I have a mystery. [ed. since the original posting, I’ve added a fourth type to my collection, the Constitution Pacific Railroad Pen, and have edited this accordingly.]
I have four steel pens which are remarkably similar, and around all of them hangs a mystery.
One of them is marked 149 Pacific Railroad Pen, one is marked 145 Pacific Railroad Pen but the number is imprinted upside down to most manufacturers, one is marked 0149 Monarch Railroad, which is also imprinted upside down, and one is marked 149 Constitution Pacific Railroad Pen. My research has yet to turn up a real railroad with either name: Pacific Railroad or Monarch Railroad, so it seems that these were actually brands more than imprints for a railroad.
We know that there were pens using the word “Railroad” in their branding which had nothing to do with actual railroads. Probably the most common example is the “Standard Railroad” line of pens which were made by Esterbrook but sold by Sears, Roebuck and Company. These came in different shapes, and were just another branded line of Esterbrook pens.
All four of the “Railroad” nibs under discussion are extremely similar. They are a wider-bodied, straight pen, medium flexibility and with similar, standard grinds.
Who made these pens? Are they the same manufacturer? Different manufacturers?
We would normally start with the imprint. We have a problem from the beginning because both Esterbrook as well as Turner & Harrison made a 149 Pacific Railroad Pen. Neither manufacturer, that I’ve been able to find, made a 145 Pacific Railroad Pen, nor a Monarch Railroad pen.
Esterbrook marketing materials include the No. 149 Pacific Railroad in the 1883 catalog,
As well as the extensively illustrated Esterbrook Pens and What They Do from around 1890.
After the turn of the century, we don’t find the pen in any catalogs. They were probably one of the lines cut during WWI, if not before.
Turner & Harrison also offered a Pacific Railroad pen. Unfortunately, the only proof we have of their selling this pen is from the 1917 catalog.
We don’t have conclusive proof that they were sold at the same time as the Esterbrook, but it’s not out of the question. Turner & Harrison was selling their Pacific Railroad Pen under their Constitution line of pens (hence the imprint of the fourth pen above). This line was sold during the 1880’s and lasted until it was discontinued during WWI. The Pacific Railroad Pen does not appear in the c. 1923 T&H catalog.
Could both manufacturers have possibly sold pens with the same number and name at the same time? Normally that wouldn’t be possible. After Gillott sued Esterbrook in 1872, pen makers, especially Esterbrook, were careful not to copy distinctive names and numbers of another pen maker if there was any chance that the two pens could be mistaken for each other. How to explain this, then?
One possibility to explain why Esterbrook didn’t object to Turner & Harrison making a pen with the same name and number, and vice versa, is that both Esterbrook and Turner & Harrison were perhaps copying a pen from someone else who had already gone out of business and so would not be in a position to sue. The pen may have been popular enough to warrant making a new version of it to satisfy those who missed the original.
This practice is not unknown. We know of at least one example of Esterbrook producing a copy of a popular pen from a company that had gone out of business, namely the 505 Harrison and Bradford’s Bookkeeper’s Pen. They made this for a very short time after Harrison and Bradford went out of business in 1881.
So, it is possible that both Esterbrook and Turner & Harrison decided to make a copy of a popular pen after the original company had disappeared and sold them at the same time. Could any of the pens we are looking at be one of the copies, or one of the originals?
It is easy to answer this question for the 149 Constitution Pacific Railroad Pen. As mentioned above, we know this pen was made by Turner & Harrison. We know this because in the 1917 catalog we see the Pacific Railroad Pen listed under the Constitution line.
It is harder to determine if any of the others were originals, made by Esterbrook, or by someone else.
The images from the Esterbrook catalogs above show that the pen may have had “Esterbrook” included in the imprint on the pens, which none of my examples do. The problem with this is that engravings of the imprint on pens, are notoriously unreliable for determining what the pens actually looked like. Just look at the T&H Constitution pen vs. the image in the catalog above.
It gets even more complicated. I have a box in my collection of Pacific Railroad Pens. The pens are identical to the one in the photo above. They do not include “Esterbrook,” “Turner & Harrison,” nor “Constitution” in the imprint. The box itself does not look that old. While dating boxes is never precise, especially from an unknown manufacturer, it seems to be much closer to boxes from the 1920’s and later than to boxes from the early 1880’s.
This makes it very difficult to understand who then, made these pens and this box. Esterbrook often (but not always) put their name somewhere on the box. (see the Standard Railroad box at the top of the article) This box has nothing on it but this top label, and the ends have “149” printed on them.
Was someone else making Pacific Railroad Pens beside Esterbrook or Turner & Harrison? Did Esterbrook even continue making Pacific Railroad Pens into the 20th-century? (the last mention of them in Esterbrook marketing materials is 1890’s.) Could Turner & Harrison have gone back to making them after WWI even though the Constitution line was discontinued?
I have looked for evidence of Pacific Railroad pens as a separate brand. Unfortunately, what evidence I’ve found is not conclusive.
Who made the original Pacific Railroad Pen? Was it Esterbrook? Did T&H pick up the design after Esterbrook stopped making them around the turn of the century, or did both T&H and Esterbrook copy the original of someone else who went out of business?
And who made the pens in the modern-looking box? By the 30’s the number of manufacturers had dwindled to just a handful of the largest makers. Could one of them have made these for a special imprint order?
And what about the 0149 Monarch and the 145 Pacific Railroad Pen? Could these have been additional styles from the original manufacturer, or newer custom imprints?
There are still so many mysteries to be solved.
So, if anyone has one of these pens, has a reference to a non-Esterbrook or non-T&H Pacific Railroad (149, 145, or anything else), or anything related, I would love to see it and perhaps, one day, we can solve this mystery.