Sunday, 11 March 2018

Pencil Roulette

When I first began collecting mechanical pencils I tried to limit my acquisitions to items that matched those keywords - "mechanical pencil". However, items that didn't quite fit that definition gradually began creeping into the collection. Sometimes sellers would list the items as "pencils" and once received I'd discover them to be more than they first appeared. At other times there would be something about the images of the item that provided a clue (e.g. a patent date, or a missing slider where one would normally be, or two sliders when only one should be present). And on far too many other occasions, the item would just be too cool to pass up.

And now? Well, now I just accept the risks associated with seeking out interesting examples from the victorian pencil world, and I continue to be pleasantly surprised when the next "not-just-another-pencil" shows up in the mail.

Of course, playing pencil roulette doesn't always turn out to be a win, but like most gambling addicts I prefer to maintain my focus on the positive aspects and excitement of the ones that are wins, while quietly disposing of the detritus resulting from the losses!

Here are a few of the more interesting "wins" that have come my way ...

Jacob Lownds Pencil (1836) - This beauty was rather sad looking when I first saw it posted for sale many years ago. It was listed on an auction site as 'not working". It was almost black with dirt, it appeared to be missing its slider, and the seller indicated that the pencil was "stuck". But it was also listed at a ridiculously low price and something about it said "take a chance" so I did. It cleaned up nicely and works just fine. There never was a slider because the design never required one. There is no maker's mark on it, however, there was only one maker that I've come across that was using this design in the 1830's. Jacob Lownds filed his patent, (U.S. patent #32) in 1836. The pencil tip extends by pulling the top of the barrel, giving it a quarter turn, and then pushing it forward. Reverse the process to bring the tip back into the barrel. The etched design on the barrel only became clearly visible once I did a little cleaning. It is 3.5" (9cm) closed, and 4.75" (12cm) when extended.

W.S. Hicks Combo Pencil & Dip Pen (1867) - I've acquired two of these over the years and both were originally listed for sale as pencils. I had owned the first one for years, and at some point I had looked more closely at the patent details associated with the date on the barrel, "Pat.Dec.24.1867", and determined that I had something more than just a nice Hicks pencil. So when a second one came along, also listed as a pencil... I just had to buy it as well.

A gentleman by the name of Richard Ryne had filed U.S. patent #72,684 on that date and he assigned the patent to W.S. Hicks. There is a second cartouche on the barrel, on which I can make out a very faint "...0 '58". This corresponds to A.G. Days standard patent imprint "AG Days Pat Aug 10 '58". Days marketed an "improved" version of the Goodyear BHR.

This one has what appears to be a never inked solid gold Mabie Todd #4 pen nib (the second Hicks BHR combo is slightly smaller in diameter and has a #3 Mabie Todd nib). This one is 3.75" (9.5cm) closed, and 4.75" (12cm) when the pencil is extended.

John Sheldon - "Unique Pocket Companion" (c.1842) - This was one of the first "more than just a pencil" purchases that I made many years ago and it is by far my best pot luck win, thanks mostly to my own curiousity as a novice collector. The seller had listed it as a silver victorian pencil/pen combo, engraved with the owner's name. I normally stay away from engraved items but this one was listed as silver, seemed to be in good condition, and I liked the look of the "split" slider for extending the pen/pencil, which I hadn't seen before. When it arrived I realized that what the seller had indicated was an engraved owner's name was actually an imprint of the maker's name - John Sheldon, and that what I had just purchased was an example of John Sheldon's "Unique Pocket Companion", made in Birmingham, U.K., and marketed in the 1840's as a complete "Magnum in Parvo" ("Much in a Small Space").

In total, the Sheldon includes an amazing 8 functions - pen, pencil, toothpick, sovereign gauge, letter balance (to determine postage due), seal, lead reservoir, and simple measurer (barrel is 4" long and it is divided exactly in the middle). Oh, and the seller had the item's casing material wrong as well - it wasn't silver; Sheldon made most of his pocket companion's in what is known as German silver, or nickel silver (copper, nickel, zinc), and it has no silver in it at all. This allowed Sheldon to produce complex writing tools and sell them at affordable prices. In addition, being harder than silver, the material ensured that the tool would hold up well under regular use. A rare find, although I have been able to acquire one other Sheldon more recently.

