Monday, November 17, 2014

The Battle of Baby Chairs

This article comes from The Cabinet Maker and Art Furnisher under the section of new invention novelties. It was a legal battle over design and such, however, the illustrations give us as historical authors images of what these chairs actually looked like in 1880.

THE BATTLE OF THE BABY CHAIRS. Many entertaining chapters might be written founded upon the actions arising out of inventions. Perhaps, however, such a publication of inventors' woes would tend to stamp out the patent office, a catastrophe that could not be tolerated either by the Government officials or the lawyers. Those who fret themselves with the turmoil of invention or discovery generally suffer in the development of such restless talents, and as a rule, their histories are of the saddest nature. Often an invention may be widely used, and its real author remain wholly unknown. He ma}T have lacked the means to patent his secret, or unscrupulous companions may have pirated it, or he may never have been able to expend the sums requisite to bring it to perfection. Does not the very name "inventor " prepare us to listen to a tale of calamity'.'
Centuries ago men were cautious how they proclaimed themselves inventive geniuses. Faust narrowly escaped the stake as a wizard when he produced his first printed Bible, although he had prudently attempted to hide his secret and pass off the early specimens of his press as manuscripts. Roger Bacon purposely kept back some of his inventions for fear of evil consequences. It was only when protected by some powerful king or noble that many an ingenious man dared to publish his inventions to the world he hoped to benefit, for to be wiser than his era was generally accepted as an undoubted proof of witchcraft and punished accordingly. A German abbot of the fifteenth century who invented a form of secret writing something akin to modern shorthand nearly lost his life in consequence of some of his attempts at stenography falling into the hands of an ignorant prior, who concluded that the strange characters must be-invocations of evil spirits. Even when an inventor's life was no longer endangered by his success, difficulties and discouragements innumerable surrounded his path. Palissy, indeed, succeeded in discovering the secret of enamelling china, but after what years of fnilure and penury— the flooring of his rooms taken to feed his furnace, his wife's wedding-ring sacrificed to the melting-pot. Any heart less stout than that of the brave old Calvinist would never have persevered thus in so apparently hopeless a quest. Arkwright'B improvements in machinery were rewarded with riot and abuse by his fellow townsmen.
But we must forbear enlarging upon historical inventors, our business in the present instance being simply the narration of a trade story. It is one, however, which goes to support the foregoing melancholy category of inventors' difficulties.
So great an amount of interest has been excited in this particular baby chair case that we annex miniature illustrations in order to make the narrative more intelligible to our readers. Commencing at the very beginning of the matter, we may say, "once upon a time" some fatherly or motherly individual invented the ordinary child's high chair upon four legs, now commonly sent out of Wycombe at from i? -upwards. Next in the order of chair history comes the well known "Bergier" chair. Why it was thus dubbed does not transpire, but if called by any other name its form is just as familiar and popular. This type of convertible chair satisfied the trade for many years, indeed it was the only thing of tho kind obtainable until 187fi, when a startling American novelty was "The BEBomu.'1 brought into the market.
