This is a list of the Esterbrook pens which we believe may have existed, but for which we do not have a photo.
If you have one of these pens, we would love it if you could help us out.
You can loan us the pen and we will take a photo and return it to you with great care. We will give you credit on the site.
You can donate to The Esterbrook Project archives. We will photograph the pen and give you credit on the site.
You can take a photo and send it to us. If you can make it as close to the photos on the website as possible, we would greatly appreciate it, but any picture is better than none, so don’t worry if it’s not top quality as long as it’s recognizable.
If you have one, please contact me and we’ll work out whatever is comfortable for you.
Esterbrook_#2_Medium Falcon Pen
Esterbrook_#3_Centennial Fountain Pen
Esterbrook_#6_Star Commercial Pen
Esterbrook_#24_United States Pen
Esterbrook_#51_Cooper School Pen
Esterbrook_#56_School, Fine Oval
Esterbrook_#64_Coopers Commercial Pen
Esterbrook_#85_Patent Amalgam Small
Esterbrook_#86_Patent Amalgam Large
Esterbrook_#89_Fountain Spring Pen
Esterbrook_#94_New York Commercial Pen
Esterbrook_#95_Extra Commercial Pen
Esterbrook_#97_Fine Business Pen
Esterbrook_#99_Ladies Index Pen
Esterbrook_#131_Blue Commercial Pen
Esterbrook_#134_Double Elastic Pen
Esterbrook_#158_Anti-corrosive Amalgam Pen
Esterbrook_#180_Silverene No 2
Esterbrook_#216_Extra Fine Falcon
Esterbrook_#220_Florida Bright Point
Esterbrook_#223_Oblique Pen #1 Large
Esterbrook_#222_Oblique Pen #2 Small
Esterbrook_#239_Engrossing Short Nib
Esterbrook_#240_Curved Point Pen
Esterbrook_#245_Circular Pointed Commercial
Esterbrook_#248_Broad Engrossing Pen
Esterbrook_#291_School, medium, Old No. 292
Esterbrook_#305_Colorado Pen #1
Esterbrook_#306_Silverene Pen #1
Esterbrook_#308_Colorado Pen #3
Esterbrook_#336_Text Writer #3
Esterbrook_#505_Harrison & Bradfords Bookkeepers Pen
Esterbrook_#751_School Medium Firm
Esterbrook_#781_School Medium Firm
Esterbrook_#789_Two Toned Oval Point
Esterbrook_#807_College Diamond Pen
Esterbrook_#901_Radio Pen 1913 Ad
Esterbrook_#907_Radio Pen 1913 Ad
Esterbrook_#908_Radio Pen 1913 Ad
Esterbrook_#909_Radio Pen 1913 Ad
Esterbrook_#918_Radio Pen 1913 Ad
Esterbrook_#953_Radio Pen 1913 Ad (twice)
Esterbrook_#984_Radio Pen 1913 Ad
Esterbrook_#1881_Garfield Initial Pen
Esterbrook__Lincoln Pen (Graphic)
Esterbrook__Writing Masters Pen
Esterbrook__Fountain Falcon Pen
Esterbrook_No. 3_Centennial Silver Fountain Pen Double Elastic
Esterbrook_No. 1_Gisburne’s Ruling Pens- Fine Line
Esterbrook_No. 2_Gisburne’s Ruling Pens – Medium Line
Esterbrook_No. 3_Gisburne’s Ruling Pens – Wide Line
Ok, so you’ve read some of my ramblings and are interested in steel pens. You start to pick up a few from eBay, flea markets, estate sales, etc… Now what? If you’re anything like me, you will soon start to have bags and boxes of pens which need ordering so you can both know what you have as well as find those you want. You also want to store them in such a way as to keep them from rusting (or rusting further).
Congratulations, you now have a collection! Whether your collection is a few dozen or thousands, it will help you in the long run to have some kind of consistent way to record the pens, store the pens, and both should help you find the pens.
I’m going to write a short set of articles on these three main issues beginning with your records.
You look at a pile of pens, especially vintage pens, and there are any number of ways of dividing them into individual types. There is also a lot of different information you can gather on each type. What you’re figuring out is what makes for an individual “record” and what information you want to collect for each record.
Let’s say you have a large pile of fruit. You can sort them by round fruit vs. long fruit, big vs. small (with a range for each), by color, etc… You could also divide by name and then record a lot of this information in each record so you can go back and make further divisions. So, you could record each fruit by it’s common name. You have a record for Granny Smith Apples, another for Red Delicious Apples, another for Valencia Oranges, and one for Unknown Pineapple. In each record you can record the shape, the color, the weight, whatever makes sense. Then later, with the right tools, you can go back and extract all of the records of red, round fruit, or all fruit over 20 grams and yellow.
What you put into each record depends on the type of information you are interested in. You can always start with a set of fields (discreet pieces of information like “size,” “shape,” etc…), and at some point if you wish to add more fields, you’ll have to go back to each physical object and record the new data point.
My records started out fairly basic but have grown over time. The first thing to think about is what will cause one pen to have one record, and another pen a separate one. Name and number are the most obvious means to differentiate one pen from another. An Esterbrook 314 is obviously going to have a different record than an Esterbrook 556 or an Eagle E410. But there can be several other ways of differentiating pens.
Early on, reading the great sites like Brandon McKinney’s, I was able to find out that the imprints on pens can indicate a difference for when the pens were made, so I decided early on, that a difference in imprint (the words imprinted on a pen) would be a differentiator that would indicate a different type. I also decided that finish (gray, silver, gilt, black, etc…) would also be a differentiator. Basically, I was looking for ways to further split pens into smaller groups (“types”) than just name and number.
You can also run into cases where the same kind of pen retains the same number, but the name changes. Esterbrook was particularly guilty of this re-naming as markets changed. The Esterbrook 556 is a rather extreme example. The imprints on the 556 include:
“556 Advanced School”
“556 School Medium Firm”
“556 Vertical Writer”
For my collection, these are all different types. And if I found a “556 Pen” in gold plated, in addition to the normal “gray” then that would be a different type altogether.
