This is a list of the Esterbrook pens which we believe may have existed, but for which we do not have a photo.
If you have one of these pens, we would love it if you could help us out.
You can loan us the pen and we will take a photo and return it to you with great care. We will give you credit on the site.
You can donate to The Esterbrook Project archives. We will photograph the pen and give you credit on the site.
You can take a photo and send it to us. If you can make it as close to the photos on the website as possible, we would greatly appreciate it, but any picture is better than none, so don’t worry if it’s not top quality as long as it’s recognizable.
If you have one, please contact me and we’ll work out whatever is comfortable for you.
Esterbrook_#2_Medium Falcon Pen
Esterbrook_#3_Centennial Fountain Pen
Esterbrook_#6_Star Commercial Pen
Esterbrook_#24_United States Pen
Esterbrook_#51_Cooper School Pen
Esterbrook_#56_School, Fine Oval
Esterbrook_#64_Coopers Commercial Pen
Esterbrook_#85_Patent Amalgam Small
Esterbrook_#86_Patent Amalgam Large
Esterbrook_#89_Fountain Spring Pen
Esterbrook_#94_New York Commercial Pen
Esterbrook_#95_Extra Commercial Pen
Esterbrook_#97_Fine Business Pen
Esterbrook_#99_Ladies Index Pen
Esterbrook_#131_Blue Commercial Pen
Esterbrook_#134_Double Elastic Pen
Esterbrook_#158_Anti-corrosive Amalgam Pen
Esterbrook_#180_Silverene No 2
Esterbrook_#216_Extra Fine Falcon
Esterbrook_#220_Florida Bright Point
Esterbrook_#223_Oblique Pen #1 Large
Esterbrook_#222_Oblique Pen #2 Small
Esterbrook_#239_Engrossing Short Nib
Esterbrook_#240_Curved Point Pen
Esterbrook_#245_Circular Pointed Commercial
Esterbrook_#248_Broad Engrossing Pen
Esterbrook_#291_School, medium, Old No. 292
Esterbrook_#305_Colorado Pen #1
Esterbrook_#306_Silverene Pen #1
Esterbrook_#308_Colorado Pen #3
Esterbrook_#336_Text Writer #3
Esterbrook_#505_Harrison & Bradfords Bookkeepers Pen
Esterbrook_#751_School Medium Firm
Esterbrook_#781_School Medium Firm
Esterbrook_#789_Two Toned Oval Point
Esterbrook_#807_College Diamond Pen
Esterbrook_#901_Radio Pen 1913 Ad
Esterbrook_#907_Radio Pen 1913 Ad
Esterbrook_#908_Radio Pen 1913 Ad
Esterbrook_#909_Radio Pen 1913 Ad
Esterbrook_#918_Radio Pen 1913 Ad
Esterbrook_#953_Radio Pen 1913 Ad (twice)
Esterbrook_#984_Radio Pen 1913 Ad
Esterbrook_#1881_Garfield Initial Pen
Esterbrook__Lincoln Pen (Graphic)
Esterbrook__Writing Masters Pen
Esterbrook__Fountain Falcon Pen
Esterbrook_No. 3_Centennial Silver Fountain Pen Double Elastic
Esterbrook_No. 1_Gisburne’s Ruling Pens- Fine Line
Esterbrook_No. 2_Gisburne’s Ruling Pens – Medium Line
Esterbrook_No. 3_Gisburne’s Ruling Pens – Wide Line
Ok, so you’ve read some of my ramblings and are interested in steel pens. You start to pick up a few from eBay, flea markets, estate sales, etc… Now what? If you’re anything like me, you will soon start to have bags and boxes of pens which need ordering so you can both know what you have as well as find those you want. You also want to store them in such a way as to keep them from rusting (or rusting further).
Congratulations, you now have a collection! Whether your collection is a few dozen or thousands, it will help you in the long run to have some kind of consistent way to record the pens, store the pens, and both should help you find the pens.
I’m going to write a short set of articles on these three main issues beginning with your records.
You look at a pile of pens, especially vintage pens, and there are any number of ways of dividing them into individual types. There is also a lot of different information you can gather on each type. What you’re figuring out is what makes for an individual “record” and what information you want to collect for each record.
Let’s say you have a large pile of fruit. You can sort them by round fruit vs. long fruit, big vs. small (with a range for each), by color, etc… You could also divide by name and then record a lot of this information in each record so you can go back and make further divisions. So, you could record each fruit by it’s common name. You have a record for Granny Smith Apples, another for Red Delicious Apples, another for Valencia Oranges, and one for Unknown Pineapple. In each record you can record the shape, the color, the weight, whatever makes sense. Then later, with the right tools, you can go back and extract all of the records of red, round fruit, or all fruit over 20 grams and yellow.
What you put into each record depends on the type of information you are interested in. You can always start with a set of fields (discreet pieces of information like “size,” “shape,” etc…), and at some point if you wish to add more fields, you’ll have to go back to each physical object and record the new data point.
My records started out fairly basic but have grown over time. The first thing to think about is what will cause one pen to have one record, and another pen a separate one. Name and number are the most obvious means to differentiate one pen from another. An Esterbrook 314 is obviously going to have a different record than an Esterbrook 556 or an Eagle E410. But there can be several other ways of differentiating pens.
Early on, reading the great sites like Brandon McKinney’s, I was able to find out that the imprints on pens can indicate a difference for when the pens were made, so I decided early on, that a difference in imprint (the words imprinted on a pen) would be a differentiator that would indicate a different type. I also decided that finish (gray, silver, gilt, black, etc…) would also be a differentiator. Basically, I was looking for ways to further split pens into smaller groups (“types”) than just name and number.
