Esterbrook, Part 1: In The Beginning…

Richard Esterbrook was born in 1780 in Liskeard, Cornwall. In 1809, he married Anna Olver, also from Liskeard and they had their first child, Martha, in 1810, followed by their son Richard Esterbrook in 1813.

Richard was ranked as a “yeomen,” meaning he was a small landholder or working man. On his son Richard Esterbrook’s baptism certificate, he is recorded as a patten maker, but he’s mainly listed in various directories of Cornwall over the years as a baker and confectioner. (a Patten is a type of shoe)

1813 Esterbrook richard_sr_friends_birth_record

Richard Esterbrook was a devout member of the Society of Friends (Quakers) until his death in 1846, and is buried in the Society of Friends graveyard in Liskeard.

Cemetery1
The Quaker Burial Grounds in Liskeard. Courtesy of the Liskeard and District Museum.
Cemetery2
Richard Esterbrook’s grave. Courtesy of the Liskeard and District Museum.

This story is not about him.  It is actually about his son, Richard Esterbrook, and his grandson, Richard Esterbrook, and even his great grandson, Richard Esterbrook.

The devout Richard Esterbrook buried in Liskeard will not come back into this story, but will instead be relegated to non-existence, at least when it comes to names. His famous son, Richard Esterbrook is most often mentioned without a suffix, and his son, Richard Esterbrook, is most often mentioned as “Junior,” which leaves poor old Liskeard Richard Esterbrook forgotten. From here on, we will talk about the second Richard Esterbrook as “Richard Esterbrook Sr.” or just “Senior,” and his son as “Richard Esterbrook Jr.” or “Junior.”

Now we have that thoroughly confused, we’ll start the story back in Liskeard, Cornwall where the eldest Richard is still a baker.

In the 1830 Directory of Cornwall, Liskeard is described as

A Market and borough town, and parish, in the hundred of West, is 225 miles from London, 49 from Exeter, and 32 from Truro. The town is situated partly on rocky hills, and partly in a bottom; is one of considerable antiquity, and had a strong castle, where the dukes of Cornwall kept their court. Its ancient name was Lis Kerrett – derived, as is supposed, from two old Cornish words, signifying a fortified place. …

The principle business of Liskeard is connected with the tin, lead and copper mines in the neighborhood; serges and blankets are manufactured in the town, to a small extent; there are also several tanneries and rope walks, and the wool trade is an improving branch. …

In the town are places of worship for the methodists and quakers, and some small schools, in which children are instructed gratuitously; also a grammer-school, supported mainly by the members for the borough. The town is supplied with water from an admirable spring; and the neighborhood furnishes examples of what are supposed to be druidical remains. The market-day is Saturday, and there are six fairs held annually, viz. February 18th, March 25th, Holy Thursday, August 15th, Oct. 2nd, and Dec. 9th. The number of inhabitants in the borough and parish of Liskeard, according to the last returus, was 3,519.

In 1836, Richard Sr. (the son) was married to Mary Rachel Date, the daughter of another devout Quaker family from over in Tideford, just 8 miles away. By the time of the 1839 directory of Cornwall, at 26 years of age we find Richard Sr. already running a small bookstore, stationery and print shop located on Pike Street on Tavern Hill in Liskeard. He is also an agent for Globe Insurance Company of London, and the family also lives on Pike Street, possibly above the store. (Pike Street is a short street of shops on the ground floor and living spaces above)

In 1839 Sr. already has a small family with his young son, Richard Esterbrook Jr. who was born in 1836, just over 8 months after his marriage, and a daughter, Mary Anna, born in 1838.

Here is the bookshop and stationery store at 20 Pike St. in Liskeard, Cornwall. On the left (picture courtesy of the Liskeard and District Museum) as it looked in c.1910 after being purchased by W.H. Smith, a national chain of stationers, and on the right as it looked mid-2018 as a travel agency. There’s a small, one-story living quarters above.

In the 1851 census of England, we find 14-year-old Richard Jr. attending school in Falmouth, residing with the family of the School Master, Squire Lovell. Richard Sr. is still running his shop in Liskeard.

By 1856 Richard Sr. is no longer listed in the directories as a common shop keeper but is listed in the section titled “Gentry and Clergy” and is recorded as living at Dean Terrace. His stationery business is still running, and he’s moved up the social strata, possibly because of his business success, and/or, even more likely, his standing as a senior minister in the Society of Friends.

DeanTerracesm
Dean Terrace in Liskeard. Courtesy of the Liskeard and District Museum.

We also find in 1856 that 20-year-old Richard Jr. is back in Liskeard and listed as “Manager of Gas Works.” This position did not seem to last long because within the next year or two he was gone and a period of great change for the whole family takes place.

The details of this next five years get a bit fuzzy. They are highlighted  here and there with markers of clear evidence, and filled in the rest of the way with some stories passed down through histories from the family and from the company, and spiced with a bit of conjecture built out of a combination of the two. I would love it if others could help me fill in some of the gaps with real information. If you have such info, contact me via the Contact link on this site. It will hopefully be clear in the next section when we have good evidence and when we don’t.

Esterbrooks in the New World

Sometime between 1856 and 1858 it seems that Richard Jr. left Cornwall and emigrated to Canada. He somehow convinced his father to join him sometime later. There are stories that say Jr. came to the US and tried to make steel pens but failed, or that he came to sell items, of which steel pens from Britain were included, and seeing a practically virgin territory with little native capacity for making good steel pens, he contacted his father to come and take advantage of this great opportunity.

Regardless of the motivation, we have a record of Richard Esterbrook Sr. arriving in New York City by ship in Sept. 1859, but he is not accompanied by his family. This is because they most likely were already in Canada and he was returning from a trip back to England. By 1859 Richard Sr. and his wife and daughter had already been living in Toronto long enough that the Toronto Meeting of Friends were able to write to the Norwich (Ontario) Meeting of Friends and recommend Richard to them.  Toronto informed Norwich that Richard Esterbrook Sr., his wife Mary and his daughter Mary Anna were moving to Galt, Ontario “in the compass of yours…”  It also goes on to say, “The residence of our Friends in your land is likely to be temporary only, but they request it. We send you a certificate agreeable to good order…”

Fortunately for us, Quakers had a practice when moving from one congregation of Friends to another, to bring with them, or have sent ahead, a written Certificate of Removal. This let the new group know that this stranger was of good moral standing, a devout member of the Society, and free of debts. Also fortunate for us, the Quakers in Ontario also kept meticulous records of their meetings. Even more fortunate, these records are digitized, searchable, and images are available online at ancestry.com.

From these records we can trace Richard Sr., his wife Mary and their daughter Mary Anna from Toronto to Galt, Ontario, and then from Galt to Camden, New Jersey. We also find out that Richard Jr. may have spent some time in the area as he was also under the purview of the Norwich Meeting. We know this because it is to them he directs his resignation from the Society of Friends in 1861. A committee in Norwich was formed to investigate and meet with Junior, and they finally accepted his decision early in 1862.

In 1861, Richard Sr., along with his wife and daughter, are granted certificates of removal recommending them to their new congregation in the Friends Meeting of Haddonfield, New Jersey, one of the oldest Quaker communities in the United States.

1861 October Norwich forwards cert of removal to New Jersey

In many histories of the company, 1858 is given as the date for the founding of R. Esterbrook & Co., but it is more likely that this is the date in which Richard Jr. began to try and make pens on his own. Many stories talk about Junior attempting to make pens, and being unsuccessful, convinces his father to come to the US and help him start a new company. I’ve also run across a story that Jr. tried making pens in Canada first, and his father suggested Philadelphia as a better location because of its already extensive steel and manufacturing base. I’m sure the strong Quaker community there was at least an added bonus if not a major factor in choosing that location.

Regardless, when or where the 1858 date comes from, by 1860 Senior and Junior were putting together a company with offices in Philadelphia, and, by 1861, a factory in Camden. In a certificate announcing the re-formation of the company in 1866, which we’ll talk about further down, it mentions:

The business of Steel-Pen Manufacturing was commenced by them [Sr. and Jr.] in this country [USA] in the year 1860, the United States being almost wholly supplied to that time with Pens of foreign manufacture.

This phrase “in this country” seems to support the theory that perhaps Jr. was trying to make pens in Canada in 1858, only moving to the US by 1860. We do know that by 1861 both Sr. and Jr. appear in Philadelphia/Camden directories as living in New Jersey.

As an odd side note, we also find almost the whole family, Sr., Jr., and Mary, but without Mary Anna, counted in the 1861 Canadian Census as being in Montreal. The Census lists  Richard Esterbrook and Richard Esterbrook Jr. as “Manufacturers,” and their residence is given as Philadelphia.

