Turner & Harrison was a steel pen (aka dip pen) company, located in Philadelphia, from its founding in 1875 until the company’s dissolution in 1952. It was one of the largest steel pen companies in the United States, and was known for the quality of their steel pens. The company produced several lines of pens including the Russia Moheta and Constitution lines, as well as their self-branded Turner & Harrison Standard pens. In 1900 they purchased the Leon Isaacs Pen Company and added the Leon Isaacs Glucinum Pens as their new flagship line. From that point until at least the 1940’s, the Leon Isaacs Glucinum Pens were highlighted on every advertisement.
Predecessors and Founders
Turner & Harrison was founded by John Turner and George Harrison in Philadelphia in 1875. Turner and Harrison had a lot in common before they joined to form this new company. Both had run steel pen companies, both were trained as tool makers for the steel pen industry, and both were trained in the birthplace of that industry, Birmingham, England.
John Turner was born in England, most likely somewhere around Birmingham, around the year 1823. Not much is known of his early life except that he apprenticed in a one of the large pen factories in Birmingham. A 1901 short article says that he apprenticed at the age of 13 under Gillott. Most apprenticeships in those days in the pen industry lasted 5-7 years. After his apprenticeship he traveled to France to learn how pens were made on the continent. He eventually returned to Birmingham, got married to his wife Eliza, and then in 1860 he sailed to the United States.
In one of the only biographical sketches found of John Turner, from Geyer’s Stationery in 1901, a trade publication for the Stationery and Fancy Goods trade, we learn that he came to the US “as one of a small party of skilled pen makers to start the first pen factory in this country.” Excusing the hyperbole of “the first pen factory in this country” (steel pens had been made here since at least 1803), the reference is almost certainly to the Esterbrook Steel Pen Manufacturing Company.
Esterbrook was founded around 1858 in Philadelphia by Richard Esterbrook. In 1860 he moved his factory to Camden, NJ and brought in a number of British craftsmen from the Birmingham pen factories to get his company off to a solid start. The earliest evidence for John Turner in the US is found in the ship’s registry from the Persia, out of Liverpool, arriving in New York 15 August, 1860. We next find him in an 1863 directory of Camden, NJ. living on 131 Birch Street and described as “steel pen manufacturer.” Now, at that time, there was only one steel maker in Camden, and that was Esterbrook (page 46 in the same directory). It is highly unlikely that John Turner was working for another steel pen maker in Camden at this time. The evidence, therefor is very strong that Turner was one of those skilled British tool makers brought by Esterbrook.
In 1865, Samuel Warrington, a manufacturer of small metallic fittings in Philadelphia, started the Continental Steel Pen Works under the name of Warrington & Co. at 12th & Buttonwood streets in that same city. By 1867 John Turner also shows up in Philadelphia working at 12th & Buttonwood, having joined Warrington Steel Pen Co., most likely overseeing the pen making operations.
The factory, on the northwest corner of 12th and Buttonwood, had difficulties from early on. In 1869 there was a major fire in a factory and warehouse across the street on the southwest corner, which was shared by several businesses. According to a long article in Philadelphia’s Evening Telegraph of September 17, there was much destruction to that building including a cooper who lost several thousand finished barrels, and the owner of the building, a Colonel Thomas, had stored 1000 barrels of flour which were consumed, along with a store of muskets for his local regiment. The fire spread northwards across the street to the factory where Warrington occupied the second and third floors. They suffered $3,500 of damage, mainly from water flooding their steel stock and machinery.
But it was the second fire, in 1873, which finally spelled the end of Warrington & Co. This one started in their building and on their third floor. According to an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer of December 8th, “a large quantity of penholders, stored in barrels, quickly took fire, and the flames burned fiercely…” This time, the loss was $20,000 of which only $11,000 was insured.
This seemed to have been the final blow. In 1875, John Turner joined with George Harrison to buy out the remaining equipment and stock from Samuel Warrington and his partners, to then found Turner & Harrison ‘s, still located at 12th and Buttonwood.
George Harrison was also born in Birmingham, and also around 1824.
In late 1886 they moved from 500 N. 12th (12th and Buttonwood), to 1211 Spring Garden St. (1887 directory they’re at Spring Garden St., but in April of 1886 there was a notice in the The Times (Philadelphia) where a guy tried to pass a bad check at Turner & Harrison at their offices at 12th and Buttonwood.
- “John Turner”. Geyer’s Stationer: Devoted to the Interests of the Stationery, Fancy Goods and Notion Trades. 31: 12. April 4, 1901 – via Google Books.
- “Pen History: The Early Years – 1820’s, Foundations Laid”. The Steel Pen. 2017-11-09. Retrieved 2018-03-20.
- Based on personal email conversation with researchers at The Pen Museum in Birmingham, England.
- National Archives Publications, Microcopy 237, Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York 1820-1897, Roll 203, page 484. accessed via Ancestry.com
- “Peregrine Williamson: Inventor, Businessman, and Pioneer Pen Maker”. The Steel Pen. 2017-11-02. Retrieved 2018-03-20.
- “Esterbrook”. Wikipedia. 2018-02-24.
- Cassedy’s Camden City Directory for the Years 1863-1864, first annual edition, Francis A. Cassedy, Publisher, Camden, N.J., 1864, p. 129. Accessed via Ancestry.com from the Camden Co. Historical Society collection
- A. McElroy & Co; Orrin Rogers (Firm); E.C. & J. Biddle (Firm) (1837). McElroy’s Philadelphia city directory: 1865. Library Philadelphia Museum of Art. Philadelphia : A. McElroy & Co.
- A. McElroy & Co; Orrin Rogers (Firm); E.C. & J. Biddle (Firm) (1837). McElroy’s Philadelphia city directory: 1867. Library Philadelphia Museum of Art. Philadelphia : A. McElroy & Co.
- “1869 – Warrington & Co. Steel pens, fire destroyed the building they were in, in Philly – Newspapers.com”. Newspapers.com. Retrieved 2018-03-20.
- “1873 – Warrington & Co. another fire, loss of $20,000 of which $11,000 insured – Newspapers.com”. Newspapers.com. Retrieved 2018-03-20