Pen Shapes: A Proposed Glossary

Naming Pen Shapes

Steel pens come in many different shapes. There is no single source for “official” names for the various shapes. Some names are explicitly given by manufacturers and seem to be standard, like the Falcon and the Shoulder pen, but most are not explicit and almost none are consistent.

American pens also tended to come in fewer shapes than you find in Europe. Even that limited range of shapes was narrowed down by the turn of the century.  After WWI, when manufacturers were required to reduce their product lines to only a few pens, even fewer different shapes were brought back after the war. By the 1920’s the number of pen shapes generally made in the United States was greatly reduced.

As part of my capturing an inventory of my collection of pens, I have gathered together a list of shapes and descriptions that are useful to me. The names come from either standard names used in the industry, my attempt at a descriptive name, or it is named after a standard pen that seem to exemplify this shape, such as the Inflexible or the Colorado.

These tend to be rather broad categories. Many of these shapes have various sub-types under them. The most common shape, the Straight pen, can be found in variations such as the wide and shallow, the long and thin, the short and delicate, and others. Pinched Spoon pens, as well, tend to have quite a range of shapes to the pinched transition section between heel and body. Some are smooth, others faceted or decorated in one way or another, but all share the same, basic shape.

Other shapes are differentiated by degrees of one characteristic or another. The three stubs, short, medium and long, merely designate the three general sizes of straight-boded stub pens. These three designations work because manufacturers tended to make all of their straight-bodied stubs in one of these three sizes. Beaked pens and Bank pens are pretty closely related and only differ in the ratio of tines to body.

This is neither an exhaustive nor authoritative list, but one that I’ve put together to try and give names to the shapes of my pens. I’m sure as I progress in my detailed cataloging I will add to, or tweak this list. As flawed as it is, right now this is the best (and only) list I’ve found out there that tries to describe and standardize the main shapes of steel pens.

I’m sure that some disagree with some of my names and even my categorization. I’m also sure I’ll find examples that either don’t fit or are in between one or another shapes. That’s OK. This is a work in progress and I will be adding to, and modifying this list as I go along. It’s also far too limited for the wildly divergent shapes you find in England, France, Italy and German manufacturers. Should my collection begin to really to expand into those areas, I will have to expand my list of shapes.

If you find a shape that is specifically mentioned in a source and I call it something else, let me know and share the source. I may incorporate it or even revise my name. If you’d like to add to this list, especially for those pens not normally made in the US, feel free to let me know.

Pen Nomenclature.

I introduced the anatomy of a steel pen in more detail in another post, but I think it’s worthwhile including the annotated picture from that post here as well.

Anatomy-of-a-pen

The descriptions of the shapes rely heavily on several main parts to the pen. There is the Heel, the Body and the Shoulders. This diagram does not include a transition section that some shapes have between the heel and the body. These transitions generally narrow between the heel and the body, but some, like the Crown shape actually increase in width.

When I talk about “up” or “down” assume the pen is placed vertically with the heel pointing down and the tip pointing up. The “line” or “axis” of the pen is the imaginary line drawn from the bottom of the heel to tip of the tines.

Shapes

(thank you to The Esterbrook Project for use of many of their images)

Albata

Normal heel, large, embossed design, generally floral, leading to a long, tapering body.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Esterbrook #11 Albata
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
American Steel Pen, Albata Pen

Bank

A long, straight pen with longer tines than normal, but not as long as a Beaked pen.  Though the Bank pen is sometimes classified as a Beaked pen, I think there’s enough of a difference between the very common “Bank” pen shape and the longer tines of the rest of the beaked pens that I call out the Bank as a separate shape.

ESTERBROOK-14
Esterbrook #14 Bank Pen

Barrel

Pen where the heel is a complete tube and the body of the pen is shaped as normal. The body can come in various forms.

individual-wm-mitchell-pen.jpg
William Mitchell “N” pen

Beaked

Generally a straight bodied pen with extra-long tines. Tines are much longer in relation to the body than even Bank pens.

ESTERBROOK 98 CORRESPONDENCE PEN 1883 img
Esterbrook #98 Correspondence (1883 catalog image)
ESTERBROOK-343-RED-INK-PEN
Esterbrook #343 Red Ink Pen. All Red Ink and Laundry Pens are beaked.