In the database world, what you want whenever possible is to “noramlize” the data, which means to make sure the same meaning always uses the same words. To take an example, let’s say I’m gather information about the color of the pens. For those who are have a (VERY) thin layer of gold on them, I could use the terms “gold,” “gilt,” and “golden” without any rhyme or reason. Some days I might use “gilt” and others something else. If you did this, what you would have are records which cannot all be found by searching on a single word. You would have to know all of the possible search words to find all of the records which match.
This is where “standardization of terms” becomes something very useful and not just for data nerds.
There are several fields (pieces of information I record for each record) I have attempted to standardize: Finish, Shape, and Tip. The problem I ran into is that there aren’t industry standard terms used consistently by all manufacturers to describe these characteristics of pens. Instead you get a lot of terms that all mean roughly the same thing. So, I decided to make my own list of standardized terms which, so far, have been “good enough.” to save you all of the trouble I went to, I’ll share with you what terms I’ve settled on. We’ll start with the easy ones first: finish and tip.
Found this picture on the internet of the range of colors pens can have. It’s not complete, but pretty close and gives a good idea of the range you can find. If anyone has an idea of the source, please let me know so I can give credit.
The final step in a pen’s actual manufacture, before sorting and boxing, was to pop it back into ovens to get a certain color on the pen. This accounts for most of the colors pens come in, especially the two most common, gray and bronze. You can achieve a fairly high range of colors just from re-heating.
This re-heating is not hot enough to adversely affect the desired temper, but it does change the color. This step was also one of the most delicate and difficult steps which required someone very experienced who could get the pens to the right color without damaging them or their temper.
The other way to change the color of a pen is by a coating. Because steel rusts when in contact with water, manufacturers put all kinds of coatings on pens to supposedly slow down the inevitable rusting. These coatings could also be a status symbol, especially ones with a gold coating. Solid gold pens were orders of magnitude more expensive than a steel pen. (you might pay $12 for a normal gold pen when steel pens were $0.75 per gross) Some people wanted to be seen writing with a gold pen without paying for an actual gold pen, or liked the performance of a steel pen better but wanted the rust resistance of a gold coating.
Other common coating included silver alloys, nickel alloys and a black, tar-like substance. Copper coating is also mentioned but is extremely rare. Nickel-coated pens were also sometimes said to have a “white” finish. Nickel can sometimes be difficult to tell apart from very shiny steel. It’s usually not so shiny as a silver alloy, but shinier than bare steel.
And the last way to “color” a pen is the material. My collection is one of steel pens, but, along with steel, there were some pens made and sold like steel pens but were made of an alloy of brass. These pens are gold-colored, but aren’t gold plated (though there are examples of brass pens with gold plating). They are made of a copper-zinc alloy and have their antecedents in the “Pinchbeck” pens of the 18th-19th-centuries.
So, here are my standardized finishes with a little explanation of each
Black: an easy-to-spot finish. Also called “Tar” finish
Blue: also pretty self-explanatory. You rarely see this finish in the US except Esterbrook’s tiny artists pens. It’s more common in Europe.
Bronze: one of the most common colors along with gray. Bronze can come in various shades from dark to light. This can be on purpose, but since I’ve found sealed boxes of bronze finishes that vary in lightness, I assume it can also be just how long the pen was left in the oven.
Copper: Copper coating is extremely rare, and died out fairly quickly in the US. I have one copper-coated pen, an Esterbrook 048, but others were advertised as available in a copper finish. I assume this was also to prevent rust, though copper does corrode.
Fawn: Another color advertised. I would assume, from seeing pictures of salesman sample books with pens identified as this finish, that it’s another word for a very light-colored bronze. This one is very difficult to differentiate in the wild without a positive identification. I’m sure some I’ve marked as “Bronze” were considered “Fawn” when sold, but it’s very hard to tell.
Gold: This is the term I use for gold-plated or gilt. I record my actual gold pens in another data store, and they have different fields.
Golden: This is the term often used to indicate the brass pens. I use this term for brass pens without an additional finish (like “Gold”).
Gray: The most common finish for American pens, especially those made in the 20th-century. It’s the plain color of steel.
Half-Gold: Esterbrook made one pen they call “half-gold” and I have adopted the term to also apply to pens like the Spencerian 42 Gilt-point where the body of the nib is gilt, but the heel is still plain steel.
Nickel/White: There are three terms which can easily get mistaken for each other in the wild: Nickel, White, and Silver. A nickel coating is more silvery than a gray pen, but not as shiny as a silver-coated pen. I tend not to use this unless I’m pretty sure it’s actually nickel coated, like it’s silvery, but the pen never came in silver-coating but was advertised in nickel or white.
Purple: Some purple can be difficult to differentiate from very dark Bronze in the wild. But this was an advertised finish so I’ve added it to my list in case I ever am lucky enough to find one labeled as such.
Silver: Silver coatings were quite popular, with the Esterbrook Radio finish being the most common, along with the Hunt X-series.
To the shapes I’ve discussed there, I’ve added three more
Small Inflexible: While I try and stay away from capturing sizes of a particular shape (down that road lies calipers and madness), the Inflexible seems to have really only two sizes, big and little. The “big” is really just a normal-sized pen. The Small Inflexible is really smaller, as in a Lady Falcon vs. a normal Falcon.
Pinched Leaf: While a Pinched Spoon is a spoon shape with a break between the heel and the body of the spoon, a Pinched Leaf is similar but for a leaf-shaped pen.
Offset: This is an odd one. It is very, very slightly oblique, but not enough to be a truly oblique pen, and the body shape, while reminiscent of an elbow oblique, is unique. The patent on the pen says: Pat 7-1-90 & 3-22-93.
The tip of a pen can greatly impact how a pen writes, and the kind of line(s) it produces. The tips of pens actually fall into fairly clear categories. Beware, though, you have to observe the actual nib and cannot rely on advertising because different manufacturers called the same kind of tipe many different things. This is particularly true of the first kind.
Ball: When you look at this tip under magnification, it looks like someone took a very small round-tipped punch and deformed the tip of the pen into a small hollow as seen from above, or into a small round or oval convexity if seen from below. This is a very common type of tip and was called many, many things, Oval Point, Ball Point, Round Point, etc… They all look basically the same. Some may be a little more oval than others, but they’re all basically the same. Some Ball tips can be pretty shallow and the only way to tell if it is a Ball or a Turned-Up tip is to look under magnification. The way to tell a Turned-up tip from a Ball tip is that the turned up tip does not extend below the bottom surface of the tines. A Ball tip has the steel of the tip deformed so that it extends below the bottom surface.