They’re enumerated on a page with another large family whose father is also listed as a “Friend” under his religion. Could they have been staying with a fellow Friend while traveling or visiting and been caught up in the census count? It’s possible. It’s also interesting that they list Philadelphia as their residence. If they ever actually lived in Philadelphia it wasn’t for long because by 1862 they were living across the river from Philly in Camden. And before that they were still in Canada. The last oddity about this record is that Jr. is listed as Married, but he didn’t get married until the next year. It goes to show that you can’t always trust census takers to get it 100% correct.

Esterbrook & Co.: First Iteration

Richard Sr. set up the first Richard Esterbrook & Co. in 1860, as mentioned above, with warehouses and offices at 403 Arch St. in Philadelphia, and the factory and headquarters across the river in Camden, NJ, along Cooper St., in the former water pumping station. His first partners in the pen business were Joel Cadbury Jr., and William Bromsgrove.

Joel Cadbury Jr. was the son of a prominent Philadelphia merchant who owned a dry goods store at 252 Franklin. Joel Sr. was also on the board of a local canal company and his brother ran a pharmacy in the same store on Franklin. The Cadburys were also Quakers in good standing and long residents of the city. They were logical partners for Esterbrook because they had connections, access to money, and extensive knowledge of the local business community.

William Bromsgrove, on the other hand, was also a foreigner, like the Esterbrooks. He came from Birmingham where we first encounter him as a young man boarding in the house of a tool maker in 1841. By 1845, though, the directory of Birmingham lists him as a “steel pen manufacturer, [at] 13 & 14 Cumberland St.” He’s also listed alongside his presumed partner Alex Cope as actual steel pen manufacturers with Gillott, Hinks & Wells, John and William Mitchell and the other manufacturers both famous and forgotten.

James Bromsgrove 1845 post office directory of London

James Bromsgrove 1845 post office directory list of steel pen manufacturers

The next year, in 1846, he is also listed as a Steel Pen Maker on the baptism record of his daughter Emily.

James Bromsgrove daughter 1846 baptism record

This was a time when pen makers popped up and disappeared regularly in Birmingham. The big names of Gillott and Mitchell and Mason were only starting to be recognized as major players. Bromsgrove and Cope seem to have been one of these small manufacturers who never made it big and they disappeared after just a year or two.

What Bromsgrove did between 1846 and his joining Richard Esterbrook in 1860 is not currently known. It’s probably a good guess that he continued working in the steel pen industry, most likely for someone else if his firm didn’t quite succeed on its own. What we do know is that we next encounter him in Camden as part of Esterbrook & Co.

Richard Esterbrook and the Birmingham Men

An important part of the often-told Esterbrook origin story involves Richard Sr. bringing several Birmingham pen makers to the US to set up their factory along the current British lines. In none of the accounts are these men named, and their number varies from the vague “few” to five or as many as seven.

I believe James Bromsgrove can definitely be counted among these Birmingham men. How can we find the others? One way is to look in directories of Camden at the time of the founding of the factory. We first encounter possible candidates in the directory compiled in 1862. There is an Edmund Smith listed as “penmaker” at 120 Elm Street, and a John Turner, “steel pen manufacturer” at 133 Birch.

Edmund Smith remains a mystery despite my many efforts.  Directories of the time were not terribly consistent with their entries, so it’s not clear from “penmaker” what kind of pens he made. There is a Thomas Farnham listed in the same directory, but he’s specifically a “gold pen maker.” It could also be that Edmund Smith was really Edward Smith who shows up a few years later as a partner in a new steel pen company in Philadelphia headed by the same John Turner. More investigation is needed.

John Turner, on the other hand, is a much clearer case. We know more about John Turner because after Esterbrook he goes on to run two other steel pen companies, including the major steel pen manufacturer, Turner & Harrison.

In a 1901 biographical sketch of Turner, it mentions that he came to the US from Britain in 1860 “as one of a small party of skilled pen makers to start the first pen factory in this country.” (Geyer’s Stationer, 4 April 1901, page 12)  There is only one factory that fits this description, the Esterbrook factory in Camden, and at the right time we find him living just a couple of blocks from the Esterbrook factory, listed as a “steel pen manufacturer” in a city with only one steel pen factory. It doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to tie the two together.

John Turner was born in Birmingham in 1823, making him ten-years younger than Esterbrook Senior. Turner was apprenticed to Gillott around 1836 to learn the pen trade. Sometime after his apprenticeship as a tool maker, he left for France for a spell to learn how they made pens there. He eventually returned to Birmingham where he married his wife Eliza. He arrives in New York by himself in 1860 on the ship Persia. Some time after this he must have sent for his wife and their adopted daughter Rosina as they are listed in the 1870 Census for Philadelphia.

John Turner helped Esterbrook start up the factory and get it running, but in 1865, he was offered the position of president and the responsibilities to start up and run a new steel pen company being founded across the river in Philadelphia called Warrington & Co.

Samuel Warrington was a manufacturer of small metallic mountings in Philadelphia. He created a new design of steel pen and was granted a patent for it in 1866.

1499078464623072026-00056645

In 1865 Samuel founded Warrington & Co. and its Continental Steel Pen Works at 12th & Buttonwood to manufacture this pen. He invited John Turner to be partner and president and run the works while Samuel kept his other factory running. The other partners were Joseph Truman and Edward Smith. (possibly the “Edmund Smith” from Camden)

John Turner’s and Warrington’s stories will be told more fully in a separate article.

Esterbrook & Co.: Second Iteration

Despite Turner’s leaving, Esterbrook seems to find a solid footing and early success. In 1862 his pens are being sold far and wide. Here’s an ad from a stationer in Detroit from 26 Nov. 1862 in the Detroit Free Press.

1862 Esterbrook advertisement in Detroit

His pens are even making it into occupied portions of the Confederacy. Just one year after the successful recapture of Vicksburg, Mississippi by the Union forces, Richard Esterbrook’s New Jersey-made pens are being sold there.

1864 Esterbrook in Vicksburg MS
From The Vicksburg Herald, 9 June 1864

By the end of the war, in 1865, we find ads for Esterbrook pens from Kansas to Nashville, Mississippi to Vermont.

1865 Esterbrook Nashville ad
From The Nashville Daily Union, 27 Dec 1865

In 1866, Richard Sr. decides to dissolve the original partnership, buy out the old partners, and form a new corporation with just himself and Richard Esterbrook Junior as partners.

1866 Esterbrook dissolves partnership

1866 is also when Richard Esterbrook Sr. finally sells his home and stationery shop in Liskeard. He had maintained ties back to Liskeard while starting up his business in Camden. He even voted in the local Cornwall elections of 1861 and 1863/64, still listing Dean Terrace as his address. But 1866 seems to be the year he decided to make a clean break and commit to his new country and his growing company.

Much can be speculated as to the cause and timing. One reason that may have contributed to this is that just the year before, in 1865, Richard Jr.’s first wife Jeanette had died giving birth to their daughter of the same name. Junior was now left with a young son (named Richard Esterbrook, naturally) and a new-born daughter. He had also moved to Long Island from New Jersey the year before in order to better look after the New York office, and now was in need of family and a support system more than ever.

Right about this time is when Esterbrook finally closed the Philadelphia offices for good, and soon after the announced reformation of the company, they moved the business offices full-time to New York City. By the next year (1867) they had moved from their old offices at 42 John St. to 51 John Street.

Epilogue

After the dissolution of the original partnership, Joel Cadbury goes on to run a very successful brass plumbing parts supply company in Philadelphia. James Bromsgrove retires back to England where he stays for a while. In the 1871 census, we find he and his wife in London, and he’s listed as a “retired clerk.” According to his obituary, in 1881 he emigrates to New Zealand where he lives out the remainder of his days. He’s buried in Auckland.

John Turner goes on to run Warrington & Co. until 1870 when he and another Birmingham pen maker, also brought over to start up another pen company, George Harrison (see the articles on WashingtonMedallion Pen Company), form Turner & Harrison, which continues to produce steel pens until its dissolution in 1952, but that’s another story.

Peregrine Williamson: Part 2

Since writing my original post on Peregrine Williamson, I’ve found some additional interesting information, including a treasure trove of his letters with President Thomas Jefferson!

I have some interesting tidbits I’ll cover first, but the most interesting of my new discoveries are the letters. There are some really interesting bits in them.

Assorted Tidbits

Patents

I had covered the fact that Peregrine was an inventor beyond pens. I found a good list of all known patents filed by Williamson on the venerable source for all patent informatin related to hardware and tools: the Directory of American Tool and Machinery Patents DATAMP.