Thursday, 1 March 2018

Don't Forget To Write!

When was the last time (if ever) that you heard those words?

Well, back in the day it was a pretty common alternative to today's "cya", "ttyl", "pm me", or "later dude...". Families and friends didn't have the opportunity to get together often and anyone travelling could expect to be gone for some time as the options to get from point A to point B would have been rather limited... and no planes, cars, phones, etc.

For the travellers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, keeping in touch while on a journey meant ensuring that you packed something like this for your trip...

A fairly compact writing companion that included pretty much everything you'd need (other than the writing paper) to let mom and dad know that you had arrived at your destination, and were a-ok. You could just scribble out your news, put it in the mail, and just like that... a few weeks or months later they'd receive it.

Some of these travelling sets were very basic and consisted of just the sealed ink container, with pens, etc. carried separately. This one includes a great deal more. It has two sealed ink reservoirs, allowing for two different colours of ink, or twice as much of your favourite colour, a small pen wipe, a flip-up candle, a pen rest, and a reversible pen/pencil combo to complete the set.

This one was Austrian made ("K.K. Priv." stamped on the pen rests) sometime around the end of the 19th century. The interior is nicely patterned stamped brass and the exterior is leather, with a brass band around the middle. Its dimensions are 4.75" x 3.0" x 1.75" (12.5cm x 8.0cm x 4.5cm). The original reversible pen/pencil was not present when I purchased it (if there ever was one), and this is one that I had obtained separately (no maker's mark).

Thursday, 15 February 2018

If Those Old Pens Could Talk

I confess, I rarely read poetry. However, I have always been intrigued by poets, songwriters, and others who can creatively conjure up amazing imagery, and invoke our emotions, in spite of the enforced constraints and frugal use of words demanded by their craft.

Until recently, if I were to try and think of a poem or song that had some relevance to writing back in the day when pen and ink were actually used, the best I'd be able to come up with would be - The Ink is Black, The Page is White, and other than the title I'd have to hum the rest. Three Dog Night brought the song to the top of the charts in 1972 but it was originally written in 1954 in celebration of the US Supreme Court's decision outlawing racial segregation of public schools. So, it turns out it wasn't really about writing at all...

Then, a few months ago, while sleuthing about, searching for possible additions to my collections, I came across this very clever "conversation" between a 3 year old pen and a diary, written in the middle of the 19th century by William Makepeace Thackeray (1811-1863).

As a collector, I've often wondered about the life led by each item in my collection - who owned it and once held it in their hand?; where had it travelled?; what interesting history had it recorded during its time?; and so on. Here, finally, was an actual pen from the Victorian era (named "Mordan" no less!) that was willing to share all of that and more ...

The Pen and the Album

‘I am Miss Catherine’s book,' the album speaks;
‘I’ve lain among your tomes these many weeks;
I’m tired of their old coats and yellow cheeks.

‘Quick, Pen! and write a line with a good grace:
Come! draw me off a funny little face;
And, prithee, send me back to Chesham Place.’


‘I am my master’s faithful old Gold Pen;
I’ve served him three long years, and drawn since then
Thousands of funny women and droll men.

‘O Album! could I tell you all his ways
And thoughts, since I am his, these thousand days,
Lord, how your pretty pages I’d amaze!’


‘His ways? his thoughts? Just whisper me a few;
Tell me a curious anecdote or two,
And write ’em quickly off, good Mordan, do!’


‘Since he my faithful service did engage
To follow him through his queer pilgrimage,
I’ve drawn and written many a line and page.

‘Caricatures I scribbled have, and rhymes,
And dinner-cards, and picture pantomimes;
And merry little children’s books at times.

‘I’ve writ the foolish fancy of his brain;
The aimless jest that, striking, hath caused pain;
The idle word that he’d wish back again.

. . . . . .

‘I’ve help’d him to pen many a line for bread;
To joke with sorrow aching in his head;
And make your laughter when his own heart bled.

‘I’ve spoke with men of all degree and sort—
Peers of the land, and ladies of the Court;
Oh, but I’ve chronicled a deal of sport!

