Pen Shapes: A Proposed Glossary

Naming Pen Shapes

Steel pens come in many different shapes. There is no single source for “official” names for the various shapes. Some names are explicitly given by manufacturers and seem to be standard, like the Falcon and the Shoulder pen, but most are not explicit and almost none are consistent.

American pens also tended to come in fewer shapes than you find in Europe. Even that limited range of shapes was narrowed down by the turn of the century.  After WWI, when manufacturers were required to reduce their product lines to only a few pens, even fewer different shapes were brought back after the war. By the 1920’s the number of pen shapes generally made in the United States was greatly reduced.

As part of my capturing an inventory of my collection of pens, I have gathered together a list of shapes and descriptions that are useful to me. The names come from either standard names used in the industry, my attempt at a descriptive name, or it is named after a standard pen that seem to exemplify this shape, such as the Inflexible or the Colorado.

These tend to be rather broad categories. Many of these shapes have various sub-types under them. The most common shape, the Straight pen, can be found in variations such as the wide and shallow, the long and thin, the short and delicate, and others. Pinched Spoon pens, as well, tend to have quite a range of shapes to the pinched transition section between heel and body. Some are smooth, others faceted or decorated in one way or another, but all share the same, basic shape.

Other shapes are differentiated by degrees of one characteristic or another. The three stubs, short, medium and long, merely designate the three general sizes of straight-boded stub pens. These three designations work because manufacturers tended to make all of their straight-bodied stubs in one of these three sizes. Beaked pens and Bank pens are pretty closely related and only differ in the ratio of tines to body.

This is neither an exhaustive nor authoritative list, but one that I’ve put together to try and give names to the shapes of my pens. I’m sure as I progress in my detailed cataloging I will add to, or tweak this list. As flawed as it is, right now this is the best (and only) list I’ve found out there that tries to describe and standardize the main shapes of steel pens.

I’m sure that some disagree with some of my names and even my categorization. I’m also sure I’ll find examples that either don’t fit or are in between one or another shapes. That’s OK. This is a work in progress and I will be adding to, and modifying this list as I go along. It’s also far too limited for the wildly divergent shapes you find in England, France, Italy and German manufacturers. Should my collection begin to really to expand into those areas, I will have to expand my list of shapes.

If you find a shape that is specifically mentioned in a source and I call it something else, let me know and share the source. I may incorporate it or even revise my name. If you’d like to add to this list, especially for those pens not normally made in the US, feel free to let me know.

Pen Nomenclature.

I introduced the anatomy of a steel pen in more detail in another post, but I think it’s worthwhile including the annotated picture from that post here as well.

Anatomy-of-a-pen

The descriptions of the shapes rely heavily on several main parts to the pen. There is the Heel, the Body and the Shoulders. This diagram does not include a transition section that some shapes have between the heel and the body. These transitions generally narrow between the heel and the body, but some, like the Crown shape actually increase in width.

When I talk about “up” or “down” assume the pen is placed vertically with the heel pointing down and the tip pointing up. The “line” or “axis” of the pen is the imaginary line drawn from the bottom of the heel to tip of the tines.

Shapes

(thank you to The Esterbrook Project for use of many of their images)

Albata

Normal heel, large, embossed design, generally floral, leading to a long, tapering body.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Esterbrook #11 Albata
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
American Steel Pen, Albata Pen

Bank

A long, straight pen with longer tines than normal, but not as long as a Beaked pen.  Though the Bank pen is sometimes classified as a Beaked pen, I think there’s enough of a difference between the very common “Bank” pen shape and the longer tines of the rest of the beaked pens that I call out the Bank as a separate shape.

ESTERBROOK-14
Esterbrook #14 Bank Pen

Barrel

Pen where the heel is a complete tube and the body of the pen is shaped as normal. The body can come in various forms.

individual-wm-mitchell-pen.jpg
William Mitchell “N” pen

Beaked

Generally a straight bodied pen with extra-long tines. Tines are much longer in relation to the body than even Bank pens.

ESTERBROOK 98 CORRESPONDENCE PEN 1883 img
Esterbrook #98 Correspondence (1883 catalog image)
ESTERBROOK-343-RED-INK-PEN
Esterbrook #343 Red Ink Pen. All Red Ink and Laundry Pens are beaked.

Colorado

Similar to a taper shape, but very shoulder-heavy, and a flat profile, as seen on the various Colorado pens from Esterbrook and others.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Warrington &  Co’s Colorado
ESTERBROOK-2-COLORADO
Esterbrook #2 Colorado

Crow Quill

Same shape as a Barrel Pen but much smaller, thinner and a much finer point.

ESTERBROOK-63
Esterbrook #63 Lithographic

Crown

Normal heel that transitions into a series of strips connecting the heel to the body of the pen. These strips are bent outwards in a rounded shape to make a sort of basket that resembles a crown.

Perry-Crown-Shape.jpg
A Perry 120 EF

Source

1876 Esterbrook 224 Grecian
Esterbrook #224 Grecian

Double Elastic

A straight-bodied pen with notches cut out of the edges just below the shoulders.

Esterbrook-135-Double-Elast
Esterbrook #135 Double Elastic

Double Line

A pen that draws two lines simultaneously. There are two sets of tines.