Pat. #DateTitleType
1,168X Nov. 22, 1809Metallic writing penhousehold tools
1,926XMay 12, 1813Machine for shot and bulletsgunsmith
3,185XMar. 20, 1820Coffee roaster
3,415XDec. 06,  1821Improvement in bedsteads
3,598XOct. 17, 1822Bedstead
4,150XJun. 18,  1825Machine for roasting coffee
5,368XFeb. 16,  1829Cooking stove, in the premium railwayrailroad car stoves
6,247XNov. 11, 1830Secret bedstead
7,749XSep. 09,  1833Screw augerauger bits
8,735XMar. 30, 1835Metallic pens
RX-26Sep. 30,  1840Improvement in the Making or Manufacturing of the Premium Railway Cooking-Stoverailroad car stoves

Unfortunately, all but the last of these patents are what are called “x” patents, which most of the time have no real information since most patents prior to 1836 were destroyed in a fire.

This last patent is actually quite interesting. It’s a re-issue of the one from 1829. The significance of this patent is not just that there’s a diagram connected to an X patent, but that Williamson was patenting a cooking stove to be used in a railroad car right on the threshold of the first steam-powered railroad to be run in the US (1830).

Another example of Peregrine Williamson being on the bleeding edge of a new technical revolution.

Another Invention: Chimney sweep machine

In 1822, the Baltimore city council passed a resolution to allow Peregrine Williamson to sweep some chimneys in Baltimore using his new invention.

Permission granted to Peregrine Williamson to sweep a certain number of chimneys in the City by his newly invented machine.

Whereas, Peregrine Williamson has invented a new mode by which to sweep chimneys, so as, in his opinion, to render unnecessary to use of climbing boys; and is desirous, in order to give his invention a fair experiment, that a trial of it should be made in a certain number of houses; and is being desirous to promote any invention by which the use of human beings in this business may be dispensed with,

Be it resolved by the Mayor and City Council of Baltimore, That whenever Peregrine Williamson shall produce to the Mayor the assent of any twenty inhabitants of this city, who are housekeepers, that they are willing and desirous to make use of the said Peregrine Williamson’s invention for sweeping chimnies [sic], that it shall be lawful for them to have the said machine erected in their chimnies, without being liable to have their chimnies swept in the usual way, or being subject to any fine for the neglect of having it done; provided, that this permission shall not extend beyond twelve months from the passage of this resolution; and provided also, that nothing in this resolution shall be construed to exempt said persons from the operations of the ordinances now in force, if said person or persons shall neglect to sweep with said machine as often as may be required by law.

Approved Feb. 20th, 1822

Correspondence with Thomas Jefferson

In my original post I mentioned Williamson’s 1808 advertisement which included an endorsement from President Thomas Jefferson.

1809 Williamson ad with Jefferson

I recently ran across several pieces of the correspondence between Williamson and Jefferson in the collection of the Jefferson Papers of the National Archives. Their correspondence yields up some interesting facts and conclusions.

I will look at each letter and follow up with a commentary pointing out significant things about the letter. N.B. these National Archive letters are still considered “Early Access” versions, i.e. they haven’t been fully vetted and published.

Also, you’ll notice right away that spelling and capitalization seemed more of a competitive sport back then than a set of rules.

To Thomas Jefferson from Peregrine Williamson, 23 January 1808

Sir                                                                                                  Baltimore Jany 23d 1808
do me the pleasure to Except of two of my three Slit metalic pens in a Calander case which I have Sent you as a preasent and pledge of Respect, I have Contemplated Sending you one before but have been prevented from Considerations of its imperfection to which inventions generally are liable, but haveing been making them for nearly two years they have been considerably improved—So it is with some degree of boldness and asureance I have Sent you those for your inspection and approbation and Especily as many of the most Eminent and Celebrated penmen of this and other places, have pronounced them to be far Superior to any of the patent metalic pens that have ever been invented heretorfore either in Europe or America it being well known that all the metalic pens upon the former principle have been wanting in that flexibility and Elasticity which is So necesary in order to write with Smoothness and Rapidity which in this is happily effected by the two aditional Side Slits—there is no doubt but that you will at once percieve the intention of the principle—that it is to relieve it of that otherwise inevitable Stiffness to which it has always been fixt. you will also discover the utility if not the necesity of the Substance on the nib the pen being reduced to give it the necesary Elasticity and Spring is made too thin without that Substance which is to prevent its acting Severe upon the paper—I merely make those Remarks on the pen to answer the probable inquaries that might arise from the investigations of a Curious mind—You will receive the case with the two Steel pens and pencil both pens fiting in the Same place with directions for pen and Calander wrapt round the case and all inclosd with in a case—Directions to open the Silver case. first to get at the pens pull the plane part from the Calander and it opens in the centre then turning the end of that part directly into the place out of which the pen was taken in order to lengthen it Suficiently to write with—then if the pencil is wanted returne the pen into its place you will notice a Small Sckrew in the centre which in one position Serves to pull out the pen and when turned to the left it opens to the pencil—Sir Should fancy suggest any new idea for the improvement of the pen (as perhaps there is yet room) it will be chearefully Received and adopted.

By Sir Your Obedt Servt

P Williamson

Excuse the errers and hand of a Mecanick

Commentary:

The reference to a calendar indicates that Williamson had included one of the perpetual calendars which were popular on fancy pencils and such in the 18th-century. This also indicates that Williamson is positioning his pen in the longer tradition of luxury writing implements.

One key things we find out is that Williamson had been making his pens for almost two years at this point, so he had begun making pens in 1806.

We also have the description of “three slit” applied to his pens. (see earlier post to see why this is significant in the history of steel pens)

Another interesting comment is found in this quote:

[his pens are] far Superior to any of the patent metalic pens that have ever been invented heretorfore either in Europe or America

Which raises the question, so there were other patent metallic pens invented in America before this?? I know Wise is England was making patented pens, but I’ve not heard of any others in the US, at least as a commercial enterprise. There is evidence that individual pens were made by inventors and craftsmen, but so far there’s no evidence of a commercial production of metallic pens in the US before Williamson.

The descriptions sounds a lot like a sliding pen/pencil configuration. I’d be curious when the first slide pencil was produced.

To Thomas Jefferson from Peregrine Williamson, 30 January 1808

Baltimore Jan 30th. 08.

Sir I am very much gratifyed that the pen I had the pleasure of Sending you Suited and pleasd and that my feeble improvements had in any degree entitled me to the high Reward of your approbation—you have Sent an order for half a dozen of my pens which I have particularly Selected as you want to accommodate them to one of Peale’s polygraphs if those pens Should not be Sufficiently pliable a line addressd to me at No 72. Market Street, Baltimore I will Remidy the defect.

I have The Honour to be Respectfully Sir your obedt Servt

P. Williamson

price $3

Commentary:

So, Jefferson wrote back and praised the pens. He then ordered 6 more pens at a cost of $3, which he wished to try in “Peale’s Polygraph.”

Peale’s polygraph is a device for writing multiple copies simultaneously by connecting the writer’s pen to multiple other pens which all write at the same time. The original was invented by John Isaac Hawkins, and when Hawkins left America for England, he turned over his patent to Charles Wilson Peale, the famous American portrait painter. Peale, working with Jefferson, continued to make improvements on the device, and Jefferson continued to buy new versions.

In 1809, Jefferson wrote:

the use of the polygraph has spoiled me for the old copying press the copies of which are hardly ever legible . . . . I could not, now therefore, live without the Polygraph.

The polygraph currently at Monticello is fitted up with quill pen points, like the ones invented by Joseph Bramah in 1809. These are similar to today’s dip pens, but made out of feather quills.

1823 Bramah patent pens
Bramah was still selling his quill points in 1823

This brings us to the interesting question of what form these pens took. Other accounts say that Williamson was making barrel pens, i.e. pens which were attached to a tube of metal that was mounted on a holder of wood, pearl, etc… But to mount them on the polygraph, they would have had to be at least unmounted.

The polygraph currently in Monticello was from 1806, so could be the one he experimented with these new steel pens. Jefferson owned at least 11, so it’s not clear which one he would have used, but it must have been able to affix a steel barrel pen to the end. And if he had previously been using full quills (pre-Bramah), then putting a barrel pen would not have been much different than the quill.

What’s also interesting is that this was not the first time Jefferson had had a steel pen recommended for his polygraph.

Upon first receiving the polygraph, he writes this to Peale in 19 Aug. 1804.

liking as I do to write with a quill pen rather than a steel one, I value the last pen cases you sent me because they admit by their screws so delicate an adjustment. as the quill-pen requires to be kept in the ink

None other than Charles Wilson Peale wrote to Jefferson earlier that year in 24 June 1804 as Peale describes the polygraph:

“But if a steel pen is used to write with, and a quill pen in the copy, then the screw to the metal pen will be perfectly convenient for adjusting the touch of both. My letter of the 18th contains the advantages of using the steel [pen] and quill pens togather, and which may obviate the evil mentioned in yours of the 20th.”

So, this means that Jefferson had tried a steel pen before, didn’t like it and preferred quills until he tried Williamson’s pens in 1808.