Colorado

Similar to a taper shape, but very shoulder-heavy, and a flat profile, as seen on the various Colorado pens from Esterbrook and others.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Warrington &  Co’s Colorado
ESTERBROOK-2-COLORADO
Esterbrook #2 Colorado

Crow Quill

Same shape as a Barrel Pen but much smaller, thinner and a much finer point.

ESTERBROOK-63
Esterbrook #63 Lithographic

Crown

Normal heel that transitions into a series of strips connecting the heel to the body of the pen. These strips are bent outwards in a rounded shape to make a sort of basket that resembles a crown.

Perry-Crown-Shape.jpg
A Perry 120 EF

Source

1876 Esterbrook 224 Grecian
Esterbrook #224 Grecian

Double Elastic

A straight-bodied pen with notches cut out of the edges just below the shoulders.

Esterbrook-135-Double-Elast
Esterbrook #135 Double Elastic

Double Line

A pen that draws two lines simultaneously. There are two sets of tines.

ESTERBROOK-344
Esterbrook #344 Double Line Ruling Pen

Double Spring

A straight-bodied pen with a cut-out across the body of the pen perpendicular to the line of the pen.

Esterbrook-129-Double-Sprin
Esterbrook #129 Double Spring

Elbow Oblique

An oblique pen shaped like a straight-sided pen that has been bent into an oblique, zig-zag shape.

ESTERBROOK-345-ELBOW-PEN
Esterbrook #345 Elbow Pen

Falcon

Normal heel, then flared transition with embossed “shoulders” “cut-out” sides moving up to a shoulder and taper to longer tines.

falcon_sizes
Three different sized Falcons

Falcon Stub

A stub pen in the shape of a Falcon pen.

ESTERBROOK-442
Esterbrook #442 Falcon Stub

Flat Leaf

Leaf-shaped pen but the body of the pen is flattened rather than rounded. There may or may not be a transition section between heel and body. Probably the best known pen of this shape is the Waverley Pen by Macniven and Cameron.

Waverley
Macniven and Cameron Waverley Pen

Flat Spear

Similar to a spear, but the top of the body is flattened and sometimes curved.

ESTERBROOK 205 SPEAR POINT
Esterbrook #205 Spear Point, 1883 catalog
ESTERBROOK 672 TRANSMITTER PEN 1941 image
Esterbrook #672 Transmitter Pen

Index

Shaped like a pointing index finger.

1870s Esterbrook 99 Ladies Pen Salesman Card 1
Esterbrook #99 Ladies Index Pen. Image courtesy of collection of David Nishimura

Inflexible

Related to a pinched spoon, but with a distinctive sharp dip and ridge as seen in the Esterbrook Inflexible pen, and others.

ESTERBROOK-322
Esterbrook #322 Inflexible
ESTERBROOK-531-FLYER
Esterbrook #531 Flyer (Inflexible but with turned-up tip)

Leaf

Similar to a spoon, but the body is bottom heavy with a deep curve at the bottom but quickly narrowing at the top. The body has a rounded profile.

ESTERBROOK-256
Esterbrook #256 Tecumseh

Long stub

A longer , straight-bodied stub.

ESTERBROOK-312
Esterbrook #312 Judge’s Quill

Medium Stub

A medium-length straight stub.

ESTERBROOK-314
Esterbrook #314 Relief

Oblique

An oblique pen in the general shape of the original Mordant patent. The body is broad and generally leaf-shaped with a generous swell near the heel and tapering to a point quickly.

Warrington and Co oblique from David Berlin
Warrington & Co. Oblique
01 spencerian pen
Piquette Oblique gold nib

 

Pinched Center

A normal heel, then the beginning of the body is pinched in and down to make a center ridge that extends up to the main body, which is generally smaller and then tapered or rounded towards the tip.

cropped-Washington-Medallion-pen-engraving1200x2000.jpg
Washington Medallion Pen
1870s Esterbrook 54 Superb Salesman Card 1
Esterbrook #54 Superb

Pinched Spoon

A spoon pen with a transition section between the heel and the body of the pen. This transition can be smooth, faceted or even decorated.

