Warrington & Co.: 1865-1885

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.

1865 Esterbrook NY ad
1865 Esterbrook ad from Charleston, SC.

Into this environment of new pen companies, we are about to see Philadelphia finally emerge as one of the dominant centers for steel pen production. Esterbrook had operated out of Philly, with at least a warehouse there until 1866, but had quickly moved pen production just across the river to Camden in 1861. It wasn’t until 1865 that Philadelphia was to get its first, industrial-scale steel pen factory, and it was far from the last.

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.

In the 1857 publication Philadelphia and its Manufacturers, the company is described thus:

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.

1499078464623072026-00056645

 

1499078464623072026-00056645

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.

Washington Medallion pen engraving25pct

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 1869, a fire started in a warehouse across the street (southwest corner of the intersection), but it burned so hot that the firemen could only focus on keeping it from spreading. This involved dousing the adjacent buildings in water. The water was good for neither the steel used for the pens nor the precision machines. Fortunately, losses were estimated at only $3500 and their insurance covered $10,000. In the second fire, in 1873, the fire started in the same building and the damage was more extensive. This time their losses were estimated at $20,000 and their insurance was only $11,000.

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.

1877 Pedrick and Warrington ad
1877 Pedrick and Warrington ad from New Orleans, LA

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.

1881 Warrington Steel Pen
1881 Theo Warrington ad from American Stationer

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.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
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.

1868 Ad in Directory- Ancestry p880
Ad from 1868 Philadelphia Directory

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.

ESTERBROOK-2-COLORADO
Image courtesy of The Esterbrook Project

304 Colorado open box

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.

1877 Esterbrook Indestructible pen ad
From American Bookseller, July-Dec. 1877

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.

Warrington and Co oblique from David Berlin

 

 

 

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.

Research Resources: Histories

For those of you interested in sources that talk about the history of the steel dip pen, I thought I’d share the main ones I’ve found. If anyone knows of others, I’d love to hear about them.

There are three books on the history of the steel (dip) pen that I know of that have been published.

1. Henry Bore, The Story of the Invention and Manufacture of Steel Pens, 1886.

2. A. A. S. Charles, The Steel Pen Trade: 1930-1980, 1980.

3. Brian Jones (editor), People, Pens, and Production: In Birmingham’s Pen Trade, 2013.

 

There is a fourth book that touches on it as well:

4. John Thackray Bunce, Josiah Mason : a biography : with sketches of the history of the steel-pen and electro-plating trades, 1882.

All of these focus pretty much exclusively on the British steel pen industry.

There are also several articles I’ve found that touch upon the subject as well, with a few that have some minimal information on the US pen trade. None are complete or completely accurate.

  1. Boston Mechanic, and Journal of the Useful Arts and Sciences, “August Notes,” August, 1835
  2. The Saturday Magazine, History of Writing Materials: Part 2, The Steel Pen, Feb. 17 1838.
  3. United States Magazine, “Writing Pens: How Steel Pens are Made”, April 1857 (detailed description of how Washington Medallion Pens were made)
  4. American Journal of Education, “XIII Specimen Notes of Lessons”, 1861
  5. 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.

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

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

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

Research Resources: Philadelphia, PA and Camden, NJ Directories and Resources

Philadelphia

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:

  • Aerial Photographs
  • City Directories
  • 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
  • Property Plans
  • State Maps
  • Street Maps
  • Street Surveys / Plans
  • Topographical Maps
  • 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.

City Directories

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.

Year Source
1784/85 City Directory
1785/86
1786/87
1787/88
1788/89
1789/90
1790/91 Philadelphia and her merchants from 70 years ago (1860)

City Directory

1791/92
1792/93 City Directory
1793/94 City Directory
1794/95 City Directory
1795/96 City Directory
1796/97 City Directory
1797/98 City Directory
1798/99 City Directory
1799/00 City Directory
1800/01 City Directory
1801/02 City Directory
1802/03 City Directory
1803/04 City Directory
1804/05 City Directory
1805/06 City Directory
1806/07 City Directory
1807/08 City Directory
1808/09 City Directory
1809/10 City Directory
1810/11 City Census Directory
1811/12
1812/13 City Directory
1813/14 City Directory
1814/15
1815/16 City Directory
1816/17 City Directory
1817/18 City Directory
1818/19 City Directory
1819/20 City Directory
1820/21 City Directory
1821/22 City Directory
1822/23 City Directory
1823/24 City Directory
1824/25 City Directory and Stranger’s Guide
1825/26
1826/27
1827/28 City Directory and Stranger’s Guide
1828/29 City Directory and Stranger’s Guide
1829/30 City Directory and Stranger’s Guide
1830/31 City Directory and Stranger’s Guide
1831/32
1832/33 City Directory and Stranger’s Guide:

City Guide

1833/34 City Guide
1834/35
1835/36 City Directory and Stranger’s Guide
1836/37 City Directory
1837/38
1838/39 City Directory
1839/40 City Directory
1840/41 City Directory
1841/42 City Directory
1842/43 City Directory

Merchants Directory

1843/44 City Directory
1844/45 City Directory
1845/46 City Directory
1846/47 City Directory
1847/48 City Directory
1848/49 City Directory
1849/50 City Directory
1850/51 City Directory
1851/52 City Directory
1852/53 City Directory
1853/54 City Directory
1854/55 City Directory
1855/56/ Athenaeum;

City Directory

1856/57 Athenaeum;

City Directory

1857/58 1857: Philadelphia and her manufacturers

Athenaeum

City Directory

1858/59 City Directory
1859/60 City Directory
1860/61 Athenaeum, Search Athenaeum

City Directory, Boyd’s City Directory

1861/62 City Directory , Ancestry.com
1862/63 City Directory , Ancestry.com
1863/64 City Directory , Ancestry.com
1864/65 City Directory , Ancestry.com
1865/66 Athenaeum

City Directory,

Ancestry.com

1866/67 City Directory,

Ancestry.com

1867/68 1867: Philadelphia and her manufacturers

City Directory,

Ancestry.com

1868/69
1869/70 Ancestry.com
1870/71 Ancestry.com
1871/72 Ancestry.com
1872/73 Ancestry.com
1873/74 Ancestry.com
1874/75 Ancestry.com
1875/76 Ancestry.com
1876/77 Ancestry.com
1877/78 Ancestry.com
1878/79 Ancestry.com
1879/80 Ancestry.com
1880/81 Ancestry.com
1881/82 Ancestry.com
1882/83 Ancestry.com
1883/84 Street directory

Ancestry.com

1884/84 Ancestry.com
1885/85 Ancestry.com
1886/87 Ancestry.com,

Hathi Trust

1887/88 Ancestry.com
1888/89 Ancestry.com
1889/90 Street Directory

Ancestry.com

1890/91 Street Directory

Ancestry.com

1891/92 Ancestry.com
1892/93 Ancestry.com
1893/94 Ancestry.com
1894/95 Boyd’s Co-partnership Directory

Ancestry.com

1895/96 Ancestry.com
1896/97 Ancestry.com,

Boyd’s Co-partnership Directory

1897/98 Ancestry.com,

Boyd’s Co-partnership Directory

1898/99 Ancestry.com,

Boyd’s Co-partnership Directory

1899/00 Ancestry.com,

Boyd’s Co-Partnership Directory

1900/01 Ancestry.com
1901/02 Ancestry.com
1902/03 Ancestry.com
1903/04 Ancestry.com,

Boyd’s Co-Partnership Directory

1904/05 Ancestry.com
1905/06 Ancestry.com
1906/07 Ancestry.com
1907/08 Ancestry.com
1908/09 Ancestry.com
1909/10 Ancestry.com
1910/11 Ancestry.com
1911/12 Ancestry.com
1912/13 Ancestry.com
1913/14 Ancestry.com
1914/15 Ancestry.com
1915/16 Ancestry.com
1916/17 Ancestry.com
1917/18 Ancestry.com
1918/19 Ancestry.com
1919/20
1920/21 Ancestry.com
1921/22 Ancestry.com
1922/23 Ancestry.com
1923/24 Ancestry.com
1924/25 Ancestry.com
1925/26
1926/27
1927/28
1928/29
1929/30 Ancestry.com
1930/31
1931/32
1932/33
1933/34
1934/35 Ancestry.com
1935/36
1936/37
1937/38
1938/39
1939/40
1940/41

 

 

Camden, NJ.

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.

Sanborn map of 1885 Esterbrook Factory in Camden

The most complete years for these maps is for 1885, 1891 and 1906.

General

For those who are interested in the old city directories, I found an interesting resource. It’s a book from 1919 on “The development and growth of city directories.”

Or there is a directory of directories from 1916.

Research Resources: New York City

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.

City Directories

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.

Other Sources

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.

NYCLandmarksInfo

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.

The City Museum of New York City also has some interesting objects, especially photographs from the late-19th into the early-20th centuries, ephemera, etc… Go to their Collections portal to see more.

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.

