Ralph’s marking gauge

I’m not normally a devious person, or at least I usually don’t act on what the hilarious devil on my shoulder whispers in my ear. This story would be an exception. Ordinarily it is hard to find humor in intellectual property, hopefully you will see it here.

My friend Ralph was into collecting patented marking gauges (specialized woodworking tool used when parts need to interconnect or be of the same length, from a time when that was done using hand tools). He also lead the creation of a web site to share the patent data associated with his collection and invited collectors of other patented tools to add their data to the site. This was before google patents was a thing, back when it was harder to find older patents.

The listing on the right in the picture was created by Ralph on the patented tool web site he helped launch (datamp.org). The tool on the left was being discussed on an antique tool listserver when an online tool dealer had it for sale on his web site. The tool dealer did not know what the tool was but the listing contained a patent date. I identified the tool by finding the patent even though the patent date in the listing contained a typo and then I looked to see if the patent was in datamp.

In Ralph’s listing it originally said ‘Not known to have been produced’ which I took to mean he didn’t own one or hadn’t ever seen one (something can be patented but never produced commercially). At the time Ralph owned so many marking gauges that it was nearly impossible to find one he didn’t already have. I saw an opportunity to both score a gauge for him as well as have a little fun. I figured buying it before posting about it was the right thing to do. It belonged in Ralph’s collection but, based on the advise I received, I neglected to mention the purchase in my post. To quote from it, “Quick, someone buy this thing before Ralph does :-)” as Ralph was also on the listserver and everyone knew of his collection. My devious side wanted him to see that it was sold when he viewed the listing on the tool dealer’s web site. I waited a half day or so until I let him know that I bought it and would sell it to him for what it cost me. Fun is fun but extortion is a line I wouldn’t cross for a friend. My shoulder devil and I thought it was pretty funny how we used Ralph’s own web site against him!

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