ESTERBROOK-717-FEDERAL-PEN
Esterbrook #717 Federal Pen

Round

Normal heel, round body with small, triangular point sticking out

Esterbrook-341-Reservoir-St
Esterbrook #341 Reservoir Stub

Ruling Pen

Folded sheet of steel or brass to create a v-shaped profile.

Gisburne ruling pens
Esterbrook Gisburne Ruling Pen #2

School

A straight-bodied pen with a small raised line perpendicular to the line of the pen, generally right above the imprint and before the hole. Almost all of these shape pens are called “School” pens. The Gillott 404 is one of the most famous.

Esterbrook-444-School-Pen
Esterbrook #444 School Pen

Shield

Normal heel, often there’s a transition section, then a slight, straight widening that ends in a wider shoulder. The key is that the widening from transition to shoulder is straight, not curved.

1876 Esterbrook 201 Favorite
Esterbrook #201 Favorite Pen
Esterbrook-202-Multicopy
Esterbrook #202 Multicopy. An elongated version of the 201.

Short stub

Stub pen with a shorter, straight body

ESTERBROOK-239
Esterbrook #239 Chancellor

Shoulder

Normal heel then an abrupt, sharp, 90 or near-90-degree transition to create a wider, deeper, straight body to the shoulders. These are usually long pens.

Esterbrook-9-Commercial
Esterbrook #9 Commercial.

Spear

Normal heel, very narrow and long body coming to a sharp point with no shoulders. There may be a transition section between heel and body, but it stays within a narrow profile.

Plume_Sergent-Major_spear
Blanzy  #2500 Sergent Major

Spoon

Wide at the bottom of the body, gentle and smooth narrowing to the tip. Abrupt transition from heel to widest part of the body.

ESTERBROOK-788
Esterbrook #788

Straight

Straight sides and even width along the length from heel to shoulders.

ESTERBROOK-556-PEN
Esterbrook #556 Pen

Taper

Straight-sided pen narrow at the heel and wide at the shoulders. The taper is straight from heel to shoulder.

Esterbrook-702-Modified-Sla
Esterbrook #702 Modified Slant

New “Pen Type” Post: Barrel Pens vs. Slip Pens

The earliest form of dip pens for which we have a description was the barrel pen. By the 1830’s this form had dropped out of favor for what we know today, which was originally called the slip pen.

In my latest post, I take a quick look at these two forms. We get a glimpse of possible beginnings of the slip pen and we range widely over early steel pens, the last gasp of quill pens as they react to these new metallic substitutes, and how gold pens learned a thing or two from the older barrel pens.

Barrel Pens vs. Slip Pens

Nibs come in various shapes and sizes, but the general shape most people are familiar with was originally known as the “slip pen.” This is the individual pen that slips into a holder. This is the shape we’re all familiar with.

1889 Leon Isaacs stub falcon pen image

But the dip pen did not always take this form. The earliest known steel pens for which we have a description, instead seemed to take a form known as a barrel pen.

A barrel pen looks like someone stuck a slip pen onto a longer tube of metal. Like these modern versions made in the early 20th-century.

Wm Mitchell barrel_pens

You can see that these came with their own wooden holder, onto which you slipped the whole pen. What may not be quite as obvious is that these are one solid piece of steel.

It is easily understandable that this shape would be an early one. It’s essentially the bottom end of a quill, which is essentially a tube with a writing end cut into the bottom.

Interestingly enough, the first slip pens we know of were actually individual pens cut from a whole quill. This basically allowed you to get multiple pen points from a single quill, and if they could be pre-cut, then when that point wore out, you could replace it with a new one. This became the model of steel pens as well as soon as they moved out of the workshop and began to be cheaply made at an industrial scale.

Joseph Bramah was not the first to make these replaceable quill pen points, but he was the most widely known inventor to come up with both a hand press to cut multiple points from a single quills, and a holder to hold them.

Bramah's patent pen points and pen with a Bramah holder
This picture is found in multiple places on the internet. If anyone wants to claim it, I’m happy to give credit, or take it down if desired.