You can also run into cases where the same kind of pen retains the same number, but the name changes. Esterbrook was particularly guilty of this re-naming as markets changed. The Esterbrook 556 is a rather extreme example. The imprints on the 556 include:
“556 Advanced School”
“556 School Medium Firm”
“556 Vertical Writer”
For my collection, these are all different types. And if I found a “556 Pen” in gold plated, in addition to the normal “gray” then that would be a different type altogether.
In the database world, what you want whenever possible is to “noramlize” the data, which means to make sure the same meaning always uses the same words. To take an example, let’s say I’m gather information about the color of the pens. For those who are have a (VERY) thin layer of gold on them, I could use the terms “gold,” “gilt,” and “golden” without any rhyme or reason. Some days I might use “gilt” and others something else. If you did this, what you would have are records which cannot all be found by searching on a single word. You would have to know all of the possible search words to find all of the records which match.
This is where “standardization of terms” becomes something very useful and not just for data nerds.
There are several fields (pieces of information I record for each record) I have attempted to standardize: Finish, Shape, and Tip. The problem I ran into is that there aren’t industry standard terms used consistently by all manufacturers to describe these characteristics of pens. Instead you get a lot of terms that all mean roughly the same thing. So, I decided to make my own list of standardized terms which, so far, have been “good enough.” to save you all of the trouble I went to, I’ll share with you what terms I’ve settled on. We’ll start with the easy ones first: finish and tip.
Found this picture on the internet of the range of colors pens can have. It’s not complete, but pretty close and gives a good idea of the range you can find. If anyone has an idea of the source, please let me know so I can give credit.
The final step in a pen’s actual manufacture, before sorting and boxing, was to pop it back into ovens to get a certain color on the pen. This accounts for most of the colors pens come in, especially the two most common, gray and bronze. You can achieve a fairly high range of colors just from re-heating.
This re-heating is not hot enough to adversely affect the desired temper, but it does change the color. This step was also one of the most delicate and difficult steps which required someone very experienced who could get the pens to the right color without damaging them or their temper.
The other way to change the color of a pen is by a coating. Because steel rusts when in contact with water, manufacturers put all kinds of coatings on pens to supposedly slow down the inevitable rusting. These coatings could also be a status symbol, especially ones with a gold coating. Solid gold pens were orders of magnitude more expensive than a steel pen. (you might pay $12 for a normal gold pen when steel pens were $0.75 per gross) Some people wanted to be seen writing with a gold pen without paying for an actual gold pen, or liked the performance of a steel pen better but wanted the rust resistance of a gold coating.
Other common coating included silver alloys, nickel alloys and a black, tar-like substance. Copper coating is also mentioned but is extremely rare. Nickel-coated pens were also sometimes said to have a “white” finish. Nickel can sometimes be difficult to tell apart from very shiny steel. It’s usually not so shiny as a silver alloy, but shinier than bare steel.
And the last way to “color” a pen is the material. My collection is one of steel pens, but, along with steel, there were some pens made and sold like steel pens but were made of an alloy of brass. These pens are gold-colored, but aren’t gold plated (though there are examples of brass pens with gold plating). They are made of a copper-zinc alloy and have their antecedents in the “Pinchbeck” pens of the 18th-19th-centuries.
So, here are my standardized finishes with a little explanation of each
Black: an easy-to-spot finish. Also called “Tar” finish
Blue: also pretty self-explanatory. You rarely see this finish in the US except Esterbrook’s tiny artists pens. It’s more common in Europe.
Bronze: one of the most common colors along with gray. Bronze can come in various shades from dark to light. This can be on purpose, but since I’ve found sealed boxes of bronze finishes that vary in lightness, I assume it can also be just how long the pen was left in the oven.
Copper: Copper coating is extremely rare, and died out fairly quickly in the US. I have one copper-coated pen, an Esterbrook 048, but others were advertised as available in a copper finish. I assume this was also to prevent rust, though copper does corrode.
Fawn: Another color advertised. I would assume, from seeing pictures of salesman sample books with pens identified as this finish, that it’s another word for a very light-colored bronze. This one is very difficult to differentiate in the wild without a positive identification. I’m sure some I’ve marked as “Bronze” were considered “Fawn” when sold, but it’s very hard to tell.
Gold: This is the term I use for gold-plated or gilt. I record my actual gold pens in another data store, and they have different fields.
Golden: This is the term often used to indicate the brass pens. I use this term for brass pens without an additional finish (like “Gold”).
Gray: The most common finish for American pens, especially those made in the 20th-century. It’s the plain color of steel.
Half-Gold: Esterbrook made one pen they call “half-gold” and I have adopted the term to also apply to pens like the Spencerian 42 Gilt-point where the body of the nib is gilt, but the heel is still plain steel.
Nickel/White: There are three terms which can easily get mistaken for each other in the wild: Nickel, White, and Silver. A nickel coating is more silvery than a gray pen, but not as shiny as a silver-coated pen. I tend not to use this unless I’m pretty sure it’s actually nickel coated, like it’s silvery, but the pen never came in silver-coating but was advertised in nickel or white.
Purple: Some purple can be difficult to differentiate from very dark Bronze in the wild. But this was an advertised finish so I’ve added it to my list in case I ever am lucky enough to find one labeled as such.
Silver: Silver coatings were quite popular, with the Esterbrook Radio finish being the most common, along with the Hunt X-series.