ESTERBROOK-344
Esterbrook #344 Double Line Ruling Pen

Double Spring

A straight-bodied pen with a cut-out across the body of the pen perpendicular to the line of the pen.

Esterbrook-129-Double-Sprin
Esterbrook #129 Double Spring

Elbow Oblique

An oblique pen shaped like a straight-sided pen that has been bent into an oblique, zig-zag shape.

ESTERBROOK-345-ELBOW-PEN
Esterbrook #345 Elbow Pen

Falcon

Normal heel, then flared transition with embossed “shoulders” “cut-out” sides moving up to a shoulder and taper to longer tines.

falcon_sizes
Three different sized Falcons

Falcon Stub

A stub pen in the shape of a Falcon pen.

ESTERBROOK-442
Esterbrook #442 Falcon Stub

Flat Leaf

Leaf-shaped pen but the body of the pen is flattened rather than rounded. There may or may not be a transition section between heel and body. Probably the best known pen of this shape is the Waverley Pen by Macniven and Cameron.

Waverley
Macniven and Cameron Waverley Pen

Flat Spear

Similar to a spear, but the top of the body is flattened and sometimes curved.

ESTERBROOK 205 SPEAR POINT
Esterbrook #205 Spear Point, 1883 catalog
ESTERBROOK 672 TRANSMITTER PEN 1941 image
Esterbrook #672 Transmitter Pen

Index

Shaped like a pointing index finger.

1870s Esterbrook 99 Ladies Pen Salesman Card 1
Esterbrook #99 Ladies Index Pen. Image courtesy of collection of David Nishimura

Inflexible

Related to a pinched spoon, but with a distinctive sharp dip and ridge as seen in the Esterbrook Inflexible pen, and others.

ESTERBROOK-322
Esterbrook #322 Inflexible
ESTERBROOK-531-FLYER
Esterbrook #531 Flyer (Inflexible but with turned-up tip)

Leaf

Similar to a spoon, but the body is bottom heavy with a deep curve at the bottom but quickly narrowing at the top. The body has a rounded profile.

ESTERBROOK-256
Esterbrook #256 Tecumseh

Long stub

A longer , straight-bodied stub.

ESTERBROOK-312
Esterbrook #312 Judge’s Quill

Medium Stub

A medium-length straight stub.

ESTERBROOK-314
Esterbrook #314 Relief

Oblique

An oblique pen in the general shape of the original Mordant patent. The body is broad and generally leaf-shaped with a generous swell near the heel and tapering to a point quickly.

Warrington and Co oblique from David Berlin
Warrington & Co. Oblique
01 spencerian pen
Piquette Oblique gold nib

 

Pinched Center

A normal heel, then the beginning of the body is pinched in and down to make a center ridge that extends up to the main body, which is generally smaller and then tapered or rounded towards the tip.

cropped-Washington-Medallion-pen-engraving1200x2000.jpg
Washington Medallion Pen
1870s Esterbrook 54 Superb Salesman Card 1
Esterbrook #54 Superb

Pinched Spoon

A spoon pen with a transition section between the heel and the body of the pen. This transition can be smooth, faceted or even decorated.

ESTERBROOK-717-FEDERAL-PEN
Esterbrook #717 Federal Pen

Round

Normal heel, round body with small, triangular point sticking out

Esterbrook-341-Reservoir-St
Esterbrook #341 Reservoir Stub

Ruling Pen

Folded sheet of steel or brass to create a v-shaped profile.

Gisburne ruling pens
Esterbrook Gisburne Ruling Pen #2

School

A straight-bodied pen with a small raised line perpendicular to the line of the pen, generally right above the imprint and before the hole. Almost all of these shape pens are called “School” pens. The Gillott 404 is one of the most famous.

Esterbrook-444-School-Pen
Esterbrook #444 School Pen

Shield

Normal heel, often there’s a transition section, then a slight, straight widening that ends in a wider shoulder. The key is that the widening from transition to shoulder is straight, not curved.

1876 Esterbrook 201 Favorite
Esterbrook #201 Favorite Pen
Esterbrook-202-Multicopy
Esterbrook #202 Multicopy. An elongated version of the 201.

Short stub

Stub pen with a shorter, straight body

ESTERBROOK-239
Esterbrook #239 Chancellor

Shoulder

Normal heel then an abrupt, sharp, 90 or near-90-degree transition to create a wider, deeper, straight body to the shoulders. These are usually long pens.

Esterbrook-9-Commercial
Esterbrook #9 Commercial.

Spear

Normal heel, very narrow and long body coming to a sharp point with no shoulders. There may be a transition section between heel and body, but it stays within a narrow profile.

Plume_Sergent-Major_spear
Blanzy  #2500 Sergent Major

Spoon

Wide at the bottom of the body, gentle and smooth narrowing to the tip. Abrupt transition from heel to widest part of the body.

ESTERBROOK-788
Esterbrook #788

Straight

Straight sides and even width along the length from heel to shoulders.

ESTERBROOK-556-PEN
Esterbrook #556 Pen

Taper

Straight-sided pen narrow at the heel and wide at the shoulders. The taper is straight from heel to shoulder.

Esterbrook-702-Modified-Sla
Esterbrook #702 Modified Slant

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.