And the last very interesting bit of information is that Peregrine Williamson was located at 72 Market St. in Baltimore. I’m trying to find where this would have been at the time. What I have been able to figure out is that what was Market St. in Baltimore town is today’s Baltimore St..

From Thomas Jefferson to Peregrine Williamson, 24 February 1808

Jefferson liked the original pen combos so much he wanted to give some as presents.

Sir                                                                                                     Washington Feb. 24. 08
The half dozen metallic pens you sent me according to request, came safe to hand, & have answered their purpose well. I have now to ask the favor of you to send me 4. such as the one you were so kind as to send me first, that is to say a pen & pencil combined in a silver stem with a Calendar to it, & each in a separate wooden case. they are intended as presents to friends. the cost of these added to the preceding, shall be immediately remitted if you will be so good as to accompany them with a note of the amount. Accept my salutations.

Th: Jefferson

Commentary:

We learn that the pen/pencil combo was mounted in silver and came in a wooden box. And again with the “Calendar” which is not clear.

The other message is clear, just send me these, and I’ll finally get around to paying you for these and the six pens you just sent me.

To Thomas Jefferson from Peregrine Williamson, 7 March 1808

Sir                                                                                           Baltimore March 7th 1808

The 4 Pens with calendar cases which you sent for, I have prepared with all possiable Speed and Sent you each in a Separate wooden case as You requested. at the time your letter came to hand I had not any of the cases of the discription you Sent for and therfore had to make them which alone occasioned the delay of them. the price of the 4 cases with pens $20 I am very glad that the half dozen pens answered their purpose. I have now (reluctantly) to request of you Sir the favour of publishing those lines in the note you Sent me that gose to embrace your opinion of my Pen. Several of my friends with whom I had the pleasure of Showing it advised me to publish it, but I determined that I would not without your approbation. Address to No. 72 Market St. Baltimore

I remain your most obedt humble Servt

P, Williamson

Commentary:

So, he gets an order from the President for four of his fanciest pens each with their own wooden box. You can only imagine the scramble. But it must not have been too terrible. It seems as if he already had the pens made, or close to, as it only took two weeks from Jefferson sending the order, and Williamson filling it.

In this letter, Peregrine asks the President if he can publish the kind words that Jefferson had written to Williamson. These must be the words in the advertisement.

Washington 26th Jan. 1808

Th: Jefferson presents his compliments to P. Williamson, and his thanks for the very fine steel Pen he has been so kind as to send him. It is certainly superior to any metallic pen he has ever seen, and will save a great deal of trouble and time employed in mending the quill pen.

The advertisements also include a quote from the next letter we have, but this is from a letter that is missing from the sequence.

From Thomas Jefferson to Peregrine Williamson, 22 March 1808

Jefferson writes back.

Sir                                                                 Washington Mar. 22. 08.
I have been so much engaged lately that it has not been in my power sooner to write this short letter. The 4. calendar pens arrived safely, and I now inclose you a bank draught for 25. D. for those & what was furnished before. I find them answer perfectly and now indeed use no other kind. always willing to render service to any useful advance in the arts, I have no objection to your using the little testimony in their favor which I expressed on a former occasion, as desired in yours of the 7th. inst. I tender you my salutations.

Th: Jefferson

Commentary:

In his ad he includes the section “The four calendar pens arrived safely. I find them answer perfectly and now indeed use no other kind.”

It’s also interesting the Jefferson overpays. He really owed $23, but throws in an extra $2. Perhaps he rendering a service to a “useful advance in the arts.”

From Thomas Jefferson to Peregrine Williamson, 21 June 1808

Jefferson has been using the steel pens for almost six months now and has gotten the measure of them. This is usually when the honeymoon period with any new technology is well and behind you.

Washington June 21. 08.

Sir

I must trouble you for a new supply of your steel pen points. I find them excellent while they last, and an entire relief from the trouble of mending. but, altho’ I clean them carefully when laid by for the day, yet the constant use for 6. or 7. hours every day, very soon begins to injure them. the points begin to be corroded, & become ragged, & the slit rusts itself open. I have sometimes, but rarely succeeded in smoothing the point on a hone, and the opening of the slit is quite irremediable. I inclose three which will shew the manner of their going. I will thank you for half a dozen or a dozen points of the same caliber, & a note of their amount which I will have remitted. I tender you my salutations.

Th: Jefferson

Commentary: 

The President is discovering that 6 to 7 hours a day, probably every day, spent sitting in the highly corrosive iron gall ink of the day, would play havoc upon a steel pen.

This is a problem pen makers try and fix for the next 130 years with many and wondrous solutions. It’s not until stainless steel nibs are introduced in the 20th century is this no longer such a problem.

To Thomas Jefferson from Peregrine Williamson, 25 June 1808

Peregrine Williamson writes back with some advice and an interesting observation.

Baltimore June 25th. 08.

Sir

Your favour of the 21 Came safe to hand requesting a new Supply of Pens but previous to its reception I had disposed of all but about a half a dozen and therfore could not send the number You mentioned but I shall not forget to select a half a dozen more out of the next number that is made and to send them on in due time—You have truly observed (notwithstanding You clean them) that the constant use for 6 or 7 hours every day very soon begins to injure them. and that the points begin to be corroded & become ragged & the slit rusts itself open. You have sent 3 to give me an idea what You mean one of which is yet good with a little sharpening which I send You with the rest—but altho we have two much reason to urge those objections to the Steel Pen in concequence of its susceptibility of corrosion & rust, Yet I believe their is no metal that would eaven be a substitute for it haveing tried them. eaven Silver or Gold which I think is proof against either of those inconveniencies not excepted—for I have discovered that it is the points of the pen (which I might say is the pen itself for all the rest would be useless without it) that begin first to become worn apart & that not somuch from the corrosion as from its action on the paper that I have worn the points quite blunt so as to loose its harestroke intirely and yet the other parts to be apararntly intire. You say that you have sometimes but rarely Succeaded in Smoothing the points on a hone. I expect (if posseable) to be down to Washington Shortly and I Should be happy in takeing the pleasure to Show You the precise method to sharpen your pens as it might save You some trouble

P, Williamson

Commentary:

We do find steel pen repair services in London at an early date, but this is the first reference in the US.

But the most interesting morsel from this letter is the proof that Williamson experimented with gold and silver pens before settling on steel. He found that silver and gold wore away too easily. This was known as well by others, and was the cause of the search for a harder tipping that could go on the end of the gold pen.

Williamson’s point, that yes, steel pens may rust and get sharp, at least they don’t wear down so quickly as more expensive metals like silver and gold.

And now he’s offering to meet Jefferson in person and show him how to hone is pens. Too bad we don’t know if he ever made it.

To Thomas Jefferson from Peregrine Williamson, 28 September 1808

The final letter I’ve been able to find in Jefferson’s letters in the National Archives is from almost 10 months after the first.

Baltimore Sept 28th 1808

Sir

I avail myself of the peculiar pleasure and satisfaction of sending You the half doz steel Pens Which I hope (last promised) will be in due time.

I am Sir Your Most Obdt And Most Hub Servt

P Williamson

Commentary: 

it’s clear that Jefferson continues to order pens from Williamson.

Other Letters and Relations

  • In a letter of 13 Oct 1808 to his grandson Thomas Jefferson Randolph, he asks him to stop by Baltimore and pay a P. Williamson of 72 Market St. for a dozen steel pen points
  • In a letter of 1 Dec. 1808, he receives the account (assuming showing paid) from P. Williamson with a balance of four dollars from teh 10 dollars his grandson left with the writer, John Rigden, the watchmaker mentioned in the previous letter. Seems Mr. Randolph just dumped the $10 with the watchmaker and never made it to Williamson. Ridgen must have paid Williamson and sent the money back to Jefferson.
  • In a letter of 22 Nov 1814, from William Caruthers, he mentions that based on Jefferson’s recommendation, Caruthers stopped by P. Williamson’s in Baltimore to see his newly patented method for making small shot. (see his patent from 1813). While Caruthers is not terribly confident of either Williamson or the other gentleman he visited being ultimately successful, he did think more highly of Williamson’s method. This indicates that Jefferson is keeping track of Williamson and his inventions.
  • And finally, in a letter dated 19 March 1822, to his friend from New York, DeWitt Clinton, we find the final judgement on Peregrine Williamson’s pens by the former President

I thank you, Dear Sir, for the elegant pens you have been so kind as to send me; they perform their office admirably. I had formerly got such from Baltimore, but they were of steel, and their points rusted off immediately.

One can only assume they were gold pens, now being made in New York City with tipping to make them much more durable.

How Pens Were Made at Esterbrook in 1885 (and c.1920)

In my post on how pens were made in 1857 (and 1890), I list the main processes used by the Washington Medallion Pen Co. in 1857, and the general process used by British manufacturers in 1890.

