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Staple Press

Georgia Kerby - Exhibitions Curator, Whangarei Museum


With the gifting season just past, here’s an item I would have liked to receive in my Christmas stocking. Whangarei Museum cares for lots of beautiful items like this, perfect for adorning one’s home office. If you were unsure by the little resemblance this gracefully shaped metal instrument shares with its modern day counterparts, it is in fact a turn of the Twentieth century stapler.

Its little size, much like today’s staplers, belies its weight. The solid body is made out of cast iron, coated in a black lacquer called ‘Japanning’. A stamp was probably used to achieve the floral decorations in gold paint.

A maker’s logo stamped clearly on the base plate reads “McGill’s Eagle No. 1”. The donors, Mr and Mrs Lowe of Auckland, also donated a set of matching staples to Whangarei Museum. While McGill’s staples came in a range of novelty forms, including ones with attached rings, these are the simplest staples made from thin steel wire pieces. This jumble is packaged in a small cardboard box, labelled as “staple binders” suitable for “McGill’s nos 1, 1a & 2” staplers.

Now George W. McGill of New York released one of the earliest patents for a single loading staple press in 1879. He very cleverly expanded into the UK market, but renamed his Single Stroke Staple Press as an Eagle Staple Press No. 1, although the designs were identical. You would load a single staple into position and punch it into your paper by pressing the large, spring loaded paddle at the top of the head. Two prongs at the base of the head delivered the staple into the paper. However one of the prongs has been broken off on our example, likely from such vigorous use.

While this style of singly loaded stapler seems onerous to use and time consuming it was an improvement of earlier multi piece staples composed of a flat metal bed and a separate punch, operated by hand and similar to cheap eyelet kits you can get today. Paper fasteners were born from a method of fence construction. Once there effectiveness for permanently binding loose papers was realised, patents for new paper fasteners and punches experienced a massive bout of development and diversification in the 1860s and 1870s.

McGill’s branded staple presses were made by Holmes, Booth and Haydens of New York, USA. George McGill’s patent was hotly contested at the time with several similar patents being brought out by other companies for similar machines. Several newspaper articles can be traced between 1881 and 1882 showing accusations being thrown between McGill’s and the Philadelphia Novelty Company for infringement of patent licenses; basically saying that they had each copied each other’s designs. The argument ended soon after with both staplers being equally successful. Further developments in paper fasteners that could load multiple staples at a time turned heads away from squabbles and towards the future of technology.

That being said McGill’s Eagle No. 1 staple press continued to be sold until around 1913, giving us an age range of 1878 to 1913 for this particular press. Given the rapid growth in desire for and design of staplers during this period I am surprised at the lack of development in staples in the last century since. Perhaps they are so well designed no more improvements can be made. Any ideas?