OF ALL TIMES’
The Amazing Conman
Philippe de ClamecyWhen the law caught up with Philippe de Clamecy at his quarters on Stratford Road, Brooklyn, on Saturday, January 15, 1921, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle described him as an “International Adventurer with an O. Henry Career” … “one of the greatest crooks of all times”.
This remarkable confidence trickster, who by early 1921 had already helped himself to $500,000 of other people’s money in a decade-long crime spree, was also one of the most prolific designers in typewriter history.
The Daily Eagle said the “amazing exploits” of de Clamecy had left behind a “dazed assortment of bankers, learned jurists, scholars, physicians and militarists who have come into contact him … ”
The New York Times said de Clamecy had “figured in a series of impostures upon businessmen and officials in New York and Massachusetts”.
De Clamecy pleaded guilty before Magistrate Morris Koenig in the Tombs Court.
When yet again jailed, de Clamecy had “stepped gingerly within the barred door of the sombre prison … [appearing to be] haughty and removed from the contaminating touch of the commonplace”.
De Clamecy, the Eagle wrote, had been taken to The Tombs (above), the Manhattan House of Detention on White Street, Lower Manhattan, “immaculately clad, radiating hauteur from his carefully coiffed pompadour to his glistening pointed boots …”
He “appeared a composite of all the roles to which he assigned himself in the course of his operations”. One of those many “operations” was frenetic typewriter designing.
During a frenzied two-day period in March 1916, de Clamecy applied for no less than nine typewriter patents, six of them on one day (March 6) alone. All were assigned to the Corona Typewriter Company of Groton, New York. Sometimes de Clamecy applied for patents giving different addresses (Boston and Charlestown) on the same day.
A 10th typewriter-related patent application within this same 10-week period, on May 16, 1916, was for a triple-core platen assigned to the De Nevers Typewriter Company of Boston. Take note of the name “De Nevers” – it has an historic association with “de Clamecy” (see below). This typewriter company did exist and was incorporated on April 5, 1916, but not surprisingly incorporation was dissolved on April 4, 1923.
De Clamecy returned to typewriter designing in 1917, and in a single week in late January 1918 assigned four patents to Corona. In all, he applied for 17 typewriter patents, 16 of them to Corona.
No fewer than eight typewriter patents were issued to de Clamecy on this one day in 1918.
I won’t try to put these de Clamecy typewriters in any historical context, but the main thrust of his designs appears to be a tiny typewriter that would fit into a box, the whole thing collapsing in on itself, with even the typebars being designed to fold in.
The drawings which appear on this post are but a very small selection of the vast number available.
De Clamecy was brazen enough to advertise himself in the Boston Directory as a consulting engineer with a doctorate in science from the Centre for Engineering and Manufacturing Excellence in London. He offered his services for “special machine designs” and the “development of mechanical inventions” and gave an address as Room 1138, the Old South Building, 294 Washington Street, Boston. At the time the directory appeared, in 1916, de Clamecy was in the Suffolk County Jail at 215 Charles Street.
It seems highly likely that, in the case of many of his typewriters, de Clamecy designed, or at least prepared the designs, whilst incarcerated.
De Clamecy’s arrest in Brooklyn in 1921 came in the middle of an incredible career based on lies, deceit, fraud and impersonation, mixed with spells in many jails and institutions, stretching over more than 20 years and from Massachusetts to Rhode Island and back.
During this time, de Clamecy passed himself off as a member of French nobility, as a duke and a lord, an army general, a judge, a doctor and a military aircraft, air-conditioning and typewriter inventor.
Some contemporary reports suggest de Clamecy was a “remarkably gifted” and genuine inventor. He most certainly had an enormous capacity for inventing different ways to relieve those who fell for his deceptions of their money.
Philippe de Clamecy may never have actually existed. It’s possible his real name was Charles Francis, or Charles François, that instead of being French-born, as consistently claimed, he may have been Canadian or English by birth.
