Pen History, 1840’s: Myer Phineas, the forgotten success story.

Another stationer in the 1840’s to make his own pens was Myer Phineas. His name is not well-known, but in his day, he was one of the most successful, at least measured by longevity, pen makers in America up to that point. He made pens for 20 years in a wide variety, with several patents to his name, and prestigious customers like the War Department and the United States Senate. He was one of the few of the old stationers still remembered in a look back at the NY stationery trade in an article in the American Stationer in 1891.

Myer Phineas was born about 1814 in either Poland or Russia. It’s not clear when he came to the United States, but by 1845 he owned a stationery and import business in downtown Manhattan, on Maiden Lane, and was already making his own pens. In 1842 and earlier, he does not appear in the business directories of New York City. I’ve yet to find one for 1843 or 1844, but it’s most likely in one of these years he begins Myer Phineas & Co. and begins to make pens.

In the earliest ad, from 1845, he’s already making a wide variety of pens.

1845 Myer Phineas

  • 336 Bank fine point
  • 336 Bank medium point
  • 337 Commercial
  • 364 Double Damascus
  • 264 Damascus
  • 306 Capital Pen fine point
  • 306 Capital Pen medium point
  • 305 Extra Fine
  • 101 Barrell [sic]
  • 233 Register
  • “a new pen” 335 Original
  • Eagle
  • Magnum Bonum

Now, this is a rather extensive set of pens to be making right off the bat, considering he’s not even showing up in the business directory three years before. This is just one of the mysteries surrounding Myer Phineas. If it weren’t for the problem with the dates, the most likely explanation is that he took over C. C. Wright’s pen operation. There are some definite overlaps, including the “Sauvitor” pen which we find in the list of Phineas’ pens below, as well as in an 1843 ad for Wright, associated with a ladies’ boarding school. (Sauvitor may be a corruption of Sauviter, from the Latin phrase “fortiter et suaviter” which may translate as “fortitude and patience”)

1843 cc wright testimonials

This is nowhere near even weak evidence, especially since Wright supposedly kept making pens until 1847.

One thing that is not a mystery is the success of his pens. We find his pens sold in New York through his own store, and by other stationers. In 1858, the Board of Education of the City of New York accepted bids to provide them with Myer Phineas pens, but Phineas himself was only successful in bidding to provide one number, the other four numbers were awarded to his rival stationer Willard Felt.

In 1853, the War Department in Washington DC purchased his pens from the local (Washington DC) stationer R. Farnham. And in 1861, the United States Senate purchased 156 dozen of his pens.

He seems to have focused mainly on commercial and financial customers, government and education. The most complete list of his pens is found in a catalog of a large supplier of educational textbooks, learning tools and other supplies.

Ide & Dutton of Boston were a very large firm carrying many of the latest and most modern of educational supplies. In their 1855 catalog, this is the list of the only steel pens they offer.

A Catalogue of Books, Maps, Charts, and School Apparatus, Publis

As you can see from the list, he also manufactured pen holders. The Accommodating Pen Holder was actually one of his own inventions.

Myer Phineas was not only a successful stationer and pen maker, he was also an inventor.

I have not found all of his patents, but right now I’m aware of four of them: two for pens, one for a pen holder, and one for an ink well.

In 1853, he patents the design of a pen with slots or ribs cut into the top of the nib, held with strips along the side. This is to increase flexibility yet keep the pen stable and durable. This becomes his “500 Patent Double Spring”  (see above) and is most likely the original design for later similar pens like the Esterbrook 126 Double Spring.

1498394389929671005-00009843

ESTERBROOK-126

The next year, in 1854, he patents a new kind of pen holder that allows for different sized nibs to be held firmly, yet with some spring. This is the Accommodating Pen Holder. I’m not sure what the “Extra Accommodating Pen Holder” is, but it’s most likely a slightly fancier version of the one he patented.

Then in 1856 he patents a “fountain pen” which is what they called pens with built-in reservoirs before today’s fountain pens came along. It’s punched from a single sheet with a bend at the top to create a top reservoir, similar to the later Hunt design seen even today on modern Speedball calligraphy pens.

1856 Myer Phineas patent reservoir

Phineas also patented an inkwell that seems to have made quite an impression. Even as late as 1891, in an article in American Stationer “Reminiscences of the New York Stationery Trade” the short section on Myer Phineas says:

Myer Phineas & Co. were located in Maiden lane and were well known.  They were the patentees of an inkstand which has had an extensive sale.

I’ve not found the original patent, but I have found a picture of one of the ink wells that says it was patented and the patent was renewed Aug. 18, 1869. That’s interesting because that’s after Myer’s death in 1868. The article may even imply that it’s still being sold, or was sold for quite a while.

So, the particular inkwell I saw was produced after September 18, 1869, which is after Myer Phineas’s death in 1868. I can find no reference for his business continuing after his death, or who could possibly have made the ink well. In the city directories, there’s only an entry for his widow “Ellen” which shows her living in a boardinghouse at 137 W. 43rd. This remains yet another mystery still to be solved.

Myer Phineas was not only a businessman, but also a manufacturer and an inventor. He was able to develop a rather large line of pens and pen holders in addition to the other material he imported and sold.

1847 myer phineas importer and pens

It’s a shame that his contribution to the new steel pen industry in the US was soon forgotten by most later “historians” of the steel pen trade, as we will see in later posts.  He deserves to be remembered, and honored for being the longest-producing pen maker coming out of the 1840’s.

2 thoughts on “Pen History, 1840’s: Myer Phineas, the forgotten success story.”

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