To the shapes I’ve discussed there, I’ve added three more
Small Inflexible: While I try and stay away from capturing sizes of a particular shape (down that road lies calipers and madness), the Inflexible seems to have really only two sizes, big and little. The “big” is really just a normal-sized pen. The Small Inflexible is really smaller, as in a Lady Falcon vs. a normal Falcon.
Pinched Leaf: While a Pinched Spoon is a spoon shape with a break between the heel and the body of the spoon, a Pinched Leaf is similar but for a leaf-shaped pen.
Offset: This is an odd one. It is very, very slightly oblique, but not enough to be a truly oblique pen, and the body shape, while reminiscent of an elbow oblique, is unique. The patent on the pen says: Pat 7-1-90 & 3-22-93.
The tip of a pen can greatly impact how a pen writes, and the kind of line(s) it produces. The tips of pens actually fall into fairly clear categories. Beware, though, you have to observe the actual nib and cannot rely on advertising because different manufacturers called the same kind of tipe many different things. This is particularly true of the first kind.
Ball: When you look at this tip under magnification, it looks like someone took a very small round-tipped punch and deformed the tip of the pen into a small hollow as seen from above, or into a small round or oval convexity if seen from below. This is a very common type of tip and was called many, many things, Oval Point, Ball Point, Round Point, etc… They all look basically the same. Some may be a little more oval than others, but they’re all basically the same. Some Ball tips can be pretty shallow and the only way to tell if it is a Ball or a Turned-Up tip is to look under magnification. The way to tell a Turned-up tip from a Ball tip is that the turned up tip does not extend below the bottom surface of the tines. A Ball tip has the steel of the tip deformed so that it extends below the bottom surface.
DoublePoint: These nibs have more than one point. They can also be called names like Double Ruling Pen.
Folded: Uncommon on dip pens, but much more common on cheap fountain pen nibs, the folded tip is where the very tip was drawn out longer than normal, then folded under to create an approximation of a Tipped nib. I’ve only seen these on very late dip pens which are trying to imitate the cheap fountain pen nibs of the day.
Music: The other type of multiple point pen. These rare pens were used to draw musical staff lines and are one of the oldest forms of metallic pen.
Oblique Stub: In this one case I am using the term “Oblique” like it is used in fountain pens. This means it’s a stub tip with one side longer than the other which then forms a slanted stub.
Oblique Pointed: These are fairly unusual pens where the body of the pen is straight, but at the very end the tip turns up and forms an oblique angle. These tips are found on pens with the “Oblique Tip” shape.
Oval: the Round, Square and Oval are specific lettering pen shapes where the tip is an actual square, round or oval shape and so creates a line with that kind of end.
Pointed: Your common steel pen. Points can be extra fine, fine, medium, broad (or coarse), etc…, but they’re all meant to come to a point. With some very broad tips, like some “J” pens, it’s almost a toss-up as to whether it’s a “pointed” pen or a stub.
Round: See the “Oval” shape above.
Ruling: This, like the Oblique Pointed, is a point type only found on a specific pen shape. In this case it is a folded “ruling pen” like the Esterbrook Osborn Ruling Pens
Shading: I use this term rather than the more common (today) “Italic” because “shading” implies this use for more than one type of writing. But this is, basically, a sharp-cornered, broad nib used for decorative writing.
Square: See “Oval” shape above.
Stepped: A very unusual tip shape. basically, there’s a break in the line of the tines as they move to the point. Just before the point, there is a step inwards which then creates an even narrower last few millimeters of tine coming to a point.
Stub: A common tip that is broad across but is not sharp at the corners. These are almost all self-identified as stubs. Some stubs have slightly sharper corners which might make them “Shading” tips, but I defer to the manufacturer on this one. If it’s called a “stub” then I use that term. Stub pens were not meant, necessarily, for decorative writing, but were originally designed for rapid writing. You can find, though, some stubs, like the very broad Esterbrook Blackstone, also advertised as good for “engrossing.” (decorative writing like italic or blackletter)
Turned-up: Similar to the Ball, but simpler and appeared earlier. The turned up tip is exactly that, the very tip has been bent to turn up at an angle. This turned up angle is meant to accomplish the same thing as the Ball tip, to make it easier to write faster without catching your sharp tip on the paper. Sometimes you have to look carefully, under magnification, to determine if it’s a turned-up tip vs. a ball tip.
Tipped: Very rare in dip pens, but ubiquitous in fountain pens, the tipped nib has an actual tip applied to the end.
As I talked about in my short post on grinding, grinds can take different forms. I have created the following categories and so far they are sufficient for what I have cataloged so far.
S1: The “S” are single grinds. I put them into three classes. This is a first-class grind. This is a single grind that is either more extensive, or more artistically done than the standard single grind. Artistic can include shaping the grind to fit in between the side slits, or, as in the case of the Gillott Mapping Pens, bringing a two-tone grind (grinding after coloring the nib) up to perfectly bisect the star-shaped center pierce.
S2: The S2 is a second-class single grind, which is sufficient and pretty standard for that kind of pen. Stubs tend to have less of a grind, if they have any grind at all, so the standard for a stub pen is different than a pointed pen. This is a run-of-the-mill, standard grind.
S3: Alas, we also see the third-class single grind. These are usually brief, poorly done, sketchy at best.
E: This is a grind where the embossed design is ground down usually to reveal the bare metal underneath, thus giving a pleasing contrast to the darker color of the nib. You find this most often with the “Letter” nibs where a large letter is embossed in the body of the pen just above the center pierce.