I have found and early reference to a New Yorker, Mr Stansbury, who came up with a way to cut quills into individual “pens” that were held in a holder. This reference was dated to five years before Bramah files his patent. In a letter to Thomas Jefferson from his friend Charles Willson Peale, dated 22 July 1804, Peale mentions that “I have fortunately found an ingenious invention of Mr. Stansbury Junr. of New York for making several pens of a single quill…”  Peale suggests Jefferson try out this quill points in his polygraph, as soon as Peale can make some brass tubes (holders) for the quills that will fit the machine in question.

The steel pens that were being made around this time, though, were still barrel pens.  One of the earliest steel pen makers was a man named Samuel Harrison. He was a maker of split rings (think of those key rings made of a single ribbon of steel wrapped into a circle overlapping itself) in Birmingham, England. He also made pens for his friend, and famous chemist, Joseph Priestly. These early metal pens were made by bending a sheet of thin steel into a tube, and then cutting away the metal to form a nib. Harrison used the seam where the two ends came together as the slit in the pen.

Another early maker, Daniel Fellow, a blacksmith from Sedgley, began making pens in the 1780’s. His technique was similar, but he created the split with chisels.

03_The_Times_Wed__Jun_13__1787

 

Notice the ad says that the pen is “properly mounted.” This means that the pens came pre-mounted on a holder, as were some in the early days. These were still luxury items, so I’m sure the holders were very nicely made, but were still a small portion of the total cost of the pen.

These barrel pens were also made in the US in these early days. The first professional steel pen maker in the US was Peregrine Williamson, starting in about 1806 in Baltimore. His pens were very popular at the time, and attracted the attention of President Thomas Jefferson, who became a customer.

His pens were also barrel pens. He sold them loose, with a holder, or “properly” mounted. He sold some of the loose nibs to Thomas Jefferson for use in his “polygraph”  mentioned above, and also some mounted in a fancy pen/pencil combo complete with perpetual calendar at one end.

Here’s the only image we have of his pens. It’s from a newspaper ad in 1809.

detail of pens

Notice the similarity in shape to the modern barrel pens shown above.

Individual Wm Mitchell pen

Early slip pens were invented in Birmingham in the 1820’s-30’s as the industrial production of steel pens began to be figured out. They require less work, and less material when good steel was still relatively expensive.

Gold pens were made as slip pens, but because they are also more prone to bending and other damage, you often see them mounted in a brass, gilt or other tube which fits onto the end of a holder, in the same manner as the barrel pens.

This is a Dawson, Warren & Hyde pen from the 1850’s. You can see the wooden holder has a brass cap that receives the end of the tube into which the gold pen is inserted. The gold wash on the tube was very thin and has mostly rubbed off.

DawsonWarrenHyde in box

This gold pen, made by Piquette in Detroit also in the late 1840’s to 1850’s, is also mounted in a tube which would have fit on a holder like the pen above. Unfortunately, as is often the case, the holder is missing.

Inbox

The barrel pen continued to be made into the 20th-century, almost exclusively by the British manufacturers. They were not very common, or widely made, but they can still be found now and again. They remind us of the very earliest days of steel pens and what they once looked like.

What’s New: More Washington Medallion, stub pens

I’ve added the last main entry on Washington Medallion. This entry is the longest entry yet. It covers the rest of the company’s history from the troubled times of 1860, through the numerous lawsuits, and the crazy Harrison & Bradford period.

The Washington Medallion Pen Company is not well-known, but it set so many precedents for the US steel pen industry. They were the first to bring skilled British tool makers from Birmingham, they were the first to truly advertise nationally. Others had sold their pens regionally, but Washington Medallion’s marketing went further than any had before. Through their lawsuits they also set legal precedents for trade mark protection and changed how the steel pen makers who came after designed and sold their pens.

I’m not completely finished with Washington Medallion. There are a couple of other topics of interest to cover. Next I will take the article from United States Magazine I’m referenced multiple times, and go over it more completely, as it is a fascinating, and detailed, glimpse into pen making technology and techniques in the middle of the 19th-century.

And in case you missed it, I also recently added a short entry on stub steel pens in response to several questions I’ve received.

As always, I appreciate feedback and questions, and I hope you enjoy the latest entries.

