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Mr. Otto Link started producing metal mouthpieces in the late 1920's. He began marketing a hard rubber mouthpiece in the late 1930's. Because of the popularity of his hard rubber line of mouthpieces, he is going to be our expert. He passed away in the 1970's by most accounts, but we can still use him as our expert based on his informed opinion as stated in his advertising material. I'll put his statements in quotations and italics.
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Mr. Link's first hard rubber mouthpiece was intended to "duplicate the Link 4 Star metal mouthpiece." Metal was expensive, but vulcanized rubber, specifically vulcanized rubber of the same hardness as ebony, could be made into a mouthpiece. This hard rubber was generically referred to as ebonite and was available in rod form for milling or it could be vulcanized into the shape of the mouthpiece to allow for less milling.
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Mr. Link chose to use the rod form of hard rubber. He called the material that he purchased "Eburnated Bar" hard rubber. If you Google "eburnated bar" you will find thousands of web sites on which that term is used, but they will all refer to Otto Link mouthpieces. If you Google "eburnated bar -Link" (i.e., without the search term "Link") , you'll get no hits. So it appears that "eburnated bar" rubber doesn't exist anywhere else on the planet other than in Link mouthpieces. Very curious.
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"Eburnated" is a medical term that generally applies to the body's reaction to a degenerative bone disease. The cartilage wears away and the bone structure rubs together, resulting in "bony sclerosis" or an ivory-like surface referred to as "eburnated." Ivory-like? What's that all about? Wait a minute, we have seen a similar claim. Remember the ivory mouthpieces in the blog about Sorkin Music that were sold with the Revere Paris Model saxophones? Are those ivory mouthpieces eburnated? Sort of. The Revere saxophones aren't from Paris and the Revere mouthpieces aren't ivory. That was all just advertising hype. Just like the term "Eburnated Bar" used by Mr. Link is pure advertising hype.
Here is a vintage Link mouthpiece allegedly made from "Eburnated Bar" rubber.
Okay, but even if the claim of Eburnated Bar is clearly BS, we now know that making a mouthpiece from bar stock or rod rubber is best because that's what Mr. Link chose (or at least chose to claim). The only problem is that within a couple of years Link changed his mind and started using molded blanks. But somehow the blanks that he purchased were still "eburnated" according to the Link advertising. Maybe the secret eburnation process is the key to making superior mouthpieces. Here's some Link advertising copy from 1940.
Let's look at how vulcanized rubber is cast for a mouthpiece blank. Hard rubber mouthpiece blanks were "compression molded," but the compression of the material into the mold doesn't change the material property of the rubber. Cooking the rubber (vulcanization) hardens the material. Mr. Link's process of "eburnation" supposedly imparted a "gleaming crystal quality in appearance as well as substance." Every vintage Link mouthpiece that I've ever seen polishes just like any other hard rubber mouthpiece. And natural rubber already has a crystalline structure, as does vulcanized rubber, so the process of "eburnation" sounds just like the same vulcanization process used for every other hard rubber mouthpiece. But claiming that Link mouthpieces have a "gleaming crystal quality" sure sounds better than "it's vulcanized."
But a total lack of proof doesn't preclude attributing secret physical benefits to the process. Mr. Link's secret process "minimizes the possibility of warpage oft present in ordinary mouthpieces". So eburnation doesn't eliminate warpage, it merely "minimizes the possibility." Where is the proof, i.e., where are the warped Links? And where are the "oft" warped ordinary mouthpieces? It actually sounds like those "ordinary mouthpieces" may have dissolved in the player's mouth because of "heat and the absorption of moisture from the player's mouth."
We know that heat and humidity effects ebonite. That's what proved the "mouthpiece material matters" claims to be false, remember? But a "warped" mouthpiece caused by playing? Why has nobody ever seen one? It could just be more hype. In fact, it appears that "eburnation" is synonymous with hype. It's like Sorkin's claim of "ivory" mouthpieces.*
We can also look to another mouthpiece expert, Mr. Charles Chedeville. Chedeville was also using rod rubber in the 'teens and 20's prior to the perfection of the molding process. Some whopping claims are made that he also used a super-duper Grade A++ whing-ding secret formula rod rubber for his mouthpieces. There is no evidence, of course. And there is no evidence that Chedeville ever cooked the rod rubber himself or had a proprietary recipe that the manufacturer used only for him. In fact, if you do a search for his business addresses, just like Otto Link, he was never located at an address where he could have the machinery necessary to vulcanize rubber. He simply sourced material from a rod rubber manufacturer like Mr. Link sourced his material. "Please ship 100 sticks of ebonite rod rubber." Where's the mystical "material matters" evidence in that?