He may have entered the US as early as 1892, or re-entered from Canada as Philip Neven in 1909. A consensus is that he was born in 1861. He once claimed to have a French father and a mother from Virginia.
His parental details are contained on a 1910 US census form, taken when de Clamecy (calling himself Philip Lea De Clamecy, a physician) was an inmate at Blackwell’s Island Penitentiary in the East River of New York City (below). His Rhode Island and Boston exploits were to follow a year later, soon after his release.
What may well have proved to be his undoing is that, 10 years later, in 1920, de Clamecy, now settled down with a very young wife and a child on the way, entered his name and address in the US census of his own free will.
He is listed as Philippe B. Declamecy, an “esquire”, yet as working in a machine shop.
De Clamecy’s wife is listed as Delphine, born in Maine of English and Canadian parents, in 1895. She was 25, 34 years her husband’s junior.
Their son, also Philippe, was listed in the 1930 census as a nine-year-old “lodger” living with a family called Baumeister in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The only mention of his mother is that she was Massachusetts-born. She is not listed in the same household.
Philippe M. Declamecy was born on February 15, 1921, exactly one month after his father’s arrest in Brooklyn, and died in Nashua, Hillsborough, New Hampshire, on June 6, 1999, aged 78. He was enlisted in the US army as a private in 1942.
Young Philippe’s father was still alive in 1930. According to a report under the heading “Warning – Confidence Man” in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the Medical News of February 6, 1932, Hugh Smith Cumming (below), surgeon-general of the US Public Health Service, had issued an all-points alert concerning “a man who calls himself Philippe de Clamecy and claims to be a physician connected with the public health service”.
De Clamecy had appeared at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station in Illinois, saying he had been a doctor at the Marine Hospital in Boston during the summer of 1930. Instead of being a doctor there, de Clamecy had been a patient in 1930-31.
At the time of Cumming’s warning, de Clamecy was “being held” in this Boston hospital, awaiting deportation to France.
American authorities had finally tired of de Clamecy’s outrageous crime spree. But France wouldn’t have anything to do with him, and refused to issue him with a passport. It seems the French Government could find no record of this Philippe de Clamecy ever having been born in France, or a French territory.
In 1921, Manhattan District Attorney Edward Swann had approached the US State Department seeking assistance in obtaining from the French Government information about de Clamecy’s “record and career” in France. None, it seems, was forthcoming.
But when de Clamecy allegedly first arrived in the United States, in 1911 (according to The New York Times, but more likely 1892), he did so, he said, as a French judge and jurist and a representative of the French judiciary. He had been sent to Boston to study American jurisprudence as a guide in the revision of French court procedure. He also “discussed big business schemes, which he intimated he was about to lay before leading financiers”.
So persuasive was he in this role, de Clamecy was entertained as the guest of honour at Boston Chamber of Commerce dinner and at a testimonial banquet given by the Justices of the Massachusetts Supreme Court. In 1912 he was given the keys to the city of Boston by Mayor John Francis "Honey Fitz" Fitzgerald (above), the maternal grandfather of President John F.Kennedy, Attorney-General Robert Kennedy and Senator Teddy Kennedy. It is believed de Clamecy actually acted as a judge in Boston at this time.
Even before being lauded in Boston, it seems de Clamecy had succeeded in applying his charms to fool state government officials in Providence, Rhode Island. On June 6, 1911, he was introduced as a military attaché to the French Embassy in Washington to former Rhode Island Lieutenant-Governor Adelard Archambeault. The introduction was managed by an accomplice masquerading as Lorenzo De Nevers (the connection between the Clamecy and Nevers names is explained below). At the time the real Lorenzo De Nevers, a famous Quebec-born artist (above), was still living in France, studying at Paris Fine Art. His family were “prominent citizens” of Central Falls, Rhode Island.
De Clamecy was introduced by “De Nevers” to Archambeault as “Duke Philip de Clamecy”, and the two criminals managed to arrange a three-hour meeting for de Clamecy with Rhode Island Governor Aram Jules Pothier (below) in Pothier’s private office at State House, Providence. De Clamecy told Pothier he wanted to build a huge automobile factory at Woonsocket. De Clamecy was later entertained at a dinner at the St James Hotel, Woonsocket, by Archambeault and “other prominent Frenchmen”.
