In an earlier vignette called A K+E Rule of Mystery, a slide rule manufactured by Keuffel and Esser without a model number is discussed. As mentioned at that time, there apparently were a couple of models of slide rules that occasionally surface which do not have model numbers. Since the writing of that earlier vignette I have come across a few more of these, and the variations in these samples, that I and others have collected, indeed seem to keep the mystery alive.
Keuffel and Esser, Co., USA, was the major producer of slide rules in the U.S.A. Starting their own slide rule production in 1891, K&E manufactured somewhere between three and four million slide rules and, according to their catalogs, had over 120 different models and 2-3 dozen special production slide rules. However, a handful of K&E slide rules were manufactured and distributed that do not appear in any of the K&E Catalogs. Although stamped as being manufactured by K&E, and possessing proper K&E serial numbers, they do not have a model number. The Clark McCoy web site identifies these rules as the Mystery K&E Mannheim Slide Rules. He identifies three types, which I will call Type 1, Type 2, and Type 3, distinguished by their scale sets. His site shows two examples of Type 1, and one each of Type 2 and Type 3. The Type 1 and 2 rules both have 10-inch scale lengths, while the Type 3 is a more rare 20-inch slide rule. The scale sets are:
-- Type 1: in /| A DF [ CF CI C ] D K || cm ; [ S B L T ] -- Type 2: in || A [ B CI C ] D K || cm ; [ S L T ] -- Type 3: in /| A [ B CI C ] D L || K ; [ S A T ]
The scale arrangement of Type 1 is only found on one other K&E slide rule – the 4097D. The scale set for Type 2 is the same as is found on the 4053-3 slide rules. The scale set for the rare Type 3 appears to be a “one-off” arrangement.
In our earlier vignette, an example of a slide rule akin to McCoy’s Type 1 is discussed. Its serial number is 471354. Since writing that story in the summer of 2021, a second Type 1 “Mystery Rule” was obtained from a seller in South Carolina in November 2021. It was in better shape than our slide rule from Saginaw, Michigan, and has a slightly earlier serial number of 434918. Then, in April 2023, a third Type 1 was was found for sale in Illinois. Its serial number is 434587, just 331 slide rules earlier than the South Carolina item.
On his web site, McCoy shows two such rules, Specimen 1 and Specimen 2, both of which have serial numbers (632200 and 848106, respectively) greater than the ones in the present collection. One of his slide rules (Specimen 2) has “Engineering School” labels on the back side from the University of Washington, while our examples to date have not. Also, his Specimen 2 has a slide and stock of equivalent length, whereas his Specimen 1 and our three examples all have a slide that extends about 5 mm beyond the stock. The Specimen 1 type of stock/slide arrangement is familiar from the early Dietzgen slide rules. (See, for example, this Dietzgen Rule.) So far our early examples of Mystery rules in the Collection have been of Type 1, similar to Specimen 1.
But another feature to note is the logo on these Type 1 rules. In both specimens on McCoy’s site the logo found on the right-hand end of the slide is “K&ECO.”. This is also present on our first Mystery Rule with serial number 471354. However, our specimens with earlier serial numbers have “K+E” as their logos. (See image below.)
More recently, in July 2023, one of the “Type 2” Mystery rules described by McCoy surfaced. His Type 2 – Specimen 3 – is also a K&E rule that has no model number; it has serial number 529602. Our recently acquired Type 2, coming from Florida, has a serial number of 291505. The Type 2 rules have a scale set of the Model 4053-3, different from the scales of Type 1, but again laid out on a different size stock. In both McCoy’s case and for our new example, the slide rule stock and slide are both of equal length – 29.5 cm for our rule. The Type 2 rules have patent information, Keuffel and Esser Co NY, and Made in U.S.A printed in red on the front of the rule, while the Type 1 rules have no such information on the front. And, both McCoy’s and our Type 2 rule have a University of Washington College of Engineering label on the back of the slide rule.
