Context within the Industrial Revolution

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.

Cheers,

Andrew

President Jefferson’s Pen Maker

Early on in this journey I wrote about Peregrine Williamson, the first identified steel pen maker in the US. He was an inventor, businessman, innovator. I mentioned an 1808 advertisement in which he included an endorsement from President Thomas Jefferson.

I recently came upon the full set of Jefferson’s papers and was lucky enough to find a set of correspondence between the two. I’ve posted a second part to Peregrine Williamson’s story with each of these letters and some commentary on each.

Enjoy!

Latest post – How Steel Pens were Made in 1857 (and 1890)

My latest post is one of my largest and most involved. In it I compare two descriptions of how steel pens were made. One from the US in 1857 that describes a visit to the Washington Medallion Pen Company’s factory. The other from Henry Bore’s 1890 The Story of the Invention of Steel Pens: With a Description of the Manufacturing Process by Which They are Produced.

I include comparisons of manufacturing from the first real industrial factory in the US in 1857, to how they did it in a large Birmingham factory in 1890, the height of the British Pen industry. Amazingly enough, they’re pretty much exactly the same. I address why that is, and show the tremendous impact a group of British-trained tool makers had on the beginnings of the large-scale steel pen industry in the US.

Pen History: The 1840’s, from the perspective of the 1850’s.

I’ve been covering the history of steel pens up to the 1840’s based as much as possible on the primary sources I’ve been able to find. Up to the 1850’s, the industry had been too new for anyone to indulge in a retrospective. That changed with a new company who wanted to create an identity that placed themselves in opposition to all who had come before.  This was the Washington Medallion Pen Company.

I found this earliest attempt at taking a broader look at history of the US steel pen industry is found in an article in the United States Magazine issue for April of 1857 describing the factory of the Washington Medallion Pen Company.

We’ll be looking at the whole article in another post, and we’ll be talking about the Washington Medallion Pen Company in much greater length elsewhere. At this point I want to look at the following selection from the article and we’ll see if we can trace it step-by-step. It’s important to remember that the author was not trying to paint an accurate, historical view of past pen makers, but was instead helping to build a narrative of the WMPC as something radically new in both its product as well as its success.

Here’s the whole section. After, I’ll take each piece and see what we can find out from it.

About the year 1840, steel pens having become in considerable demand in this country, and the fact of their almost universal adoption being already apparent, the cupidity of certain parties was excited, and they resolved to present steel pens of home manufacture for the public favor. The first effort was by a company in Massachusetts, who perfected some fair specimens for that early day; but, owning to inexperience and the absence of proper tools, tool makers, and a knowledge of slitting, tempering and finishing, their products lacked uniformity of quality; thus the enterprise failed. Soon after, two or three of the principle dealers in stationery in this city experimented in steel pen manufacture. We remember one of them who commenced operations in Brooklyn, and who, after expending some $15,000, followed in the wake of the Eastern Company. Another erected his works in New Jersey, and for some months battled manfully for success; finally he “felt” he must follow his illustrious predecessors. The late C.C. Wright, long known as a prominent engraver and die-sinker, made a most strenuous effort to permanently establish this manufacture. Through his influence, aided by J. C. Barnett, since well known as the treasurer of Burton’s Theater, a company was formed and a capital amounting to $200,000 expended. A large factory was erected on Fifth street, in this city, the most approved machinery and fixtures procured, operations commenced, and ten or twelve varieties of pens produced, many of them of excellent quality; yet, notwithstanding the impetus with which the affair was started, it met with no better success than those before mentioned. We learn of no attempts to resuscitate the business until 1852, when some Birmingham men, who claimed to be experts, induced certain capitalists in New Jersey to “try their money” in the operation. One after the other, two or three companies expended large amounts, each with no better pecuniary results than had been before arrived at.

If you’ve been following the history so far, some of these references should be fairly obvious, but I’m going to look at them one-by-one.

Analysis

About the year 1840, steel pens having become in considerable demand in this country, and the fact of their almost universal adoption being already apparent, the cupidity of certain parties was excited, and they resolved to present steel pens of home manufacture for the public favor.

As I mentioned in my original article on the 1840’s, the British had dominated the pen industry in the 1820’s and 1830’s, and it was in the 1840’s when Americans made a serious effort at manufacturing steel pens. I also mentioned the rising nativist movement of the time, stressing the importance of us buying and supporting American manufacturers.


 

The first effort was by a company in Massachusetts, who perfected some fair specimens for that early day; but, owning to inexperience and the absence of proper tools, tool makers, and a knowledge of slitting, tempering and finishing, their products lacked uniformity of quality; thus the enterprise failed.