‘Feasts that were ate a thousand days ago,
Biddings to wine that long hath ceased to flow,
Gay meetings with good fellows long laid low;

’Summons to bridal, banquet, burial, ball,
Tradesman’s polite reminders of his small
Account due Christmas last—I’ve answered all.

‘Poor Diddler’s tenth petition for a half–
Guinea; Miss Bunyan’s for an autograph;
So I refuse, accept, lament, or laugh,

‘Condole, congratulate, invite, praise, scoff.
Day after day still dipping in my trough,
And scribbling pages after pages off.

’Day after day the labor’s to be done,
And sure as comes the postman and the sun,
The indefatigable ink must run.

. . . . .

‘Go back, my pretty little gilded tome,
To a fair mistress and a pleasant home,
Where soft hearts greet us whensoe’er we come!

‘Dear, friendly eyes, with constant kindness lit,
However rude my verse, or poor my wit,
Or sad or gay my mood, you welcome it.

’Kind lady! till my last of lines is penn’d,
My master’s love, grief, laughter, at an end,
Whene’er I write your name, may I write friend!

‘Not all are so that were so in past years;
Voices, familiar once, no more he hears;
Names, often writ, are blotted out in tears.

’So be it:—joys will end and tears will dry—
Album! my master bids me wish good-by,
He’ll send you to your mistress presently.

‘And thus with thankful heart he closes you;
Blessing the happy hour when a friend he knew
So gentle, and so generous, and so true.

’Nor pass the words as idle phrases by;
Stranger! I never writ a flattery,
Nor sign’d the page that register’d a lie.’

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Westward Eastward Woodward

I have a few "Woodward" pencils in my collection that I had always assumed were from the same period and maker. Only recently did I discover that they were made by two different Woodwards, separated by about half a century, and half a world.

The top two pencils are marked "Woodwards & Hale"; the bottom two are marked "A.H.W.", and "Woodward's Patent", respectively.

One of America's earliest mechanical pencil making companies was Woodwards & Hale, of Brooklyn, New York, established sometime around 1828/1829.

The biographical memoir of General John Woodward - "John B. Woodward: A Biographical Memoir", by Elijah Robinson Kennedy, 1897, provides a little background on his father's business (Thomas Jr.). The memoir indicates that brothers Thomas Jr, George, and Charles, along with their father (Thomas Sr.), emigrated to New York from England in 1818/1819. Shortly after their arrival in America, Thomas Jr. became a silversmith and subsequently established a partnership with his brothers George and Charles, along with "Mr. Hale". This is corroborated by information found in "Longworth's American Almanac, New-York Register, and City Directory". The 1827 edition lists William H. Hale as an "engineer", and the Woodward brothers as having a variety of jobs. However, by 1829, the Directory lists Thomas Woodward as a "silversmith", while George & Charles Woodward share the same business address as William H. Hale at 22 Mercer Street, and the same business, "silver pencils".

In July, 1831, the New York Mirror included the following testimonial regarding Woodwards & Hale: "The most highly wrought and admirable specimen of the ever-pointed pencil, we have lately seen from the manufactory of William H. Hale (Woodwards & Hale) of Brooklyn. It is not only superior, we believe, to all others in usefulness, but exceeds in beauty anything of the kind we ever saw. The point through which the lead passes is of steel, a decided improvement, rendering it more durable and complete; and the wreath of flowers and foliage entwined around the surface is really brilliant. We learn that the original inventor of this article is Mr. John J. Hawkins, civil engineer, and formerly a citizen of the United States. He sold the patent right for a trifling sum, to Mr. Mordan, without being aware how profitable it would become. The Physiognotrace, and also the Manifold Letter Writer, were invented by the same individual. The great perfection to which this indispensable requisite to a gentleman's pocket, and a lady's desk, has been brought in the manufactory of Woodwards & Hale is certainly creditable to those artisans, and to the country, which has long been far behind France and England in similar works of elegance and taste."

Here are some close-ups of the two Woodwards & Hale pencils (Note the steel tips; described above as the "decided improvement" over the Hawkins/Mordan pencils available at the time)...

