Though the culture that produced 1920 vintage glasses such as Oxfords might have been somewhat more genteel than our own in some regards, there was still plenty of room for cutthroat competition between firms. Nowhere is this better illustrated than in the vindictive legal battles and outright, blatant patent infringement that occurred when Oxford Pince Nez were rising meteorically in popularity.
As noted in the previous article, the initial Oxfords of 1910 were made by E. P. Hutten and a man named McDougall, working for the Geoffrey & Co. firm of Park Place, New York City. Among the distinctive features of their Oxfords – indeed, the one that made their eyeglasses so popular in the 1920 antique eyeglasses market and later – were the offset nose guards which were both secure and comfortable. They also invented a method of folding the Oxfords.
Several years later, Hutten and McDougall patented their Oxfords to ensure that these round vintage glasses would remain their sole preserve. However, Frank Krementz Co., seeing how successful the design of their rival was proving, began manufacturing precisely the same kind of Oxfords, including Hutten and McDougall’s offset nose-guards and an identical folding mechanism, and marketing them successfully as well.
Hutten and McDougall sued, but Thomas G. Haight, judge of the Circuit Court of Appeals, eventually threw out the case and declared the patent invalid on April 4, 1916. Frank Krementz Co. made no effort to deny that they copied Hutten and McDougall’s design openly and completely.
Instead, they argued that production of these 1920 glasses for several years before the patent was filed rendered the patent invalid, since the design was unprotected, publicly available, and legally able to be copied for years before the spurious patent was filed. The judge upheld this view, and production of Oxfords exploded as other firms took up production of these extremely popular items of vintage eyewear.
The ironic fame of E. P. Hutten in the 1920 glasses world
Considering E. P. Hutten’s failed effort to defend Oxfords as his exclusive, patented preserve, there is some irony in the fact that his name was used as an advertising gimmick by the very competitors he took to court over the matter. Hutten and McDougall’s design was noted for its quality, comfort, and good balance, and thus, Oxfords were known as Hutten Oxfords as well.
Some companies went further, and placed text in their advertisements that stated their own glasses were “As good as Hutten’s”! The relatively high price of these vintage eyeglasses, whether in their precious metal or tortoise shell incarnations, was no obstacle to their sales, and opticians reported selling out Oxfords, whether of Hutten’s manufacture or from any of the other firms that jostled their way eagerly into the market, within a short time of receiving them. 1920 glasses could be as much a fad item as anything made today and endorsed by celebrities – which is lucky for modern collectors, since this ensured a large supply of Oxford pince nez were made and that many survive to the present time to delight us with their superb craftsmanship and stylish lines.