This is obviously referring to Josiah Hayden. If you remember, he was trying to set up a steel pen factory out in Western Massachusetts. As far as I’ve been able to find out, he founded the manufactory with all American labor. He brought in mechanics and tool makers from elsewhere in Massachusetts, and from as far away as Connecticut, but as far as I can tell, he was relying on their past experience making steel buttons or cotton mills, or other general manufacturing. There are some similarities between making metal buttons (Hayden’s former product) and steel pens, and with Yankee ingenuity and inventiveness, they were able to figure out how to produce a decent product. The quality was good enough to win silver medals at the American Institute fairs, but then the competition was not very steep. Hayden didn’t last long making steel pens before he sold the business and went on to making gold pens, which was much more of a hand-operation and not as reliant on specialized machinery, dies and knowledge of steel tempering.


 

Soon after, two or three of the principle dealers in stationery in this city experimented in steel pen manufacture. We remember one of them who commenced operations in Brooklyn, and who, after expending some $15,000, followed in the wake of the Eastern Company. Another erected his works in New Jersey, and for some months battled manfully for success; finally he “felt” he must follow his illustrious predecessors.

This is an interesting section. Obviously the second is a reference to David Felt. Felt founded Feltville in New Jeresey as his factory town. Now, Felt was making pens as early as the 1830’s, so he doesn’t fit neatly into the “About the year 1840” narrative, but I’m not counting on this source to give me the most accurate dating.

The real mystery is the reference to the first stationer. The only stationer who I know who had works in Brooklyn, besides Felt, was Herts & Sons. They had their stationery factory in Brooklyn, and Spooner, a stationer in Brooklyn, was one of their main dealers.

1845 Herts sons alpha

It’s interesting that he doesn’t make any mention of Herts’ English antecedents, which may be a mark against Herts being the subject. This only really becomes significant within the context of Washington Medallion’s marketing campaign, which we’ll look at elsewhere, which strongly focused on the fact that these are American Pens, made by Americans, for Americans.


 

The late C.C. Wright, long known as a prominent engraver and die-sinker, made a most strenuous effort to permanently establish this manufacture. Through his influence, aided by J. C. Barnett, since well known as the treasurer of Burton’s Theater, a company was formed and a capital amounting to $200,000 expended. A large factory was erected on Fifth street, in this city, the most approved machinery and fixtures procured, operations commenced, and ten or twelve varieties of pens produced, many of them of excellent quality; yet, notwithstanding the impetus with which the affair was started, it met with no better success than those before mentioned.

We looked at C. C. Wright in some detail. The interesting information here was further identifying J.C. Barnett as the treasurer of Burton’s Theater. Burton’s Theater was one of the first Broadway theaters. The purpose of this section of the magazine article is to compare the operations of Washington Medallion favorably versus the prior efforts at pen making, so all former makers must, at some point, fail. The information we have from C. C. Wright experts, based on the accounts of his life from his grandson, is that C. C. Wright made his money making pens and then sold the business because he had made enough to spend the rest of his life doing what he really wanted to do, engraving and medal making. The truth may never be known, but it may be somewhere between the all good and all failure stories. At least they admit the pens were of high quality.


 

We learn of no attempts to resuscitate the business until 1852, when some Birmingham men, who claimed to be experts, induced certain capitalists in New Jersey to “try their money” in the operation. One after the other, two or three companies expended large amounts, each with no better pecuniary results than had been before arrived at.

This concluding passage is interesting in a couple of ways. One is that I have no solid idea who he’s talking about. Since this is written in 1857, he’s only talking about a five-year period in which two or three companies tried to start, spending lots of money, and failed. That seems rather a shortened time frame. If these really happened then they may have started and closed rather rapidly and left no real trail for me to find.

 

The other interesting point is the fact that the author talks of “Birmingham men” coming in to provide expertise. This is interesting, because this is precisely the pattern we’re going to see in the next two decades, the 1850’s and 1860’s, where it’s transplanted Birmingham men, trained in the main British pen factories, who kick off the first real, sustained wave of successful steel pen businesses in the US. And the first is, ironically enough, the subject of this article, the Washington Medallion Pen Company.

 

 

 

Pen History, the 1840’s: Rhodes/Rhoads mystery, transition to the 1850’s.

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.

 

1853 Rhoads Sons amalgam pen long ad

1853 Rhodes & Sons

1854 Rhodes and son 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.

1848 thomas rhoads and sons sealing wax

1843 Th Rhoads sons pencils mark levy

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.

1841 Rhoads mention

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.

1844 Gillott intro to Croton pen

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.

1856 Wash Med let Am Children quote

Pen History, 1840’s: H. B. Herts & Sons, British Makers in America

Henry Benjamin Herts, born in 1794, was living in England when he had his family. His children included, his daughter Rachel (b. 1819), and his sons Henry B. Jr. (born May 26, 1823 in Nottingham, died 1884), Daniel born about 1825, Jacob,  and Lewis. They were all born in England.

In 1841 Henry Sr. opened a steel pen factory under the name H. B. Herts & Co, at 281 Bradford St. in Birmingham. According to Brian Jones’s book People, Pens & Production, the factory operated from 1841-1842.

