Who Made This Ratchet, and How?

I've posted this on the regular tool forum haunts around the web, to no avail.  What we have is a  Bethlehem Spark Plug Company branded ratchet, but seemingly posessing a Herbrand forge mark.  The second ratchet in the pictures is the same ratchet but with the Bonney Shield forge mark, and posessing an October, 1923 date code.  We also have a straight Bonney branded ratchet in this design, with no date code, which can be viewed here

So the question is, in the mid-1920's, why is another forge producing Bonney patented designs?  EDIT: I'm not sure why we initially referred to this as a "Bonney Patented" design.  I'm attempting to go back through my notes and records to discover the source of that comment.  Please see the continuing discussion(s) below.

12/26/2015 - I'm adding yet another forge mark found on the same ratchet.  Please pipe up with some information if you have it.

Image 2: 
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Image 6: 
Image 7 Description: 

If anyone has insight into the below forge mark, please let us know.

Image 7: 
Image 8: 


Looking at the lettering pannel Dropped Forged Steel and the area where the handle joins the head, I tend to think the second maker was using a die that had been obsoleted by Bonney, or continuing to strike a wrench Bonney no longer considered worth producing and liecensed another forge to make.    The lettering from the secondary producer doesn't appear as crisp.  It may also have been a case of Bonney abandoning production of that tool because their dies no longer met their quality standard.

There also appears to be a lot less of a crisp corner where the handle meets the body in the second manufacture.

Late 20s was an interesting point in time in tool manufacture.

The steels they had to work with did not produce dies that sustained sharp corners as long as modern tool steel, so a first line manufacturer would have looked hard at possible production and sale for the life of a new die set -v- the cost of making that die set. 

As you get later in the "Roaring 20s" many odd things happened with regard to Dollars available to industry compared to market for tools, and the reality of tools becoming obsolete. 

There was also flat out theft of Patents.  A Patent holder had to look at the cost of enforcing his Patent against potential profit downline. 

Hosfelt benders were the top of the line, and were also ripped off and made by others who merely made a minor change and repatented the bender in their name.  Communications being what they were back then the Patent holder might not know he'd been ripped off for years, such as in the case of the Catternach-Odenbach revision of the Hosfelt bender.  With the arrival of the Great Depression, and tight money, the original Patent Holder generally had far better places to put his money than Patent enforcment.

Todd Werts's picture

Even the Herbrand forge is of obvious lesser quality than the Bonney.  Your hypothesis may prove true in that regard.  The third ratchet has me stumped.  "Could be" a messed up Bonney Forge mark but I just don't see it.  Add to that the lack of a date code and I really don't think the last one is a Bonney.

Image 7 looks like it was struck in a die that was so far gone it should have been scrapped.

You have to remember prior to 1960 repair methods for dies were not readily available, Electric Arc welding didn't come along till 1920, and bare rod or Fleetweld 5 of that time would have sucked for repairing a die.

It is a definite maybe though in terms of Image # 7.  If a repair was made to the die, and the mark carved into the weld repair management well may have looked at the days involved in the repair and decided to run it till it fell apart.

The area around the mark almost looks like a weld deposit that wasn't fully adhered that gradually eroded over a number of strikes. 

The repair itself would be easy after the Heliarc (TIG) process arrived in the 1960s.  It could have been done in 1920 with stick welding since the lettering dies were positive bosses on a punch with the lettering carved into them by hand engravers and then heat treated.  I've seen the laborious process of hand engraving master roller dies, and the men doing it told me it had changed little in over 100 years. 

The question really becomes how well was the heat treating done on the repaired lettering die.  Poor heat treat would have led to short use life. 


Hi Todd. What is the patent number for what you're calling a "Bonney patent ratchet" and a "Bonney patented design"?

Follow-up to that question, so it’s not just hanging there pregnantly.

If there is a Bonney patent for this ratchet that I don’t know about, then of course the premise for your wonder – why would Bonney let Herbrand and a second unknown* forge horn in on its contract production for its cross-town customer (BSP CO) with its own ratchet design? – is valid, and you can ignore everything that follows.

If there isn’t a Bonney patent, however, the facts at hand actually suggest something completely different to me.

