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W. S. Reed Toy Company
Summer Street North (by depot), Leominster, Massachusetts
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W. S. Reed Toy Company - 1890

William S. Reed entered the toy business in 1874 co-founding the New England Toy Company of Leominster, Massachusetts. That original business lasted only eighteen months yet Reed had been bitten by the manufacturing bug. He continued to invent, patent, and manufacture toys eventually becoming successful enough to purchase a building on Summer Street in 1879 and construct a new two story brick building the following year. In 1881 Reed took on a partner by the name of Charles E. Dresser and together they created a stock company by the name of the W. S. Reed Toy Company with the investment of $25,000.

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Espirito Trademark
January 5th 1892

By 1890 the company had done considerably well and was shipping its novelties and games all over the world. As operations increased they expanded again in 1891 buying the Leominster Furniture Building. At the same time, the Ouija board had recently entered the amusement market taking it by storm. The W. S. Reed Toy Company followed their lead and in May of 1891 began manufacturing their version which they called the Espirito board. On January 5th 1892 they registered Espirito (No. 20,566) as a trademark. The mark describes it as “a toy resembling a planchette,” but on further review appears to resemble the Ouija board even more. The Ouija Novelty Company of Baltimore, Maryland agreed.

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W. S. Reed's Espirito Board
circa 1891-1892

In May of 1892, just four short months after their trademark was registered, the W. S. Reed Toy Company sent a letter out to the trade announcing the Espirito just couldn't compete with the Wonderful Ouija board. They ceased production of the Espirito and directed anyone looking for talking boards to the Ouija Novelty Company. More likely the Ouija Novelty Company either wrote a threatening letter or filed a Bill of Infringement against them since they held the patent. A winning strategy employed by the Ouija Novelty Company on the Northwestern Toy and Manufacturing Company of Chicago, Illinois for manufacturing the Volo board. The letter reads as follows:

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W. S. Reed Toy Company's
Notice to the Trade

"DEAR SIR:—Finding that our talking-board “ESPIRITO” could not compete with the widely-known “OUIJA,” we have withdrawn from the manufacture and sale of said Espirito and talking-boards of all kinds and descriptions.

Knowing the great demands for talking-boards, we respectfully refer all persons wishing them to the OUIJA NOVELTY COMPANY, 220 South Charles Street, Baltimore, Md. The said Ouija Novelty Company being the sole manufacturersand owners of the only reliable talking-board, “Ouija.”

Thanking our customers for their previous consideration, we remain,

Very respectfully,
W. S. Reed Toy Co.
By Chas. E. Dresser, Treas."

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Espirito Board Design

The name Espirito doesn’t appear directly on the board but rather the planchette, it was nearly impossible to know this board was indeed an Espirito. That is until Robert Murch discovered this Canadian article which contains a sketch of the actual Espirito board itself. After sharing this article with the Museum of Talking Boards, Gene pointed out the sketch was a dead ringer for this mystery board.

It also seems that part of the agreement to stop making talking boards allowed the Ouija Novelty Company use of their Espirito trademark as we later see it on the back of their Ouija boards.

As the article describes, the main difference between the Espirito and the Ouija board is the number of words printed on them. While the Ouija has Yes, No, and Goodbye, the Espirito had No, Yes, Lost, Found, Bad, Good, Goodbye, and Don’t Know. According to the article, the Espirito was popular among customers and perhaps that is what prompted any action to shut it down. For the W. S. Reed Toy Company, the loss of their talking board was the first of a string of unfortunate events.

Shortly after the demise of Espirito, the W. S. Reed Toy Company suffered a major setback when one of its buildings caught fire and burned on July 2nd 1892. Though a new brick building was erected another fire on February 7th 1896 destroyed three of their four buildings along with much of their inventory. The company continued on in March of 1897 the Whitney Reed Chair Co bought it officially merging its operation in 1899.

(Special thanks to Jeannine Levesque at the Leominster Public Library for all her help researching the W. S. Reed Toy Company. We couldn't have done this without you!)