T: The always amazing Triple Grind. (also discussed in my Grind Post)
G: The dreaded stamped “grind” where, instead of grind marks, you find stamped Grooves or even, in the case of the old Soviet nibs, a Grid.
N: no grind or stamped grooves at all.
Because of a rather specialized interest of mine, I’ve also added “In” to my inventory to indicate where a grind is found on inverted pens. An inverted pen is one where the imprint is inverted, is on the inside of the concave portion of the pen. This happens when a pen is accidentally flipped before “raising” and so the imprint is on the wrong side.
By finding a grind on the inverted side, tells us that unlike how pens were originally made, by later times (and I only find these 1930’s or later, pens) grinding must have been done before raising. This makes sense if you are going to automate this or have a machine do the grinding, because it would have been much easier to have a machine take a swipe across a flat pen blank before raising than to try and do it to a rounded pen.
This seems to be both the piece of information about a pen which most people want to know, and also the hardest to capture. If you search through online pen fora you will find near-religious-war levels of disagreement about how to measure, and discuss the flexibility of a particular pen. (fountain, dip, whatever).
I will not wade into these waters except to tell you the terms I’ve decided on for my own collection. I can’t tell you how to measure or differentiate one from another. For me, it’s a highly subjective and comparative exercise. I’m not so interested as to try and make it scientific.
Flexible: this is the furthest I will go. No “wet noodle” or other of the terms thrown about. This encompasses a fairly wide range of “action“, as do the next two.
Semi-flex: More flexible than the next one, and less than the former. Like I said, this isn’t rocket science, at least how I do it, and so take each term for whatever you think it means.
Firm-flex: some flex, but not as much as Semi.
Firm: Amazing to fountain pen users who are used to “nails”, a “firm” dip pen still can yield subtle line modulation. (thick and thin parts) Many so-called “Inflexible” pens are actually just “firm”
Manifold: This is a completely stiff pen. In fountain pens this is called a “nail.” Since the Manifold pens were purposely made to be super-stiff in order to write through the early forms of carbon paper (the most famous early brand was Manifold, and the name stuck).
There are some other fields I capture which don’t lend themselves to the above level of standardization. These differ widely and may only be consistent within a pen brand.
This started out as a general field to differentiate different “makers” or “brands.” This is easy as long as the pen carries the big names, like Eagle, Esterbrook, Miller Bros, Spencerian. This gets to be more difficult when you start dealing with pens with obvious imprints from another maker.
In the end, I currently have “categories” which include entries like Eagle, Esterbrook, Miller Bros, and Spencerian, but I’ve also created categories for things like “Transportation,” Businesses” and “Schools” where I put the pens made with custom imprints for these kinds of entities. It gets tricky when you have some big brand like Spencerian which was a house brand for the big New York stationer/printer Ivison Phinney, but were all made by Perry. I’ve kept them under Spencerian as that makes the most common sense. I am starting to pull brands out from their own category if I become aware that they were just a stationer or other store which had pens made with a custom imprint, but were not trying to make a “pen brand” by itself.
Not all pens have numbers, and not all numbers are numbers. Some numbers are letters, and some have letters in them. For example, just about all Eagle pens are numbered something starting with an “E,” like the E470 or E310.
The imprint is what is actually printed on the pen from which I derive what category into which it will be placed. Imprints can be important for dating as well. Esterbrook tended to change its Esterbrook imprint over time (though I suspect there are some exceptions to the general rules). For example, if you find a pen with just “Esterbrook & Co.” it will most like be earlier than the imprint “R. Esterbrook & Co’s” or “R. Esterbrook and CO.” (unless it also has Made in U.S.A. on it, which means it’s later, see below).
Some pens mark down a location of where it is manufactured, or at least the location of the brand. The easy ones are the “Made in…” but you also find one word locations like “Birmingham.” If I know a location, but it isn’t marked and is significant, then I’ll include it in this field but in parenthesis. An example of this are some recent pens I purchased which were made in Argentina.
The location can sometimes give a general indication of relative date. If I have two Esterbrooks, for example, both with the same imprint (“R. Esterbrook & Co.”) and one says Made in U.S.A. and the other does not, I know the second one is older. Same with “England” vs. “Made in England.” The phrase “Made in…” generally shows up from around 1930 onward. Some, like Eagle, put their location on the pens from the beginning. (New York, U.S.A.) Others, like Gillott, don’t have any location on very early pens, then move from Birmingham, to England to Made in England. You might even find addresses on some pens.
Many, but not all, pens had names attached to the particular number or style, e.g. School, Manhattan Stub, Bank, etc… As I mentioned above, names can also change as marketing needs changed, despite being the same number . There were some very popular schools of penmanship which flourished for a while at the end of the 19th-century, but quickly disappeared in the 20th, such as Vertical Writing and Natural Slant. Pens were marketed by practically all manufacturers for these styles of penmanship, but once the popularity of that style of writing faded from popularity the pens were often re-named and sold under a new name. (The Esterbrook 556 “Vertical Writer” becomes the “556 Pen” and ends up as the 556 “School Medium Firm” meaning good for schools, medium point, and firm)
Names were often associated with the primary audience or profession to whom the pen was primarily marketed, or with whom the manufacturer wanted it associated. Stub pens tend to have names associated with the law, or academe as these folks were assumed to need to write frequently and quickly. (the primary purpose of stub pens)
Some pens are marked as being part of a series based on the type of tip, like “Bowl Pointed” or “Dome Pointed” pens. Other series have to do with the material or coating “Silver Alloy” or “Gladiator Series Nickaloid” pens. There are a few cases where the same manufacturer uses different series names for the same types of pens, like Hunt’s “Round Pointed” vs. “Bowl Pointed.” vs. “Shot pointed.” Under magnification they all seem pretty much the same thing, but it’s useful to differentiate in your inventory.