NYPL = New York Public Library Collection

Brooklyn = Brooklyn Public Library’s Collection of Brooklyn Directories

PDF = link to the latinamericanstudies.org site which takes you directly to the pdf of the directory. No fancy interface, but you can easily download or skim through within the browser

Google = Either Longworth for the early years, or one of the others, like Trow, for the later years.

Year Source
1786/87  NYPL
1787/88
1788/89
1789/90
1790/91
1791/92 NYPL
1792/93 NYPL
1793/94 NYPL
1794/95
1795/96 NYPL
1796/97
1797/98 NYPL  – Internet Archive
1798/99 NYPL
1799/00 NYPL
1800/01 NYPL
1801/02
1802
1803
1804
1805
1806
1807
1808
1809
1810
1811/12  Internet Archive
1812
1813/1814 Google
1814
1815
1816
1817
1818
1819
1820
1821 Google
1822/23  Google – Brooklyn
1823/24
1824/25
1825/26  Internet Archive
1826/27  Google
1827/28
1828/29   Google
1829/30
1830/31
1831/32 Google
1832/33
1833/34 Google – Brooklyn: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3
1834/35 Google
1835/36 Google
1836/37 Google
1837/38
1838/39  Google – Internet Archives
1839/40 Brooklyn
1840/41 Google
1841/42 Google
1842
1843
1844/45  Google (supplement after great fire)
1845/46  Internet Archives
1846/47  Internet Archives
1847/48  Internet Archives
1848/49 Internet Archives – PDF Doggett
1849/50  NYPL
1850/51  NYPL
1851/52  NYPL
1852/53
1853/54  NYPL
1854/55  NYPL
1855/56  NYPL – Brooklyn
1856/57  NYPL – PDF Trow – Brooklyn
1857/58  Brooklyn
1858/59  NYPL – PDF Trow
1859/60  NYPL – PDF Trow
1860/61  NYPLPDF Trow
1861/62  NYPL – Brooklyn – NYC Trade Directory
1862/63  NYPL – Brooklyn
1863/64  NYPL – Brooklyn
1864/65  NYPL – Google PDF Wilson’s Copartnership – Brooklyn
1865/66  NYPL – PDF Trow – Brooklyn
1866/67  NYPL – Brooklyn
1867/68  NYPL – Brooklyn
1868/69  NYPL – Brooklyn
1869/70  NYPL
1870/71  NYPL – Brooklyn – Morrisania & Treemont (Bronx)
1871/72  Google
1872/73  NYPL
1873/74  NYPL
1874/75  NYPL – Brooklyn
1875/76  Brooklyn
1876/77
1877/78 PDF Gouldings Biz Dir – Brooklyn
1878/79  NYPL – Brooklyn
1879/80  NYPL – Brooklyn
1880/81  NYPL – Brooklyn
1881/82  NYPL – Business Directory
1882/83  NYPL – Brooklyn – PDF Appleton’s Dictionary of New York
1883/84  NYPL – Brooklyn
1884/85  NYPL – Ladies’ Guide – Brooklyn
1885/86  NYPL – Brooklyn – Flushing
1886/87  NYPL – Brooklyn
1887/88  NYPL
1888/89  NYPL – NY NJ Telephone Directory – Brooklyn
1889/90  NYPL – Copartnership and Corp Dir.
1890/91  NYPL
1891/92  NYPL
1892/93  NYPL
1893/94  NYPL
1894/95  NYPL
1895/96  NYPL
1896/97  NYPL – Brooklyn
1897/98  NYPL
1898/99  Brooklyn
1899/00  NYPL
1900/01  NYPL
1901/02  NYPL – Brooklyn – Manhattan Red Guide
1902/03  NYPL – Brooklyn
1903/04  NYPL – Brooklyn
1904/05
1905/06  NYPL – Brooklyn
1906/07  NYPL – Brooklyn
1907/08  NYPL – Brooklyn
1908/09  NYPL
1909/10  NYPL – Telephone Directory
1910/11  NYPL – (Feb) Telephone Directory – (May) Telephone Directory(Oct) Telephone Directory

Research Resources: British Patents

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.

Pens, pencils, etc… are listed under “Stationery” so they are found in Volume 2.

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.

Descriptions of the patents, up to 1866

I was able to find the volume with the abridged specifications of each patent from 1635-1866 related to Writing Instruments and Materials. This is the Holy Grail resource for these early patents as most British patent specifications are only available if they’ve been printed in a journal or some other source. It doesn’t include pictures, but it at least will give you enough of an idea if it’s worth looking for. It also provides contemporary sources where this patent was published.

