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.
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.
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.