Storing and Finding
The next post will look at the physical storage of your pens in order to both protect them as well as to then find them as needed. This will touch upon how I use all of this information to order my records to help with those tasks.
One of the most recognizable images associated with the Esterbrook company is the signature of “R. Esterbrook & Co.”
It’s found on every box of steel pens, just about every fountain pen the company made, and many of the other ephemera produced by the company. (The image at the top is from an advertising card of pens from the 1940’s).
Steel pen manufacturers have used a signature on the back of the box as “proof” that the box was authentic and not a fake from very early. Here’s an ad from 1830 for Perry’s pens, paper and ink packets. The paper as well as the pens contain the signature of Perry as proof of authenticity.
Gillott, in this 1840 ad make it totally clear that the signature is to prevent people from being fooled into buying a Gillot, or Gilott, or similar rip-off pen.
Esterbrook was no different than the other big names. They also included the signature of Richard Esterbrook on the back of the box as proof it was genuine.
If you start to look at the various designs of back-panels from the earliest to the latest, it starts to become clear that they did not use just some standard “signature” image until fairly late. I appears that Esterbrook actually used a different signature each time they changed the design. Someone had to actually sign, with a pen, on each design at least up to 1920 or so.
Here are some examples in roughly chronological order. The earliest boxes do not have “Successors” in the lower right as this was added after Richard Esterbrook Sr. died in 1895.
Which is the back of this glorious box.
This one below is a small, tin box. It’s the only other one with a flourish under the name like the Jackson Stub box above. But it’s a different flourish.
The following one is from the back of one of the old maroon-colored Radio Pen boxes. The next few are what I consider the “modern” era and are fully stylized by then.
This last signature is the one best known during the fountain pen era of Esterbrook. It is closely-related, but not exactly the same as on the last steel pen boxes.
It’s interesting to look at the first, big E, the “r’s” and the “k” especially. I’m not sure there’s any way to date based on signature, but it is clear that each change of label resulted in slight changes to the signature.
My steel pen history is now beginning to enter the golden age of US steel pens. We’re now into the 1860’s-1870’s when we see a transition from the first industrial steel pen makers to a wider market and a variety of manufacturers. For this episode, we’re taking as our starting point 1864.
In 1864, in Camden, New Jersey, Esterbrook was starting to really take off, and up in New York City, Washington Medallion Pen Company was involved in a protracted legal battle over trademark with two of their ex-employees George Harrison and George Bradford. Harrison and Bradford had just started their own pen company, and were starting to make their own pens using the old Washington Medallion machinery. Also in New York City, Myer Phineas was still making pens at 33 Maiden Lane. Despite this new (and old) crop of pen manufacturers, all indications are that most pens sold in the US were still British pens, mainly Gillott and Perry.
We can surmise this both by the requests for bids being submitted by various federal, state and local government agencies to be supplied for stationery, as well as the complaints about how much Americans were spending on “foreign” pens. These requests for quotes were published in newspapers, and they may well indicate the general availability and desirability of American vs. British Pens. Without taking a scientific survey, it’s pretty clear the number of British pens requested almost always outnumber the American pens, often by a lot. Plus, we still have plenty of complaining in the advertisements for American pens about how Americans should “buy American” rather than British or French.
Philadelphia in 1864 was an industrial town. Steel, chemicals and dyes, tools, and other products were made in abundance. Skilled mechanics and especially those who could make precision machine tools and complex presses and dies were fairly common, both because of the presence of the various industries, and also because of the presence of the mint in Philadelphia. The role of the coin press in the development of the steel pen manufacturing process is a story yet to be told.
One of the other big industries in Philly was umbrella and parasol manufacturing. (approaching Paris in the number produced every year) One of the reasons for this was the presence of a firm called George W. Carr & Co.. The company run by Carr and his partner, and brother-in-law, Samuel Warrington, was the largest manufacturer of whalebone and rattan (used in the ribs of the umbrella) in the US.
There is also an extensive establishment in the city for the manufacture of Whalebone and Rattan, and is said to be the only factory in the country where Whalebone is prepared for all purposes to which it is adapted, viz.: Umbrellas, Parasols, Whips, Canes, Dresses, Hoops, Bonnets, Hats, Hair Pins, &c. This manufactory, of which the proprietors are George W. Carr and Samuel Warrington, trading under the firm-style of George W. Carr & Co., was established in 1842. The machinery and fixtures are principally original, and said to be unknown to other manufacturers. Steam, supplied by a twelve-horse engine, is used in all the various processes of Boiling, Dyeing, Drying, and Heating
By 1862, Carr had expanded into making the new steel frames for umbrellas and parasols in addition to continuing to manufacture whalebone and rattan.
In 1863 Carr & Co expanded their metallic products by beginning to manufacture small, metallic, mountings, primarily used for umbrellas, in the same location as the whalebone and rattan factory. Samuel was put in charge of the metallic mountings business.
Around 1864 this same Samuel Warrington designed a new style of steel pen and he received a patent for it in 1866.
The patent is for a pen that has “softness” without being too flexible in the tines. In other words, the pen would flex in the middle without spreading the tines “to such an extent as to produce too heavy a line.” This type of design I call a “spring crimp” because it has a crimp in the middle of the pen to give spring to the body without affecting the spread of the tines. Washington Medallion’s pen was another such design, and most manufacturers produced something similar.