The Stub Pen

I received a question about stub tip steel pens. A stub tip is broader across than a pointed pen. They come in a variety of widths, sharpness of corners, and a few are even flexible. Which one you need depends on what you’re wanting to do: italic writing, regular rapid writing, ornamental engrossing, etc…

The stub pointed pen was developed fairly early in the history of steel pens as an alternative to the sharp, pointed pen for people who wrote a great deal, and needed to write more quickly, with less effort.* A pointed pen, especially a flexible one, requires a lot of small movements up and down off the paper, even if it’s not terribly flexible, in addition to the two dimensions across the paper. This is because pointed pens require heavier and lighter touches depending on if you’re writing a down or upstroke. Upstrokes need to have a very light touch to prevent the tip from catching on the paper.

Stub pens were advertised as a true replacement for the smooth writing quill pens. Most quills were not cut to a sharp point, but had a slight cross-cut made to the very tip. The steel stub pen mimics this cut.

Italic or engrossing stubs differ from their rapid-writing cousins by the sharpness of their corners. The corner of the tip, affects both the smoothness of the writing, and the crispness of the line. For decorative writing, “engrossing” in the older terminology, you need a sharper corner to make a clean and thin line.

For rapid and easy writing, you need a smoother, more rounded corner. This is one less thing to get caught in fast upstrokes and side strokes. The line also tends to be less crisp.
Mostly, stubs come in three sizes of nib: small, medium and long. This is not related to the size of the tip (fine, medium and broad), but to the size of the nib. And then there are the falcon stubs. (like the 442 Jackson stub)

From Esterbrook alone, I would recommend the 314 Relief Pen (“It’s a Relief to write with”). This nib was so popular that when Esterbrook first started experimenting with fountain pens (made by Wirt, De La Rue, and eventually Conway Stewart), out of all of the nibs they made, they chose the 314 Relief to be the nib. (before the interchangeable Renew-point nibs)

Or the Esterbrook 239 Chancellors. This is a smaller sized stub that’s a lot of fun to write with. Very smooth and a long-time top seller as well.

Or if you’re looking for a broader nib, the 313 Probate. Shelby Foote wrote his 3000+ page opus on the American Civil War using this pen. It’s what they used to call a “coarse” but we today call “broad” stub.

For a finer stub, the 312 Judge’s quill, though I find the 239 and 314 much nicer to write with.

Hunt made a very nice small size stub, almost identical to the 239, called the 62 (X-62 silverine model). I have a bunch of those and they are quite smooth and a lot of fun to use.

For the medium size (length) stubs, I’m also fond of the Spencerian Society Stubs, which come up periodically on eBay. They’re flashy with their gold coating, and very high quality, as you expect from Spencerian nibs.

Spencerian also made a very nice falcon stub called the Subway Stub that’s almost as good as the Jackson.

And no discussion of stubs would be complete without mentioning the extraordinary Spencerian 28 Congressional. A medium-broad long stub pen, but what makes it so amazing is that it’s a fully flexible stub. Not everyone’s cup of tea, and not necessarily practical for everyday writing, but soooo much fun to write with.

There are literally hundreds of styles, but these are some which are more commonly run across in online auctions and other sources of vintage stub dip pens. And perhaps honorable mention should also go to the less common, but very fun, Esterbrook 284 Blackstone stub. A very broad “signature stub” in a striking black coating.

different stubs

Writing with a dip stub is different than writing with a fountain pen stub nib. The best way to write, which gives you the best results is to change the orientation of the nib and paper so that the broad edge of the stub is parallel to the line of writing.

When writing with an italic nib, to write italic style letters, you hold the nib at about a 45-degree angle to the line of writing. Here’s a cheesy ASCII representation of the nib to the line

/
———

With a dip stub, when you’re writing regular (i.e. cursive, not Italic) script, keep the nib parallel to the line of writing. This usually requires you to turn the page a bit, and keep your arms in towards your body.

_
——–

Here’s a comparison between a stub nib (Hunt x-62) on the left, and a pointed pen (Eagle E840 Modern Writing) on the right. The stub was held parallel to the line of writing.

stub_pointed_comparison

 

The Story of the Esterbrook #442 Jackson Stub.

