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 tir’d of your old coats and yellow cheeks.
“Quick, Pen! and write a line with a good grace;
Come! draw me off a funny little face;        5
And, prithee, send me back to Chesham Place.”

I am my master’s faithful old Gold Pen;
I ’ve serv’d him three long years, and drawn since then
Thousands of funny women and droll men.
O Album! could I tell you all his ways        10
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!        15

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,        20
And merry little children’s books at times.
I ’ve writ the foolish fancy of his brain;
The aimless jest that, striking, hath caus’d pain;
The idle word that he’d wish back again.
I ’ve help’d him to pen many a line for bread;        25
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;
O, but I ’ve chonicled a deal of sport.        30
Feasts that were ate a thousand days ago,
Biddings to wine that long hath ceas’d to flow,
Gay meetings with good fellows long laid low;
Summons to bridal, banquet, burial, ball,
Tradesman’s polite reminders of his small        35
Account due Christmas last—I ’ve answer’d 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,        40
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.        45
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,        50
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;        55
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.        60
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,        65
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

Friday, 15 December 2017

Bean There, Done That

Who doesn't enjoy an early morning walk on the beach, checking out what may have washed up overnight? There is often a variety of interesting items to discover, some brought to the shore from the depths of the ocean, while others may have floated in from far off lands. Back in the late 1800's one such beach curiosity, the lowly "sea bean", washed up with enough regularity along the east coast of the U.S. that it caught the eye of at least one famous pencil maker.

"Sea Bean" is a generic term for the seeds from a wide variety of tropical plant species that have adapted over time for dispersement by water. Their built-in strategy for propagation across vast ocean distances often includes a very hard exterior shell combined with an internal air pocket allowing them to float. Currents, storms, and tides take care of the rest.

Based upon information available on the amazing website "" I was able to determine that this pencil was likely made from a seed from the "Mucuna sloanei" species, or "Brown Hamburger Bean", and it possibly originated in Jamaica before finding its way north, ultimately ending up in a pencil factory.

Aikin Lambert & Co. was a New York based company that made, among other things, pen holders, high quality gold pens (nibs for both pen holders & eventually fountain pens), and mechanical pencils. They became a major supplier of gold nibs to the high-end Waterman pen company, who eventually took over Aikin Lambert & Co. in the early 1900's. An advertisement for Aikin Lambert & Co in Publisher's Weekly from 1878 includes an example of the sea bean pencils that they made at the time.

The mechanism in the pencil I have is of inferior quality to most Aikin Lambert pencils I have seen, suggesting that it is unlikely this pencil was made by them. However, it is a another nice example of the wide variety of natural materials that 19th century pencil makers utilized in the production of the novelty pencils that were so in demand during that period. In addition, the advertisement, combined with the details found on the website, have enabled me to determine the approximate age of the pencil I have, along with the type of seed that was used in making it. The pencil is fairly small, just 1.5" closed, and 2.0" fully extended.

Friday, 1 December 2017

"Hatch"ing a Plan

In the mid-1800's the glass industry was the biggest employer in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with the New England Glass Company being one of the largest of the Cambridge glass companies, having over 500 employees making flint & crown glass. However, following the end of the Civil War, the local glass industry slid downhill quickly as a result of the introduction of inexpensive soda-lime glass. By 1876 the New England Glass Company's workforce was under 200 and their sales were less than half what they were in 1865. In 1878, the directors had all stepped away from the operation, and the company was taken over by the Libby family, who eventually moved the business to Ohio.

During this period of decline, the Head Salesman for the New England Glass Company was a gentleman named George E. Hatch. Hatch was also a skilled glass artisan, and the holder of a number of interesting glassware design patents. In August of 1875 he filed a design patent (#8,585) for the fairly well known "double hands dish", which he assigned to the New England Glass Company (NEGC).

Hatch's next design patent was for a glass inkstand (design patent #8,831). This design was not assigned to NEGC, but instead, Hatch retained it in his own name according to the patent submission dated October, 1875, and granted in December of the same year. The absence of NEGC as the assignee is of interest because, by early 1876 Hatch was working for the Meriden Flint Glass Company, a new company located in Meriden, Connecticut, and that exact inkstand design was one of the products they began producing.

At the time, the town of Meriden was a well established centre for a number of silver companies. There was a rapidly growing demand for ornamental and artistic glassware that could be incorporated into some of these silver pieces, and as a major silver company, the Meriden Britannia Company was also a key customer of the NEGC. So, it may have come as quite a surprise to the NEGC management when, in January 1876, the directors of the Meriden Britannia Company decided to invest as major shareholders in a new glassworks, to be called the Meriden Flint Glass Company.