In addition to filing for a patent, Warrington wanted to manufacturer his pen, and so in 1865 he founded Warrington & Co. and hired the experienced pen maker John Turner from across the river in Camden, New Jersey to head up this pen-making enterprise.
We last saw John Turner over in Camden helping Richard Esterbrook start up his factory there. Turner had been one of the skilled British tool makers Esterbrook had brought to America around 1860 to set up the new factory in the Birmingham style.
Warrington was presumably able to lure him over to Philadelphia with the promise of leading the new company and being able to set it up as he saw fit. Rather than being a senior tool maker at Esterbrook, he became the head of the brand new Continental Steel Pen Works of Warrington & Company. The factory was located on the northwest corner of 12th and Buttonwood streets in Philadelphia.
Warrington had taken on two other partners for this venture besides John Turner: Joseph Truman, & Edward Smith. It’s not clear who these other two gentlemen were. There is a mention of a Joseph Trueman (with an “e”) in earlier directories, listed as an Engineer, but neither he nor Edward Smith are found in either Camden or Philadelphia before this. As they seem to appear out of nowhere and disappear after the company is dissolved, they remain a mystery. The other partner, John Turner, is better known because of his continued prominence in the pen industry until his death in 1904, as I’ll discuss elsewhere. Before we see where he’s going with Warrington, let’s learn a little about where he came from.
John Turner was born in Birmingham, England around 1823. Sometime around 1836, when he was 13 or so, he was apprenticed to one of the brand new pen works appearing almost daily in Birmingham. According to later accounts, after his apprenticeship he went to France to better learn French pen making, before returning to Birmingham where he married his wife Eliza.
At some point, probably about 1858 or 59, he is recruited by Richard Esterbrook to come to the US. In 1860, John arrives in New York, and presumably Eliza arrives not long after, along with an adopted daughter, possibly a niece on Eliza’s side, named Rosina. They first live in Camden, with John working at Esterbrook, but in 1865 he takes control of the new Warrington & Co. and by 1867 they had moved to Philadelphia.
During the time Turner ran Warrington & Co. from 1865 until 1875 the company found both success as well as set-backs, including two fires and the death of the owner.
In addition to the fires, in 1872, Samuel Warrington dies. In 1873, after Warrington’s death and the second fire, the company changes its name to The Warrington Steel Pen Company. In that year as well, the company, along with the rest of the nation, was plunged into a depression by the Panic of 1873. Following all of this, “excitement,” in 1875 John Turner purchased the factory, presumably machinery and all, and joined with his new partner, George Harrison (of Washington Medallion and then Harrison and Bradford) to found Turner & Harrison in the very same location at 12th & Buttonwood.
Turner & Harrison would go on to become one of the top pen manufacturers in the US and would continue making steel pens in Philadelphia until they closed their doors in 1952, but that’s a story for another time.
The “Other” Warrington Pens
The Warrington Steel Pen Company name was then picked up by a nephew of Samuel Warrington’s, Theodore Lippencott Warrington, aka Theo L. Warrington.
Theo L. Warrington, as he was listed in the advertisements, was born in Camden, NJ and worked for his father, James Franklin “King of the Commission Merchants” Warrington when he was a young man. James owned a produce market buying and selling exotic produce, like peanuts and tropical fruits off the ships coming in to Camden’s ports from places like Cuba and Florida. Theodore began by working for his father, but then tried his hand at teaching for a short time, before joining another Camden native, William H. Ryno, to open their own produce market called Ryno & Warrington from around 1874-75. In 1875 Theo acquired the Warrington Steel Pen Co. name and became partners with William Pedrick, forming Pedrick and Warrington.
William Pedrick had his own stationery store before joining with Warrington. Pedrick & Williamson was a modest stationery story located at 1218 Buttonwood, just a half-block from the Warrington & Co’s. factory at the corner of Buttonwood and 12th. By 1874 Pedrick was running the store by himself and lived at the shop in the new location of 107 North 5th Street. In 1875 they joined to form Pedrick and Warrington to both make pens under the Warrington name, as well as sell stationery from their expanded shop and manufactory at 105 and 107 N. 5th Street.
By 1881 Pedrick was out of the picture and it was just Theo’s name associated with The Warrington Steel Pen Co.
Theo Warrington made pens up through 1885 when he seems to have gotten out of the pen and stationery business. By 1901 he’s become an electrician in his long-time home of Camden, NJ. Theodore passes away in 1920 at the age of 69 and is buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Camden, NJ.
Post Script: Colorado Nibs
The only example of an existing Warrington & Co. nib I know of is not from Samuel Warrington’s original patent, but instead is a pen in my personal collection marked “Warrington & Co’s Colorado.”
The interesting thing about this nib is that it is pretty much exactly like the Colorado nibs produced by Warrington’s neighbor across the river, the Esterbrook Steel Pen Company.
These pens are often advertised as “indestructible” because they don’t corrode in ink, and, supposedly, you can bend them back into shape should you accidentally drop it. Esterbrook even produced a version with the name “Indestructible.” And in this ad from 1868, Warrington promotes their “Indestructible” pens and differentiates them from their steel pens. This tells me that they were most likely producing more than just one style of brass pen.
Esterbrook also produced a whole series of these brass pens. Most of them were in the Colorado pen series, from the Colorado No. 1, No. 2, No. 3, No. 304 Colorado No. 2, and several others using the same shape but with different names, like the Indestructible, and the larger version, the Arlington. But the most common was the Colorado No. 2.