This particular ruse was soon up. Detectives were apparently close on de Clamecy’s trail and arrested him on June 9, charging him as Charles Francis, or Charles François (and others), and saying de Clamecy had already spent time in a London goal, in Sing Sing and on Blackwell’s Island. He was arrested in Providence for having left $400 worth of worthless cheques at the Hotel Touraine in Boston.
Quiet how de Clamecy managed to subsequently get himself back into favour in Boston is anyone’s guess. Nonetheless, in 1912, after being the keys to the city by Mayor Fitzgerald, de Clamecy was yet again arrested. He was sentenced to 10 years in the Massachusetts Penitentiary for forgery, the passage of worthless cheques totalling $2800, and for a violation of the Mann White Slave Act.
The White-Slave Traffic Act, better known as the Mann Act, was passed in 1910 to prohibit white slavery and the interstate transportation of females for “immoral purposes”. Its primary stated intent was to address prostitution, immorality and human trafficking. The most common use of the Mann Act was to prosecute men for having sex with underage females.
De Clamecy did not always attach the names of patent attorneys, witnesses or attesters to his patent applications. But in the case of the De Nevers platen, the two witnesses were Agnes V. O’Connell and Mary P. Wotherspoon, who at the time of witnessing the document were 19 and 20, respectively, both under the legal age.
In a move that today would seem almost inconceivable, in 1918, soon after the US entered the First World War, de Clamecy managed to convince a US Government department that he should be paroled from the Massachusetts Penitentiary so that he could carry out work on an invention of his, an “aeronautical development” which would be useful to the government in military aircraft.
The Brooklyn Daily Eagle used highly colourful language in an effort to match the nature of de Clamecy’s criminal career. The Eagle reported, “He really is a remarkably gifted inventor, it is said, and the Federal Government asked his parole in order that his talents might be utilised in the war.
“The parole was granted and de Clamecy was placed in the Boston School of Technology ("Boston Tech") to work on an airplane device. With dizzying speed, the inventor cleaned out the school of all moveable valuables and evacuated.”
The New York Times said of the aeronautical device, “It is now believed that his invention was am myth, made use of by the much-titled prisoner for an opportunity to get his freedom. At any rate he escaped his guard and fled from the institute.”
As well as his 17 typewriters, de Clamecy had at various times patented a number of things for the B.F.Sturtevant Company of Massachusetts. These involved alloys and aluminum-making processes, but most notably air-conditioning machines.
The Sturtevant company was established by Maine shoemaker Benjamin Franklin Sturtevant in 1860. In the immediate post-World War I period, it was still owned Sturtevant's son-in-law, former Massachusetts Governor Eugene Noble Foss (below). “Unaffected by the turmoil, [this] period saw Sturtevant reach its peak.” This is not unlike the Corona Typewriter Company, de Clamecy’s other major point of patenting interest.
Incredibly, given these patents were the work of an arch fraudster, albeit one with a highly fertile mind, they were actually referenced many years later by some very reputable companies. De Clamecy’s typewriter designs were referenced in 1979 by Mattel for a toy typewriter, in 1983 by Triumph-Adler and in 1984 by Xerox.
In 1978, a de Clamecy patent was referenced in this grotesque “free platen” design by Cecil Stanley Effinger (above), the American composer and inventor famous for the successful “Musicwriter” (see http://oztypewriter.blogspot.com/2011/07/on-this-day-in-typewriter-history.html). The Musicwriter was based on an Allen and later Olympia typewriter, but the “free platen” is placed on an IBM Selectric.
De Clamecy’s 1922 air humidifier, assigned to Sturtevant, was referenced by companies such as Mitsubishi and Kubota, in 1988, 1991 and 1998.
The Eagle wrote, “Perhaps Massachusetts wants him worse because, not content with walking rough-shod over her statute books and fracturing most of the laws therein, he profaned the sacred realm of her traditions and betrayed her tenderest sympathies.
