Pen History, 1840’s: H. B. Herts & Sons, British Makers in America

Henry Benjamin Herts, born in 1794, was living in England when he had his family. His children included, his daughter Rachel (b. 1819), and his sons Henry B. Jr. (born May 26, 1823 in Nottingham, died 1884), Daniel born about 1825, Jacob,  and Lewis. They were all born in England.

In 1841 Henry Sr. opened a steel pen factory under the name H. B. Herts & Co, at 281 Bradford St. in Birmingham. According to Brian Jones’s book People, Pens & Production, the factory operated from 1841-1842.

In 1843, at age 49, Henry Sr. came to the United States and settled in New York. He created a partnership with his sons Henry Jr. and Jacob called H. B. Herts & Sons. They set up a factory at 509 Broome St. in New York City where they manufactured stationery (probably blank books), pen holders, and maybe pens.

The reason I say “maybe” is that while H.B. Herts & Sons is listed in various directories as a “manufacturer of metallic pens, penholders, stationery, &c” the advertisements promote the pens as being made in Birmingham. In a large ad in the Doggett’s directory of New York City for 1846-47, it explicitly says that the pens are made at the Bradford Works in Birmingham.

Doggett's New-York City directory, for ...

This wasn’t the first pen they started advertising. The first ads in 1845 mention the Alpha Pen.

1845 Herts sons alpha

In 1846 is when you first see the reference, above, to the amalgam pen you also find the claim “By Royal Letters Patent.” The only problem with this is that I cannot find a British (or American) patent that fits this pen. Perhaps someone else can find it, but it has eluded me. If you do find something you think works, let me know.

The Royal Letters Patent claim also shows up in an interesting ad in 1847. This ad claims that the Amalgamated Silver, Steel and Platina Pen was first introduced into the US in August, 1845 “at which time the manufacturers were unknown to the writing community; the pen, therefore, had to stand on its own merits.”

Because of the superior quality of the pens, they claim that between December 1845 and December 1846, they sold 375,000 gross, or 45,000,000 of their pens. It is in this ad, as well, that they refer to their business address as the “manufacturer’s depot” and list not just their NYC address, but also 35 Cornhill in Boston.

We can compare this 375,000 gross of pens Herts produced in 1845 with the 730,031 gross Gillott claimed to have made in 1843. Herts was no where near as large, but they were making quite a respectable number of pens nonetheless.

1847 Herts sons big ad

The family stayed pretty close, literally, through the years of the business. When the directories show both business and home addresses, Henry B. Sr. is shown as living with at least one, and often two or even three of his sons in the same house over the years.

There’s evidence that some of the sons made trips back to England in at least 1846 and 1849. It’s likely they kept the factory open in Birmingham and perhaps kept it running by other sons or relatives. Since we’ve not found evidence for the factory after Henry left in 1843, it’s not clear if they really still had their own factory, or just had pens stamped with their name by another maker, and just attributed them to their old Bradford Works.

Regardless, they kept selling the pens as H. B. Herts & Sons until 1853 when Henry B. Sr. retired and the old company dissolved. The new company, “Herts Brothers” continued to sell pens as well as import stationery and fancy goods in their new office at 241 Broadway.

An interesting ad/article in the March 2, 1854 Buffalo (NY) Morning Express gives us more information about the company. It talks about “Herts Brothers Amalgamated Iridium, Zinc and Platina Pens” and “The Messrs. Herts are at the head of the great house in Birmingham, England, for the manufacture of Metallic Pens. They employ about 500 persons in their extensive operations.” This pen is patented in England and the United States by ‘Herts Brothers.’ It is for sale at their splendid Emporium, 241 Broadway, as well as in different parts of the Union, England and France.”  If they truly had 500 employees then they were quite a good sized company. The well-known D. Leonardt, one of the largest of the independent makers in Birmingham, had 500 employees at its height in the 1880-1890’s, and that included their own rolling steel operation.

1854 herts bros ad

Alas, the “discerning public” did not flock to this pen, and in 1855, Herts Brothers was no longer listed. Jacob is still listed as a “stationer” but it does not tell us where, and Henry B. Jr. has set himself up in his own auction business.

1856 Herts auction

Interestingly, Henry B. Senior just can’t stay away from family, or completely in retirement. In the 1855 New York Census we find Henry B. Herts Sr. living with his daughter Rachel and her husband Jacob Davis. Both Jacob and Henry are listed as at the same business address with Henry labeled “jeweler” and Jacob as a watchmaker.