I pointed out in that post that the similarities between Washington Medallion in New York City, and the process described by Henry Bore in Birmingham 33 years later, were almost certainly due to the fact that the American factory was set up by British-trained pen tool makers.

I also mentioned that another famous pen maker of the time also had their factory set up by British-trained pen tool makers: Esterbrook.

Esterbrook opened their Camden, NJ factory in 1858, a year after the Washington Medallion article came out. I’ve not been able to find any detailed records of those early years, but I did run across an amazing image of the factory from 1885 made by Sanborn and used by insurance companies.

Sanborn map of 1885 Esterbrook Factory in Camden

As a reminder, the steps in 1857 included:

  1. Rolling sheets of steel
  2. Cutting
  3. Piercing
  4. Annealing
  5. Stamping
  6. Raising or Shaping
  7. Hardening
  8. Scouring
  9. Grinding
  10. Slitting
  11. Polishing
  12. Coloring
  13. Varnishing
  14. Inspection
  15. Boxing

All of these steps can be seen in the map. In building A, for example, on the first floor is scouring, second floor is cutting, third is raising and fourth is piercing. You also find rolling and hardening furnaces in the back, varnishing over along the east wall, and examining, weighing and box making in the front. (Esterbrook made their own boxes at this point).

You also find some additional work, such as a machine shop, engineering and offices. They also included a place where they did plating. That’s where they plated pens with various finishes, like gold, silver and “tar.”

Another example of how these same basic steps carried over into the 20th-century, we find a sample card used by salesmen to shows the various steps used in making a pen. The sample card probably dates from the 19-teens or maybe 20’s. The captions for the pens are above the objects.

Steps in making a pen sample card

 

Pen History, 1860’s+: The Washington Medallion Pen Company, Part 3

As we saw in the previous account of the beginnings of the Washington Medallion Pen Company, the late 1850’s was a busy time for this new manufacturer. With aggressive marketing, they managed to spread the market for the Washington Medallion pens across the east coast and into the mid-west.

It seems, though, that by late 1860, the pen business was not doing so well for Albert Granger and the other officers of the Washington Medallion Pen company. In a later statement, Harrison and Bradford claim that in December of 1860, Washington Medallion may have stopped making pens altogether.

What is clear is that in 1862, George Harrison and George Bradford formed their own company, Harrison & Bradford, and purchased from their former employer, Washington Medallion, all the machines, dies and tools to make the Washington Medallion Pens and began to make the pens under contract to the Washington Medallion Pen Company. They claimed that the machines had been “lying idle for fifteen months” when they began production in March of 1862.

In December of 1863, Harrison and Bradford discovered that the design patent had expired earlier that year. Believing that Albert Granger no longer owned the design, they began early the next year to make their own “Harrison & Bradford Washington Medallion Pens.”

Harrison & Bradford not only manufactured the Harrison & Bradford Washington Medallion Pen, copying the look of the pen, as well as the look of the box, but they also began to make their own line of pens during this period.

Later, in 1864, just months after they began production of their own version of the pen, the Washington Medallion Pen Co. filed suit against Harrison & Bradford in New York State Supreme Court for trade mark infringement.

Washington Medallion Pen Co. vs. Harrison, Bradford, et. al.

The law suit was accompanied by an injunction forbidding H&B from making any more Washington Medallion pens. It also named Eberhard Faber and Faber’s partner in the stationery business, James B. Hodgskin, as part of the suit since Eberhard Faber were Harrison & Bradford’s sole agents for selling these pens, as well as their self-branded Harrison & Bradford pens.

In 1864 we we see a flurry of announcements and articles about this law suit in the New York Herald.

First, on July 19th an announcement appeared that said that the defendants had filed a motion to lift the injunction, and since the plaintiffs were not ready yet for trial, the judge lifted the injunction, allowing the defendants to continue selling the pens.

On August 2, a short description of the case appeared on page 8

The Steel Pen Controversy

Supreme Court

Before Hon. G. G. Barnard

August 1 – Washington Medallion Pen Company vs. George Harrison and George Bradford – the defendants are the manufacturers of the Harrison & Bradford Washington Medallion pen, and the plaintiffs some time since obtained an exparte injunction restraining the defendants from manufacturing said pen

The plaintiffs claim that the term Washington Medallion was invented by Albert Granger, and that they, under license of said Granger, used that term as a trademark. On the other hand, the defendants claimed that the term Washington Medallion was not new; that it had been used by the American Steel Pen Manufacturing Company before it had been used by the plaintiff, and that it was a term in common use, which could not be converted into a trade mark; that the plaintiffs ceased to manufacture pens in December, 1860, and had not since manufactured any; that in March, 1862 the defendants bought of the plaintiffs all of the machinery and tools used by them in manufacturing pens, and that since that time and until January, 1864, the defendants had manufactured the pens for Albert Granger, supposing him to be the patentee; that about January of 1864 they learned that Granger had no patent for the pen; that since making that discovery they had sent the pen into the market as “Harrison & Bradford’s Washington Medallion Pen.”

The defendant moved to dissolve the injunction, and the motion was argued at great length, before Judge G. G. Barnard, who had the same under consideration, and this morning decided in favor of the defendants, dissolving the injunction. Galbraith & Townsend for defendants, Abbot & Fuller for plaintiffs

Two days later, on the fourth appeared announcements in the New York Herald.  First, the plaintiffs’ lawyers.

1864 lawsuit plaintiffs

Washington Medallion Pen Company vs. Eberhard Faber and Others

To the Editor of the Herald

The article in your paper of August 2, headed “The Steel Pen Controversy,” is reference to the above suit, is so worded as to leave an impression on the mind of the public that there has been a final hearing and trial therein. This is not so. The injunction refused was merely a temporary one, asked for pending the litigation, and its refusal has no effect whatsoever upon the merits of the case. The judge who granted the motion gave no opinion whatever, and his decision is embraced in his endorsement on the papers, “Motion granted, injunction dissolved.” He probably deemed the defendant’s denial of all the equities of plaintiff’s bill sufficient reason for the dissolution of the ex parte injunction. The case will be tried in the fall, and the result of that trial will alone determine whether the plaintiff is or is not entitled to use the words “Washington Medallion” as its trade mark.

Abbett & Fuller, Plaintiff’s Attorneys.

Two pages later,

1864 lawsuit defendants

Notice to the Stationers and Fancy Goods Dealers – The publication in the Herald on the 2nd inst. of what purports to be an adjudication of the suit of the Washington Medallion Pen Company against Eberhard Faber and others is calculated to lead you to think the case terminated. The Court passed no opinion on the merits of the case; but simply granted an order vacating a preliminary injunction. The suit will be tried at the earliest possible moment, and until it is tried, and the verdict of a jury settles the questions raised, the Washington Medallion Pen Company claim that the words “Washington Medallion ” constitute a trade mark, and that such trade mark is its property. And hereby cautions the trade and the public against buying or selling Pens marked “Washington Medallion” unless they are the manufacture of the Washington Medallion Pen Company.”

Just over a week later, we hear from the other side.

1864 harrison bradford

Washington Medallion Pen. – An advertisement appeared in the special notices of the New York Herald of August 4, emanating from the so called Washington Medallion Pen Company, which is calculated to deceive dealers and the public. As it has ever been and is our desire to protect the public from deceit, we state that the so-styled Washington Medallion Pen Company have not made a pen of any description since 1860. The pen works of said company, after lying idle for fifteen months, were, with all original dies, tools and machinery, requisite for making said pens sold to us on March 11, 1862. Since that time the said pens have been manufactured by ourselves and by no one else. We repeat our caution to purchasers that the only genuine Washington Medallion Pen is that inscribed, “Harrison & Bradford’s Washington Medallion Pen.” the so-called Washington Medallion Pen Company obtained an ex parte affidavit, an injunction restraining us from making and vending said pens, which injunction was, on our application, and after hearing both sides, dissolved by his Honor G. G. Barnard as reported in the Herald of August 2.

Harrison & Bradford

Steel Pen Manufacturers

136 W. Thirty-seventh street, NY

What starts to become clear is that Albert Granger held the design patent, and licensed it to the Washington Medallion Pen Company. In 1860 the Washington Medallion Pen Company slowed or stopped production of the pens, and in 1862 they sold the machines, tools and dies to Harrison and Bradford who had formed their own company for making pens in the same location as the former Washington Medallion Pen company’s factory, at 136 W. 37th St. in New York City.

So, what happened to Granger and the Washington Medallion Pen Company around 1860-62 that would cause them to sell the machinery, dies, etc… used to make their eponymous product?