“After Massachusetts and New York have exacted retribution on the versatile de Clamecy, Uncle Sam will have a score to settle, all of which promises that the adventurous foreigner has a fairly compact calendar ahead.”
The Eagle said its summary of de Clamecy’s crimes was put “with passing brevity”, a “concentrated but highly incomplete program of de Clamecy’s activities”.
But these had resulted in the “disillusionment of the Supreme Court Association of Massachusetts, former Governor Fitzgerald and nationally prominent men all along the Eastern seaboard of these United States”.
Having been given the keys to the city of Boston, de Clamecy had “promptly proceeded to put them in service. The Mayor told him the city was his and he very nearly took it.”
“The freedom with which he accepted the city’s generosity finally landed him behind bars for a 10-year tenure and after that he was eliminated from current events – except for a bad after-taste – for a peaceful years.”
What a guy!? And what, just quietly, wonderful typewriter ideas! Such a pity none of them were ever realised.
THE PHILIPPE DE CLAMECY FILEESTIMATED PROFITS FROM CRIME BY JANUARY 1921
KNOWN ALIASES (16)
Count of Nevers
Dr Philip de Clamecy
Duke Philip de Clamecy
Felipe de Clamecy
General Felipe de Clamecy
Judge Felipe de Clamecy
Lord Philip de Clamecy
Philip de Clamecy
Phillip B Declamecy
Philip Lea De Clamecy
Philippe de Clamecy
CLAIMED AWARDS-POSITIONS (11)
Boston Institute of Technology, mechanical design engineer
Doctor, Great Lakes Naval Training School, Illinois
Doctor, Marine Hospital, Boston
French Legion of Honour
General, French Army (Camp Devens, Massachusetts)
Inventor (air-conditioning, military aircraft, typewriters)
Keys to the City, Boston
Member, French Judiciary
Military Attaché, French Embassy, Washington
Special Judicial Envoy, French Government
US Public Health Service physician
PROMISED PROJECTS (4, of many)
1911 – Five-story brick automobile factory, Woonsocket, Rhode Island (300 workers).
1911 – “Big business schemes” (Boston).
1918 – US military aircraft, Boston; paroled by US Government to work on device at Boston Institute of Technology.
1919-20? - $10 million oxygen company, Buffalo, New York.
KNOWN VIOLATIONS (10):
Mann White Slave Act
Violation of parole
Wanted for deportation
KNOWN ARRESTS (4)
Providence, Rhode Island, June 9, 1911 (convicted and sentenced to 10 years’ jail in Boston, 1912)
Camp Devens guardhouse, 1918
KNOWN INCARCERATIONS (6)
Blackwell’s Island (New York, 1910)
Marine Hospital, Boston (1930-31)
Massachusetts Penitentiary (1912-18)
Sing Sing (New York)
Tombs Prison (1921–??)
KNOWN ESCAPES (2)
Boston Institute of Technology 1918
Camp Devens guardhouse, 1918
TYPEWRITER PATENT APPLICATIONS (17)
March 4 1916 1278871
March 6 1916 1278873
May 16 1916 1237307
March 2 1917 1294060
July 15 1917 1311879
January 21 1918 1315013
January 25 1918 1317485
January 28 1918 1355818
October 3 1918 1457730
*The figures given above are “at least” numbers. The real figures, apart from the typewriter patents, are doubtless considerably higher.
THE REAL PHILIPPE DE CLAMECY
Philippe de Clamecy was a 15th century boy who died in 1452, aged six. He was born into French nobility, the son of John II (Jean de Clamecy), the Count of Nevers, below.
Clamecy is a commune in the Nièvre department in central France. Nevers is a commune in – and the administrative capital of – the Nièvre department.
John II (1415-1491), was the son of Philip II, Count of Nevers by his wife Bonne of Artois, daughter of Philip of Artois. John's elder brother was also his predecessor in his titles, Charles I, Count of Nevers (1414-64).