It depends upon what country you're talking about and how "early" you mean. By 1899 there were over 600,000 US patents. In 1850 there were less than 8,000.
1093! - The largest number held by any one person at that time. Today, there are dozens of companies that get more than that number of patents issued in the USA in a single year. Many of Edison' patents were invalid because he stole the ideas, including all of his so-called "light bulb patents", which were stripped by the patent office in 1893.
US Patents are issued by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Their home page list two search engines. One that lets you search for patents that have been issued, and one that lets you search for patents whose applications are pending. http://patft.uspto.gov/ A number of Patent related web sites provide links to Patent Offices in other countries. Try http://www.irossco.com/patentsearching.htm as one example. Please note that many individuals or companies register their patents with the USPTO in addition to multiple jurisdictions to gain "global coverage".
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