Forget, for the moment, the similar (but not the same) ratchet with the Bonney name, Bonney model number 4093, and CV mark, and concentrate only on the three exact same BSP CO ratchets.

Objectively, if you were shown three examples of the same exact physical ratchet with a common branding (BSP CO) but three different forge marks (Bonney, Herbrand, and unknown*), what would you conclude? I bet you would conclude that BSP CO owned the design and they were using at least three different forges to make their ratchets.

I would argue that without a patent we have no evidence to suggest otherwise, including that crude 1/2-inch square drive 4093 that kinda sorta looks like the BSP CO 1/2-inch hex drive ratchet. You date it to 1923, ostensibly because there’s no date code, but remember that there are no sockets, ratchets or socket drive tools of any kind to be found in Catalog No. 23 (1923).

In Catalog No. 25 (1925), Bonney was only making T and L handles and brace type speeders with non-detachable socket heads.

The first Bonney catalog in our library that features detachable 1/2-inch square drive sockets and socket drive tools, including the 4093 ratchet with the wide continuous wedge-shaped handle and head, is No. 32 (1932).

AA has a No. 630 brochure dated 1930 that includes a No. H set of heavy duty sockets and drive tools, and their first catalog with the full line of sockets and drive tools is No. 33 (1933).

I would argue that the early Bonney-branded 4093 with the round stock handle and the BSP CO like head can more reasonably dated to some time between 1926 and 1930.

Rather than the notion that Bonney let other companies make some ratchet of their design for their customer in 1922 – before they were even marketing ratchets for their own retail, what if the opposite is true?

What if BSP CO let Bonney use their design for a 1/2-inch hex drive ratchet for Bonney’s earliest 1/2-inch square drive ratchet some time around 1926 to 1930? Which, by the way, is about the same time BSP Co went out of business. Or maybe, without any patents, Bonney just appropriated the BSP CO ratchet for their own early production, eliminating that embedded internal piece of forged steel within the head, changing it to square drive, and putting a different handle on the head. Or maybe Bonney just sucked up BSP CO, steel and tooling.

Either way, their use of that design didn’t last long. They went to the wider wedge-shaped 4093 ratchet design by 1932.

* That unknown forge mark almost looks like a monograph with an F and a T and maybe another F. Maybe an early Fairmount Tool & Forge? That is just a guess.  


Todd Werts's picture

A little patent research, and a couple possibilities.  I'll take one apart to get a better look at the mechanism later this week.

With that reply, I'm assuming that "Bonney patent ratchet" and "Bonney patented design" was not referring to a specific Bonney patent number, and you were thinking of the later (1926-1930) Bonney branded 4093 ratchet, which resembles the earlier (1922) BSP CO ratchet, and assuming since Bonney was making their own branded ratchet that it was a Bonney design. 

Nice work on finding relevant patents. I agree, those are both close in terms of early 1920's patents for ratchets with round heads and crude non-reversible gearing mechanisms, and I agree even further that the latter very much resembles the BSP CO frame/handle. (Note that the BSP CO ratchet has 14 teeth, whereas the 1,347,691 Forton patent has 16 and the 1,412,290 McCafferty patent has 12.)

According to the USPTO, though, neither patent was assigned to Bonney, which reinforces my notion that we may need to look at this the other way around, where the ratchet is not a Bonney patented design, and Bonney is just one of several forges (Bonney, Herbrand, and a third unknown symbol) that BSP CO used to make the ratchet.

I wonder if we can tie Forton or McCafferty to BSP CO. Or, if neither of these are the BSP CO ratchet, if we can find any record of BSP CO having a patent for its ratchet. I'll do some research on that vector.

My hunch remains that Bonney leveraged its earlier contract work (and perhaps the very same dies) for BSP CO as a catapult into developing its earliest 1/2-inch drive ratchet - the 4093. By the way, who owns that early 4093 with the BSP CO like looks? It's an important ratchet, and if my theory is correct, even more important, linking Bonney's late entry into the detachable socket tool market already occupied by Blackhawk, Walden, and Snap-On with its work for cross-town customer BSP CO.   

Todd Werts's picture

I find no link between those 2 patent holders and Bonney nor BSP.  I own the 4093.  I continue the hunt!

EDIT: I actually have a 1922 and 1927 Bonney catalog on the way to me so hopefully those provide some revelations.