And as a historical side note (I can’t help myself sometimes), the introduction of Esterbrook’s famous 442 Jackson Stub has some little bit of drama around it.

In 1886, a small, but quality producer of steel pens in Philadelphia, Leon Isaacs, develops and trademarks a pen called the #12 Falcon Stub. Isaacs was very careful about trademarking his designs and branding, and in this case he trademarked both the terms “Falcon Stub” as well as “Stub Falcon.”

Here’s an ad from early in 1887 that shows the #12.

1887 Leon Isaacs 12 pens

In 1889, just a few years later, Leon Isaacs & Co. had a bit of a rough patch.

First, in July, Leon Isaacs’ long-time partner, Michael Voorsanger, lost his grown son, who at 23 seemed destined for success, but was struck down in minutes by a mysterious hemorrhage.  Michael was on the road on business and rushed home and was reported as “very sick from the shock.”

Just a few months later, in September, Leon Isaacs himself died. Voorsanger, along with two of Leon’s sons: Alexander Leon Isaacs, and Judah Leon Isaacs took over the business. (Judah would later found J. L. Isaacs pens in New York City)

1889 Leon Isaacs obit

And then in late October, Esterbrook, the 800-pound gorilla in the industry, makes the following announcement which, while not outright saying so, implies that they saw a need and invented a new pen to fill it.

October 31, 1889 “American Stationer”
Page 1105
“The ‘Jackson’ Stub Pen
The “Falcon” is undoubtedly the most popular form of fine pointed steel pen ever put on the market. There has been a steady call for a pen of similar style, but with a stub point. In response to this the Esterbrook Pen Company has just put on the market a pen filling these requirements. This new pen is known as the “Jackson Stub,” and an illustration of it is presented herewith. The pen has a smooth, easy action, and possesses qualities which will commend it to those who wish a thoroughly effective pen for rapid writing.

1889 Jackson stub announcement

 

And then ran an ad featuring the new pen.

1889 Jackson stub ad

In December, the new management of Leon Isaacs & Co. won’t let that lie. They come out with a new version of their advertisement which now  highlights their falcon stub and includes the following new text.

The Title “FALCON STUB,” or “STUB FALCON,” is Copyrighted and Registered May 8, 1866, at Patent Office, Washington, D.C., by LEON ISAAC’S & CO

1889 Leon Isaacs ad with stub falcon

It’s interesting to note, that Esterbrook never uses the term Stub Falcon or Falcon Stub for decades after the introduction of the 442 Jackson Stub. You will find the term used by other companies later, 1930’s or so, but that is long after Leon Isaacs & Co was sold to Turner & Harrison, and long after any kind of trademark would have expired.

A small victory for a company who had a very, very bad year in 1889.

 

*I’ve encountered this explanation for stub pens in several places. One was contained in the history of turned-up points as explained by Esterbrook in The American Stationer in 12 February 1889, p. 331

Turned Up Point Pens

The first steel pens made in Birmingham about the year 1837, while providing a ready made instrument for penmen, failed to give that ease in writing which was the characteristic of the old quill. They were uniformly fine pointed and naturally more or less scratchy. The remedy for this was not found until a generation later, when the demand for an easier writing pen because imperative. Manufacturers began to make them with blunt and broad points.

In 1871 the Esterbrook Steel Pen Company made its first stub pen, No. 161, and now the company has as many as eighteen numbers of stub pens on its catalogue. This did not completely satisfy the demands until the happy idea occurred to turn up the points. This rendered the evolution of the pen complete.

In 1876 the Esterbrook Steel Pen Company produced its 1876 Telegraphic, followed shortly after by No. 256 Tecumseh, and No. 309 Choctaw. At the special request of many the Falcon pen was made in this style. Another pen has now been added to the list, and is known as No. 477 Postal. This is a size larger than the Choctaw, with finer points.

The perfect ease afforded by these pens contributes one of the most valuable luxuries provided for writers at this end of the century. The penman can write longer with less fatigue than with the ordinary styles. The tediousness of writing is almost entirely avoided, and the relief is so complete that it converts a drudgery into a delight and a pain into a pleasure, and anyone who has taken up one of these turned up point pens for a companion will never consent to be without it.

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.