DoublePoint: These nibs have more than one point. They can also be called names like Double Ruling Pen.
Folded: Uncommon on dip pens, but much more common on cheap fountain pen nibs, the folded tip is where the very tip was drawn out longer than normal, then folded under to create an approximation of a Tipped nib. I’ve only seen these on very late dip pens which are trying to imitate the cheap fountain pen nibs of the day.
Music: The other type of multiple point pen. These rare pens were used to draw musical staff lines and are one of the oldest forms of metallic pen.
Oblique Stub: In this one case I am using the term “Oblique” like it is used in fountain pens. This means it’s a stub tip with one side longer than the other which then forms a slanted stub.
Oblique Pointed: These are fairly unusual pens where the body of the pen is straight, but at the very end the tip turns up and forms an oblique angle. These tips are found on pens with the “Oblique Tip” shape.
Oval: the Round, Square and Oval are specific lettering pen shapes where the tip is an actual square, round or oval shape and so creates a line with that kind of end.
Pointed: Your common steel pen. Points can be extra fine, fine, medium, broad (or coarse), etc…, but they’re all meant to come to a point. With some very broad tips, like some “J” pens, it’s almost a toss-up as to whether it’s a “pointed” pen or a stub.
Round: See the “Oval” shape above.
Ruling: This, like the Oblique Pointed, is a point type only found on a specific pen shape. In this case it is a folded “ruling pen” like the Esterbrook Osborn Ruling Pens
Shading: I use this term rather than the more common (today) “Italic” because “shading” implies this use for more than one type of writing. But this is, basically, a sharp-cornered, broad nib used for decorative writing.
Square: See “Oval” shape above.
Stepped: A very unusual tip shape. basically, there’s a break in the line of the tines as they move to the point. Just before the point, there is a step inwards which then creates an even narrower last few millimeters of tine coming to a point.
Stub: A common tip that is broad across but is not sharp at the corners. These are almost all self-identified as stubs. Some stubs have slightly sharper corners which might make them “Shading” tips, but I defer to the manufacturer on this one. If it’s called a “stub” then I use that term. Stub pens were not meant, necessarily, for decorative writing, but were originally designed for rapid writing. You can find, though, some stubs, like the very broad Esterbrook Blackstone, also advertised as good for “engrossing.” (decorative writing like italic or blackletter)
Turned-up: Similar to the Ball, but simpler and appeared earlier. The turned up tip is exactly that, the very tip has been bent to turn up at an angle. This turned up angle is meant to accomplish the same thing as the Ball tip, to make it easier to write faster without catching your sharp tip on the paper. Sometimes you have to look carefully, under magnification, to determine if it’s a turned-up tip vs. a ball tip.
Tipped: Very rare in dip pens, but ubiquitous in fountain pens, the tipped nib has an actual tip applied to the end.
As I talked about in my short post on grinding, grinds can take different forms. I have created the following categories and so far they are sufficient for what I have cataloged so far.
S1: The “S” are single grinds. I put them into three classes. This is a first-class grind. This is a single grind that is either more extensive, or more artistically done than the standard single grind. Artistic can include shaping the grind to fit in between the side slits, or, as in the case of the Gillott Mapping Pens, bringing a two-tone grind (grinding after coloring the nib) up to perfectly bisect the star-shaped center pierce.
S2: The S2 is a second-class single grind, which is sufficient and pretty standard for that kind of pen. Stubs tend to have less of a grind, if they have any grind at all, so the standard for a stub pen is different than a pointed pen. This is a run-of-the-mill, standard grind.
S3: Alas, we also see the third-class single grind. These are usually brief, poorly done, sketchy at best.
E: This is a grind where the embossed design is ground down usually to reveal the bare metal underneath, thus giving a pleasing contrast to the darker color of the nib. You find this most often with the “Letter” nibs where a large letter is embossed in the body of the pen just above the center pierce.
T: The always amazing Triple Grind. (also discussed in my Grind Post)
G: The dreaded stamped “grind” where, instead of grind marks, you find stamped Grooves or even, in the case of the old Soviet nibs, a Grid.
N: no grind or stamped grooves at all.
Because of a rather specialized interest of mine, I’ve also added “In” to my inventory to indicate where a grind is found on inverted pens. An inverted pen is one where the imprint is inverted, is on the inside of the concave portion of the pen. This happens when a pen is accidentally flipped before “raising” and so the imprint is on the wrong side.
By finding a grind on the inverted side, tells us that unlike how pens were originally made, by later times (and I only find these 1930’s or later, pens) grinding must have been done before raising. This makes sense if you are going to automate this or have a machine do the grinding, because it would have been much easier to have a machine take a swipe across a flat pen blank before raising than to try and do it to a rounded pen.
This seems to be both the piece of information about a pen which most people want to know, and also the hardest to capture. If you search through online pen fora you will find near-religious-war levels of disagreement about how to measure, and discuss the flexibility of a particular pen. (fountain, dip, whatever).
I will not wade into these waters except to tell you the terms I’ve decided on for my own collection. I can’t tell you how to measure or differentiate one from another. For me, it’s a highly subjective and comparative exercise. I’m not so interested as to try and make it scientific.
Flexible: this is the furthest I will go. No “wet noodle” or other of the terms thrown about. This encompasses a fairly wide range of “action“, as do the next two.
Semi-flex: More flexible than the next one, and less than the former. Like I said, this isn’t rocket science, at least how I do it, and so take each term for whatever you think it means.
Firm-flex: some flex, but not as much as Semi.
Firm: Amazing to fountain pen users who are used to “nails”, a “firm” dip pen still can yield subtle line modulation. (thick and thin parts) Many so-called “Inflexible” pens are actually just “firm”
Manifold: This is a completely stiff pen. In fountain pens this is called a “nail.” Since the Manifold pens were purposely made to be super-stiff in order to write through the early forms of carbon paper (the most famous early brand was Manifold, and the name stuck).
