A spiral screwdriver update: The decatur coffin company

A spiral screwdriver update: The decatur coffin company

Fales, Clifford D

In this journal in 1996,1 in the article, “Spiral Screwdrivers of Decatur, Illinois”-I presented information on spiral screwdrivers manufactured by the Decatur Coffin Company and H. Mueller Manufacturing Company, both of Decatur, Illinois. The portion of the article relating to the Decatur Coffin Company inchided information on authentic, documented handle styles because there are a variety of handles that a collector may see, including user-replaced handles.

The information in the 1996 article was based upon observed Decatur Coffin Company screwdrivers. Even though these screwdrivers had been made with different handle styles at different periods of time, they were all of the same mechanical model and were all based on the same 1884 C. H. Olson patent. The article also included information on the four patents of C. H. Olson, the patentee, and the additional patent of 0. Z. Greene, who was associated with the Decatur Coffin Company. In the intervening time I have found additional information relating to screwdrivers produced by the Decatur Coffin Company, and it is offered now.

Additional Styles of Original Handles

Additional original patterns or styles of handles have been found since the time of publication of The Chronicle article in 1996. Figure 1 shows handle styles which were believed to be authentic and original in 1996. Four additional styles of original handles have since come to light. While these styles cannot yet be documented from advertising illustrations, they include elements which appear to be borrowed from documented styles and so, are believed to be authentic (Figure 2).

Eureka Improved Spiral Screwdriver

EAIA member Ed Mahoney has provided information on a model that appears to be based mainly on Olson’s 1884 patent (Figure 3, no. 306,096), the most common model. But, MAhoney’s model also had one feature taken from 0. Z. Greene’s 1890 patent (Figure 4, no. 422,520), of which no examples have been found to date.

Although Mahoney’s model (Figure 5) follows very closely the 1884 patent, it does incorporate a chuck/bit holder for holding a removable, double-ended bit, the same feature claimed in 0. Z. Greene’s 1890 patent. It is marked EUREKA IMPROVED/ PAT. MAR.-4 1890/ DECATUR COFFIN CO./DECATUR, IL. This model was obviously intended as an upgrade to the common Decatur Coffin Company screwdriver, which was sometimes marketed as “The Eureka Screwdriver.”

Another feature of Mahoney’s model, which does not appear in the Greene patent or in any of the four Olson patents, is a pair of lugs on the rear of the chuck/bit holder. These lugs engage in notches at the front of the barrel for positive engagement to produce counter-clockwise motion to remove screws without forcing the handle to move longitudinally. This function is accomplished on the common Decatur Coffin models by notches at the rear end of the internal “nut” or clutch, which engage with a lateral pin at the rear of the brass tube to produce a positive lock. (The bit pictured in figure 5 is a reproduction The handle on this example is not shown since it is not original.)

Interchangeable Bit Model

A seldom-seen variation (Figure 6) on the usual model incorporates a chuck/bit holder for the removable, interchangeable, double-ended bit similar to that shown in Figure 5 (but without the locking lugs). It’s also similar to the chuck/ bit holder in Greene’s 1890 patent. Otherwise, this model is mechanically similar to the common model and the marking is the expected: DECATUR COFFIN CO./ DECATUR, ILLS. / PAT. OCT 7-1884. (The bit pictured is a reproduction.)

Extra-long Model

Information regarding an extra-long model has been made available by member Bruce Cynar. This variation (Figure 7), which is the same in all other mechanical aspects as the common model, has a longer blade, which results in a closed length of 18 inches and extended length of 24 1/4 inches-compared to the usual 12 inches and 19 inches. The blade in this example does not appear to be a longer substitution for the original blade. This conclusion comes after observing that the grinding of the tip is in the distinctive original long hollow– ground taper. This model also bears the usual marking DECATUR COFFIN CO. / DECATUR, ILLS. / PAT. OCT. 7-1884.


Thank you to Ed Mahoney and Bruce Cynar for providing information for this article.


1. Fales, Clifford D., “Spiral Screwdrivers of Decatur, Illinois,” The Chronicle Vol. 49, No. 1, 1996, pp. 1-6.


EAIA member Cliff Fales is retired after a thirty-year career as a public school instrumental music teacher. He also has had an active part-time career in orchestral string instrument repair. He currently serves as secretary of Rocky Mountain Tool Collectors and is past president and past newsletter editor for the organization. After primarily collecting rules for twenty years,

Cliff has in recent years also concentrated on spiral screwdrivers and research related to them. In addition to writing on spiral screwdrivers, Cliff also prepared the index for volumes 41 through 46).

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