John H. Clasper Patented Countervail

Image 1 – The 1881 World Championship, River Thames, Hanlan using ‘wind balance’ vs Laycock.

2 November 2018

By Bill Miller

A few months ago someone asked the question about a John Hawks Clasper patent. I kept thinking that I saw something about one of his patents in the National Rowing Foundation’s John H. Clasper Collection. A few weeks ago, Tom Weil and I visited the warehouse where the National Rowing Foundation rowing history collection is stored. As we inspected the contents in the storage containers, I looked for a box containing the JHC Collection. I found it and carted it home to do some research.

When the patent question arose, I thought that it might have been for a fin, or skeg as some call it. I’ve never come across a US patent for the under water device. In 1883, Michael Davis (Portland, Maine) patented the ‘wind balance’. This was a vane attached to the bow deck (canvas) as shown in Image 2. It was suppose to counter the wind pressure on the stern of a shell by capturing wind on the bow section. However, there are images of its use in 1881 – Image 1. It was first used by prominent racers but eventually discarded.

Image 2 – Davis’ 1883 “wind balance” (K) patent.

So when did the below water fin/skeg come into existence and who developed it? For lack of other evidence, it appears it was an invention of John Hawks Clasper. His Boat Builder stationary shows his claim of “Inventor Of The Patent Countervail For Side Winds” – see JHC Boat Builder stationery image below. The correspondence date is difficult to read, but it may say 1895.

Image 3 – Clasper Boat Builder stationery showing patent claim.

There is another piece to the puzzle. There is a model single shell included in the JHC Collection and it has a fin/skeg, see Image 4 & 5. The model date can’t be determined.

Image 4 – Clasper model shell showing fin/skeg.
Image 5 – full model

Now, if someone who has access to the UK patent files, it would be helpful to find the patent that JHC refers to on his stationery. (There is another JHC patent describing a rudder apparatus improvement).

One comment

  1. Bill, thank you for your research on this issue. I was the person who enquired what a “patent countervail” was. It is mentioned in the Minute Book of the Brasenose College Boat Club for 1889, a year in which the College went Head of the River in Oxford in Summer Eights. At the bottom of the page for that year, there is an entry which reads: “A patent countervail was used in the B.N.C. boat. A new eight was ordered from Clasper but on trying her she did not suit the crew and the old boat was found to be faster. Clasper agreed to make a great variation if we promised him an order next year. The boat was sold to Christ Church for the full price.” It would seem from this that the patent countervail was retro-fitted to the old boat.

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