A Gold, Oblique, Nib for Spencerian Writing – Piquette of Detroit

While it’s not made of steel, I felt a pen I recently acquired was interesting enough to add to the blog. It is a gold dip pen (just the nib and collar, the wood or MOP handle is gone) with what looks like the original box.

Let’s start with what can be known before we move into speculation.

The easy part is that this is a gold pen made/sold by Piquette of Detroit.

scale

05 nib detail under

Charles Piquette was a jeweler who was in business from 1845 until 1860 or so.

1845 ad

1845 Piquette early ad

I know Piquette is no long in the business because by 1861 Charles Dunks was calling himself “successor to C. Piquette” and listing the same Jefferson Ave. address. It seems he took over Piquette’s business.

1861 piquette succeeded by dunkin

 

The nib may well have been made by Dunks as there’s some evidence that Dunks was Piquette’s pen maker. This comes from a claim that the pen Abraham Lincoln used to sign the Emancipation Proclamation was made and donated by Dunks  right after Lincoln’s election. Lincoln also used it to write his first inaugural address.

 

1863 Piquette pen for Lincoln

 

Piquette made gold pens and ran a re-tipping service ($0.50 for pointed pens, $0.75 for engrossing, i.e. stub or italic, nibs) out of his jewelry store in Detroit.

1853 Piquette repair work

My pen is an oblique nib very similar in design to the 1831 Mordan patent for the first oblique nib. It is well-tipped and in great shape. Those are not cracks, but dried ink.

01 spencerian pen

This imprint “Spencerian Pen” is the main puzzle about this pen.

During the time when this pen was most likely made, 1845-1860, Platt Rogers Spencer was actively getting his idea for business colleges off the ground, and publishing his first books of penmanship, explaining his methods and style (1848).

Most of the Spencerian pens we know of today were made by The Spencerian Steel Pen Co. which was founded by NY publisher and bookseller Ivison Phinney around 1858. Their pens were made by Josiah Mason, as provided by Perry, until very late in their production. I don’t see this nib as having any relationship to that company at all.

The fact that it’s marked “Spencerian Pen“, singular, not “Pens” plural, makes me think this was an imprint to indicate that this pen was good for Spencerian writing, rather than any officially marketed pen. It’s like the later steel pens which were marked as appropriate for Vertical or Modified Slant styles of penmanship, but this one is for Spencerian, the popular style at the time.

I don’t know a lot about gold pens, but it is my understanding that oblique gold pens are fairly rare, and Piquette pens are not too common, and then to find on top of those aspects, a pen marked as good for Spencerian penmanship from the time when Platt Rogers Spencer Sr. was still active, makes this a rather special pen after all.

I’d love to hear if others have seen anything like this, or have pens from this time, gold or otherwise, marked for Spencerian writing.

Inbox.jpg

Origins of the Oblique Pen and Oblique Holder

I finally have an answer to a question that has puzzled me for a while: where did the oblique holder come from?

It’s obviously not a product of the era of the quill, so when did we first have nibs held at this odd, oblique angle? To answer this, you first you have to go back to the Early Years of the steel pen: 1820-1860.

Prior to this period, steel pens were almost universally all barrel pens affixed to a holder pretty permanently. Pens were also not really disposable. There were even steel pen repair services, just like the same services to repair your fine quills.

Individual slip nib pens which fit into a holder were originally pieces of a quill which came in a box of nibs and fit into a holder. These were disposable and meant to obviate the need to mend your quills.

By 1831 you did start to see more what they called “slip nib pens” or “portable pens” (easier to carry than a long barrel pen), but the idea of holding the nib at an oblique angle in the holder was an idea new enough it warranted a patent.

In 1831, an enterprising and very successful stationer and inventor, Sampson Mordan (inventor of the silver mechanical pencil) combined with one William Brockedon to patent the first oblique pen and oblique holder. (I’ve attached the patent below)

In the patent application they mention as the benefits that this will allow the writer to hold the pen more comfortably as well as it should allow the pen to last longer since both tines will be moving across the paper evenly. If you read the description, the idea of holding a pen obliquely seems to be a new idea, and one that requires explanation and justification, and the obliquity itself is patentable.