Henry Sr. died about 1856. Henry Jr. lived until 1884 when he died on a trip to England at the age of 63. Many of his children went on to start up their own businesses including another Herts Brothers, this time Herts Brothers Furniture.

The history of Henry Benjamin Herts still has some mysteries to be solved. It seems from the advertisements that the Herts family may still have had a factory making pens in Birmingham. It’s not clear if all of their pens were imported from that factory, or if some were made in the US, or if they got some from other Birmingham factories, or some combination of the three. Further research on the Birmingham side may be done, but the standard resources don’t mention the Herts family or the Bradford Works beyond that brief mention in Jones’ book. If they were as big and prosperous as the claims, then their omission from the standard histories is a significant one.

We also still have the mysterious patent claims. I cannot find any record of patents claimed in England or the US. For now, it remains yet another mystery.

Harry B. Herts came to America as so many others did, and while his pens seem to have, at least partly if not completely, been made in England, he chose America as his main marketplace as well as home. Because of that, I still consider H. B. Herts & Sons as another of the interesting American pen makers of the 1840’s.

 

Pen History, 1840’s: Myer Phineas, the forgotten success story.

Another stationer in the 1840’s to make his own pens was Myer Phineas. His name is not well-known, but in his day, he was one of the most successful, at least measured by longevity, pen makers in America up to that point. He made pens for 20 years in a wide variety, with several patents to his name, and prestigious customers like the War Department and the United States Senate. He was one of the few of the old stationers still remembered in a look back at the NY stationery trade in an article in the American Stationer in 1891.

Myer Phineas was born about 1814 in either Poland or Russia. It’s not clear when he came to the United States, but by 1845 he owned a stationery and import business in downtown Manhattan, on Maiden Lane, and was already making his own pens. In 1842 and earlier, he does not appear in the business directories of New York City. I’ve yet to find one for 1843 or 1844, but it’s most likely in one of these years he begins Myer Phineas & Co. and begins to make pens.

In the earliest ad, from 1845, he’s already making a wide variety of pens.

1845 Myer Phineas

  • 336 Bank fine point
  • 336 Bank medium point
  • 337 Commercial
  • 364 Double Damascus
  • 264 Damascus
  • 306 Capital Pen fine point
  • 306 Capital Pen medium point
  • 305 Extra Fine
  • 101 Barrell [sic]
  • 233 Register
  • “a new pen” 335 Original
  • Eagle
  • Magnum Bonum

Now, this is a rather extensive set of pens to be making right off the bat, considering he’s not even showing up in the business directory three years before. This is just one of the mysteries surrounding Myer Phineas. If it weren’t for the problem with the dates, the most likely explanation is that he took over C. C. Wright’s pen operation. There are some definite overlaps, including the “Sauvitor” pen which we find in the list of Phineas’ pens below, as well as in an 1843 ad for Wright, associated with a ladies’ boarding school. (Sauvitor may be a corruption of Sauviter, from the Latin phrase “fortiter et suaviter” which may translate as “fortitude and patience”)

1843 cc wright testimonials

This is nowhere near even weak evidence, especially since Wright supposedly kept making pens until 1847.

One thing that is not a mystery is the success of his pens. We find his pens sold in New York through his own store, and by other stationers. In 1858, the Board of Education of the City of New York accepted bids to provide them with Myer Phineas pens, but Phineas himself was only successful in bidding to provide one number, the other four numbers were awarded to his rival stationer Willard Felt.

In 1853, the War Department in Washington DC purchased his pens from the local (Washington DC) stationer R. Farnham. And in 1861, the United States Senate purchased 156 dozen of his pens.

He seems to have focused mainly on commercial and financial customers, government and education. The most complete list of his pens is found in a catalog of a large supplier of educational textbooks, learning tools and other supplies.

Ide & Dutton of Boston were a very large firm carrying many of the latest and most modern of educational supplies. In their 1855 catalog, this is the list of the only steel pens they offer.

A Catalogue of Books, Maps, Charts, and School Apparatus, Publis

As you can see from the list, he also manufactured pen holders. The Accommodating Pen Holder was actually one of his own inventions.

Myer Phineas was not only a successful stationer and pen maker, he was also an inventor.

I have not found all of his patents, but right now I’m aware of four of them: two for pens, one for a pen holder, and one for an ink well.

In 1853, he patents the design of a pen with slots or ribs cut into the top of the nib, held with strips along the side. This is to increase flexibility yet keep the pen stable and durable. This becomes his “500 Patent Double Spring”  (see above) and is most likely the original design for later similar pens like the Esterbrook 126 Double Spring.

