Edison Electric Pen plus original box, $17,000 (£13,700) at Nye & Co.

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It enjoyed a new life as the basis of today’s body inking despite never taking off as intended: an easy and efficient way to copy forms, receipts and letters. Dating from 1875, it was the first mass-produced electric motor-powered appliance to be offered for sale in the US.

The device operated by making a stencil of the paper using the pen to prick it – powered by an electric motor run on batteries. Then using a cast-iron flatbed press and a roller so the ink could seep through to paper beneath the holes, up to 5000 copies could be made in one go, it was claimed.

Reality proved rather different because it was hard to operate, the whole kit was heavy and cumbersome and the batteries hard to maintain. The advent of typewriters and more efficient copying processes sounded the death knell.

Pen friends

Edison’s invention is popular among collectors today, however, with a limited number known to exist. An Edison Electric Pen registry lists 52 and where they are now or when sold. One, numbered No 3497 on the wheel, surfaced at the Nye & Co (28% buyer’s premium) auction in Bloomfield, New Jersey, on January 25-27.

It took $17,000 (£13,700), guided at £8000-12,000. On the registry it had been listed as in a private collection. The lot included its original box, wires and stone sharpening tool. Of the pens in the registry only two are known to have a complete box.

Nye sold another Edison Electric Pen in November 2021 for $12,000 (£8950) against a guide of $5000-10,000 and in the UK in October the same year, Dore & Rees of Frome, Somerset, took an £8000 hammer price for one. Neither came boxed.