Early Patents & Rare Finds

Published by: David E. Sneed
Published on:
07/16/24
All text and images Copyright © David E. Sneed, All Rights Reserved
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When it comes to searching for the latest early vehicle collectible, how aware are you of your surroundings? Do you notice details or is a quick glance the typical approach? When you’ve been in an antique shop, flea market, or even looking through an old barn, have you ever missed something right in front of you? As much as I’d like to think that I’m a good visual gleaner, I’ve missed some things that my wife has noticed. I passed through a booth in an antique store once and she came behind me and said, “Were you not interested in that Springfield wagon seat?” I said, what seat? Ha! After she pointed it out, I wondered how in the world I could have missed it? Truth is, we all miss some things and it’s important to have someone helping us stay focused.


With that thought in mind... I’ve been around Doug Hansen long enough to know what a valued partner his wife, Holly, is to him. A while back, Tonya and I visited this legendary team of early vehicle connoisseurs and Doug pointed out a recent find. Walking through his impressive collection of western vehicles he said, “Have you ever seen one of these?” Not only had I never seen one, in thirty years of digging, I’d never even heard of one or known they existed. Even so, every day we learn something new is a great day!   


As he pulled the piece off of the wagon, I saw a patent date of October 1, 1867. The wood and metal object he removed from the wagon sideboard was a step to help folks climb in and out of a wagon. I remember when I first became interested in these vehicles that very question was among the thousands I had. In other words, what's the best way to climb into these wagons from different areas around it? Never did I dream that it was a problem prevalent enough for someone to spend the money to patent, build, market, and actually sell a product to assist with the challenge.


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But, after a quick look into the U.S. Patent Office files, there it was... Patent number 69,465 applied for and granted to Edward Miller of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In the patent, Mr. Miller states, “My invention has for its object to furnish an improved shifting or detachable step for attachment to vehicles, to enable persons, and especially ladies, to get in and out conveniently; and it consists in an improved shifting step, formed with a hook or flange upon its upper end, for hooking upon the upper edge of the wagon-box, and in the combination of a hinged handle or top piece with said step, the whole being constructed and arranged as hereinafter more fully described...”


Mr. Miller goes on to more technically describe the relatively simple piece with this additional comment, “This invention is designed especially for use upon farmers' wagons, and in new sections of the country, where the roughness and unfinished state of the roadways render it impossible to have projecting steps permanently attached to the wagon.”


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The double step that Doug held in his hand was remarkably light and easy to move to any part of the wagon. Just as incredible, the piece appeared to be new, old stock. I’m not sure it had ever been used. I asked him how he found such an accessory? He smiled and said, “Holly found it in a shop somewhere.” This is the same lady that, while we were speaking at a conference in Santa Ynez, California years ago, visited an antique store with Doug. While there, in the midst of the sea of items, she somehow spied a small, but mint condition, M.P. Henderson maker tag and pointed it out to Doug! Henderson was a legendary stage and wagon maker from Stockton, California. Any original piece related to this company is a great item to have in a western vehicle collection. The lady definitely has an eye for the rare stuff!


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My main point in this post is just this... that truly rare pieces still exist and each has a story to tell that can impact the quality and significance of any vehicle collection. My other point is that if you’re going to find a truly rare piece – get to the store before Holly and Doug! 😊

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