A few days after the Meriden decision, the then NEGC superintendent Joseph Bourne wrote a letter to a glassmaker friend in Boston, part of which read ... "I suppose you have heard by this time that I have left the New England, also the Head Salesman, Mr. Hatch, and we could not be allowed to give our resignation without giving offence...Some of them here call it a conspiracy....Mr. Libby and I parted on the most friendly terms...He attaches no blame to me but feels that Hatch & Wilcox are the great conspirators." The "Wilcox" being referred to was presumably Horace Wilcox, who was the president of the Meriden Britannia Company, and whose idea it was to establish a glassmaking operation in Meriden.

As explained in detail in his Design Patent submission, Hatch's molded glass inkstand design is in the form of a pear, connected by its stem to a short branch with leaves. A knot in the branch forms the inkwell opening. The pen holders are silver "branches" with leaves forming the actual pen rests.

While George Hatch's skill as a glassmaker was well known, was he the true owner of the design patterns that he took to Meriden or had he been surreptitiously plotting his departure by leaving some designs in his own name when he filed the patents, and by not assigning them to his employer at the time, NEGC, as other designs had been? Why is there a discrepancy between the design patent date (December 7, 1875) as documented in the Patent Office and the embossed date on the actual inkwell (December 27, 1875)? Did Hatch leave NEGC after December 7 but before the 27th? Perhaps Mr. Libby was correct when he referred to George Hatch as one of the "great conspirators", but who knows?

And regardless, it is very a nice inkstand...

Many thanks to Diane Tobin, as much of the above information on the Meriden Flint Glass Company, and George Hatch, came from her book "The Meriden Flint Glass Company - An Abundance of Glass", published by The History Press, 2012

Monday, 20 November 2017

This Little Piggy

Like every generation before it and since, most of our Victorian ancestors lived according to the societal norms and "rules" of the day. Unspoken rules governed everything from one's place in Victorian social circles, to fashion, etiquette, the type of work available, and even the level of education that one had access to. While this era may be viewed as being extremely conservative by today's standards, it was also a time of great societal change.

Mechanization was changing the workforce, education was gaining importance throughout all levels of society, a "middle" class began to form, science was becoming a "thing" that everyone was excited about, and towards the end of the Victorian era the population as a whole was gradually loosening up on their conservatism... at least a little.

This loosening up impacted the late victorian lifestyle in many ways including fashion. Quality jewelry became appealing to a much wider population; it became more affordable, and much more widely available. While proper etiquette demanded that one be conservative in the display of jewelry, the loosening of the rules allowed one to be a little flashy without actually crossing the line.

For men during this period, the lowly watch chain became an agent of change. A watch chain was an acceptable piece of male jewelry for obvious reasons. In addition to securing one's pocket watch, the chain gradually began to be used for other subtle displays of one's wealth. Fobs would be added that were wax seals, toothpicks, watch keys (winder), and even pencils. These tiny, figural "charm" pencils were made in a variety of materials including gold and silver, and in many styles and shapes, including animals.

Pig - Sampson Mordan - c1875 - Victorians considered pigs a good luck symbol and I'm sure that this little little guy brought its owner plenty over the years. Just 1.25" when closed, it balloons to a whopping 3.25" when fully extended. Sterling silver, and made by S. Mordan, London, U.K.

Horse - Edward Todd - c1890 - This little horse head pencil was made around 1890 by American pencil maker Edward Todd. It is 1.5" when closed, and 3.0" when opened. Sterling silver, ruby eyes, with the Edward Todd symbol stamped on the inner barrel.

Owl - William S. Hicks - c1871 - The owl, symbol of wisdom. What self-declared genius of the late 19th century wouldn't want one of these on their watch chain? Made by W.S. Hicks of New York and stamped with "Pat. March 21, '71" which corresponds with Hicks' U.S. patent # 112,917 This little pencil is 1.25" when closed, and 1.75" fully extended.

Bull Dog - Unknown Maker - c1890 - Dogs represented loyalty, and this little pencil may have originally been given as a gift in that context. The quality is quite similar to that of the Hicks owl pencil above, and also has ruby eyes. It was most likely made by an american pencil case maker. The pencil is 1.25" long when closed, and 1.75" when fully extended.