When working through 1840’s steel pen advertisements, one will encounter a number of them that seem similar: Rhoads & Sons, Rhodes & Sons, Rhodes & Son, Rhoades & Son’s, Rhoad’s & Sons amalgam pen, patent amalgam pen, patent amalgam double action pens, patent amalgam quill spring pen.
Besides pointing out the relative “flexibility” typesetters could have with spelling, we have to answer the question if it really is this “flexibility” to blame, or if there really were more than one similarly-named pen makers.
This question has been plaguing my research for quite a while now, and as far as I can tell, after a great deal of searching, there was only one “Rhoads & Sons” and they were, more fully, Thomas Rhoads & Sons, stationers and manufacturers of pens, pencils, and stationery in London. They produced and sold a great many things, like most good London stationers at the time, ranging from sealing wax to chess sets, from ink wells to blank books.
They are listed in London directories as located at 1 Vine St. and active from 1833-1880.
As I looked over the ads that spanned from 1841 through the 1850’s, I find an interesting thing happening that seems to reflect a larger change in consumer tastes.
The earliest ads did nothing but mention them along with other top British names.
But when we look at the ads that came out in the 1850’s, we begin to see a significant change in marketing. These newer ads struck me as more like American pen ads. They were often very verbose about the benefits of the pen (see the first ad above), and highlighted the “newness” and inventiveness of the pens. Most ads for British pens, especially by the 1840’s, merely mention the pen, maybe introduce a new style, and a few anodyne phrases. British pens in the 1830’s and into the 1840’s were viewed as the premium quality pens, against which all others had to be measured.
This is about as wordy as ads for British pens are in the 1840’s. This is a New York City stationer’s ad announcing the new Croton Pen from Gillott.
But by the 1850’s, American pen makers were becoming more aggressive about both the quality of their pens, but also about being American pens, appealing to a newly insurgent nationalism that became prominent in the 1850’s.
In their 1850’s ads, Rhoads didn’t trumpet their British origins, but instead felt the need to sell to the American public using similar language and styles as other American pens; focusing on innovation, new materials, and styles.
As we move into the 1850’s and see the makers who started in this new decade sell their pens, we’ll see more, and more explicit appeals to the public to buy American pens because they are American. This 1856 ad give you a preview of what we will encounter in the 1850’s.