Albert Granger and the Failed Gun Sight Business

We get a hint of what happened in the testimony of a later lawsuit, from 1867. This lawsuit is brought by a Rufus K. McHarg against the Washington Medallion Pen Company. According to the testimony of the various parties it appears that around 1861, Albert Granger, the Secretary of the Washington Medallion Pen Company was going bankrupt. He and Rufus K. McHarg decided that this new war (American Civil War) might provide a way to make some money. We know from the Harrison and Bradford case, that in 1862 the machinery from the Washington Medallion company was sold to Harrison & Bradford. It may be that with this money, and money lent by McHarg, Granger went into the business of making gun-sights he hoped to sell to the government. As collateral for this loan from McHarg, he took out a mortgage on the gun-sight machinery as owned by the Washington Medallion Pen Company.

So, Granger thought he could sent up his own business making gun-sights instead of pens, sold the pen machinery to H&B, borrowed money mortgaged against assets of the Washington Medallion Pen company, and then the gun sights never sold to the government. They were returned as defective. Meanwhile, McHarg had bought up other judgments against Granger (who, it will be remembered, is going backrupt) and then confronted Granger with both these judgments as well as information that it was illegal for a corporation to mortgage it’s own property, and demanded to foreclose on the mortgage and claim the machinery.

This brought the whole enterprise into the open. Washington Medallion’s attorneys, Abbott and Fuller, got engaged and the case went to trial. The judge eventually ruled that Granger had made this deal without the formal approval of the board of Washington Medallion, and that it went far beyond the articles of incorporation, which were for making steel pens not gun sights. The judge also determined that the plaintiff had already received more than the amount of the original note plus interest. So, the suit was dropped in favor of the defendants.

Washington Medallion vs. Harrison, Bradford, et. al. gets a judgment.

In the case against Harrison and Bradford, the plaintiffs pointed to the defendants not just making pens with the Washington Medallion name, and containing the medallion of Washington’s head, but also to the form and decoration of the boxes in which they sold their pens.

They submitted multiple exhibits showing the similarities. As you can see below from photos of the actual exhibits from the court case, the similarities are striking. It is clear that Harrison and Bradford fully intended for people to think that these were the real Washington Medallion Pens. And it’s clear from the text on the back of their box that they felt it truly was the one and only Washington Medallion Pen.

The text on the back of the Harrison and Bradford Washington Medallion Pen box.

NOTICE

Messrs. Harrison & Bradford, beg to inform Dealers and the public generally, that the Patent claim on the enclosed Pens, expired on the 15th day of April 1863.

They would also inform all parties that on the 11th day of March 1862 they purchased from the Patentee, All the Original Dies, Tools & Machinery for Manufacturing the Washington Medallion Pen, and they Manufactured the same until the 15th day of December 1863 under Contract.

We now put all Washington Medallion Pens before the public with our own name in full “HARRISON & BRADFORD’S WASHINGTON MEDALLION PEN” All Pens not bearing our STamp, will be imitations only of the the Original & Genuine Pen. Manufactured at 136 West 37th St. N.Y.

N.B. Be sure and see that the Pens are stamped “Harrison & Bradford’s Washington Medallion Pen” only the Pens so stamped are the Original and Genuine Pens.

Picture of the original Washington Medallion Pen box
Washington Medallion Pen Co. vs. Harrison and Bradford, exhibit A

 

Picture of the Harrison & Bradford Washington Medallion Pen box
Washington Medallion Pen Co. vs. Harrison and Bradford, exhibit B

The judgement in the Harrison & Bradford case was finally handed down in 1866, two years after the initial filing. The court found for Washington Medallion and against Harrison and Bradford. Harrison & Bradford were required to submit to an audit by a court-appointed referee to determine how much they were required to pay to Washington Medallion. After examining the records, it was determined by the adjudicator that:

  • In less than a two-year period, Harrison & Bradford sold about 185,000 gross of pens (at 144 per gross, that’s 26,640,000 pens in less than two years!)
  • They made a profit of about $0.10 (ten cents) per gross on a price of $1.50 per gross (margins were so low because they were competing with British manufacturers who had much lower manufacturing costs so could sell their pens cheaper). As a reference, a decade later Esterbrook was selling their top-selling pen, the 048 Falcon, for $0.75 per gross.
  • As a result, the court found Harrison and Bradford liable for a payment of $18,000

Harrison & Bradford after the trial

Harrison & Bradford went on to a successful business making their own pens for another decade or more. In the immediate aftermath, though, they separated from Eberhard Faber and began selling their own pens directly.

I found an interesting document dated to July of 1866, just a few months after the ruling by the judge. Their letterhead still says “Sole Manufacturer of the Genuine Washington Medallion Pen” and it informs a stationer customer “We beg to inform you, that the Agency held by Mr. Eberhard Faber, for the exclusive sale of goods manufactured by us, ceases to exist from this date. We now intend to send out all Pens made by us from the manufactory, where we shall be pleased to receive your orders, either for goods bearing our stamp, or any name and style you may desire.”

It then attaches a price list for their Harrison & Bradford pens. The price list still includes the Washington Medallion pen, which shows that the letter and list pre-dates the ruling earlier that year. This just proves that Harrison & Bradford had not put all of their pen-making eggs in the Washington Medallion basket and were making a full line of pens, which is at least partially why they continued in business even after being forced to stop making Washington Medallion pens.

1866 Wash Med letter 1
Harrison & Bradford letter and price list from 1866
Harrison & Bradford price list from 1866
Harrison & Bradford price list from 1866

The Esterbrook Lawsuit

Washington Medallion was not finished with lawsuits in the 1860’s. They also brought suit against another upstart pen company copying their designs, the Esterbrook Steel Pen Manufacturing Company.

Washington Medallion Pen Co. v. Esterbrook, Case No. 17,246a, Circuit Court, S.D. New York, 29 F. Cas. 366; 1869 U.S. App. LEXIS 1173; MS, 1869.

In 1868, a Federal Court in New Jersey handed down a judgement against Esterbrook that created federal precedent and was quoted in legal textbooks on trade mark law for many decades after.

Washington Medallion Pen Company vs. The Esterbrook Steel Pen Manufacturing Company went beyond protecting their name, as was the core of the suit against Harrison and Bradford. In this case they sued to extend trade mark protection to their emblems, packaging and other “distinguishing features” of their pens.

The judgment decreed that the defendants would…

… forthwith to desist from directly or indirectly stamping or causing to be stamped on pens, or selling or vending pens on which are stamped the words “Washington Medallion” or either of them; also from stamping or causing to be stamped on pens, or selling or vending pens on which are stamped a head in profile or otherwise surrounded by a rim forming a medallion mark; also from putting up, or packing, or selling, or vending pens on any denomination or description, in boxes of the same or similar construction as the boxes originally adopted by the Washington Medallion Pen Company in the year 1857; also from covering pen-boxes of any form or structure with labels of the same colors or colors of the same nature or appearance as the colors originally adopted by the Washington Medallion Pen Company; also from printing or causing to be printed on labels of pen-boxes the phrases, “Let Americans write with American pens,” and “Our country now and forever,” or any transposition of the words composing these phrases, or any phrases of like import, or any fanciful ornamentation in colorable imitation of those used by the Washington Medallion Pen Company on the labels of their boxes; also from selling or vending any pens or boxes of pens on which are stamped, pressed, cut, printed or engraved any of the aforementioned trade-marks of the Washington Medallion Pen Company.

The case was found in the favor of Washington Medallion setting a federal precedent for what was and what was not covered under a trade-mark. At this time there was no federal trade mark protection, only on a state-by-state basis could your trade makrs be protected. This finding in federal court led the way to the first federal trade mark law in 1871.

Between this and a later case in 1872 against Esterbrook by Gillott of the UK, which Esterbrook also lost, US trade mark law was defined in the early years.

Epilogue

By 1869 Albert Granger finally declares bankruptcy. By 1870 he is no longer associated with Washington Medallion. But the company must have purchased a perpetual license for making the pens because they continue to be sold nationally up through the 1880’s, including as far away as Honolulu, Hawaii in 1872. Even in 1881, they continue to use the lawsuits to promote the popularity of the pen as seen in this ad which ran in the main trade publications of the time: Geyer’s and American Stationer.

EPSON MFP image

Albert Granger died in 1906, and Albert Eastman in 1891. By the 1870’s, Fuller and Abbott had moved from lawyers for the company to officers of the same. In an annual report from 1878, Fuller is noted as the President of the Washington Medallion Pen Company. When the company finally folded is not clear. But by the mid-1880’s no more evidence can be found of the company or advertisements or even requests for proposals, which usually last longer than the companies.

Harrison and Bradford go on to not only run their own successful pen company, but eventually break up and go on to help found two other major pen manufacturers in the latter decades of the 19th, and into the 20th-centuries: Turner & Harrison, and Miller Brothers.

By 1890, the company who set so many “first” in the US steel pen industry, including the first to bring British tool makers, the first to advertise nationally, the first to assert trade mark protections in court, etc… finally passed into obscurity during the golden age of steel pens in the US. What is amazing is that a company who only ever made one style of pen would be able to last as long as it did. A testament to the quality of the pens and the loyalty of their customers.

