At first glance you would think this small 1-3/4 inch diameter jar contained some sort of medicinal or cosmetic cream but you’d be wrong. In fact, it served as the lower portion of a jar that contained oil and could be converted to an oiler by adding a nozzle at the top.
An example of the jar adapted for use as an oiler was recently offered for sale on the internet
Called the “Gem” Oiler, it was on the market from the late 1880’s up through the turn of the century when you could pick one up for between 10 and 15 cents.
Its story begins with a native Pennsylvanian named Reuben Ritter who in the mid to late 1800’s was listed in the directories with a wide variety of occupations that included patent med’s, insurance agent, salesman, foreman, oiler and watchman. That being said it’s clear that he could also have been listed with still another occupation, that of inventor. As early as 1874 he obtained a U.S. patent for what he called the “self sustaining paper box.” The July 14, 1874 edition of the “Scranton Republican” told the story.
On the 30th, Mr. Rueben Ritter of this city, was granted a patent upon a paper box, samples of which are to be seen at Peacock’s drug store. It is called the self-sustaining paper box, and its merits lie in its being composed of only one piece of paper, (ingeniously cut by a machine for the purpose of which is also the design of Mr, Ritter), and put together so that it cannot come apart, and will hold water, so perfectly is it cut, and yet no paste or any fastening substance is used. The box is called by all who examine it, an admirable invention, and when introduced, Mr. Ritter will not fail of securing an unlimited demand for it.
Six years later, on February 3, 1880 (the date embossed on the base of the subject jar), Ritter obtained a patent (No.234,041) for what he called his “Combined Oiler and Oil Bottle.” According to the specifications included with the patent application, in addition to serving as an oiler the bottle/jar could also be adapted for use as a night lamp.
The bottle may be made with very little cost, filled with oil, closed by a suitable stopper and sold as a bottle of oil.
The purchaser can, at the time of first purchase, procure the oiler nozzle and a night lamp. The device may then be used either as an oiler for machinery or a night lamp.
Both the nozzle and lamp configurations were illustrated on this drawing that was also part of the patent documents.
At around the same time that Ritter was obtaining his patent, George H. Paine was establishing George H. Paine & Co. in Philadelphia. The company was first listed in 1881 as “commercial merchants” with an address of 105 S Front. In 1883 William E. Diehl joined Paine and the company changed its name to Paine Diehl & Co. The company operated under that name up through 1894 utilizing several different Philadelphia addresses over that span including 105 S Front (1883), 7 Strawberry (1884 to 1885), 12 Bank (1886 to 1887) and 430 S Penn Sq. (1888 to 1894).
During this time the company marketed several unique household items. The one they advertised the most was called the “self-pouring coffee and tea pot.”
Another was their “Egg Beater and Cream Whip.”
Sometime in the mid-1880’s Paine, Diehl & Co. apparently obtained the rights to Ritter’s design and by 1889 they were running advertisements for what they called the “Gem” Oiler. One of the first ads I can find appeared in the June, 1889 edition of a publication called “The Iron Age.”
Turning to page 67 you found the following item that touted the oiler’s benefits and described how to use it.
Patented February 3, 1880
The oiler is made of heavy flint glass – strong, clean and durable; filled with the best of oil. It has a metallic top (the bottom is glass), with a flexible chamber with which to squirt the oil. The cap is screwed onto the bottle, making the oiler absolutely leakless.
Being transparent, the quantity of oil in or being poured into the oiler can be seen at a glance, thus enabling you to fill without spilling the oil. Having the bottom and sides all in on piece and of glass, they are perfectly clean, with no spring bottom to leak or come out.
They are sold so cheap that they can be sold at about the price of a bottle of good oil alone.
To the dealer it is a most convenient article and ready seller.
With the consumer it is a most desirable arrangement, as it enables him to get an oiler with his oil, and a splendid offer too.
In using – Place your thumb on the bottom of the oiler, letting the spout pass between the fingers. To squirt the oil, press down on the washer around the spout. This gives a better flow than a spring-bottom oiler, and is easily regulated.
They are sold by Grocers, Stationers, House-Furnishers, Druggists, Hardware Merchants, Novelty Dealers, Typo-writer Dealers and Sewing-Machine Dealers.
PAINE, DIEHL & CO.
Paine, Diehl & Co. was last listed in the 1894 Philadelphia directory, suggesting that the relationship between Paine and Diehl ended around that time. That same year Paine apparently associated with a man named Charles W. Asbury and they established the Asbury-Paine Manufacturing Company in Trenton, New Jersey.
Within a year, the November 9, 1895 edition of the “Philadelphia Times” announced that the company was set to move their headquarters to Philadelphia. The announcement was included under the heading “New Charters.”
The following foreign corporations have been licensed to do business in this State:…the Asbury Paine Manufacturing Company of Trenton, N.J., headquarters to be in Philadelphia.
