Beautiful engraved specimen certificate from the Air Reduction Company
dated in 1967. This historic document was printed by American Bank Note Company and has an
ornate border around it with a vignette of an allegorical man and woman next to a globe. This item has the signatures of the Company's Chairman and Secretary and is over 48 years old.
Although the Brin brothers were behind its commercial development, oxygen had, in fact, been discovered about 100 years earlier. In 1774, Joseph Priestley heated red calx of mercury and found that the "dephlogisticated air" it gave off supported combustion and respiration.
Some 25 years later, Dr Thomas Beddoes and Sir Humphrey Davy were administering oxygen - the only element that supports respiration - to patients at the Pneumatic Institute.
Despite its known therapeutic attributes, however, its commercial development remained almost entirely unexploited, largely because of production problems.
In the 1850s, a French chemist, Boussingault, discovered that at a temperature of 1,000 ¡F (538 ¡C) the monoxide of barium (BaO) absorbed oxygen readily from the atmosphere, resulting in the dioxide BaO2. At about 1,700 ¡F (927 ¡C), the oxygen was given off again and could be stored for use.
Based on this discovery, Boussingault tried to develop the barium oxide process for large-scale oxygen preparation, but without success. Thirty years later, though, two of his pupils, Arthur and Leon Brin, saw enough potential in the idea to continue where Boussingault left off. They introduced refinements, protected them with patents and began the task of commercialising the process.
As a major industrial power in the world, Britain in the late 19th century thrived on new ideas. At the Inventions Exhibition in South Kensington, London, in 1885, the brothers took a stand and built a demonstration plant in the hope of attracting financial backing. In Henry Sharp, a stoneware manufacturer, they found someone who was sufficiently interested to persuade friends and members of his family to help form a company to develop the Brins' process.
Thus it was that on 26 January 1886, Brin's Oxygen Company Ltd came into being.
A week or so later, the company held its first meeting, elected officers and set in train plans to build a factory in Horseferry Road, Westminster. In June of that year, the company appointed its first works foreman, a young Scotsman called Kenneth Sutherland Murray, at a princely salary of £2 a week. In the years to come, Murray was to prove a key figure in the company's success - and 39 years later became its chairman.
But all that was in the future. For the moment, Brin's Oxygen Co had its work cut out producing oxygen in any reliable quantity at all. The Horseferry Road factory was beset with technical problems, largely connected with damage to the furnace caused by temperature fluctuations. Eventually, Murray redesigned the entire plant.
Despite the strain on finances caused by these problems, however, the company kept going. In 1887, the factory produced 142,116 cu ft (4,024m3) of oxygen. In 1888, when Murray's new plant came into operation, output rose to 686,405 cu ft (19,437m3). And in the following year another clever piece of engineering by Murray, this time in the form of an automatic gear, enabled output to rise to 953,213 cu ft (26,992m3).
Production was one thing - marketing was quite another. The fact remained that as the company entered the 1890s, it still had only one serious outlet for its product - the limelight box or "magic lantern" used for the popular lantern lectures of the time and for limelight in theatres and music halls.
The company was unlikely to make its fortune from this application alone. New markets had to be found. Various ideas were tried - bleaching sugar and textiles, oxidising oils and fats, the manufacture of saccharin, vinegar and linoleum, maturing whisky and iron and steel production. At the time, however, none proved practicable.
One idea that did enjoy success, though, was oxygenated water. Sold in syphons or champagne bottles, it became a fashionable health drink, widely prescribed by doctors as a remedy for almost anything and favoured by the temperance reformers of the time. But the limelight box remained the only significant market.
One big problem for the company was distribution. The gas bags used then were particularly inefficient. The oxygen quickly leaked from them. At first, they were replaced by the iron cylinders used for storing nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide but these were found to be unsuitable for oxygen, which needed a much higher pressure.