1498394389929671005-00009843

ESTERBROOK-126

The next year, in 1854, he patents a new kind of pen holder that allows for different sized nibs to be held firmly, yet with some spring. This is the Accommodating Pen Holder. I’m not sure what the “Extra Accommodating Pen Holder” is, but it’s most likely a slightly fancier version of the one he patented.

Then in 1856 he patents a “fountain pen” which is what they called pens with built-in reservoirs before today’s fountain pens came along. It’s punched from a single sheet with a bend at the top to create a top reservoir, similar to the later Hunt design seen even today on modern Speedball calligraphy pens.

1856 Myer Phineas patent reservoir

Phineas also patented an inkwell that seems to have made quite an impression. Even as late as 1891, in an article in American Stationer “Reminiscences of the New York Stationery Trade” the short section on Myer Phineas says:

Myer Phineas & Co. were located in Maiden lane and were well known.  They were the patentees of an inkstand which has had an extensive sale.

I’ve not found the original patent, but I have found a picture of one of the ink wells that says it was patented and the patent was renewed Aug. 18, 1869. That’s interesting because that’s after Myer’s death in 1868. The article may even imply that it’s still being sold, or was sold for quite a while.

So, the particular inkwell I saw was produced after September 18, 1869, which is after Myer Phineas’s death in 1868. I can find no reference for his business continuing after his death, or who could possibly have made the ink well. In the city directories, there’s only an entry for his widow “Ellen” which shows her living in a boardinghouse at 137 W. 43rd. This remains yet another mystery still to be solved.

Myer Phineas was not only a businessman, but also a manufacturer and an inventor. He was able to develop a rather large line of pens and pen holders in addition to the other material he imported and sold.

1847 myer phineas importer and pens

It’s a shame that his contribution to the new steel pen industry in the US was soon forgotten by most later “historians” of the steel pen trade, as we will see in later posts.  He deserves to be remembered, and honored for being the longest-producing pen maker coming out of the 1840’s.

Pen History, 1840’s: C. C. Wright & Co.

Charles Cushing Wright was born in Damariscotta, Maine in 1796. His early life was a story of hardship (orphaned!, abandoned!), drama (poisoning! oppression!) and hard work to overcome a lack of formal education or familial support worthy of a 19th-century novel.

The greatly shortened version is that he initially studied under a silver smith in Utica, in up-state New York, decided he would teach himself engraving, moved first to Savannah and then left for Charleston, S. C. after the great Savannah fire destroyed his workshop. In Charleston he met his wife, Lavinia Dorothy Simons. In 1820 they were married and in 1823 they moved to New York City.*

Once in the city he partnered with another talented engraver, Asher Durand, and Durand’s older brother to form Durand and Wright. Working together for four years, from 1823-1827 they became important bank note engravers.
Wright was a talented medalist (sculptor of medals and medallions), engraver and a die-sinker, the person who carves the dies used to make coins. Some consider him the premier American medalist as all of his training was in the US or self-taught. This 1848 medal commemorating Zachery Taylor’s victory over the Mexicans at Buena Vista is a good example of his work.

zach taylor medal
Wright was also active in the artistic community in New York City. He and Durand, along with Samuel F.B. Morse (of Morse Code fame), Rembradt Peale, Thomas Cole, and others were in the group of young and talented artists who broke away from the American Academy of Fine Arts to eventually form the National Academy of Design, an influential honorary society of artists that is active to this day as the National Academy Museum and School.
Through his work with the Academy he became friends with the well-known chemist James Mapes (father of the author Mary Mapes Dodge). Through Mapes, Wright came to know another chemist who had turned into an ink manufacturer, Thaddeus Davids. Davids had been making ink since 1825 and continued until 1889.

Thaddeus davids ad with location

Davids introduced Wright to the prosperous stationer David Felt. (see my post on the 1830’s when Felt had a short-run try at making his own steel pens under the name of Stationer’s Hall Pens.) For a time Wright was given a space in Felt’s workshops at 34 Wall St. to engrave seals for wealthy clients and make engraved plates to make custom labels. The fancier the engraving on a label, the harder it was to counterfeit.  Monograms and seals were all the rage at the time, and Wright’s work was well-received.

1840 ad for David Felt advertising Wright’s medallion stamps.