All of the Colorado pens, whether Esterbrook or Warrington, are made of a brass alloy and are imitative of gold pens in their shape and looks. The name may come from the large gold deposits first discovered in Colorado in 1859 and which continued to pump large amounts of gold eastward for years after.
The question is, which came first, the Warrington Colorado, or the Esterbrook Colorado series? Did John Turner lift the design from his time at Esterbrook, or did Esterbrook take the design from Warrington? I have found one reference to Esterbrook making Colorado pens during the same time as Warrington was in business. And we know that Warrington shared the building at 12th and Buttonwood with the Dearborn & Co. Brass foundry. Unfortunately, the earliest actual list of pens made by Esterbrook is from 1876, and we have no list other than the ads of what pens Warrington made, so right now there is no evidence for who made what first.
Here’s an 1877 ad that introduces their new “Indestructible” pen. The reference to “curb stone salesmen” means door-to-door salesmen.
So, who copied from who? Were both of these copies of someone else? It’s a question we may never be able to answer.
Post Script #2: Another Warrington Pen
Thanks to fellow collector David Berlin, I have a picture of another Warrington & Co’s pen. This one is an oblique using the Mordan design.
Anyone else have one? Would love to gather pictures of more examples should any exist.
The earliest form of dip pens for which we have a description was the barrel pen. By the 1830’s this form had dropped out of favor for what we know today, which was originally called the slip pen.
In my latest post, I take a quick look at these two forms. We get a glimpse of possible beginnings of the slip pen and we range widely over early steel pens, the last gasp of quill pens as they react to these new metallic substitutes, and how gold pens learned a thing or two from the older barrel pens.
Birmingham Daily Post, “Steel Pens”, June 26, 1869. In this short letter to the editor, the writer says that the history of the steel pen has already been lost and calls upon readers who were part of the early years to contribute stories. This leads to a series of letters with more or less true accounts of the years from 1800-1830. Bore relies heavily on these letters as well as other accounts to finally grant the laurel for first use of screw presses to manufacture pens on an industrial scale to John Mitchell.
There are others out there up to today, but they are usually short snippets that are derived from the above sources, or constructed out of pure speculation, rumor and fancy. By the 1880’s, so much of the narrative had been decided on and it almost never varies through the years. It was when I began to search out old newspaper advertisements that I realized that there was a whole other world of early manufacturers whose stories were lost by even a few decades after they were active.
The story you hear most often is that there may have been a pen or two here and there in the 18th-century, but it was in 1822 with the advent of the steel pen industry in Birmingham that you have the first professional pen makers.
And for America, after the 1835 Boston Mechanic short article listed above, Peregrine Williamson was quickly forgotten. The article in 1835 even implies that he’s already forgotten by then, buried under the flood of cheap British pens coming into America, capitalizing on Williamson’s three-slit idea. The article begins, “It may be news to some of our readers that the inventor of steel pens is an American, and a well-known resident of our city, – Mr. Peregrine Williamson.” Of course Peregrine didn’t invent the steel pen either, but his contribution was already fading from memory.
In the 1838 Saturday Magazine article mentioned above, it’s all British pens, which is understandable, I guess, it being a British magazine. And already, the British pen manufacturers, according to the article, were making 200,000,000 pens a year. No one in America was making anything even close when compared to the scale of Birmingham.
The American Journal of Education article mentioned above (really a lesson to be copied) on “Modern pens” is a bit misleading since, despite its name, it was actually published in London, so it’s not surprising the brief discussion begins with Wise and ends with Gillott with nothing American in between. At least they remembered Wise. As the century progresses, Wise is also forgotten, even by most British writers, and it all begins with Perry and then Gillott. (poor Josiah Mason was most influential but is still mostly forgotten in casual accounts of the history)
And no one, to this day, has written a real history of the American steel pen industry, until I decided I was crazy enough to attempt it.
My latest post is one of my largest and most involved. In it I compare two descriptions of how steel pens were made. One from the US in 1857 that describes a visit to the Washington Medallion Pen Company’s factory. The other from Henry Bore’s 1890 The Story of the Invention of Steel Pens: With a Description of the Manufacturing Process by Which They are Produced.
I include comparisons of manufacturing from the first real industrial factory in the US in 1857, to how they did it in a large Birmingham factory in 1890, the height of the British Pen industry. Amazingly enough, they’re pretty much exactly the same. I address why that is, and show the tremendous impact a group of British-trained tool makers had on the beginnings of the large-scale steel pen industry in the US.
Second only to New York as an important city in the history of US steel pens, Philadelphia resources come from a wide range of sources.
One of the more interesting sources is the Greater Philadelphia GeoHistory Network. The purpose of the network is to provide the geographical material used in the study of Philadelphia’s history.
These resources include city directories, maps, site surveys, property atlases, etc…
There’s a Resource Browser which has links to various resources from many sources. These include:
General Atlas and Directory Maps
Historical Divisions and Boundaries
Hydrography / Water / Sewer
Industrial Site Surveys
Land Use / Zoning / Development
Neighborhood and Redlining
Property Maps / Atlases
Street Surveys / Plans
Transportation / Railroad Maps
One of the cool tools is the Interactive Maps Viewer which allows you to find a street on a modern map and then overlay historic maps from a list.
As for City Directories, here are the ones I’ve found, including the ones in the Resource Browser mentioned above.
There are several sources for city directories, or city-directory-like books.
“City Directory” or “City Directory and Stranger’s Guide” means that it is a city directory found on archive.org
“Athenaeum” means that it’s a city directory found on the Philadelphia Athenaeum site. These directories show each page individually and are not searchable. it’s a little hard to get around, and takes some figuring out, but sometimes these are the only options.