A far better cylinder, made of mild steel, lap-welded or seamless, was introduced by the company around 1890. It went on to become the recognised standard all over the world. Although it was a big improvement, it was still far heavier and more valuable than the product it contained and, for that reason, economics dictated that delivery distances were short.
This led to companies opening in Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow, operating the Brin process under licence. New oxygen-related products sprang up, too, such as valves and fittings, machines for making soda water in syphons and bottles, and even tyre inflators (until it was found that the gas permeated the rubber and the tyres deflated).
The company also began exporting. Its first big overseas order for oxygen was to Australia, for medical use. In addition, Brin plants opened in France, Germany and the US.
Even so, progress was slow in the company's first decade, due largely, as Edward Ellice-Clark noted at the AGM in 1896, to a lack of any real advance in industrial uses for oxygen. But, as the century drew to a close, a radically different process for extracting oxygen from air was under development not only in the UK but in France and Germany.
Even as the Brins were developing their chemical process for separating oxygen from air in the 1880s, others were working on a method involving liquefaction. In 1895, two scientists, Dr William Hampson in Britain and Dr Carl Linde of Germany, took out British patents for producing liquid air.
The method essentially involved cooling air repeatedly in a huge refrigerator until it became liquid, at which point nitrogen gas evaporated and rose through a column to leave oxygen-rich liquid at the bottom.
Linde's process - which offered an oxygen purity of around 97 per cent, far better than that of the barium oxide process - went on to triumph in the patents race with Hampson.
Brin's Oxygen Co had already entered into an agreement with Dr Hampson. The next step was to negotiate an agreement to use the Linde patents, too. Eventually an agreement was reached and the company also acquired plants built to produce oxygen through the Linde process.
For a while the two processes operated side by side but by 1906 the old barium oxide plant had had its day and was scrapped. And with it went the old company name. On 31 July 1906 a certificate was issued formally recording the new name - The British Oxygen Company Ltd.
By then, the limelight market was in decline and another, potentially more important one, was emerging.
Some years before, it had been discovered that the combustion of oxygen and acetylene produced a flame far hotter than any other gas flame. By 1903, the oxyacetylene welding process was being used in industry.
Twenty years after its formation, the company suddenly had a new process, a new name and, at long last, a promising new market for its basic product.
Across the Atlantic, the economic potential of the oxyacetylene process captured the attention of several prominent investors, including Percy Rockefeller - nephew of John D Rockefeller. In 1908 they formed the American Oxygen Company.
In 1914, L'Air Liquide (a company formed in 1902 to manufacture high-purity oxygen from air using a process devised by Georges Claude) began talks with the American Oxygen Co to use its liquefaction process for the production of oxygen in America.
American Oxygen bought liquefaction, distillation and oxygen compression equipment from L'Air Liquide and built its first plant in Philadelphia in 1915. Production sold out in two months.
The success of the Philadelphia plant convinced Rockefeller and the other investors to build five other oxygen plants in major industrial cities - Brooklyn, Newark, Pittsburgh, St Louis and Chicago - with L'Air Liquide providing the equipment.
On 16 November 1916, the Air Reduction Company was chartered, producing and marketing high-purity oxygen. The company, later to become Airco, was to have a big influence on BOC many years later.
Specimen Certificates are actual certificates that have never been issued. They were usually kept by the printers in their permanent archives as their only example of a particular certificate. Sometimes you will see a hand stamp on the certificate that says "Do not remove from file".
Specimens were also used to show prospective clients different types of certificate designs that were available. Specimen certificates are usually much scarcer than issued certificates. In fact, many times they are the only way to get a certificate for a particular company because the issued certificates were redeemed and destroyed. In a few instances, Specimen certificates we made for a company but were never used because a different design was chosen by the company.
These certificates are normally stamped "Specimen" or they have small holes spelling the word specimen. Most of the time they don't have a serial number, or they have a serial number of 00000. This is an exciting sector of the hobby that grown in popularity over the past several years.