There are some other fields I capture which don’t lend themselves to the above level of standardization. These differ widely and may only be consistent within a pen brand.
This started out as a general field to differentiate different “makers” or “brands.” This is easy as long as the pen carries the big names, like Eagle, Esterbrook, Miller Bros, Spencerian. This gets to be more difficult when you start dealing with pens with obvious imprints from another maker.
In the end, I currently have “categories” which include entries like Eagle, Esterbrook, Miller Bros, and Spencerian, but I’ve also created categories for things like “Transportation,” Businesses” and “Schools” where I put the pens made with custom imprints for these kinds of entities. It gets tricky when you have some big brand like Spencerian which was a house brand for the big New York stationer/printer Ivison Phinney, but were all made by Perry. I’ve kept them under Spencerian as that makes the most common sense. I am starting to pull brands out from their own category if I become aware that they were just a stationer or other store which had pens made with a custom imprint, but were not trying to make a “pen brand” by itself.
Not all pens have numbers, and not all numbers are numbers. Some numbers are letters, and some have letters in them. For example, just about all Eagle pens are numbered something starting with an “E,” like the E470 or E310.
The imprint is what is actually printed on the pen from which I derive what category into which it will be placed. Imprints can be important for dating as well. Esterbrook tended to change its Esterbrook imprint over time (though I suspect there are some exceptions to the general rules). For example, if you find a pen with just “Esterbrook & Co.” it will most like be earlier than the imprint “R. Esterbrook & Co’s” or “R. Esterbrook and CO.” (unless it also has Made in U.S.A. on it, which means it’s later, see below).
Some pens mark down a location of where it is manufactured, or at least the location of the brand. The easy ones are the “Made in…” but you also find one word locations like “Birmingham.” If I know a location, but it isn’t marked and is significant, then I’ll include it in this field but in parenthesis. An example of this are some recent pens I purchased which were made in Argentina.
The location can sometimes give a general indication of relative date. If I have two Esterbrooks, for example, both with the same imprint (“R. Esterbrook & Co.”) and one says Made in U.S.A. and the other does not, I know the second one is older. Same with “England” vs. “Made in England.” The phrase “Made in…” generally shows up from around 1930 onward. Some, like Eagle, put their location on the pens from the beginning. (New York, U.S.A.) Others, like Gillott, don’t have any location on very early pens, then move from Birmingham, to England to Made in England. You might even find addresses on some pens.
Many, but not all, pens had names attached to the particular number or style, e.g. School, Manhattan Stub, Bank, etc… As I mentioned above, names can also change as marketing needs changed, despite being the same number . There were some very popular schools of penmanship which flourished for a while at the end of the 19th-century, but quickly disappeared in the 20th, such as Vertical Writing and Natural Slant. Pens were marketed by practically all manufacturers for these styles of penmanship, but once the popularity of that style of writing faded from popularity the pens were often re-named and sold under a new name. (The Esterbrook 556 “Vertical Writer” becomes the “556 Pen” and ends up as the 556 “School Medium Firm” meaning good for schools, medium point, and firm)
Names were often associated with the primary audience or profession to whom the pen was primarily marketed, or with whom the manufacturer wanted it associated. Stub pens tend to have names associated with the law, or academe as these folks were assumed to need to write frequently and quickly. (the primary purpose of stub pens)
Some pens are marked as being part of a series based on the type of tip, like “Bowl Pointed” or “Dome Pointed” pens. Other series have to do with the material or coating “Silver Alloy” or “Gladiator Series Nickaloid” pens. There are a few cases where the same manufacturer uses different series names for the same types of pens, like Hunt’s “Round Pointed” vs. “Bowl Pointed.” vs. “Shot pointed.” Under magnification they all seem pretty much the same thing, but it’s useful to differentiate in your inventory.
Storing and Finding
The next post will look at the physical storage of your pens in order to both protect them as well as to then find them as needed. This will touch upon how I use all of this information to order my records to help with those tasks.
One of the most recognizable images associated with the Esterbrook company is the signature of “R. Esterbrook & Co.”
It’s found on every box of steel pens, just about every fountain pen the company made, and many of the other ephemera produced by the company. (The image at the top is from an advertising card of pens from the 1940’s).
Steel pen manufacturers have used a signature on the back of the box as “proof” that the box was authentic and not a fake from very early. Here’s an ad from 1830 for Perry’s pens, paper and ink packets. The paper as well as the pens contain the signature of Perry as proof of authenticity.
Gillott, in this 1840 ad make it totally clear that the signature is to prevent people from being fooled into buying a Gillot, or Gilott, or similar rip-off pen.
Esterbrook was no different than the other big names. They also included the signature of Richard Esterbrook on the back of the box as proof it was genuine.
If you start to look at the various designs of back-panels from the earliest to the latest, it starts to become clear that they did not use just some standard “signature” image until fairly late. I appears that Esterbrook actually used a different signature each time they changed the design. Someone had to actually sign, with a pen, on each design at least up to 1920 or so.
Here are some examples in roughly chronological order. The earliest boxes do not have “Successors” in the lower right as this was added after Richard Esterbrook Sr. died in 1895.
Which is the back of this glorious box.
This one below is a small, tin box. It’s the only other one with a flourish under the name like the Jackson Stub box above. But it’s a different flourish.
The following one is from the back of one of the old maroon-colored Radio Pen boxes. The next few are what I consider the “modern” era and are fully stylized by then.
This last signature is the one best known during the fountain pen era of Esterbrook. It is closely-related, but not exactly the same as on the last steel pen boxes.
It’s interesting to look at the first, big E, the “r’s” and the “k” especially. I’m not sure there’s any way to date based on signature, but it is clear that each change of label resulted in slight changes to the signature.
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.
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
Steel pens come in many different shapes. There is no single source for “official” names for the various shapes. Some names are explicitly given by manufacturers and seem to be standard, like the Falcon and the Shoulder pen, but most are not explicit and almost none are consistent.
American pens also tended to come in fewer shapes than you find in Europe. Even that limited range of shapes was narrowed down by the turn of the century. After WWI, when manufacturers were required to reduce their product lines to only a few pens, even fewer different shapes were brought back after the war. By the 1920’s the number of pen shapes generally made in the United States was greatly reduced.