1840 David Felt medallions

1840 David Felt labels

In 1842, James Mapes’ son, Charles Mapes, joined with Charles Wright and Joseph C. Barnet and together they formed a company for making steel pens. It is not unlikely that they may have started with David Felt’s old pen making equipment as we no longer find references to Stationer Hall pens by that point, and there’s no record of Felt selling his equipment before this time. I’m sure however they started, with Wright’s abilities as a die sinker and engraver, they soon made their own dies and they began making pens under the name of C. C. Wright & Co.

1842 CC Wright American steel pens
C. C. Wright pens were well-received and consistently won top place in the American Institute’s fairs in New York City. (with poor Josiah Hayden’s pens coming in second every year they competed together)

1843 cc Wright american institute
They soon were offering a wide variety of pen shapes and types with over a dozen offered in 1844. They seem to have targeted especially businesses (like banking), and schools.
1844 cc wright listing types

1844 cc wright schools
His ads are often filled with testimonials about the quality of his pens from newspapers to whom he would send samples, from famous penmanship teachers, and from business folks.

1843 cc wright testimonials

1843 testimonials1

1844 cc wright testimonials

And in 1842, the same year they started making pens, C. C. Wright & Co. submitted a proposal to provide pens to the Treasury Department. Some of the references they used to get the attention of the Treasury Dept. included Judge Tallmudge, the city Recorder at the time, and “Professor [James] Mapes” who was to be in Washington DC and was going to drop off a few samples. The other references were W[illiam]. H. Cary & Co, importers of fancy goods, and Russell, Mattison and Taylor, one of the largest button manufacturers in NYC.
In the proposal to the Treasury, they offered the following pens at the following prices. Pens on cards were provided at a dozen per card, a dozen cards per gross.
On Cards
1. Imitation of the Perrian Pen – $2.75/gross
2. Columbian Eagle Pen – $3.00/gross
3. National Pen – $2.00/gross
4. Naval Pen – $2.00/gross
5. Elastic Pen – $1.80/gross
6. Knickerbocker Pen – $1.75/gross
7. Merchant’s Pen – $1.60/gross
In Boxes
1. School Pens – 75 cents/gross
2. Fine office pens, No. 1 – 87 ½ cents/gross
3. Fine office pens No. 2 – 75 cents/gross
4. Columbian Eagle Pens with holders – $2.50/gross
5. Imitation of Misely’s Pen (possibly Mosely’s pen?) – 50 cents/gross [link]
6. (late Hotchkiss and Co’s) pen – 87 ½ cents/gross
Holders and Handles were also to be provided. At $1.75 and $1.60 per gross respectively.

Wright continued to do engraving and medallions while also making money from his pens. An example from this time is this wonderful advertising note for his pens. (That’s Lafayette on the right) (image courtesy of the New York Historical Society)*

CC Wright Steel Pens certificate

In early 1847 Charles Wright sold his business for a “tidy sum” which allowed him to focus full-time on his medals and other engraving projects.

Unfortunately, Charles Wright died in 1854 at the relatively young age of 59.

There are three major questions still to be answered related to Wright’s time as a pen maker:

  1. Where did he get the tools for making pens? The story that’s been passed down says that while at David Felt’s he saw first-hand the difficulties Felt had in importing British pens. I suspect it was more that he saw a wide variety of pens and realized that with the right tooling it was fairly easy to make pens, and his knowledge of steel and its properties could come in handy. At the time there, again, weren’t many American manufactures. Atwood was out before 1841, and Hayden was just getting started, as was Mark Levy and Rhodes & Sons. Felt could haven advised him that this was a way to make some money, which Wright was in need of.
  2. To whom did Wright sell the pen making equipment and the business? I doubt the machines just disappeared. If he sold the business for a “tidy sum” then someone bought the assets and most likely began making pens. A likely candidate has yet to materialize out of a few possible options.
  3. What did a C.C. Wright pens look like? Obviously some were imitations of other pens, but none have been found as far as I can tell. If anyone finds one or a picture of one, let me know. More people than just I would be interested.

The 1840’s are shaping up to be an interesting decade. You start to have more serious artisans and industrialists trying their hand at pen making. It’s no long the inventor like Atwood, or stationer seeing if it’s cheaper to make than to buy, like Felt.

This sets us up for a whole different breed of professional pen makers to come along in the 1850’s and 1860’s.

* Many thanks go to Neil Musante, whose article in the Summer, 2014 issue of the MCA Advisory, the magazine for the Medal Collectors of America, was a source of tremendous help in the writing of this post, as was the personal correspondence with Mr. Musante who was generosity itself with his knowledge and help. Also, credit to the New York Historical Society who owns the amazing advertising note above.

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