Edison's Stencil Pen

Thomas A. Edison Samuel O'Reilly Ahmund Dietzel Charlie Wagner Percy Waters Milton Zeis Owen Jensen Paul Rogers Les Skuse "Sailor Jerry" Collins Bill Jones Johnny Walker Bowery Stan Moskowitz

The predecessor to the tattoo machine was the electric stencil pen  invented by Thomas Alva Edison and patented under the title Stencil-Pens in Newark, New Jersey, United States in 1876. It was originally intended to be used as a duplicating device, but in 1891,Samuel O'Reilly of New York discovered that Edison's machine could be modified and used to introduce ink into the skin, and later patented a tube and needle system to provide an ink reservoir.

The electric pen was developed as an offshoot of Edison's telegraphy research. Thomas Edison and Charles Batchelor noticed that as the stylus of their printing telegraph punctured the paper, the chemical solution left a mark underneath. This led Edison to conceive in June 1875 the idea of using a perforated sheet of paper as a stencil for making multiple copies, and to develop the electric pen as a perforating device. Later duplicating processes used a wax stencil, but the instruction manuals for Edison's Electric Pen and Duplicating Press variously call for a stencil of "common writing paper". US patent #1800857 for autographic printing was issued to Thomas Edison in 1876, covering the pen, the duplication press, and accessories.

It is estimated that 8000 of the pens were manufactured, but shipping records only account for about 3500. There are only 39 remaining Edison Stencil Pens known to exist, with the majority of those being in major museums around the globe. Only a small handful are in private collections. The Motor City Tattoo Museum is honored to have one (#4263 pictured below).

For more info on the Edison Stencil Pen, including the registry for those that still exist, please visit: http://electricpen.org/


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1876 US Centennial Exposition, Philadelphia
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Various Edison Coins 1914-1947
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1924 Ogden's Tobacco Card (UK)
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