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


A Spiral Screwdriver Update:

The Decatur Coffin Company 


By Clifford D. Fales


In this journal in 1996 (Volume 49, No. 1), I authored an article B SPIRAL SCREWDRIVERS OF DECATUR, ILLINOIS.  That article presented information on spiral screwdrivers of The Decatur Coffin Co. and H. Mueller Mfg. Co. The portion of the article relating to The Decatur Coffin Co. included information on authentic, documented  handle styles since there are a variety of handles to be seen, including  user-replaced handles. The information was based upon observed Decatur Coffin Co. screwdrivers, which even though made with different handle styles at different periods of time, were all of the same mechanical model and all based on the same 1884 Olson patent.  It 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 Co. In the intervening time I have found additional information relating to screwdrivers produced by The Decatur Coffin Co. and it is offered now.


Additional original patterns or styles of handles have been observed.  Figure 1 shows handle styles which were believed to be authentic and original at the time of publication of the 1996 CHRONICLE article.  Four additional styles of original handles have been observed.  While these styles cannot yet be documented from advertising illustrations, they include elements which appear to be borrowed from documented styles and are believed to be authentic. (Figure 2)


Figure 1

Figure 1. Decatur Coffin Co. original handle styles as illustrated in the 1996 article.

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. 



EAIA member Ed Mahoney has provided information on a model which appears to be based mainly on Olson
=s 1884 patent (#306,096), the commonly observed model (Figure 3), but with one feature taken from O. Z. Greene=s 1890 patent (#422,520), of which no examples have been observed (Figure 4).

Figure 3. Patent illustration for the C. H. Olson patent of October 7, 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 March 4, 1890.  O. Z. Greene was a founder and president of 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 Anut@ 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  AThe Eureka Screwdriver@ as well as AThe Decatur Coffin@ and AOlson=s Patent.@   However, due to the extremely limited number of examples of this model which have been seen, the AImproved Eureka@ must not have found acceptance with users.


 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 common model and the marking is the expected: DECATUR COFFIN CO. / DECATUR, ILLS. / PAT. OCT. 7-1884 The bit ictured is a reproduction. (Figure 6)

Removable bit

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


 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" and an extended length of 24.5" B compared to the usual 12" and 19". 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.  Length closed: 18"; open: 24.5"



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



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



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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