 

Research Resources for Steel Pens: The Esterbrook Project

The Esterbrook Project is just what it sounds like, a site dedicated to all things related to Esterbrook steel pens.

This deceptively modest site began as the owner, Phil, needing to come up with a way of keeping track of his own collection. After losing the information a couple of times, and having to start over, he decided a web site would be the best way to store the information.

Now The Esterbrook Project has the largest collection of images of Esterbrook steel pens in the world. Phil has carefully and conscientiously gather nibs, many from his own collection, others donated to add to the repository, taken careful photos and captured evidence for the existence of these nibs. He’s listed different sources that reference the nibs, such as the different Esterbrook catalogs which are known.

The heart of the site is the Nib List.  This is where you can take any Esterbrook nib and look it up by number. There are fewer and fewer numbers with no photos as the site becomes more popular and people send in missing nibs. Phil is very careful and will return the nib if asked, but if you can, I recommend gifting him an example so he can add to his collection as well as add it to the site. It’s a small price to pay for such an amazing resource.

There are some other resources on the site, including Phil’s own diagram of a pen’s anatomy. Reviewing it for this post reminds me that I forgot “shoulder” for my diagram.  [now fixed, ed.] See, there’s always something else to learn at The Esterbrook Project.

Full disclosure here, I have helped Phil out with the site from time to time and I’m fully dedicated to keeping this amazing resource going as long as we can.

Research Resources for Steel Pens: Historic Newspapers

The main source, at least the one with the widest reach, for exploring old newspapers, and a fantastic source for exploring the history of steel pens is newspapers.com.

This site is tightly connected to Ancestry.com. (another good source we’ll look at in a future post)  They host over 320+ million pages in over 5,600 newspapers from mainly the US, but also some foreign newspapers.

The newspapers range in date from the 18th-century on up. Not everything is here, but an awful lot of useful information can be found on the site. What you find has a broader range than American Stationer. You find more local information from around the country than in the New-York-based American Stationer. The site contains many small-town newspapers in which local stationers would often advertise, or local governments would place notices of requisitions for supplies, which gives you a decent idea of who is using what pens. You can even sometimes find snippets of information on which traveling salesmen from what companies have checked into the local hotel.

There are some quirks to the searching and viewing of results that you need to get used to. Once I search, as I look at results, I always right click the result to view in a separate tab. If you don’t, and try to go back and forth, it doesn’t always come back to the same place you left in your list of results.

Once you find something of interest, you use the simple, but effective, clipping tool to make a clipping of the article. Once you save it, then you can view the clipping, share it, download it (as a pdf), print it, or add it to an ancestry.com person. You can go back and look at your clippings at any time simply by clicking on “Clippings.”

The clipping works great, and allows you to title the clipping and even add a slightly longer description if you want. The only real limitation to the clippings are that you cannot group or organize your clippings in any way. The best you can do is sort them by date you clipped, or date of the newspaper (oldest first, or newest first). This helps when getting a timeline view of things, but it makes it harder when you either use the site to search for different projects, or your subject spans across time with lots of other clippings in between. I tend to name my clippings by the year and then the key name I was searching. So, for the following ad, I titled the clipping 1842 – C.C. Wright American steel pens

ccwright american steel pens

As they add new pages every month, it’s useful to save your main searches and they will send you an email when there are more results for that search. Sometimes it’s useful, and sometimes not, but it’s always worth checking it out.

Newspapers.com does require a subscription. If you do any amount of research, I don’t think you’ll regret it. I have suggested to them an ability to sort, group, tag or in some way to organize your clippings. We’ll see if they add it in a future release.

I have 748 clippings at the moment. Most are for pens, but I also have a number for family history, odd things I run across, and other interests.

Those clippings for early pens have allowed me to go back further, and to discover other makers, like C.C. Wright above, who have been forgotten in the few histories of the early American steel pen industry which were written in early times. Without newspapers.com I would not know a fraction of what I’ve discovered about the early period of American steel pens. (1800-1860)

Another good site is the Library of Congresses, Chronicling America. The site has information on a lot of historic newspapers (up to 1943), and a fair number of digitized pages which are fully searchable.

Instead of the “clipping” capability of newspapers.com, you can zoom in on an article and take a “picture” of it (the little scissors icon in the top), or you can save the whole page as a jpg or text, or a pdf with hidden text behind it for searching.

The quality of the scans are very good considering most came from microfilm. At least they’re of high resolution.