Messrs. Marris and Norton, the well-known Midland firm, of Bnll-st., Birmingham, were the enterprising cabinet-makers who introduced this American combination of high chair, low clair,
and carriage, into the market. Notwithstanding its sprawling character and high price (some 40s. to 50s. first) it sold well, and the idea of a child's chair and carriage in one and the same article was much appreciated. This ungainly-looking machine was called by several names, but is now best known as the "Scissors." The Tin -i;i. justice of this designation is easily understood, for the chair has a way of nipping the fingers of the operator. Messrs. Lawes and Co., of G5, City-road, London, were the first vendors of this "Scissors" chair in the Metropolis, but observing as they did its great disadvantages—i.e., in the large area occupied, incapability of turning round, &c.—they directed their attention to various improvements upon it. They made models of three Buch improvements in the autumn of 1877, and No. 1 of these inventions was patented November, 1877, under the title of "The National." It was a convertible chair designed upon the lines of the old Bergier, the upper legs being allowed to fall into the lower in a telescopic manner. When the chair was at low level the wheels were forced into position and it became a handy carriage. As this chair did not come into the action in question, it need not be described or illustrated here. It is, however, worthy of notice that this "National" chair was the first improvement upon the American " Scissors" in this country, so that Messrs. Lawes and Co. fairly claim to be the pioneers in such English nursery chairs. It so happened that a Mr. W. Keen, chair maker, of Chapel-street, Curtain-road, was requested to make the original model of this "National" chair. The working drawings of it were submitted to him, but after keeping them for some days he returned them, saying "they were not practicable." Mr. Keen, however, some few weeks afterwards produced a chair identical in most respects, with wheels applied to the lower stand. It differed from "The National" in that the telescopic action was avoided, the chair being dropped into the lower framing by allowing the table or platform of the stand to fall within itself. It differed moreover in another
important respect—viz., it was cheaper than "The National." The chair thus brought out by Mr. Keen was christened by him "The Climax," but it did not prove to be the climax of such inventions. In the specification of this chair, the inventor was careful to state that, his invention related to children's chairs usually made in two parts, —i.e., to Bergier chairs; and the whole of his improvement was confined to the Table or stand of such chairs.
He The Climax." not ftttempt to deal with the chair at all, but by making the platform of the little stand to fall, obtained a space which would receive any chair of suitable size.
The annexed illustration of the Climax stand will at once demonstrate the extent of Mr. Keen's invention. He issued a circular with his new chair which attributed certain defects to other inventions, and thus he declared war in a business sense against the firm in the City-road. Messrs. L. and Co. thereupon decided to bring out No. 2 of their already perfected inventions, and a child's nursery chair and phaeton made its appearance under the title of "The Eclipse :" forming as it does a useful tall chair when up, and a capital spring carriage with shafts or perambulator when down, it is a very popular article in the nursery. It was not contended that " The Eclipse" infringed, so we may dismiss it thus briefly.
"The Climax " was, however, soon after produced in a cheaper form, to meet this increasing competition, and so keen did the rivalry become that Messrs. Lawes determined to fire the last shot in their locker, viz., "The Champion."
We have thus arrived at the chair which gave rise to all the trouble, and from the illustration annexed our readers will be able to judge for themselves. This "Champion " merely consisted of an ordinary Wycombe child's chair, cut through the seat in order that the latter might fall within the four legs below. The price of this combined high chair and carriage being only 15s., it naturally sold well where a cheap and useful little chair of this class was required. For some time its career was unchecked, and the proprietor of "The Climax " did not lodge any complaint. Eventually, "the Champion." however, his attention was drawn to the supposed similarity of " The Climax " and " Champion."
THE "CHAMPION AS A CARRIAOE. time prior to Tbe Fighting was evidently the only way out of the difficulty, and the preliminary skirmish occurred when Mr. Keen succeeded in stopping the sale of "The Champion" for a time. Ere long a pitched battle took place in Vice-Chancellor Bacon's Court and a decision was secured in favour of the plaintiff. Rejoicing was only natural on the part of the Climai contingent, and Messrs. Lawes were threatened with heavy damages. Public opinion naturally followed the event, and the impression was that a great injustice had been dune to the chair maker of Chapel-street. There was, however, something very curious about the Vice-Chancellor's judgment. His great age, combined with the mechanical difficulties of the subject, led to an astounding technical misconception of the matter on his part.