“and we hereby claim as our invention, the oblique direction or position purposely given to the slits of all pens, whether made of quills, metals, or other fit and proper materials, and also the obliquity produced in the use of common pens, whether made of quills, metals, or other fit and proper materials, when held in our oblique pen holders.”

The holders shown in the patent document include oblique nibs, as well as oblique holders with straight nibs. Figure 17 is explicitly labeled as “another pen holder adapted for holding common quill or metal portable pens [slip nib pens] in an oblique position”

Mordan-Brockedon-patent

Figures 26 and 27 show the oblique nib which was also covered under this patent.
The explicit language of this patent make it clear that the idea of holding a pen at an oblique angle is the central new idea of the patent. And thus with this we can finally point to the beginnings of the oblique holder and oblique pen.
One mystery solved, 10,473 more to go.
P.S.
Thanks go out to the owner of the Sampson Mordan site http://www.sampsonmordan.com/. I have found a number of the British patents related to steel pens, but have not been able to access any of their details. This wonderful person has posted some of Mordan’s patents and fortunately this was one of them. It helped me confirm what I suspected about oblique holders.
If you want to search more British patents, at least the names and patent numbers, I have the only list of indices I’ve found for the early patents (pre-1881). I had to gather them together and it’s still incomplete, and there are no details like the attached in these docs, but it’s a place to start.
If anyone has access to these pdf’s and would be willing to grab a few if I provided you with the numbers, I would be most appreciative. Thanks!

Pen Shapes: The Falcon

Probably the second most common shape of a steel pen, besides the plain, straight pen, is the Falcon.

The origin of the Falcon, and how it got it’s name, is up for debate. But in the US, at least, it seems that the Esterbrook Steel Pen Co. was the King of the Falcons. The shape isn’t mentioned by name by any earlier US pen makers, but it was one of the first pens Esterbrook made. And for most of the company’s existence, the 048 Falcon was the top selling pen of any style for any US maker. It became the symbol of the company, second only to R. Esterbrook’s signature.

Esterbrook signature

Everyone produced at least one model of Falcon pen. Most manufacturers had several. They would differ in stiffness, fine, extra-fine, or medium tip, or even stub Falcons. (a story for another post)

Most falcons come in a standard size well-represented by the Esterbrook 048 Falcon. The 048 is the only number of Esterbrook’s which includes (and always includes) a zero at the beginning of the number. It is not a #48, it is a #048.

Esterbrook, as well as others, also often made a “Ladies’ Falcon” in the form of a small falcon. The more delicate, and sometimes more flexible, falcon was deemed suitable for the delicate pens with which delicate ladies wrote delicate letters delicately.

At the other end of the spectrum is Esterbrook’s Mammoth Falcon. This behemoth requires a special holder and seems better suited to small-scale gardening than to writing.

Here’s a photo of the two most common sizes of Falcon plus the Mammoth Falcon. The Lady Falcon at the top was made by Leon Isaacs.

falcon_sizes

Esterbrook also made a medium sized Falcon that fell somewhere between the 048 and the Mammoth. This was called the #491 Madison Pen and was introduced in 1891, ten years after the Mammoth Falcon. I’ve never seen one, nor is one available on The Esterbrook Project. They only appear in one of the catalogs and may have been produced for only a limited time.

Some of the Falcons found in my collection (not counting stub falcons):

  • Brooks & Co’s “Extra Falcon” (more falcon than then next guy’s?)
  • De Haan 3, and 33
  • Eagle E10, E12
  • Esterbrook’s 048, 182 (lady falcon), 520, 905, 920
  • Gillott’s 105, 1060, 1155
  • Hunt 95, 97, 98, 514
  • Leon Isaacs’s 1 and 6
  • Samual Isaacs’s 3 1/2, and 23
  • Miller Bros. 19, 87
  • Spencerian 23, 30, 40, 50, 80
  • Turner & Harrison 39, 239, 739
  • A wide assortment of businesses wanted falcons among their special imprinted pens: Bell Systems, Burlington Route (Esterbrook 048’s), Commonwealth of Massachusetts (Esterbrook 048’s), Hotel Belmont, Lehigh Valley Rail Road, New York Central, Pennsylvania Railroad, Santa Fe Railroad and Western Union, to name a few.