The tiny Hammer Museum in Haines, Alaska was minding its own business when along came the big bullies at the Armand Hammer Museum of Art in Los Angeles who decided to also call themselves the Hammer Museum. You would think that the Alaskans would have first dibs, but the city slickers from L.A. thought enough to file a trademark application. The Alaskans followed up with their own application, and now they're both sitting in the offices of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. If one museum is granted the mark, it could stop the other from using the name. A WSJ story seems to sympathize with Dave Pahl, who started up the Alaskan Hammer museum. Itís dedicated to 1,700 hammers, from claw hammers to a Roman battle-ax from A.D. 200 used to crush bones and cut flesh.
Mr. Pahl, who is 53 years old, moved to Alaska from the Cleveland area in 1973 to escape city life. He greets museum visitors in a stained sweatshirt and baseball cap. Over the years, he has worked as a shipwright, he has run a one-man sawmill, and he has built three log cabins. In the summer, he helps tie up cruise ships that dock here. Mr. Pahl started his tool collection when he built his first log cabin and got serious when he checked out antique shops on a road trip across the South in 1989. He decided to specialize in hammers. "It wasn't too bad in the beginning," said his wife, Carol. Then along came the Internet. "When we got a computer, then he realized he could access antique stores, eBay, tool dealers. It just opened up a world of hammers."
Once it files that date with the trademark office, the Los Angeles museum is likely to be granted the trademark, because there are no existing trademarks in its way. If the Alaska museum challenges the decision, an appeals board would determine who used "Hammer Museum" first. Mr. Pahl is feeling outmuscled. Both museums are nonprofit corporations, but the Los Angeles museum (admission: $5) had $10.2 million in revenue last year; Mr. Pahl's museum brought in $8,104, half from T-shirt sales. Three top officials at the Los Angeles museum each earn more than $100,000. Mr. Pahl volunteers his time.