Beginning in the 1920's, Mr. Chedeville used molded blanks (like Mr. Link) and his "golden era" spans his rod rubber and molded mouthpieces. Since there is also no evidence that he cooked his own molded blanks, it is most likely that he sourced his blanks from Riffault (like many others), which accounts for why many Lelandais and Chedeville pieces are identical to Riffault production pieces. I know this is heresy, but I'm only going where we have evidence, logic, and common sense while leaving out the hyperbole, fantasy, and delusion. Of course, that's easy for me to claim because I don't have any Chedeville mouthpieces for sale and I don't claim to be fabricating present day knock-offs of Chedeville mouthpieces. Here's how to make a knock-off.
Back to Mr. Link. There is another interesting "hard rubber" usage by Mr. Link. In 1930, Mr. Link applied for a patent, along with his then-partner Frank Meyer (later of Meyer Brothers mouthpieces). The patent was for a tooth guard on a metal mouthpiece. A slot was cut into the metal mouthpiece and a rubber/sulfur mixture was compressed in to the slot and then vulcanized into place. You have probably seen this on an old Link or an old Lelandais metal mouthpiece. So a vulcanized rubber tooth guard was not a particularly novel concept at the time (having been previously used by other manufacturers). "Prior use" invalidates a patent, but then, not every patent granted is actually valid. Yet the mere existence of this patent by Mr. Link makes it even more curious that his "eburnation" process for an entire mouthpiece wasn't patented. And the patent doesn't claim that the tooth guard is "eburnated," despite Mr. Link's familiarity with this allegedly important process that stopped the "warpage" commonly occurring when "ordinary rubber" was used on a mouthpiece. Very curious.
Even advertising hype can be patented, as a process patent does not have to be valid; the applicant merely needs to assert that the process is novel and hope that the patent issues. What's even better is to just stamp "REG. U.S. PAT. OFF." on an item and then not even try to apply for a patent. Just stamping the item without applying for a patent saves time, saves money, and saves the applicant from looking foolish for applying for a patent on an already patented process (like Mr. Link trying to patent Mr. Charles Goodyear's well-known prior patent for the vulcanization of rubber, for instance). But just stamping "Patented" on an object was later forbidden in 1946 by 35 U.S.C. 292 (right about the time production ended for the allegedly patented "eburnated" Link mouthpieces).
The statutory "penalty" for violating 35 U.S.C. 292 was a $500 fine to be split between the person bringing suit and the U.S. government. Few suits were ever brought until an odd court ruling on 2009 and, as a result, the penalty provision was completely eliminated in 2011. But it is curious that Mr. Link stopped claiming that his "eburnated" mouthpieces were patented right about 1946. (The elimination of the penalty in 2011 has brought on a renewed use of the bogus "Patent Pend" stamp.)
Perhaps eburnated vulcanized rubber can't be described in a manner that made a patent application even plausible (applications are sometimes denied). Or Mr. Link tried to get a patent (which is unlikely as there is no evidence of an application ever being filed), but the patent failed to issue because eburnation is simply a restatement of prior art, i.e., vulcanization. Or maybe stamping an item with "REG. U.S. PAT. OFF." was commonly used as advertising hype prior to 1946, but Mr. Link decided not to continue the misrepresentation when doing so became illegal.
At any rate, the issue of whether rod rubber or molded rubber is superior has officially reached a stalemate. Mr. Link produced great mouthpieces using both methods; with rod rubber (probably produced by American Hard Rubber in Butler, NJ) and with molded blanks (produced by JJ Babbitt in Elkhart, IN). It's kind of a shame that, like other mouthpiece makers, he catered almost exclusively to a player's obsessive focus disorder for mouthpiece material rather than for mouthpiece design and finish. Besides having a genius for mouthpiece design and finish, Otto Link also had a genius for creating some extremely powerful marketing hype that continues to this day. That's the uneburnated truth.
* The silliest claim that I've seen about "ivory" mouthpieces (and I've seen it several times) is that small amounts of ivory dust were added to make these mouthpieces white. Of course, for those who would believe such a tale it would also change the tone of the mouthpiece (making it sound "mammilion???). So the common white mouthpieces that the saxophone manufacturer often tossed in the case (and players later tossed out) had expensive ivory dust in them? All of the players who threw theirs away and bought Links must really be disappointed. Good thing that Lester Young kept his.