As part of my capturing an inventory of my collection of pens, I have gathered together a list of shapes and descriptions that are useful to me. The names come from either standard names used in the industry, my attempt at a descriptive name, or it is named after a standard pen that seem to exemplify this shape, such as the Inflexible or the Colorado.
These tend to be rather broad categories. Many of these shapes have various sub-types under them. The most common shape, the Straight pen, can be found in variations such as the wide and shallow, the long and thin, the short and delicate, and others. Pinched Spoon pens, as well, tend to have quite a range of shapes to the pinched transition section between heel and body. Some are smooth, others faceted or decorated in one way or another, but all share the same, basic shape.
Other shapes are differentiated by degrees of one characteristic or another. The three stubs, short, medium and long, merely designate the three general sizes of straight-boded stub pens. These three designations work because manufacturers tended to make all of their straight-bodied stubs in one of these three sizes. Beaked pens and Bank pens are pretty closely related and only differ in the ratio of tines to body.
This is neither an exhaustive nor authoritative list, but one that I’ve put together to try and give names to the shapes of my pens. I’m sure as I progress in my detailed cataloging I will add to, or tweak this list. As flawed as it is, right now this is the best (and only) list I’ve found out there that tries to describe and standardize the main shapes of steel pens.
I’m sure that some disagree with some of my names and even my categorization. I’m also sure I’ll find examples that either don’t fit or are in between one or another shapes. That’s OK. This is a work in progress and I will be adding to, and modifying this list as I go along. It’s also far too limited for the wildly divergent shapes you find in England, France, Italy and German manufacturers. Should my collection begin to really to expand into those areas, I will have to expand my list of shapes.
If you find a shape that is specifically mentioned in a source and I call it something else, let me know and share the source. I may incorporate it or even revise my name. If you’d like to add to this list, especially for those pens not normally made in the US, feel free to let me know.
I introduced the anatomy of a steel pen in more detail in another post, but I think it’s worthwhile including the annotated picture from that post here as well.
The descriptions of the shapes rely heavily on several main parts to the pen. There is the Heel, the Body and the Shoulders. This diagram does not include a transition section that some shapes have between the heel and the body. These transitions generally narrow between the heel and the body, but some, like the Crown shape actually increase in width.
When I talk about “up” or “down” assume the pen is placed vertically with the heel pointing down and the tip pointing up. The “line” or “axis” of the pen is the imaginary line drawn from the bottom of the heel to tip of the tines.
Normal heel, large, embossed design, generally floral, leading to a long, tapering body.
A long, straight pen with longer tines than normal, but not as long as a Beaked pen. Though the Bank pen is sometimes classified as a Beaked pen, I think there’s enough of a difference between the very common “Bank” pen shape and the longer tines of the rest of the beaked pens that I call out the Bank as a separate shape.
Pen where the heel is a complete tube and the body of the pen is shaped as normal. The body can come in various forms.
Generally a straight bodied pen with extra-long tines. Tines are much longer in relation to the body than even Bank pens.
Similar to a taper shape, but very shoulder-heavy, and a flat profile, as seen on the various Colorado pens from Esterbrook and others.
Same shape as a Barrel Pen but much smaller, thinner and a much finer point.
Normal heel that transitions into a series of strips connecting the heel to the body of the pen. These strips are bent outwards in a rounded shape to make a sort of basket that resembles a crown.
A straight-bodied pen with notches cut out of the edges just below the shoulders.
A pen that draws two lines simultaneously. There are two sets of tines.
A straight-bodied pen with a cut-out across the body of the pen perpendicular to the line of the pen.
Normal heel, then flared transition with embossed “shoulders” “cut-out” sides moving up to a shoulder and taper to longer tines.
A stub pen in the shape of a Falcon pen.
Leaf-shaped pen but the body of the pen is flattened rather than rounded. There may or may not be a transition section between heel and body. Probably the best known pen of this shape is the Waverley Pen by Macniven and Cameron.
Similar to a spear, but the top of the body is flattened and sometimes curved.
Shaped like a pointing index finger.
Related to a pinched spoon, but with a distinctive sharp dip and ridge as seen in the Esterbrook Inflexible pen, and others.
Similar to a spoon, but the body is bottom heavy with a deep curve at the bottom but quickly narrowing at the top. The body has a rounded profile.
A longer , straight-bodied stub.
A medium-length straight stub.
Oblique pens different from regular pens in that they move the angle of writing away from the angle of the pen. There are at least four different ways of accomplishing this with the pen nib alone. You can also use a special oblique holder that holds a normal pen at this oblique angle.
An oblique pen shaped like a straight-sided pen that has been bent into an oblique, zig-zag shape.
An oblique pen in the general shape of the original Mordant patent. The body is broad and generally leaf-shaped with a generous swell near the heel and tapering to a point quickly.
Similar to a Mordant or Elbow Oblique in that the body of the pen is bent towards the oblique angle. But unlike the other two, a separate body shape begins after the bend.
Similar to the other oblique pens, the purpose of this pen shape is to point the tips toward the right degree of slant even if the hand is pointed to a steeper angle. Unlike the other two forms of Oblique pen, this only points the tips, rather than the body of the pen.
Examples of the four types of Oblique Pen
A normal heel, then the beginning of the body is pinched in and down to make a center ridge that extends up to the main body, which is generally smaller and then tapered or rounded towards the tip.
A spoon pen with a transition section between the heel and the body of the pen. This transition can be smooth, faceted or even decorated.
Normal heel, round body with small, triangular point sticking out
Folded sheet of steel or brass to create a v-shaped profile.
A straight-bodied pen with a small raised line perpendicular to the line of the pen, generally right above the imprint and before the hole. Almost all of these shape pens are called “School” pens. The Gillott 404 is one of the most famous.
Normal heel, often there’s a transition section, then a slight, straight widening that ends in a wider shoulder. The key is that the widening from transition to shoulder is straight, not curved.
Stub pen with a shorter, straight body
Normal heel then an abrupt, sharp, 90 or near-90-degree transition to create a wider, deeper, straight body to the shoulders. These are usually long pens.
