangeable, double-ended bit. The bit is a reproduction.

 

EXTRA LONG MODEL

Information regarding an extra long model has been made available by member Bruce Cynar.  This variation, which is the same in all other mechanical aspects as the common model, has a longer blade which results in a closed length of 18 inches and an extended length of 24 1/2 inches" compared to the usual 12 inches and 19 inches. The blade in this example does not appear to be a longer substitution for the original blade.  This conclusion comes after observing that the grinding of the tip is in the distinctive original long hollow-ground taper.  This model also bears the usual marking: DECATUR COFFIN CO. / DECATUR, ILLS. / PAT. OCT. 7 - 1884. (Figure 4)

 Extra long model

Figure 7. Extra long variation on the usual model.  It's length closed: 18 inches; open it's 24.5 inches.

 

Acknowledgments

Thank you to Ed Mahoney and Bruce Cynarfor providing information for this article.

 

References

  1. Fales, Clifford D., Spiral Screwdrivers of Decatur, Illinois, The CHRONICLE of THE EARLY AMERICAN INDUSTRIES ASSOCIATION, 49, 1 (1996) p. 1-6

 

Author 

EAIA member Cliff Fales is retired after a thirty-year career as a public cshool instrumental music teacher. He also has had an active part-time carrer in orchestral string instrument repair. He currently serves as secretary of Rocky Mountain Tool Collectors and is past president and past newsletter editor for the organization. After primarilycollecting rules for twenty years, Cliff has in recent years also concentrated on spiral screwdrivers and research related to them. In addition to writing on spiral screwdrivers, Cliff also prepared the index for volumes 41 through 46.

 

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