Newspapers.com has a wider selection of papers, and their interface and ability to cut and save clippings is very well-done. (though I’d like to be able to sort and organize my clippings instead of having them dumped into one big sortable pile.) But they are a subscription service and cost money. Chronicling American is free.

It’s a good idea to search both, because there are a few papers in Chronicling America that aren’t in newspapers.com. Either way, you’ll find some interesting information in the old papers.

Research Resources for Steel Pens: Trade Journals – American Stationer, Geyer’s Stationer, and American Bookseller

Trade journals can be a gold mine of information on an industry, and the trade journals for the stationery and office supplies industry is no exception. The two largest and most widely circulated journals were American Stationer, and Geyer’s Stationer.

The American Stationer

The American Stationer was a trade publication for the New York stationery and fancy goods trade. It was published weekly on newsprint from 1873 to at least 1928.

Many of the volumes and issues are available online. The best compilation of the issues and links to them is found on David Nishamura’s wonderful Vintage Pens Blog.  David’s blog post has good information about how to use the online versions. I also have found the Internet Archive versions to be the best. Unfortunately, the HathiTrust versions are often missing pages, and/or have pages mixed up in their order.

It’s hard to overstate the importance of this journal for research into early pens and writing supplies. The journal is filled with advertisements, industry gossip and news, and sometimes even prices.

The best way to use them is to begin by searching in each volume. This is done differently for each version but it’s possible because there is some basic OCR-scanned text in the background. The searchable text is somewhat hit-and-miss and will miss key instances of your searched text, but it’s a great way to catch a lot.

The only thorough way to find everything is the brute force method of going through each issue page by page. For this, I recommend downloading the pdf versions. If you download every volume from the earliest of 1878, up through 1910, it takes about 7GB of space. I’m in the process of downloading each volume and then splitting them into individual issue pdf docs. This makes it quite fast to run through an issue as smaller pdf docs are faster than larger ones.

There is not a lot of overt information in The American Stationer. There’s the occasional short piece of news regarding one of the big manufacturers, or the announcement of the introduction of a new pen style, but most of the valuable information you can glean comes from the advertisements. What they can tell you are things like when someone moves addresses, or when they are advertising a new pen. You also want to look for when someone advertises, and when they don’t. It won’t give you a definitive statement, but it gives an indication, a hint for what might be going on.

As an example, I’ve not been able to find any documentation about when Leon Isaacs & Co was sold to Turner & Harrison. But, thanks to the American Stationer, I can narrow it down to 1899. There are mentions of Leon Isaacs and it’s principles advertising and out on sales trips up to 1898. Then in 1900, Turner & Harrison advertises Leon Isaacs’ Glucinum Pens as their primary line of pens.

It’s these small hints, gathered together, compared and collated, that start to put together the history of the steel pen industry in the US.

Plus, it’s fun to see all of the advertisements for things like pens, pencils, and even the occasional Milton Bradley game.

As a reminder, here again is the link to the most complete list of online issues of The American Stationer.

http://vintagepensblog.blogspot.com/2012/12/the-american-stationer-directory-of.html

Geyer’s Stationer

Another trade publication that has some overlap and fills some of the gaps in dates of American Stationer, Geyer’s was published in stapled, journal format, as opposed to American Stationer’s newspaper-like format. You tend to find longer articles in Geyer’s as well as a lot of attention to the activities of the National Association of Stationers, Office Outfitters, and Manufacturers, and their concerns, like the latest in window displays.

Geyer’s was founded in NYC in 1877 and published up into the depression. The quality of the images is generally good, but the advertisements are fewer than in American Stationer. But, there are surprises you didn’t expect in most issues, so it’s definitely worth a look.

David Nishamura has also collected the various dates of the online versions of Geyer’s on his vintage pen blog, here.

One cautionary note. Geyer’s seems to have not been terribly accurate with their volume numbers, especially early in a year’s printing. But something really bad happened in 1915. If you count from the earlier years, 1914 should have been volumes 57 and 58. Instead, through 1915 they used 58 and 59 for the volumes. In early 1916, it seems they’re continuing the error by numbering it Volume 60. Things seem to be back on track before the end of January 1916, they are publishing the volume number correctly, Vol. 61, which would make 1915 July-Dec. Volume 60, and Jan-July of 1915, Volume 59.

Unfortunately, I’ve also not been able to find either of the 1914 issues online, no matter what volume they’re marked as.

American Bookseller

The American Bookseller is a less fertile source for steel pens, but there are some gems in and among the various issues. In the second-half of 1877 there are a series of advertisements on some of the new pens they came out with in that year.

You can find a fairly good selection of issues from the Hathi Trust, here.