Normal heel, very narrow and long body coming to a sharp point with no shoulders. There may be a transition section between heel and body, but it stays within a narrow profile.
Wide at the bottom of the body, gentle and smooth narrowing to the tip. Abrupt transition from heel to widest part of the body.
Straight sides and even width along the length from heel to shoulders.
Straight-sided pen narrow at the heel and wide at the shoulders. The taper is straight from heel to shoulder.
I have three steel pens. One of them is marked 149 Pacific Railroad, one is marked 145 Pacific Railroad but the number is imprinted upside down to most manufacturers, and one is marked 0149 Monarch Railroad, which is also imprinted upside down. None of these are names of actual railroads that I’ve been able to find.
We know that there were pens marked as “railroad” which had nothing to do with actual railroads, like the Esterbrook Standard Railroad, which was made by Esterbrook but sold by Sears, Roebuck and Company.
All three of the “Railroad” nibs under discussion are extremely similar. They are a wider-bodied straight pen, medium flexibility and with three just slightly different grinds.
To confuse matters even more, both Esterbrook as well as Turner & Harrison made a 149 Pacific Railroad pen. Neither, that I’ve been able to find, made a 145 Pacific Railroad pen.
After Gillott sued Esterbrook in 1872 pen makers, especially Esterbrook, were careful to not copy the name and especially the number 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 one didn’t object to the other making a pen with the same name and number is that both Esterbrook and Turner & Harrison were copying a pen from someone else who had already gone out of business and so would not be in a position to sue.
This practice is not unknown. We know, for example, that Esterbrook produced 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. (picture below is from the 1883 catalog) They made this for a very short time after Harrison and Bradford went out of business in 1881. So, it’s possible that both were producing a popular pen from someone else after that company had gone out of business.
I looked for evidence of Pacific Railroad pens as a separate brand. Unfortunately, what evidence I’ve found is not conclusive, and doesn’t make sense based on Esterbrook making the pen in 1883.
Of course, that doesn’t explain the 145 Pacific Railroad pen. Nor the 0149 Monarch Railroad.
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 to try and solve this mystery.
My steel pen history is now beginning to enter the golden age of US steel pens. We’re now into the 1860’s-1870’s when we see a transition from the first industrial steel pen makers to a wider market and a variety of manufacturers. For this episode, we’re taking as our starting point 1864.
In 1864, in Camden, New Jersey, Esterbrook was starting to really take off, and up in New York City, Washington Medallion Pen Company was involved in a protracted legal battle over trademark with two of their ex-employees George Harrison and George Bradford. Harrison and Bradford had just started their own pen company, and were starting to make their own pens using the old Washington Medallion machinery. Also in New York City, Myer Phineas was still making pens at 33 Maiden Lane. Despite this new (and old) crop of pen manufacturers, all indications are that most pens sold in the US were still British pens, mainly Gillott and Perry.
We can surmise this both by the requests for bids being submitted by various federal, state and local government agencies to be supplied for stationery, as well as the complaints about how much Americans were spending on “foreign” pens. These requests for quotes were published in newspapers, and they may well indicate the general availability and desirability of American vs. British Pens. Without taking a scientific survey, it’s pretty clear the number of British pens requested almost always outnumber the American pens, often by a lot. Plus, we still have plenty of complaining in the advertisements for American pens about how Americans should “buy American” rather than British or French.
Philadelphia in 1864 was an industrial town. Steel, chemicals and dyes, tools, and other products were made in abundance. Skilled mechanics and especially those who could make precision machine tools and complex presses and dies were fairly common, both because of the presence of the various industries, and also because of the presence of the mint in Philadelphia. The role of the coin press in the development of the steel pen manufacturing process is a story yet to be told.
One of the other big industries in Philly was umbrella and parasol manufacturing. (approaching Paris in the number produced every year) One of the reasons for this was the presence of a firm called George W. Carr & Co.. The company run by Carr and his partner, and brother-in-law, Samuel Warrington, was the largest manufacturer of whalebone and rattan (used in the ribs of the umbrella) in the US.
There is also an extensive establishment in the city for the manufacture of Whalebone and Rattan, and is said to be the only factory in the country where Whalebone is prepared for all purposes to which it is adapted, viz.: Umbrellas, Parasols, Whips, Canes, Dresses, Hoops, Bonnets, Hats, Hair Pins, &c. This manufactory, of which the proprietors are George W. Carr and Samuel Warrington, trading under the firm-style of George W. Carr & Co., was established in 1842. The machinery and fixtures are principally original, and said to be unknown to other manufacturers. Steam, supplied by a twelve-horse engine, is used in all the various processes of Boiling, Dyeing, Drying, and Heating
By 1862, Carr had expanded into making the new steel frames for umbrellas and parasols in addition to continuing to manufacture whalebone and rattan.
In 1863 Carr & Co expanded their metallic products by beginning to manufacture small, metallic, mountings, primarily used for umbrellas, in the same location as the whalebone and rattan factory. Samuel was put in charge of the metallic mountings business.
Around 1864 this same Samuel Warrington designed a new style of steel pen and he received a patent for it in 1866.
The patent is for a pen that has “softness” without being too flexible in the tines. In other words, the pen would flex in the middle without spreading the tines “to such an extent as to produce too heavy a line.” This type of design I call a “spring crimp” because it has a crimp in the middle of the pen to give spring to the body without affecting the spread of the tines. Washington Medallion’s pen was another such design, and most manufacturers produced something similar.
In addition to filing for a patent, Warrington wanted to manufacturer his pen, and so in 1865 he founded Warrington & Co. and hired the experienced pen maker John Turner from across the river in Camden, New Jersey to head up this pen-making enterprise.
We last saw John Turner over in Camden helping Richard Esterbrook start up his factory there. Turner had been one of the skilled British tool makers Esterbrook had brought to America around 1860 to set up the new factory in the Birmingham style.
Warrington was presumably able to lure him over to Philadelphia with the promise of leading the new company and being able to set it up as he saw fit. Rather than being a senior tool maker at Esterbrook, he became the head of the brand new Continental Steel Pen Works of Warrington & Company. The factory was located on the northwest corner of 12th and Buttonwood streets in Philadelphia.