In 1843, at age 49, Henry Sr. came to the United States and settled in New York. He created a partnership with his sons Henry Jr. and Jacob called H. B. Herts & Sons. They set up a factory at 509 Broome St. in New York City where they manufactured stationery (probably blank books), pen holders, and maybe pens.

The reason I say “maybe” is that while H.B. Herts & Sons is listed in various directories as a “manufacturer of metallic pens, penholders, stationery, &c” the advertisements promote the pens as being made in Birmingham. In a large ad in the Doggett’s directory of New York City for 1846-47, it explicitly says that the pens are made at the Bradford Works in Birmingham.

Doggett's New-York City directory, for ...

This wasn’t the first pen they started advertising. The first ads in 1845 mention the Alpha Pen.

1845 Herts sons alpha

In 1846 is when you first see the reference, above, to the amalgam pen you also find the claim “By Royal Letters Patent.” The only problem with this is that I cannot find a British (or American) patent that fits this pen. Perhaps someone else can find it, but it has eluded me. If you do find something you think works, let me know.

The Royal Letters Patent claim also shows up in an interesting ad in 1847. This ad claims that the Amalgamated Silver, Steel and Platina Pen was first introduced into the US in August, 1845 “at which time the manufacturers were unknown to the writing community; the pen, therefore, had to stand on its own merits.”

Because of the superior quality of the pens, they claim that between December 1845 and December 1846, they sold 375,000 gross, or 45,000,000 of their pens. It is in this ad, as well, that they refer to their business address as the “manufacturer’s depot” and list not just their NYC address, but also 35 Cornhill in Boston.

We can compare this 375,000 gross of pens Herts produced in 1845 with the 730,031 gross Gillott claimed to have made in 1843. Herts was no where near as large, but they were making quite a respectable number of pens nonetheless.

1847 Herts sons big ad

The family stayed pretty close, literally, through the years of the business. When the directories show both business and home addresses, Henry B. Sr. is shown as living with at least one, and often two or even three of his sons in the same house over the years.

There’s evidence that some of the sons made trips back to England in at least 1846 and 1849. It’s likely they kept the factory open in Birmingham and perhaps kept it running by other sons or relatives. Since we’ve not found evidence for the factory after Henry left in 1843, it’s not clear if they really still had their own factory, or just had pens stamped with their name by another maker, and just attributed them to their old Bradford Works.

Regardless, they kept selling the pens as H. B. Herts & Sons until 1853 when Henry B. Sr. retired and the old company dissolved. The new company, “Herts Brothers” continued to sell pens as well as import stationery and fancy goods in their new office at 241 Broadway.

An interesting ad/article in the March 2, 1854 Buffalo (NY) Morning Express gives us more information about the company. It talks about “Herts Brothers Amalgamated Iridium, Zinc and Platina Pens” and “The Messrs. Herts are at the head of the great house in Birmingham, England, for the manufacture of Metallic Pens. They employ about 500 persons in their extensive operations.” This pen is patented in England and the United States by ‘Herts Brothers.’ It is for sale at their splendid Emporium, 241 Broadway, as well as in different parts of the Union, England and France.”  If they truly had 500 employees then they were quite a good sized company. The well-known D. Leonardt, one of the largest of the independent makers in Birmingham, had 500 employees at its height in the 1880-1890’s, and that included their own rolling steel operation.

1854 herts bros ad

Alas, the “discerning public” did not flock to this pen, and in 1855, Herts Brothers was no longer listed. Jacob is still listed as a “stationer” but it does not tell us where, and Henry B. Jr. has set himself up in his own auction business.

1856 Herts auction

Interestingly, Henry B. Senior just can’t stay away from family, or completely in retirement. In the 1855 New York Census we find Henry B. Herts Sr. living with his daughter Rachel and her husband Jacob Davis. Both Jacob and Henry are listed as at the same business address with Henry labeled “jeweler” and Jacob as a watchmaker.

Henry Sr. died about 1856. Henry Jr. lived until 1884 when he died on a trip to England at the age of 63. Many of his children went on to start up their own businesses including another Herts Brothers, this time Herts Brothers Furniture.

The history of Henry Benjamin Herts still has some mysteries to be solved. It seems from the advertisements that the Herts family may still have had a factory making pens in Birmingham. It’s not clear if all of their pens were imported from that factory, or if some were made in the US, or if they got some from other Birmingham factories, or some combination of the three. Further research on the Birmingham side may be done, but the standard resources don’t mention the Herts family or the Bradford Works beyond that brief mention in Jones’ book. If they were as big and prosperous as the claims, then their omission from the standard histories is a significant one.

We also still have the mysterious patent claims. I cannot find any record of patents claimed in England or the US. For now, it remains yet another mystery.

Harry B. Herts came to America as so many others did, and while his pens seem to have, at least partly if not completely, been made in England, he chose America as his main marketplace as well as home. Because of that, I still consider H. B. Herts & Sons as another of the interesting American pen makers of the 1840’s.

 

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.