Going back all the way to Peregrine Williamson, it seems that New York City was the place to be if you were going to make, and especially, sell, steel pens.
New York City has long been our commercial hub with thousands of offices and firms even in the early 19th-century. The population tended to be very large, and mostly literate. The need for stationery and pens was not only highest there, but it was also a major distribution for the rest of the country.
As a result of these and other factors, New York City is important in the history of steel pens in the US, and so you need tools for doing research in New York City.
One of the first places to look when trying to find someone or some company, is to look in the directories. There are a few city directories to be found in ancestry.com, but the best sources is the New York Public Library collection of directories. Actually, the New York Public Library’s digital collection is an amazing resource in many way. Search it and you never know what you’re going to find. For a full list of the New York Directories I have found, please seen the table below.
If you’re able to go in person, the New York Historical Society is a fantastic resource. There are some online objects, but most of their great collection is best found in person. Their researchers have also been extraordinarily kind and helpful in finding some things I couldn’t find anywhere else.
A lot of the steel pen manufacturers and the stationers who sold their pens were located in NYC. While a lot of old NYC has been demolished to make way for skyscrapers, it’s amazing how much is still there. Whenever I get an address, I like to use the amazing resource of Google Street View to check it out. Often it’s pretty obvious that the 30-story glass and steel structure on the site is not the building where Benjamin Lawrence and his brother Phineas had their stationery shop in 1859. But if you do see an old building, it would be nice to see just how old it is. If you’re an architectural historian, maybe you can tell by site the rough date. If not, you can go to the amazing hidden resource of the NYC Landmarks Preservation Society. On the page, scroll down just a bit and look for the Landmark Search field. Enter your address and it will take you to a map view with the information panel on the right. Here’s what it says about 73 Bleecker St.
It’s amazing what information is available, but the key for this kind of historical research is the Year Built date. If it’s of the right date, and a landmark, you might be able to get a full landmark report on the building. To do this, go back to the main web page and click on the Discover NYC Landmarks map. Navigate to the location and click on the yellow or pink area and a pop up window with a quick summary of the historic landmark will appear. Click on the picture and it will pop up the full pdf of the historic landmark designation report. Here’s an example from the NoHo district which includes 73 Bleecker St.
I’ll add others as they come along, but these will keep you busy for quite a while.
In addition to newspapers.com, which I’ve already spoken of, there is also the New York Historic Newspapers. A joint project of libraries, it provides free, searchable historic newspapers from all over NY state.
List of City Directories for New York and Environs
List of City Directories: I try and put the directory into the year in which the information was collected, so I’ll put the directory for 1900, in the 1899 year, because the info was current as of 1899, while it was published in 1900.
NYPL = New York Public Library Collection
PDF = link to the latinamericanstudies.org site which takes you directly to the pdf of the directory. No fancy interface, but you can easily download or skim through within the browser
Google = Either Longworth for the early years, or one of the others, like Trow, for the later years.
|1797/98||NYPL – Internet Archive|
|1822/23||Google – Brooklyn|
|1833/34||Google – Brooklyn: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3|
|1838/39||Google – Internet Archives|
|1844/45||Google (supplement after great fire)|
|1848/49||Internet Archives – PDF Doggett|
|1855/56||NYPL – Brooklyn|
|1856/57||NYPL – PDF Trow – Brooklyn|
|1858/59||NYPL – PDF Trow|
|1859/60||NYPL – PDF Trow|
|1860/61||NYPL – PDF Trow|
|1861/62||NYPL – Brooklyn – NYC Trade Directory|
|1862/63||NYPL – Brooklyn|
|1863/64||NYPL – Brooklyn|
|1864/65||NYPL – Google – PDF Wilson’s Copartnership – Brooklyn|
|1865/66||NYPL – PDF Trow – Brooklyn|
|1866/67||NYPL – Brooklyn|
|1867/68||NYPL – Brooklyn|
|1868/69||NYPL – Brooklyn|
|1870/71||NYPL – Brooklyn – Morrisania & Treemont (Bronx)|
|1874/75||NYPL – Brooklyn|
|1877/78||PDF Gouldings Biz Dir – Brooklyn|
|1878/79||NYPL – Brooklyn|
|1879/80||NYPL – Brooklyn|
|1880/81||NYPL – Brooklyn|
|1881/82||NYPL – Business Directory|
|1882/83||NYPL – Brooklyn – PDF Appleton’s Dictionary of New York|
|1883/84||NYPL – Brooklyn|
|1884/85||NYPL – Ladies’ Guide – Brooklyn|
|1885/86||NYPL – Brooklyn – Flushing|
|1886/87||NYPL – Brooklyn|
|1888/89||NYPL – NY NJ Telephone Directory – Brooklyn|
|1889/90||NYPL – Copartnership and Corp Dir.|
|1896/97||NYPL – Brooklyn|
|1901/02||NYPL – Brooklyn – Manhattan Red Guide|
|1902/03||NYPL – Brooklyn|
|1903/04||NYPL – Brooklyn|
|1905/06||NYPL – Brooklyn|
|1906/07||NYPL – Brooklyn|
|1907/08||NYPL – Brooklyn|
|1909/10||NYPL – Telephone Directory|
|1910/11||NYPL – (Feb) Telephone Directory – (May) Telephone Directory – (Oct) Telephone Directory|