Warrington had taken on two other partners for this venture besides John Turner: Joseph Truman, & Edward Smith. It’s not clear who these other two gentlemen were. There is a mention of a Joseph Trueman (with an “e”) in earlier directories, listed as an Engineer, but neither he nor Edward Smith are found in either Camden or Philadelphia before this. As they seem to appear out of nowhere and disappear after the company is dissolved, they remain a mystery. The other partner, John Turner, is better known because of his continued prominence in the pen industry until his death in 1904, as I’ll discuss elsewhere. Before we see where he’s going with Warrington, let’s learn a little about where he came from.
John Turner was born in Birmingham, England around 1823. Sometime around 1836, when he was 13 or so, he was apprenticed to one of the brand new pen works appearing almost daily in Birmingham. According to later accounts, after his apprenticeship he went to France to better learn French pen making, before returning to Birmingham where he married his wife Eliza.
At some point, probably about 1858 or 59, he is recruited by Richard Esterbrook to come to the US. In 1860, John arrives in New York, and presumably Eliza arrives not long after, along with an adopted daughter, possibly a niece on Eliza’s side, named Rosina. They first live in Camden, with John working at Esterbrook, but in 1865 he takes control of the new Warrington & Co. and by 1867 they had moved to Philadelphia.
During the time Turner ran Warrington & Co. from 1865 until 1875 the company found both success as well as set-backs, including two fires and the death of the owner.
In addition to the fires, in 1872, Samuel Warrington dies. In 1873, after Warrington’s death and the second fire, the company changes its name to The Warrington Steel Pen Company. In that year as well, the company, along with the rest of the nation, was plunged into a depression by the Panic of 1873. Following all of this, “excitement,” in 1875 John Turner purchased the factory, presumably machinery and all, and joined with his new partner, George Harrison (of Washington Medallion and then Harrison and Bradford) to found Turner & Harrison in the very same location at 12th & Buttonwood.
Turner & Harrison would go on to become one of the top pen manufacturers in the US and would continue making steel pens in Philadelphia until they closed their doors in 1952, but that’s a story for another time.
The “Other” Warrington Pens
The Warrington Steel Pen Company name was then picked up by a nephew of Samuel Warrington’s, Theodore Lippencott Warrington, aka Theo L. Warrington.
Theo L. Warrington, as he was listed in the advertisements, was born in Camden, NJ and worked for his father, James Franklin “King of the Commission Merchants” Warrington when he was a young man. James owned a produce market buying and selling exotic produce, like peanuts and tropical fruits off the ships coming in to Camden’s ports from places like Cuba and Florida. Theodore began by working for his father, but then tried his hand at teaching for a short time, before joining another Camden native, William H. Ryno, to open their own produce market called Ryno & Warrington from around 1874-75. In 1875 Theo acquired the Warrington Steel Pen Co. name and became partners with William Pedrick, forming Pedrick and Warrington.
William Pedrick had his own stationery store before joining with Warrington. Pedrick & Williamson was a modest stationery story located at 1218 Buttonwood, just a half-block from the Warrington & Co’s. factory at the corner of Buttonwood and 12th. By 1874 Pedrick was running the store by himself and lived at the shop in the new location of 107 North 5th Street. In 1875 they joined to form Pedrick and Warrington to both make pens under the Warrington name, as well as sell stationery from their expanded shop and manufactory at 105 and 107 N. 5th Street.
By 1881 Pedrick was out of the picture and it was just Theo’s name associated with The Warrington Steel Pen Co.
Theo Warrington made pens up through 1885 when he seems to have gotten out of the pen and stationery business. By 1901 he’s become an electrician in his long-time home of Camden, NJ. Theodore passes away in 1920 at the age of 69 and is buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Camden, NJ.
Post Script: Colorado Nibs
The only example of an existing Warrington & Co. nib I know of is not from Samuel Warrington’s original patent, but instead is a pen in my personal collection marked “Warrington & Co’s Colorado.”
The interesting thing about this nib is that it is pretty much exactly like the Colorado nibs produced by Warrington’s neighbor across the river, the Esterbrook Steel Pen Company.
These pens are often advertised as “indestructible” because they don’t corrode in ink, and, supposedly, you can bend them back into shape should you accidentally drop it. Esterbrook even produced a version with the name “Indestructible.” And in this ad from 1868, Warrington promotes their “Indestructible” pens and differentiates them from their steel pens. This tells me that they were most likely producing more than just one style of brass pen.
Esterbrook also produced a whole series of these brass pens. Most of them were in the Colorado pen series, from the Colorado No. 1, No. 2, No. 3, No. 304 Colorado No. 2, and several others using the same shape but with different names, like the Indestructible, and the larger version, the Arlington. But the most common was the Colorado No. 2.
All of the Colorado pens, whether Esterbrook or Warrington, are made of a brass alloy and are imitative of gold pens in their shape and looks. The name may come from the large gold deposits first discovered in Colorado in 1859 and which continued to pump large amounts of gold eastward for years after.
The question is, which came first, the Warrington Colorado, or the Esterbrook Colorado series? Did John Turner lift the design from his time at Esterbrook, or did Esterbrook take the design from Warrington? I have found one reference to Esterbrook making Colorado pens during the same time as Warrington was in business. And we know that Warrington shared the building at 12th and Buttonwood with the Dearborn & Co. Brass foundry. Unfortunately, the earliest actual list of pens made by Esterbrook is from 1876, and we have no list other than the ads of what pens Warrington made, so right now there is no evidence for who made what first.
Here’s an 1877 ad that introduces their new “Indestructible” pen. The reference to “curb stone salesmen” means door-to-door salesmen.
So, who copied from who? Were both of these copies of someone else? It’s a question we may never be able to answer.
Post Script #2: Another Warrington Pen
Thanks to fellow collector David Berlin, I have a picture of another Warrington & Co’s pen. This one is an oblique using the Mordan design.
Anyone else have one? Would love to gather pictures of more examples should any exist.
The earliest form of dip pens for which we have a description was the barrel pen. By the 1830’s this form had dropped out of favor for what we know today, which was originally called the slip pen.