The first is a nice slider pencil with an "Onion Top" finial; 4.5" (11.5cm) when open. The second is a calendar pencil; slightly smaller at just over 4.0" (10.5cm) when open. Woodwards & Hale continued as business partners until 1839, at which point Hale stepped away from the business and it carried on for another 15 years or so as Woodward Brothers.

Alfred Havilah Woodward of Birmingham, England, obtained his first U.K. pencil patent in November, 1883 (U.K. patent #5224), and his U.S. patent for the same pencil design was granted April 1, 1884 (U.S. patent (#296,302).

A.H. Woodward used a couple of different marks to identify his pencils. His early pencils were imprinted "Woodward's Patent", and some of his later pencils were only marked on the tip, "A.H.W.", and "I.X.L.". The I.X.L. indicated that it was made at Woodward's "I.X.L. Works" manufactory in Birmingham.

A.H. Woodward's drop-action pencil was imprinted with "Woodward's Patent". Pressing the top releases the writing tip and pressing it again, while holding the pencil upside down, returns the writing tip to the inner casing. 3.25" (8.0cm) when closed, and 4.0" (10.5cm) when extended.

In spite of the time and distance gap between the two pencilcase makers, it is a little intriguing that, in addition to sharing the Woodward surname, they were all from Birmingham, England.

Distant cousins perhaps?

Friday, 2 February 2018

Hey Buddy, Gotta Light?

For those of us over 40, or perhaps a tad older... it doesn't seem all that long ago that smoking was a perfectly acceptable social pastime, and even considered by some as being quite fashionable.

Cigarette smoking became widespread in North America following the invention of the cigarette making machine in 1881. Prior to this point, cigarettes were hand rolled and as such the demand was fairly limited. Fast forward a few decades and by 1944 cigarette production was over 300 billion per year, and apparently nearly 75% of the production during WWII was being allocated to service men & women.

Without question, smoking was prevalent virtually everywhere by the mid-20th century. And as with anything that the public widely embraces, there are always clever people coming up with gimmicky items to go along with it, including pencils...

Gorham Matchstick Pencil - Gorham Manufacturing was founded in 1831 in Providence, Rhode Island, and became one of America's largest manufacturers of sterling and silver-plate items. This tiny matchstick pencil was likely made during the last decade of the 19th century, or early 20th century. It is sterling silver and the match head is yellow and blue enamel. A tiny slider extends the pencil tip. It is almost identical in size to an actual wooden match - 2.5" closed and 3.0" when fully extended.

Lady's Smoking Set - This is a fairly rare matching set consisting of a cigarette holder and a pencil; just what every young lady of a certain social upbringing would have wanted as a special gift for her birthday or at Christmas. The outside casings of both are sterling silver, finished in a white guilloché enamel, with hand-painted roses. The cigarette holder tip appears to be bovine (cow bone). The pencil is 3.5" long and marked "Sterling Germany". The pair likely date to the 1920's or 30's.

Ronson "Penciliter" - Ronson began manufacturing their 2nd generation Penciliter in 1948 and Ronson's advertisements during this period reflected the societal norms at that time -

"...It’s finely balanced… it’s streamlined… it’s always at hand for the two things he does most - lighting (press -it’s lit… release -it’s out)… and writing. He’ll constantly use... constantly thank you for the new Ronson Penciliter! ". 

What man could possibly live without one? Especially when life apparently consisted primarily of lighting & writing? Come to think of it, I'm fairly certain that my dad had a Penciliter in his basement workshop when I was a kid.

The barrel of this one is marked Ronson "Penciliter" 1/20th 14K Gold Filled (which basically means there is virtually no gold in it, but just enough that they could say there is some). At 5.5" in length, this is a rather large and heavy beast of a pencil; a nice, solid pocket protector would certainly have been needed!

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Hard Times In The U.S.A.

No, I'm not referring to today's situation ...

The early 1830's was a very prosperous time for America but that all changed quickly in 1837. Rising interest rates, decreasing demand for cotton, one of America's most lucrative exports at the time, and banking policies introduced by President Andrew Jackson, were among the contributing factors to the "Panic of 1837". The ensuing recession lasted until 1844.

