Today, the Bald Eagle Commemorative Half Dollar Coin remembers the first trademark awarded on October 25, 1870 to the Averill Chemical Paint Company.
They combined the national symbolism of the eagle with elements of their paint business in a trademark to represent their business.
From the Trademark Reporter, Official Journal of the International Trademark Association, from January-February, 2003:
“As an interesting historical note, although the J.J. Turner & Co. application was filed on July 28, 1870, it was not issued the very first trademark registration. That distinction belongs to the Averill Chemical Paint Company which, on August 30, 1870, filed an application for a design mark depicting an eagle with a ribbon together with the words ‘Economical, Beautiful’ for liquid paint. U.S. Trademark Registration No. 1 was, according to the notation in the historic ledger, issued on October 25, 1870.”
An earlier book, A Treatise on the Law of Trade-marks by William Henry Browne, published in 1898, provided a description of the first trademark:
A picture made up of many objects in various colors may be a trade-mark.
The Patent Office has, almost daily, passed upon the question.
It is not, of course, every picture that will be registered; for many that have been presented have been refused, because either merely descriptive of the class of goods to which they were intended to be affixed, or not adapted to the purpose.
The first trade-mark registered under the act of 1870 was one of the Averill Chemical Paint Company.
This consists of an elaborate pictorial representation. In the foreground is a rock with the word “Chemistry” upon it; on the rock is an eagle, holding in his beak a paint-pot or canister and brush, and a ribbon or streamer on which are the words, “Economical, Beautiful, Durable.”
There is water, and upon it are a steamer and other vessels. In the background is a bridge, and a train of railway cars, and buildings of various kinds.
Who could mistake such a picture for a mere specimen of artistical taste?
It speaks plainly. It says, “I am a trade mark.”
This very picture was soon afterwards imitated in its general effect, and the imitation presented for registration by one in the same line of business.
Accident could not possibly have made the two marks so much alike.
Both, at the distance of a few feet, would make the same impression upon the eye; and any but the most cautious purchaser might take one for the other; but, upon close inspection, it appeared quite a different thing.
The simulation was too evident. The second case was accordingly rejected.
Trade-marks not infrequently are borrowed from the mediaeval heraldry of Europe, rich in a symbolical language, in which figures, devices, and colors were employed instead of letters.
Caution must be observed in appropriating time-honored heraldic compositions, for each of these has its own definite and complete signification, conveyed through its direct connection with some particular individual, family, dignity, or office, and held by express right and title.
As a mark of commerce should be good for the purpose all over the world, it would be well for him who purposes to adopt the crest of some ancient family to designate his wares, to inquire whether a foreign court might not set it aside.
In Historical Statistics of the United States, Colonial Times to 1970 by the United States. Bureau of the Census, published in 1975:
A trademark is a symbol — a picture, word, or phrase — applied by a manufacturer or merchant to distinguish his goods from those of others.
Trademark rights are acquired by adoption of a mark and use of it on the goods in trade.
The Federal law provides for the registration in the Patent Office of such marks which are used in interstate and foreign commerce.
Applications for registration are examined and registration may be refused if the mark is of a character- prohibited registration (national emblems, deceptive marks, purely descriptive marks, etc.) or if it conflicts with a prior registered mark.
Federal registration does not create ownership, but only gives additional advantages to the owner.
See Department of Commerce, General Information Concerning Trademarks, (revised periodically), for an outline of the requirements for registering a trademark.
The first Federal trademark law, that of 1870, was based on the patent and copyright clause of the Constitution instead of the interstate and foreign commerce clause, and was held unconstitutional in 1879.
The Trademark Act of 1881 was limited to marks used in foreign commerce.
The Act of 1905 included marks used in interstate commerce as well.
An Act of 1920 permitted registration of a secondary class of marks not previously registrable.
A completely new Act of 1946, effective 1947, provides for a Principal Register on which marks of the type registrable under the Acts of 1881 and 1905 could be registered, and a Supplemental Register on which marks of the type registrable under the Act of 1920 could be registered.
Registrations under the Act of 1946 are for a term of 20 years, with renewal possible for successive 20-year terms.
Registrations issued under the Acts of 1881 and 1905 remain in force for their unexpired terms and may be renewed in the same manner as registrations under the Act of 1946.
Registrations under the Act of 1920 cannot be renewed unless renewal is required to support a Foreign Registration and in such case may be renewed on the Supplemental Register in the same manner as registrations under the Act of 1946.
This same document noted 121 trademarks registered in 1870, the first of which belonged to the Averill Chemical Paint Company.
The Bald Eagle Commemorative Half Dollar Coin shows beside an advertisement for the Averill Chemical Paint Company from 1871.