“Ancestry.com” means that the directory is available on the paid ancestry.com site, but you do need a paid membership to search. Some libraries have ancestry.com memberships that allow you to search, but not save. Check with your friendly, local, librarian.
There are some other, random sources like a city guide or a guide to merchants, or a street directory (which only lists streets and where they cross, etc..). These can be useful depending on what you’re looking for.
NB: the year on the directory may be 1835, for example, but because the information was gathered in 1834, I mark that directory 1834/35.
Camden is just across the river from Philadelphia, and is also quite important in the history of the steel pen as the site of the manufacturing facilities for both Esterbrook, and then later, Hunt Pens.
I have found a set of Camden Directories in Ancestry.com, if you have a subscription, starting with 1863. If I find any outside of Ancestry, I’ll post them.
One very interesting site for information on early Camden is a set of Sanborn Maps hosted by Princeton University. These were used by insurance companies and showed detailed building descriptions and plots for important buildings. Here’s a very interesting view of the Esterbrook factory on Cooper St. in 1885.
The most complete years for these maps is for 1885, 1891 and 1906.
Going back all the way to Peregrine Williamson, it seems that New York City was the place to be if you were going to make, and especially, sell, steel pens.
New York City has long been our commercial hub with thousands of offices and firms even in the early 19th-century. The population tended to be very large, and mostly literate. The need for stationery and pens was not only highest there, but it was also a major distribution for the rest of the country.
As a result of these and other factors, New York City is important in the history of steel pens in the US, and so you need tools for doing research in New York City.
One of the first places to look when trying to find someone or some company, is to look in the directories. There are a few city directories to be found in ancestry.com, but the best sources is the New York Public Library collection of directories. Actually, the New York Public Library’s digital collection is an amazing resource in many way. Search it and you never know what you’re going to find. For a full list of the New York Directories I have found, please seen the table below.
If you’re able to go in person, the New York Historical Society is a fantastic resource. There are some online objects, but most of their great collection is best found in person. Their researchers have also been extraordinarily kind and helpful in finding some things I couldn’t find anywhere else.
A lot of the steel pen manufacturers and the stationers who sold their pens were located in NYC. While a lot of old NYC has been demolished to make way for skyscrapers, it’s amazing how much is still there. Whenever I get an address, I like to use the amazing resource of Google Street View to check it out. Often it’s pretty obvious that the 30-story glass and steel structure on the site is not the building where Benjamin Lawrence and his brother Phineas had their stationery shop in 1859. But if you do see an old building, it would be nice to see just how old it is. If you’re an architectural historian, maybe you can tell by site the rough date. If not, you can go to the amazing hidden resource of the NYC Landmarks Preservation Society. On the page, scroll down just a bit and look for the Landmark Search field. Enter your address and it will take you to a map view with the information panel on the right. Here’s what it says about 73 Bleecker St.
It’s amazing what information is available, but the key for this kind of historical research is the Year Built date. If it’s of the right date, and a landmark, you might be able to get a full landmark report on the building. To do this, go back to the main web page and click on the Discover NYC Landmarks map. Navigate to the location and click on the yellow or pink area and a pop up window with a quick summary of the historic landmark will appear. Click on the picture and it will pop up the full pdf of the historic landmark designation report. Here’s an example from the NoHo district which includes 73 Bleecker St.
I’ll add others as they come along, but these will keep you busy for quite a while.
In addition to newspapers.com, which I’ve already spoken of, there is also the New York Historic Newspapers. A joint project of libraries, it provides free, searchable historic newspapers from all over NY state.
List of City Directories for New York and Environs
List of City Directories: I try and put the directory into the year in which the information was collected, so I’ll put the directory for 1900, in the 1899 year, because the info was current as of 1899, while it was published in 1900.
Looking through old British patents is not nearly as easy, in some respects, to US Patents. With the right index, they are easily searched by subject, but to get any detail, even the abstract, you need to go to the British Archives. If someone knows of an online resource to see details behind any of these patents, please let me know.
Right now I’m focused on British patents up to about 1860, but have some of the indices for some later years in the 19th-century.
Up to 1852 (October, to be exact), British patents used a sequential numbering system. After October of 1852, the numbers became a mixture of year and number, e.g. 18631202 for Patent 1202 from the year 1863.
Fortunately, Google Books has several of the indices. Unfortunately, it’s Google Books, so there’s no way to find a single list of the same title. You have to search for them and use “related books” links etc… Google puts too much trust in search.
So, I’ve put together a list of the useful volumes I’ve been able to find. I’ll add to the list as I find things or people point me to missing volumes.
Main Index by Patent Number.
There is a two-volume index for the patents up to Oct. 1852. Volume 1 goes up to 1823, and Volume 2 continues from there through patent 14,359 in Oct. 1852.
This index is useful if you have the patent numbers. For my purposes, the best way to find them is by subject indices.
Subject Matter Index
The subject matter index for up to 1852 is also in two volumes. Volume 1 is for subjects beginning with a-m. Volume 2 is for subjects beginning with n-w. I’ve not found Volume 3 yet.
After 1852, the subject matter indices are listed by year. I’ve so far been able to find the individual indices for the rest of 1852 (Oct-Dec) – 1869 with the exception of 1862, and 1865. Then I found the index for 1881, but nothing between 1865 and 1881. Obviously there’s much more to find and I’ll update as I find more.
So, here are the indices for 1852 onward. In each book, look in the list at the front to find the page number for pens, pencils, etc… On that page you’ll find a subject of the patent, the number, date and patentees.