In my latest post, I take a quick look at these two forms. We get a glimpse of possible beginnings of the slip pen and we range widely over early steel pens, the last gasp of quill pens as they react to these new metallic substitutes, and how gold pens learned a thing or two from the older barrel pens.
Nibs come in various shapes and sizes, but the general shape most people are familiar with was originally known as the “slip pen.” This is the individual pen that slips into a holder. This is the shape we’re all familiar with.
But the dip pen did not always take this form. The earliest known steel pens for which we have a description, instead seemed to take a form known as a barrel pen.
A barrel pen looks like someone stuck a slip pen onto a longer tube of metal. Like these modern versions made in the early 20th-century.
You can see that these came with their own wooden holder, onto which you slipped the whole pen. What may not be quite as obvious is that these are one solid piece of steel.
It is easily understandable that this shape would be an early one. It’s essentially the bottom end of a quill, which is essentially a tube with a writing end cut into the bottom.
Interestingly enough, the first slip pens we know of were actually individual pens cut from a whole quill. This basically allowed you to get multiple pen points from a single quill, and if they could be pre-cut, then when that point wore out, you could replace it with a new one. This became the model of steel pens as well as soon as they moved out of the workshop and began to be cheaply made at an industrial scale.
Joseph Bramah was not the first to make these replaceable quill pen points, but he was the most widely known inventor to come up with both a hand press to cut multiple points from a single quills, and a holder to hold them.
I have found and early reference to a New Yorker, Mr Stansbury, who came up with a way to cut quills into individual “pens” that were held in a holder. This reference was dated to five years before Bramah files his patent. In a letter to Thomas Jefferson from his friend Charles Willson Peale, dated 22 July 1804, Peale mentions that “I have fortunately found an ingenious invention of Mr. Stansbury Junr. of New York for making several pens of a single quill…” Peale suggests Jefferson try out this quill points in his polygraph, as soon as Peale can make some brass tubes (holders) for the quills that will fit the machine in question.
The steel pens that were being made around this time, though, were still barrel pens. One of the earliest steel pen makers was a man named Samuel Harrison. He was a maker of split rings (think of those key rings made of a single ribbon of steel wrapped into a circle overlapping itself) in Birmingham, England. He also made pens for his friend, and famous chemist, Joseph Priestly. These early metal pens were made by bending a sheet of thin steel into a tube, and then cutting away the metal to form a nib. Harrison used the seam where the two ends came together as the slit in the pen.
Another early maker, Daniel Fellow, a blacksmith from Sedgley, began making pens in the 1780’s. His technique was similar, but he created the split with chisels.
Notice the ad says that the pen is “properly mounted.” This means that the pens came pre-mounted on a holder, as were some in the early days. These were still luxury items, so I’m sure the holders were very nicely made, but were still a small portion of the total cost of the pen.
These barrel pens were also made in the US in these early days. The first professional steel pen maker in the US was Peregrine Williamson, starting in about 1806 in Baltimore. His pens were very popular at the time, and attracted the attention of President Thomas Jefferson, who became a customer.
His pens were also barrel pens. He sold them loose, with a holder, or “properly” mounted. He sold some of the loose nibs to Thomas Jefferson for use in his “polygraph” mentioned above, and also some mounted in a fancy pen/pencil combo complete with perpetual calendar at one end.
Here’s the only image we have of his pens. It’s from a newspaper ad in 1809.
Notice the similarity in shape to the modern barrel pens shown above.
Early slip pens were invented in Birmingham in the 1820’s-30’s as the industrial production of steel pens began to be figured out. They require less work, and less material when good steel was still relatively expensive.
Gold pens were made as slip pens, but because they are also more prone to bending and other damage, you often see them mounted in a brass, gilt or other tube which fits onto the end of a holder, in the same manner as the barrel pens.
This is a Dawson, Warren & Hyde pen from the 1850’s. You can see the wooden holder has a brass cap that receives the end of the tube into which the gold pen is inserted. The gold wash on the tube was very thin and has mostly rubbed off.
This gold pen, made by Piquette in Detroit also in the late 1840’s to 1850’s, is also mounted in a tube which would have fit on a holder like the pen above. Unfortunately, as is often the case, the holder is missing.
The barrel pen continued to be made into the 20th-century, almost exclusively by the British manufacturers. They were not very common, or widely made, but they can still be found now and again. They remind us of the very earliest days of steel pens and what they once looked like.
I haven’t added much of late because I’m going through a rather intense self-study refresher course in the Industrial Revolution, both in Britain and in the US.
There were really two industrial revolutions or two phases of the same revolution. The first occurred primarily in Britain and really caught hold in the 18-teens to the 1840’s. The second happened in both Britain and the US and began in the 1850’s and really took off through the end of the century.
So many things changed about work, about how people lived, about materials and technology during these upheavals. There’s a very good reason they’re labeled “Revolutions.” I’m working at placing the steel pen industry within these two periods. It’s clear that the British steel pen industry was a product of the first phase of the industrial revolution. It benefited from advances in abundant and cheap steel of high quality, the greater availability of quality machine tools, and the innovations in assembly lines and management that occurred at this time.
In the US, the early pen makers seem to still be working in the workshop model of the previous century, until we get to the 1850’s. Some of the early makers, like Myer Phineas, and Mark Levy are complete mysteries. I suspect they may have used a kind of hybrid workshop, assembly line approach. I think this because we do know they produced relatively large numbers of pens of various types, but they hadn’t yet adopted the manufacturing practices of the British factories. A workshop large enough would most likely have incorporated some of the practices already being adopted in manufacturing in the US at the time. But this is just speculation.
The first pen makers who we know used true, industrial processes were Washington Medallion, Harrison & Bradford and Esterbrook. This is directly a result of bringing trained British pen makers over to implement the British model here in America. This would be a recurring model for many new industries in the US. Many of the early industries were at least inspired by, if not wholesale stolen from, their British predecessors.
I’m not sure how far I’ll take this because there is so much into which one can immerse oneself. Labor practices, including women in the workforce, workforce organization, is one area ripe for investigation. Tariffs and protectionist policies and their influence on the growth of the US steel pen industry is another. And there are many more.
I just wanted to put it out there why it’s been so quiet. It doesn’t mean I’ve stopped the research, it just means the research is beginning to become richer and there is so much more to find.