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.

Origins of the Oblique Pen and Oblique Holder

I finally have an answer to a question that has puzzled me for a while: where did the oblique holder come from?

It’s obviously not a product of the era of the quill, so when did we first have nibs held at this odd, oblique angle? To answer this, you first you have to go back to the Early Years of the steel pen: 1820-1860.

Prior to this period, steel pens were almost universally all barrel pens affixed to a holder pretty permanently. Pens were also not really disposable. There were even steel pen repair services, just like the same services to repair your fine quills.

Individual slip nib pens which fit into a holder were originally pieces of a quill which came in a box of nibs and fit into a holder. These were disposable and meant to obviate the need to mend your quills.

By 1831 you did start to see more what they called “slip nib pens” or “portable pens” (easier to carry than a long barrel pen), but the idea of holding the nib at an oblique angle in the holder was an idea new enough it warranted a patent.

In 1831, an enterprising and very successful stationer and inventor, Sampson Mordan (inventor of the silver mechanical pencil) combined with one William Brockedon to patent the first oblique pen and oblique holder. (I’ve attached the patent below)

In the patent application they mention as the benefits that this will allow the writer to hold the pen more comfortably as well as it should allow the pen to last longer since both tines will be moving across the paper evenly. If you read the description, the idea of holding a pen obliquely seems to be a new idea, and one that requires explanation and justification, and the obliquity itself is patentable.

“and we hereby claim as our invention, the oblique direction or position purposely given to the slits of all pens, whether made of quills, metals, or other fit and proper materials, and also the obliquity produced in the use of common pens, whether made of quills, metals, or other fit and proper materials, when held in our oblique pen holders.”

The holders shown in the patent document include oblique nibs, as well as oblique holders with straight nibs. Figure 17 is explicitly labeled as “another pen holder adapted for holding common quill or metal portable pens [slip nib pens] in an oblique position”

Mordan-Brockedon-patent

Figures 26 and 27 show the oblique nib which was also covered under this patent.
The explicit language of this patent make it clear that the idea of holding a pen at an oblique angle is the central new idea of the patent. And thus with this we can finally point to the beginnings of the oblique holder and oblique pen.
One mystery solved, 10,473 more to go.
P.S.
Thanks go out to the owner of the Sampson Mordan site http://www.sampsonmordan.com/. I have found a number of the British patents related to steel pens, but have not been able to access any of their details. This wonderful person has posted some of Mordan’s patents and fortunately this was one of them. It helped me confirm what I suspected about oblique holders.
If you want to search more British patents, at least the names and patent numbers, I have the only list of indices I’ve found for the early patents (pre-1881). I had to gather them together and it’s still incomplete, and there are no details like the attached in these docs, but it’s a place to start.
If anyone has access to these pdf’s and would be willing to grab a few if I provided you with the numbers, I would be most appreciative. Thanks!

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.