A Washington Medallion Pen from the author's collection
A Washington Medallion Pen from the author’s collection

Court Documents and Special Thanks

I wish to offer special thanks to Fountain Pen Network user Welch who so graciously took the time to go to the courthouse archive in New York City and photographed the records of the trial against Harrison & Bradford. This part of steel pen history would have been woefully incomplete without his hours and hours wrestling stiff, old documents which probably hadn’t been looked at since they were filed in 1867.

You can see what these documents originally looked like and how difficult it would have been to photograph with a hand-held camera. (no photo stands or photocopying could be used with these fragile documents)

 

Photo of part of the plaintiff's complaint
Washington Medallion Pen vs. Harrison and Bradford: Photo of part of the plaintiff’s complaint

 

example of defendant's response to the complaint
Washington Medallion vs. Harrison and Bradford et. al., example of defendant’s response to the complaint

 

And for those who may be interested in the transcriptions, I have transcribed, to the best of my ability, these old documents, and included the primary ones in a single document.

WMPC vs HandB Cout transcripts

 

Pen History, 1850’s: The Washington Medallion Pen Company, Part 2

The Early Years: 1855-1859

In 1855, a group of merchants and investors in New York City incorporated to form the American Steel Pen Manufacturing Company.

1856 American steel pen ad
From the Buffalo Daily Republic, Buffalo, NY, June 18, 1856

I’ve seen one example of their pens. It takes a standard form found in British pens of the time known as an Albata Pen. The pen itself, despite its rather poor condition, shows evidence of quality workmanship, like a double, or parallel grind.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
American Steel Pen Manufacturing Co. (N.Y.), Albata Pen
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
American Steel Pen Manufacturing Co., Albata Pen
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Evidence of a double grind

On April 15, 1856, the Secretary of the company, Albert Granger, was granted a design patent (Design Patent, April 15, 1856, D000780) for a pen that included a medallion of George Washington on the body of the pen. They named it the Washington Medallion Pen. They began to produce and sell this pen immediately.

WashMedPenEngrav50pct

I’ve found no evidence that the American Steel Pen Manufacturing Company sold any other pens once they developed the Washington Medallion Pen. And there is evidence that they dropped all former designs to produce only this new one for the rest of their history.

In an article in the April, 1857 issue of United States Magazine titled “How Steel Pens are Made: A visit to the manufactory of the Washington Medallion Steel Pen Company” which we have already seen contains a history of pens before the 1850’s, and to which we will come back for a more detailed examination in a later post, it mentions that the Washington Medallion Pen Company is a company who eschews the “variety” offered by other companies and instead adopts “the principle that variety is not a necessity with the consumer – but, on the contrary, uniformity in excellence and designation would more certainly meet the great public desire…” In other words, we’re only going to make one type of pen, and make it with the very highest quality workmanship and consistency.

On the 10th of February, 1857, the Washington Medallion Pen Company was incorporated under the laws of the city, county and state of New York. It was subject to the control of the owners of the American Steel Pen Manufacturing Company.

1857 Wash med and ASPMC ad
From the New Orleans Picayune, Jan. 15, 1857

In 1857, the company went on an advertising spree. One of the things that makes Washington Medallion different from the earlier pen makers is that they actively marketed to a national audience. We find ads in places like New Orleans (above), as well as (all from 1857):

Wilmington, North Carolina

1857 Wilmington NC

Washington, D. C.

1857 Wash DC

Louisville, Kentucky

1857 Louisville KY

Milwaukee, Wisconsin (a relatively remote market, still considered part of “The West” at that point, at least from a New Yorker’s viewpoint)

1857 Milwaukee

Burlington, VT

1857 Burlington VT

Hartford, CT (this one’s interesting because it dismisses all of the marketing hype you are seeing from British pens who are starting to claim all kinds of novel coatings to help reduce rusting)

1857 Hartford CT

And in the nationally distributed North American Review magazine.

Sardinia

and yes, that’s newly elected President James Buchanan writing from his home in Wheatland, Pennsylvania just after he was elected President, and only a couple of months before taking office in March of 1857.

Washington Medallion and a Nativist Agenda

There is one common element you find in all of the ads: the stress on Washington Medallion Pens being made in America and the importance of using American Pens for American uses.

Leaving aside the patently false claim that it’s the only pen made in America at the time (let alone the claim in the first ad above that it was the “first steel pen manufactory“), Washington Medallion made as a centerpiece of their marketing and identity that they are an American pen, made in America, by Americans. This reflects the strong nativist movement that grew in the 1840’s-50’s that is most often noted for it’s reaction against immigration, but also resulted in a push to buy American products over foreign imports.

It’s interesting to see the company often quote statistics of how much American money is being sent to Britain to buy British pens. President Buchanan is only responding to a strong pro-American sentiment when he finds it instructive that we’re sending $1,000,000 a year to Britain. And, it’s curious to note how the claim grew from $500,000 a year in the early 1857 ads, to $1,000,000 by the late 1857 ads. Did they get better data, or was a half-million not quite enough, but a nice, round million-dollars was more striking?

There’s no way I’ve found to confirm or dispute this amount, and considering the validity of their other claim to being the sole pen made in America (Myer Phineas was making his pens just blocks away from Washington Medallion), I’m not inclined to completely believe their numbers at face value. Regardless of the actual total, it was true that British pens dominated the market and no American pen had been able to successfully compete on a large scale before.

In the United States Magazine article mentioned above, after portraying the history of steel pen production in America as a failure to that point (1857), it then states,

During the last two years not only has the acme of excellence been produced in the manufacture of American steel pens, but their decided superiority is rapidly checking importations, thus distributing among our own people over one million dollars per annum that formerly went abroad.

The next section, telling the origin story for the company, is worth quoting in full to give you an idea of the tone of heroic narrative they seemed to favor when telling their story.

This national triumph has been accomplished by a number of able and spirited individuals, who associated themselves together, according to the General Manufacturing Law of New York, under the title of “The Washington Medallion Pen Company.” They commenced operations by erecting a substantial factory on Thirty-seventh street, between Seventh and Eighth avenues, in this city. After securing “competent artisans,” they, at an early day, discovered the rock on which all their predecessors were wrecked – adherence to English styles and trade-marks – which necessitated a competition in the market at the prices at which English pens were offered; presenting no new feature to the consumers, they could not attract the notice of the people or engage the interests of the merchants. To sail clear of this rock the efforts of this Company were directed. Adopting the principle that variety is not a necessity with the consumer – but, on the contrary, uniformity in excellence and designation would more certainly meet the great public desire – it instituted thorough experiments with all known styles of steel pens, and made several entirely new shapes, with the view to ascertain what shape would produce the most natural and generally agreeable action. With this view, and after fully six months devoted to experiments, they perfected a pen of unrivaled shape and excellence – to protect which from infringement they adopted as a trademark a medallion head of Washington; this is secured by letters patent, and is stamped on every pen. Thus fully comprehending the underlying principles of this important branch of manufactures, and boldly striking out a new path in accordance with them, this Company has firmly planted this new interest on American soil.

Let’s unpack some of this.

The site of their factory at 136 W. 37th St. is long gone, but we do know the names of two of those “competent artisans” mentioned in the article. George Harrison and George Bradford first appear in N.Y. directories in 1856 living together in the same boarding house just blocks from the factory at 141 W. 36th. Initially they’re identified as “toolmaker” but by the next year they’re listed as “pen maker.”

They can’t have been in the states for very long because in the 1851 British census we find them still in Birmingham.

George Bradford, 22, living with his widowed father, George. The senior George’s trade is listed as “penholder maker” and George Jr. and his older brother John are identified as “pen tool makers.” He lived at 48 William St. in Birmingham with his father and 6 other siblings.

The most likely candidate for our George Harrison in the 1851 English census is the son of Joseph Harrison (retired silver maker) and Mary. They all live at 66 Garrison Lane, Aston, Birmingham. At age 22 he is listed as a toolmaker along with his two brothers in the same trade.

How Harrison and Bradford arrived in the US is still a mystery. Whether they took ship in hopes of finding their fortune, or if they were recruited by one of the principles of the company to come to America and help them start a new pen company, we may never know. We do know that Albert Eastman, the President of the new American Steel Pen company, was also involved in importing silks and other fancy goods. Most of the fancy goods sold in the US of the time were made in England, so it’s not unreasonable to think that either he visited there, or had extensive contacts in the country to effect this recruitment. Until we can find a record of immigration, it will be difficult to determine when and how they arrived in the US.

[Edit: since the original publication of this entry, I’ve come across a citation from an 1863 encyclopedia entry discussing female employment in the steel pen industry, which states that Washington Medallion brought women from England who had worked in the steel pen industry there, presumably in Birmingham, to work in their factory. If they went to the trouble of bringing skilled workers, it’s almost certain they also brought the skilled tool makers as well. I propose that this strengthens the argument that Harrison and Bradford were brought to the US, rather than came on their own and stumbled upon Washington Medallion.]

