The 149 Pacific Railroad Mystery

I have a mystery.

I have three steel pens. One of them is marked 149 Pacific Railroad, one is marked 145 Pacific Railroad but the number is imprinted upside down to most manufacturers, and one is marked 0149 Monarch Railroad, which is also imprinted upside down. None of these are names of actual railroads that I’ve been able to find.

We know that there were pens marked as “railroad” which had nothing to do with actual railroads, like the Esterbrook Standard Railroad, which was made by Esterbrook but sold by Sears, Roebuck and Company.

All three of the “Railroad” nibs under discussion are extremely similar. They are a wider-bodied straight pen, medium flexibility and with three just slightly different grinds.

149 Pacific Railroad all three-3

149 Pacific Railroad all three-4

 

To confuse matters even more, both Esterbrook as well as Turner & Harrison made a 149 Pacific Railroad pen. Neither, that I’ve been able to find, made a 145 Pacific Railroad pen.

149 Pacific Railroad Pen Catalog comparison

After Gillott sued Esterbrook in 1872 pen makers, especially Esterbrook, were careful to not copy the name and especially the number of another pen maker if there was any chance that the two pens could be mistaken for each other. How to explain this, then?

One possibility to explain why one didn’t object to the other making a pen with the same name and number is that both Esterbrook and Turner & Harrison were copying a pen from someone else who had already gone out of business and so would not be in a position to sue.

This practice is not unknown. We know, for example, that Esterbrook produced a copy of a popular pen from a company that had gone out of business, namely the 505 Harrison and Bradford’s Bookkeeper’s Pen. (picture below is from the 1883 catalog) They made this for a very short time after Harrison and Bradford went out of business in 1881. So, it’s possible that both were producing a popular pen from someone else after that company had gone out of business.

1883 Esterbrook Harrison and Bradford 505 pen

I looked for evidence of Pacific Railroad pens as a separate brand. Unfortunately, what evidence I’ve found is not conclusive, and doesn’t make sense based on Esterbrook making the pen in 1883.

1884 Pacific Railroad Pen ad
The State of Nevada advertising for office supplies proposals in 1884. Sometimes these lists contained brands they had purchased in the past, but were no longer available. Was that the case here?

 

1895 ad for Pacific Railroad Pen no maker
An 1895 ad for Pacific Railroad pens but no “Esterbrook” or “Turner & Harrison” designated.
1902 Pacific Railroad Pens ad
1902 ad for unbranded pens, including the Pacific Railroad pen, listed like it’s a standard pen shape like Falcon and Bank.

Of course, that doesn’t explain the 145 Pacific Railroad pen. Nor the 0149 Monarch Railroad.

So, if anyone has one of these pens, has a reference to a non-Esterbrook or non-T&H Pacific Railroad (149, 145, or anything else), or anything related, I would love to see it to try and solve this mystery.

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.

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.

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.