The company remained headquartered at Wayne Junction (Wayne and Berkley) in Philadelphia up through the turn of the century with Paine named vice president and Asbury, treasurer. During this time, in addition to advertising many of the former Paine Diehl products, they added some new ones as well. One, that was advertised quite heavily was called “Witch-Kloth.”
Ashley-Paine also continued to market the “Gem” Oiler as evidenced by the following advertisement that appeared in several 1896 editions of the “Trenton Evening News.”
Apparently, the Asbury-Paine Manufacturing Company came to an end in 1900, at which time the company name vanished from the Philadelphia directories. That being said, the “Gem” brand of oilers survived well into the 20th century.
On November 27, 1899, the Gem Manufacturing Company was established in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. An announcement to that effect appeared in the November 7, 1899 edition of “The Pittsburgh Press.”
An application for a charter for the incorporation of the Gem Manufacturing Company will be filed at Harrisburg, November 27. The company will locate its plant in the building formerly occupied by the Bradley Stove Company, Second Avenue and Wood Street. The larger stockholders of the new company are men conversant with the machinery business and have already purchased the hydraulic presses and the die machinery required for the manufacture of the steel specialties. The incorporators of the company are: William H. Frick, John A. Clark, Edwin S. Fonnes, D.A. McCaffrey and W. D. Forsythe.. The two first named are the secretary and vice-president of the Frick & Lindsey Company, Water Street.
The official organization of the company will take place when the charter is received, about December 1, and the company expects to have the plant in working order not later than January 1.
What connection they had with the former Asbuury-Paine Manufacturing Company or, how they obtained rights to the “Gem” name, is not clear but almost immediately after the Gem Manufacturing Company was established they introduced a newly designed “Gem” Oiler. This advertisement touting its benefits can be found in the June 18, 1900 edition of a publication called “The Daily Railway Age.”
According to another introductory item, this one published in the April, 1900 edition of a publication called “Railway Master Mechanic,” the new design replaced the glass jar with a steel base and bottom.
A New Oiler
The Gem Manufacturing Co., of Pittsburg, Pa., presents a new device in the Gem oiler. The can itself is a departure from methods now obtaining, yet it still preserves the fundamental principle of the old.
In this oiler the bottom is constructed from high carbon spring steel. The body is made from the best grade of basic low phosphorus steel, pressed and drop forged into shape, and flared and spun firmly against the bottom proper. To further strengthen the cans and insure against any leakage whatever, the oilers are brazed upon the inside…
This August, 1900 advertisement in “Steam Engineering” called it “The Best Oiler Made.”
This example of their early steel oiler recently appeared for sale on the internet.
Later the company added the “Gem” Steel Tallow Pot and the”Gem” Engineer’s Set to the “Gem” family of oilers.
These additions, coupled with the company’s choice of publications in which to run their advertisements make it clear that the market for their oiler was expanding. Originally sold in local grocery, drug and hardware stores, Ashley-Paine simply targeted the customer who wanted to fix a squeaky door or oil his wheelbarrow. Under the Gem Manufacturing Company, much of their advertising was now directed toward the professional mechanic.
Another market for their oilers opened up with the proliferation of the automobile. According to this January 11, 1906 advertisement published in a magazine called “The Automobile:”
If you have a high-class car, you need a high-class Gem Oiler.
Not just oilers, in the early 1900’s the “Gem” name began to represent an entire line of products. As early as 1902, this May 26th advertisement in the “Birmingham (Alabama) News” referenced both a “Gem” flue scraper and a “Gem” flexible shaft in addition to the “Gem” oiler.
By 1925, this advertisement in “Hendrick’s Commercial Register” made it clear you needed a catalog to see the entire line of “Gem” Products.
In the 1930’s and 1940’s the company expanded into many other areas including the manufacture of automotive items such as mufflers. That being said, through it all they apparently continued to manufacture oil cans and oilers. As late as 1953 the company was included on a U. S. government listing under the heading: “Manufacturers of Lubricating Systems and Devices.”
In March, 1953 the company, still located in Pittsburgh, went into receivership. According to the March 6th edition of the “Pittsburgh Press:”
Uncle Sam today slapped a big tax lien on a Pittsburgh firm now in receivership.
The lien for $185,193 was filed against the Gem Manufacturing Co. Attorney J. Howard is the receiver…The lien covers income taxes for the years 1943 through 1946 which the Government claims the firm has failed to pay.
The business apparently reorganized and was still active in Pittsburgh in 1960 and possibly longer. Whether they were still manufacturing oil cans and oilers at this point is unknown.
Our subject jar held two ounces of oil. Embossing on the base includes the Asbury-Paine Mfg. Co. name dating it between 1895 and 1899 when they manufactured the oiler.
On a final note: Unlike most items presented on this site, this jar was not found in the Long Island bays. Instead it was found by one of my wife’s best friends while tending her beautiful northern Massachusetts garden. Thanks Di and HAPPY BIRTHDAY!