The text information on the back of the slide rules appears to vary from rule to rule. Our Type 1 rules so far all have the same text layout, which describes how to use the slide rule and how to keep track of decimal points. This is seen on McCoy’s Specimen 1. But both our Type 2 rule and McCoy’s, on the other hand, have tables of constants, formulas, and other useful information. McCoy’s Type 1 / Specimen 2 also has this text.
But speaking of text on the back, there is another slight difference between our new Type 2 rule and that on McCoy’s site. For our new rule, the College of Engineering label for the University of Washington is located in the middle of the text on the back, rather than on the right-hand end as in McCoy’s case. And the text of our new rule is laid out in various panels which are printed in a “landscape” format on the back. In McCoy’s Specimen 3, the same panels are laid out in a “portrait” format, where the user might orientate the rule up and down in order to read the text.
And then there’s the cursor. All of the previous Type 1 and Type 2 Mystery rules mentioned above have the “improved metal rimmed cursor”, introduced in 1936. But our new Type 2 rule has an earlier “all-glass cursor”, first introduced in 1915.
It is not clear to me yet if these new examples in the Collection add to the understanding of these Mystery Rules or just add to the mystery. So far these data continue to support the conjecture that the Mystery slide rules were special production runs, perhaps to be sold at university bookstores or for distribution from university departments. Until now there have been reports of examples from 1931 through about 1950, including one with a University of Wisconsin label.60 However, with our new find, we have a Type 2 Mystery rule that was likely manufactured in late 1929.
In order to better document what is known about them I submit the following table of Mystery slide rules comprised of both our Collection’s samples as well as others I have found on the McCoy web site and on the sites of Frey, Ramirez, and the ISRM. These web sites were chosen as they have fairly complete data for their samples. What we can say from our set of examples is that the Mystery rules with University of Washington labels all have equal length stock and slide, true for Mystery Type 1 and Mystery Type 2. The logos found on the Type 1 rules appear to transition from “K+E” to “K&ECO.” in about 1935 +/- 1 year or so. The panels of text on the U. Washington Type 2 rules may have changed from landscape to portrait layout in the mid-1930s as well.
My web search for other Mystery rules was not at all exhaustive. We know that these rules are not common, but they are not extremely rare, either. Perhaps others with similar examples would like to add to the list below? If so, please contact me; perhaps we can solve the mystery together, once and for all …
Mystery K&E Mannheim Slide Rule Comparison Table
|MSy||291505||1929||2||none||c: 8.17.15; f: June 5, 1900||leather||a-g||flush||L||Was-c||MJS_T2-1|
|MSy||434587||1933||1||K+E||c: 2,086,502||leather, belt clip||m-r||ext.||L||none||MJS_T1-3|
|MSy||434918||1933||1||K+E||c: 2,086,502||black cardboard||m-r||ext.||L||none||MJS_T1-2|
|MSy||471354||1934||1||K&ECO.||Pending||leather, belt loop||m-r||ext.||L||none||MJS_T1-1|
- Source – Msy = Syphers; CMc = McCoy; MRa = Miguel Ramirez; ISRM = Int’l. SR Museum
- Year – obtained from McCoy’s Plots/Tables of K&E serial numbers
- Patent (see Notes below) – c: = on cursor; f: = on front
- Cursor – m-r = improved metal-rimmed; a-g = all-glass
- Slide – whether the slide is flush with the stock, or is extended
- Table Layout – L = landscape; P = portrait
- School – U. Washington: Was-r = label on right end; Was-c = label centered
- The Improved Metal-Rimmed Cursor was introduced in the 1936 K&E catalog.
- Patent no. 0,651,142 – Jun 5, 1900; alignment screws.
- Patent no. 1,150,771 – Aug 17, 1915; Slide Rule Runner – all-glass.
- Patent no. 1,934,232 – Nov 7, 1933; method and means of securing slide rule elements together.
- Patent no. 2,086,502 – Jul 6, 1937, Runner for Slide Rule – improved metal-rimmed.
See Jay Ballauer’s site, https://www.allaboutastro.com/all-about-ke-rules.html, and search for “Sidebar: The 4088, an Ever-There,”.↩︎