In order to illustrate the story of these chairs, several specimens were produced in Court by counsel, notably an American invention known as " The Pearl," and declared to be prior to
Mr. Keen's patent. The judge stook "The for Messrs. Lawes' invention, and decided that was an infringement of " The Climnx." Thns the judgment delivered and rejoiced over was no decision at all, because the Vice-Chancellor failed to understand that "The Champion," and not "The Pearl," was the chair complained of. Sncha The Pearl." muddle seems an anomaly,
but it must be remembered that a judge, when once delivering his decision, cannot be put right, and the only remedy for the disappointed side is to take the case to a court above. Messrs. Lawes at once gave notice of appeal, and the case came on during the past month. By this time the matter had assumed colossal proportions. Thousands of pounds were involved, and eminent counsel had to be retained by both litigants. Mr. Keen was represented by Mr. S. Waddy, Q.C. (late M.P.i, Messrs. Lawes secured the services of Mr. Theodore Aston, Q.C, of-patent notoriety, and four of the most talented jndges on the Bench sat on the 7th and 8th ultimo in solemn conclave over these baby chairs.
Lords Justices Brett, Baggallay, and Lindley supported tbe Master of the Bolls upon the trying occasion. All the forces of the combatants were duly marshalled, and the sombre Gotiit chamber of the Appeal Court looked like a Wycombe showroom. There was something very curious in the sight—the four judges sitting in state, with chairs to the right of them, chairs to the left of them, labelled and numbered. If thii journal happened to be a popular illustrated periodical, the scene would have made a capital full-page illustration; but we must confine ourselves to the business aspect of the nutter. Limited space, moreover, prevents quoting at length Mr. Aston's masterly analysis of the chairs; but it was virtually the foregoing story told in legal language. Mr. Waddy, too, made an excellent show of fight on behalf of his client; but the judges were not to be drawn from a careful examination of the articles before them. They compared specification with specification, they set chair against chair, and most unanimously decided thit Messrs. Lawes and Co., in " The Champion," had not irifringed Mr. Keen's "Climax" in any way. They did not even all upon Mr. Aston to reply to Mr. Waddy's arguments. This fact, which took so long and expensive a process to arrive at legally, will be easily understood by the aid of a glance at "The Climai" specification. Mr. Keen was extremely careful therein to confine his invention to "the ordinary stand or table" of a Bergier chair. He did not touch the chair proper. An examination of " The Champion " will show that it has no " stand or table " about it; indeed, it belongs to another species than the Bergier chair. This point the judges made most clear, remarking that the man who improved " a stand" could not prevent another inventor from treating a chair, and producing a similar result. Lord Justice Baggallay informed Mr. Keen that if they widened his specification to embrace such chairs as " The Champion," his patent would probably be bad.
The judgment was therefore in favour of "The Champion," and the costs followed the event with the exception ot a nominal set off, disallowed in consequence of Messrs. Lawes' evidence being weak as to alleged want of novelty in "The Climax." That point, however, was merely a side issue. Thus ended one of the most important actions in chair-making annals, and the victors have the satisfaction of a unanimous judgment in their favonr. It is but just to Messrs. Lawes to remark that the attack was not made by them. It was not, as represented, a case ol a rich firm assailing a smaller tradesman, but vice versa. As patentees of " The National," the chair first containing a stand with wheels attached, they might have troubled M r. Keen over the fact, that a few weeks after their patenthe produced a stand with wheels a Hacked, but they preferred the course of ordinary business competition. It was courageous of Mr. Keen to attack so large alionse, but as we judge from the facts of the case now before us. he must have been strangely advised in so doing. Although special versions of " The Climax" were made up similar in appearance to " The Champion " expressly for the trial, although the top of a "Champion " was cut off to make what was left look like " an ordinary stand or table," it was 6f no avail; indeed the introduction of such manufactured specimens rather damaged than assisted Mr. Keen's case. It is unquestionably always better to let such a question rest entirely upon its bona fide merits, and it was surprising that the legal advisers for V The Climax" tolerated the introduction of such specially constructed specimens.
Messrs. Noon and Clark, of Bloomfield-street, were solicitors in this action for Mr. Keen; whilst Mr. H. T. Tiddeman, of 50, Finshwy-square, successfully protected the interests of Messrs. Lawes and Co.

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