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.

President Jefferson’s Pen Maker

Early on in this journey I wrote about Peregrine Williamson, the first identified steel pen maker in the US. He was an inventor, businessman, innovator. I mentioned an 1808 advertisement in which he included an endorsement from President Thomas Jefferson.

I recently came upon the full set of Jefferson’s papers and was lucky enough to find a set of correspondence between the two. I’ve posted a second part to Peregrine Williamson’s story with each of these letters and some commentary on each.


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.

What’s New: More Washington Medallion, stub pens

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

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

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

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

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

What’s new: More history – Washington Medallion, and stub pens.

I’ve just posted the most recent chapter in the history of the steel pen. This is the first installment of the story of the Washington Medallion Pen Company. This promises to be a rather more involved and detailed look at the most important of the 1850’s pen companies.

Washington Medallion set several precedents including hiring experienced British tool makers to run their pen-making operations, suing for trademark infringement, appealing to the newly energized nativist sentiment running through new political parties like the Know Nothings by exhorting their customers to “let American children write with American pens.”

Washington Medallion is also very different from other pen companies in the US or anywhere in that they only produced one style of pen, instead of the hundreds of styles some companies, like Esterbrook, once produced.

This first installment gives a brief summary of the company. It will be followed by further chapters covering the major eras of the company, including the legal battles, the people involved, some of whom go on to found other, more famous pen companies, and the role Washington Medallion had in the beginnings of the Golden Age of steel pens in the US.

Also, in case you missed it, I recently added another post on a common style of steel pen, the stub. Many folks interested in fountain pens are familiar with stub nibs, but their predecessor is the stub dip nib. These came in many sizes and styles for various uses, but their common ancestor was most definitely the quill pen.