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Patent Working Sample Beer Engine

An acquisition I could not resist, from an auction in Halifax - a "late 19th century travelling salesman's patent working sample beer engine", beautifully engineered in mahogany and brass, with a lead drip tray. The plaque is stamped J. CORNEY PATENTEE AND MAKER H.X No 17068 (the "H.X" presumably being an abbreviated reference to Halifax). Its mechanical design features are unusually complex; it was only recently that I discovered the purpose of the pull-out lever, the on/off valve, and the trough tap (see update below), but they do all work. At 17" tall and 3.5" wide, it is approximately 1/3rd scale size.

Unbeknown to me at the time, the auction was being televised (I was a telephone bidder). It was broadcast on "Dickinson's Real Deal" on ITV1 on 8 December 2009. The beer engine was actually shown and described by David Dickinson on the programme, and also featured as the competition item where the prize amount was based on the hammer price realised, which was then quadrupled.

After a bit of internet research, looking at the 1881, 1891, 1901 and 1911 Census records, I think I have managed to identify the only Yorkshire-based Mr J. Corney who fits the bill. His name was Joseph Corney, and he was born in Halifax in March 1857. He is registered in the 1881, 1891 and 1911 Censuses, although does not appear in the 1901 Census. His occupation is described as "whitesmith". He died in Halifax in June 1926, aged 69.

According to Wikipedia: "a whitesmith is a person who works with "white" or light-coloured metals such as tin and pewter. While blacksmiths work mostly with hot metal, whitesmiths do the majority of their work on cold metal (although they might use a forge to shape their raw materials).

The term is also applied to metalworkers who do only finishing work, such as filing or polishing, on iron and other "black" metals.

A whitesmith was a common occupation to have in colonial times, as well as a blacksmith or a hatter.

Whitesmiths make things such as tin or pewter cups, water pitchers, forks, spoons, and candle holders.

And, it seems, beer-pumps. What a wonderful craftsman he was!

When Joseph Corney originally made this, the name of Andy Warhol would have meant nothing to him. He could scarcely have imagined that over a century later it would become the basis for his own 15 minutes of fame.

Update: January 2016

Following a visit to the British Library, I have managed to obtain a copy of the original patent application No. 17068, which reveals some interesting facts about the functionality of this beer engine. It also confirms Joseph Corney as its originator. At the time he was living at 3 Burmah Street, Battinson Road, Halifax, and his stated occupation was locksmith. The Victorian back-to-back terrace he inhabited still stands (see below).

The application was entitled: "Improvements in Apparatus for Returning the Overflow of Beer, Porter, or other Liquids from the Pump-trough to the Barrel". He states: "The object of my invention is to utilize the overflow of beer, porter or other liquids, which accumulate in the troughs of beer pumps, by returning it to any barrel required". It was registered on 29th October 1889, and accepted on 11th October 1890.

In other words, Joseph Corney's beer engine was designed to recycle the slops in the drip tray by feeding them back into the cask! In fact, such practice was commonplace up until at least the 1950s, and probably long after, when slops from various different pumps found their way back into the "mild". To us, accustomed to modern Health & Safety and Trading Standards requirements, it seems outrageous that such adulteration of the product could have been be tolerated. Yet many pubs now use autovacs to reclaim waste beer, albeit under (hopefully) more hygienic conditions than prevailed hitherto. Times have changed but little...

Here is the original patent application specification, which describes its workings in detail:
Burmah Street, off Battinson Road, Halifax. It is not shown on current street maps, having been closed to all traffic in 1973. The lettering on the name plate above the white-paneled extension has been over-painted white, but is still readable if you zoom in. There are 5 cottages in the terrace, which back on to corresponding properties in Ramsgate Street (next left). Number 3 is last but one from the far end.

Sample beer engine 1
Sample beer engine 2
Sample beer engine 3
Sample beer engine 4
Sample beer engine 5
Sample beer engine 6