How Ives-branded track clips ended up in Lionel sets

Ives-branded track clips for Lionel O27 track are relatively common, and although they are often mistaken for pre-1933 items, they were actually manufactured for several decades after the Ives brand name disappeared from the marketplace, and by Lionel, not its erstwhile rival Ives.

The reason was for trademark protection.

Ives track clip
Lionel protected the Ives trademark for decades by burying it on the underside of this humble track clip.

At the turn of the previous century, Ives was one of the largest toy companies in the United States and Lionel was an upstart. But Ives had a couple of runs of bad luck, thanks to a fire in its factory and then World War I. During World War I, its rivals Lionel and American Flyer were able to manufacture profitable items for the war effort thanks to their presence in New York and Chicago. Ives, being in Connecticut, was mostly shut out of these lucrative contracts.

So at the end of the war, Ives’ competitors were flush with cash. While they roared into the 1920s, Ives struggled, and in 1928, Ives ran out of money. Lionel and Flyer jointly bought their competitor, operated it for two years, and divided up the technology, including the coveted e-unit. Lionel gained sole control of the company in 1930. Then Lionel used Ives as something of a budget brand for two more years, then wound down operations.

Protecting the Ives trademark

But Lionel didn’t want the Ives trademark to fall into the hands of a rival. So they had to use it. On something.

The cunning Joshua Lionel Cowen decided to bury the trademark, literally, putting it on one side of clips designed to hold cheap O27 track together when people set it up on the floor. And for good measure, he put it on side that would be covered up by the ties of adjacent pieces of track. Few people would ever see it there, but it was still in use, technically, and it kept someone else from resurrecting the Ives trademark.

The Ives trademark and MTH

Years after Cowen’s death, his fear came true when an upstart, in the form of Maryland-based MTH Electric Trains, swooped in and registered the trademark. MTH applied for the Ives trademark sometime around 2001 and the US Patent and Trademark Office granted it in 2003, ruling that the trademark was abandoned in 1999. Someone at Lionel apparently forgot to re-register the trademark when it was due.

So that’s why Ives-branded track clips that don’t work on track that Ives actually manufactured exist. It’s also why you frequently find Ives track clips mixed in with 1950s trains, or even 1970s MPC-manufactured trains. The clips aren’t as old as they look.

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