Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Henry Herbert Yelf - Inventor!

It's interesting what you can pick up on ebay, especially if you keep your eyes peeled for items linked to family history. What do you make of this, for example? It was found in an old tool kit when a shed was being cleared and was placed up for sale without much real hope of a buyer. Luckily for all concerned the vendor copied out the text on the side of the handle which read Yelf's "Thin Edge" Adjustable Eraser Holder - Pat No.21947/10. With a provenance like that I had to have it and entered into a fierce bidding war with a collector of tools, emerging victorious with a winning bid of £6.50 (including postage and packing). I was happy and the seller couldn't believe his luck! It's a nice, simple object that sits well in the hand and a little bit of research threw more light on it's conception. Some quick internet searches soon gave the year the patent was granted and the inventor (also the opportunity to buy a copy of the patent itself, but I'm not that engrossed!)


I knew some of the basic facts about Henry but it was nice to be able to put my hands on a tangible reminder of his work. Then with a stroke of good fortune I was able to access the USA patents and found that Henry had been busy there too. He had also lodged his patent for his eraser in the States and had it accepted on February 20th 1920. He gave his address as being 43 Pelham Road, Southsea, Portsmouth, Hampshire, England and after describing the problems with current erasers (they are in constant contact with the hands causing soiling, they wear down and become too fiddly to use easily and oblong ones become difficult to use on single letters, in case you were wondering) he was able to describe the improvements inherent in his new invention as being

"... an eraser holder in which the eraser is adapted to be contained in such a manner that a small portion only thereof projects when in use, the remaining portion being inclosed and so protected from being soiled or otherwise damaged"

The eraser that you see in the photograph slides in and out like a Stanley knife and you can't argue with the points he makes. Obviously the previous owner liked it as he kept it for the best part of ninety years! But that wasn't the limit to Henry's inventiveness - I also came across patents for practice key pads, a little collector of eraser shavings from a sheet of paper, a device for reducing the percussive effects of typing and a quick release 'Combination Device' that attached to the typewriter in order to collect shavings as well as being

"...for use as a hand rest, eraser holder, pencil holder, locking device, protector and advertisment or sign-plate without appreciably increasing the cost"

I've no idea if he made his fortune from his typewriters but I do know that even today his patents are still being quoted as predecessors by a range of new products. Well done Henry, your ingenuity lives on!

1 comment:

hyelf said...

Henry Herbert Yelf (Harry) was my grandfather. In the fifites I remember in his desk draw at his later home in Havant several of these erasers, plus a blueprint. He most certainly did not make a fortune out of his inventions. He ran a typwiter sales and repair business in Surrey St. Portsmouth and later Elm Grove with mixed success. A lot of his business came from Royal navy ships returning from foreign commissions with their typewriters in dire need of repair. He died in the early sixties and I have very fond memories of a kind and generous man who worked hard to support his family.