Why would they leave Britain and come to the US? We get a glimpse of the Birmingham steel industry in an article from just a few years later in Cornish’s Stranger’s Guide Through Birmingham. In it, the author writes, under the heading of “Miscellaneous Manufactures in Metals” :

Steel Pens. – This trade has its origin here about 1829, the first pens being made by Mr. Joseph Gillott, [ed.: notice how even as early as 1860’s the history of the pen industry is focusing on only the big names, and forgetting the real pioneers] whose name has since become so closely identified with the trade. Mr. Gillott’s manufactory (Graham Street) is open to visitors on application. There are twelve steel pen makers in Birmingham. Messrs. Hinks and Wells, Buckingham Street; Mr. Mason, Lancaster Street; Mr. Mitchell, Newhall Street, and Cumberland Street; and Mr. Brandauer, New John Street West, being amongst the principal. The number of men employed in the trade is 360, and of women and girls 2,050, besides whom a large number of box-makers, &c., are constantly engaged. The quantity of steel used weekly for the production of pens is about ten tons, and the number of pens made weekly, 98,000 gross, i.e., that is 1,176,000 dozen, or 14,112,000 separate pens. Thus, in one year, pens enough are made in Birmingham almost to supply one pen to every existing member of the human race. The prices range from 12s to 1 1/2d. per gross. To quote a recent writer (from whom most of these facts are taken) when it is remembered that each gross requires 144 pieces of steel to go through at least twelve processes, the fact that 144 pens can be sold for 1 1/2 d. is a singular example of the results attainable by the division of labour and the perfection of mechanical skill.”

Birmingham was the epicenter of the largest manufacturers of pens in the world, but that also meant there were a lot of young men being trained in the specialized trade, with, most likely, not enough job openings for a well-trained tool maker. We know, from the biography of another steel pen maker from Birmingham who came to America just a few years later, John Turner, that after his apprenticeship in the English manufactories, he went overseas to France to learn how they made pens there.

Other countries who were just starting to get their pen industries off the ground would have been tempting locations to try your luck and see if you could make it big in a new market. America, with its large population, high literacy rate, who was hungry for British pens, was ripe for a new pen manufacturer run under English methods and using the latest tools and techniques from Birmingham. Harrison and Bradford were just the men to help.

And why would Granger, et. al. go all the way to England to find someone to help them make pens? The answer lies in the same article from the United States Magazine. Of course, it’s highly likely that Harrison and Bradford had some say in the following description of the importance of the tool maker in the pen industry.

“Upon the make and prefect truthfulness of the tools depend the quality of the pens. The tools are manufactured on the premises by artists who are known as pen-tool makers. These tool makers rank in Birmingham as the best machanics [sic] in England, and command higher wages than any other mechanics in that country. They are the chiefs of their shops – all the work being performed under their charge and responsibility.”

Thus is how Harrison & Bradford are seen, at least by themselves, but it’s not far from the truth. Past pen-making enterprises were less able to get the right level of flexibility and finish to allow them to compete with the British pens. But all of them had relied on American tools and American tool makers. Washington Medallion showed the value of bringing British tool makers from Birmingham, and making the tools here, in the British style. This is a pattern followed a few years later by Richard Esterbrook.

By 1859, you no longer find Washington Medallion directly advertising. Stationers will still advertise them, but you find no more advertisements until 1860.

1860 is a crucial year for the Washington Medallion Pen Company, as we will see in our next post.

 

Pen History, 1850’s: The Washington Medallion Pen Company, Part 1

Introduction

We’ve covered the history of steel pens in the US from the early days up through the 1840’s. The 1850’s is when we see the beginnings of the major companies that dominate the US pen industry for the next 70 years, and the opening scenes of the Golden Age of steel pen production in the US.

The first of these companies I will cover, the Washington Medallion Pen Company, was dominate for a shorter time, but they were very influential in their advertising as well as their emphasis on being an American company, distinct from the British imports which were flooding the market at the time.

The Washington Medallion Pen Company is also important to the history of the US steel pen industry because of the people who worked there and the various legal fights which impacted and were impacted by some of the most important figures in writing implements in the US, including Esterbrook, Harrison & Bradford, and even Eberhard Faber.

I’m going to start with a brief overview and summary of the company’s story. I will then create separate entries for each of the major periods of the company’s history, as well as show examples of their important ads, and touch upon some of the key lawsuits which impacted the direction of the industry.

Overview

In 1855 some merchants from the City of New York, including Albert Granger, former owner of a dry goods establishment, and Albert L. Eastman, an importer of silks and fancy goods merchant, formed the American Steel Pen Manufacturing Company. Eastman was the President and Granger was the Secretary.

On April 15, 1856, Albert Granger is granted a design patent for a steel pen that includes an embossed medallion showing the head of George Washington. The Washington Medallion Pen Company was incorporated in New York on 10 February 1857. The Washington Medallion Pen was popular, and was sold into the 1880’s. This was the first long-term, successful, pen company in the US with a national market.

In 1856 we are also introduced for the first time to two important figures in the history of American steel pens: George Harrison and George Bradford. In the NYC directory for 1856/57, these two young men are listed as toolmakers and live in the same boarding house on 141 W. 36th ST., just blocks from where their employer, The American Steel Pen Manufacturing Company was located.

Harrison and Bradford were both from Birmingham, both trained in the pen factories there. Whether they were brought by Eastman and Granger, or they came and were recruited by the same, we’ll never know. What we do know is that these two young, trained toolmakers were soon followed by another group of experienced, British pen makers. These men, including John Turner, helped found the greatest US steel pen manufacturer, Esterbrook, just a few years later (1860) in Philadelphia. The pattern of importing experienced British tool makers and pen manufacturers, which helped make Esterbrook so successful, was originally set by The Washington Medallion Pen Company.

Washington Medallion’s early years are marked by great self-promotion and advertising, a shameless appeal to nationalism, and financial and legal difficulties. Its middle years see a great deal of lawsuits and legal trouble, which eventually settles down into a gradual dissipating into relative obscurity while still producing pens.

Eastman leaves the company sometime in the middle period and continues with his importing, silk and fancy goods business until his death in 1891. Granger stays with the company until around 1870. He lives on in retirement until passing away in 1909.

Harrison and Bradford continue to exert a great influence on the pen industry until their deaths later in the century: both founding their own company, Harrison & Bradford, then later splitting up to help found the second largest pen company in the US (Turner & Harrison), as well as starting up the pen operations for another major manufacturer, Miller Brothers. More on their story later, but first lets look at the early years of the Washington Medallion Pen Company.

Next up: The Early Years: 1855-1860

 

 

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.

Pen History, 1840’s: Mark Levy and Brothers

In the 1830’s we saw Mark Felt, a prosperous stationer, try his hand at making pens. We’ve also seen Sampson Mordan over in England also start to make his own pens, as well as create innovations. This was not an isolated phenomenon.

The 1840’s saw more stationers try and make their own pens. They had been selling the British pens and demand was growing. Already, by the 1830’s, it’s just accepted  by most that the steel pen is the superior writing tool.

1830s steel pens better

In the 1840’s steel pens become big business for the stationers, and it’s not just the pens.  There’s a proliferation of ads touting this paper or that ink as suitable for, or even designed for the steel pen.

1840 Preston ink

So, the stationers were well aware of how much money was being spent on steel pens, and how the market was growing. It’s no wonder a few of them try and get into the business. One of them who did, and succeeded for a bit, was Mark Levy and his brothers Henry and Lewis.

By 1841, Mark, Henry and Lewis had formed Mark Levy & Brothers, selling stationery out of their “Cheap Stationery Warehouse” at 40 Maiden Lane, upstairs. They were also making and selling their own pens under the Mark Levy name.

1841 mark levy ad

The Levy brothers used one of the standard practices of the day and sent samples of their pens to busy newspaper reporters and editors in the hopes that they might get a small bit of newsprint praising their pens. Well, it seems to have worked. By 1843 they had quite a collection of testimonials from newspapers around New York.

1843 mark levy testimonials

The pens themselves came in fine and broad. But they only made the pens until about 1845. The stationery store lasted a bit longer. In 1853 Henry left the business. And Mark left in 1856, leaving just Lewis, still at 49 Maiden Lane selling “fancy goods.”

One note about the picture of the pen at the top of this post. This may be the oldest pen in my collection, or at least one of the oldest. It came to me in a small assorted group of pens, none seemed to be newer than 1860’s. Many were in not so great shape, like the Levy pen, but considering their age, I kept every one. It’s not often you come across a 172-year-old steel pen.

This is the one with the oldest verifiable date. You’ll be seeing a few more of them as we talk about the makers.

MarkLeveyPen