During this period some of the more successful businesses and organizations minted their own tokens that were the same size as the U.S. large one cent piece. Some of these were minted for advertising purposes and others were of a more political/satirical theme. When the "panic" was in full swing, the availability of real coins was greatly reduced and these "Hard Times Tokens" found their way into circulation and used interchangeably with real currency.
 One such company that produced tokens was the pencilcase maker, S. Maycock & Co. of New York city. The obverse shows an eagle with its wings spread, holding an olive branch in one claw and an arrow in the other, surrounded by thirteen stars. The reverse is stamped "S. Maycock & Co."  "Everpointed Pencilcase Manufacturers" "35 City Hall Place, N.Y." "SML Maycock, John Hague".

Samuel Maycock and John Hague were partners in the company, which was founded around 1835. According to the research done by collector Jonathan Veley, John Hague was one of the earliest American pencilcase makers. His first patent, filed in 1833, was the third mechanical pencil patent filed in the U.S., and he filed a second mechanical pencil patent in 1839.

I have yet to see an example of Hague's 1833 pencil patent, and even examples of the 1839 patent are extremely rare. However, the pencil gods smiled upon me one day several years ago and I was able to acquire both the above token, and an example of the 1839 pencil, on the same day, from two separate sellers.

Hague's design centred around the slider mechanism. Most mechanical pencils had a visible slot on the lower barrel through which a slider ring was pinned to the inner mechanism which in turn enabled the advancement or retraction of the pencil tip itself. Hague eliminated the slot by simply having an additional barrel that slides over the innermost barrel to extend the pencil tip.

This particular example of a Hague pencil is really just in fair condition as it has some flaws, but I happily overlook them all given the pencil's rarity, and the detailed imprint of the patent information on the barrel.

Monday, 1 January 2018

A Champagne Toast to Ring in the New Year?

The New Year has arrived and a few of us may now be enjoying our first hangover of 2018 thanks to the after effects of over-indulging in the "bubbly"...

Champagne, in all of its various forms, has been around for several centuries. However, what has become today's champagne industry really got its footing in the mid-1800's following a few major technological advances... they finally figured out how to attain just the right sugar content so that the desired level of bubbles could be attained, and more importantly controlled, which greatly reduced the risk of exploding bottles, and new methods in bottle production provided the industry with consistently stronger bottles, able to withstand the higher pressure of champagne. Lastly, when the French rail system linked Reims to the rest of the country in 1854, the world's markets were immediately opened up to the champagne industry and they were soon producing 20 million bottles a year.

The 20th century brought a number of major setbacks to the champagne industry, including the Russian revolution, American prohibition, two world wars, and a major blight infestation. Despite all of this, the champagne industry has survived quite well. It continues to grow, and today's production exceeds 200 million bottles a year.*

As many other businesses had begun to do in the late 1800's, champagne producers branded a variety of promotional items that were given to their suppliers, distributors, and customers. Among these items were novelty pencils...

Louis Roederer, Reims - A sterling silver magic pencil made by Sampson Mordan in the late 1800's for Louis Roederer Champagne... "One of the last great independent and family-run champagne houses". Reims is located in the northern half of the "Champagne Region", to the east of Paris.

The pencil is 1 7/8" closed, and with its double inner barrel it is able to double its length when fully extended, to 3 3/4".

Veuve A. Devaux, Epernay - This is a simple twist extension pencil made for Veuve A. Devaux Champagne, Epernay. The company was named for the first of 3 Devaux widows that managed the business following the demise of their spouses. The pencil dates to the early 20th century, and at that time Veuve A. Devaux was located in Epernay (they are now located in Bar-sur-Seine, in the south-east corner of the Champagne Region).

The pencil is 2 3/4" closed and 3 1/2" when extended.

G.H. Mumm & Co., Reims - A magic pencil made for G.H. Mumm around 1900. G.H. Mumm is one of the oldest champagne producers, established in 1827, and located in the Reims area.

The pencil is 2" closed and 3 1/2" when fully extended.

Champagne Dry Monopole, Reims - Heidsieck Monopole was a major champagne producer around the time that this magic pencil was made (approx. 1900). In 1884 they sold nearly 1 million bottles of Monopole just to Great Britain.

This is the largest of the champagne bottle pencils; 2 1/2" when closed, and 4 1/2" when fully extended.

Happy New Year!

* Champagne industry info from Wikipedia - History of Champagne