Sunday, June 19, 2016

Celluloid storage and acid absorption

As celluloid ages, it emits a range of compounds. Some are benign, but as the celluloid begins to approach its expiration date, some rather nasty stuff gets released -- most notably, nitric acid. This in turn accelerates the process of deterioration, as well as attacking other nearby materials. For this reason, conservators recommend storing celluloid artifacts separated from each other and with ventilation. Keeping the temperature and especially the humidity low also slows the aging process. (see Julie A. Reilly, "Celluloid Objects: Their Chemistry and Preservation", Journal of the American Institute for Conservation, 1991, vol. 30, no. 2, article 3, pp. 145-162).

The release of acidic compounds begins well before any visible signs of material degradation, as has been demonstrated by wrapping old celluloid pens in litmus paper. Litmus paper, however, is just an indicator. It doesn't do much of anything to absorb or neutralize free acids. For that, elementary chemistry suggests the use of a mild base, such as sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) or calcium carbonate (lime). Museum conservators have indeed used calcium carbonate to trap acid gases, but as it turns out, far better options are available.

For pen storage, the best choice seems to be SPZ-grade zeolite, and in particular, MicroChamber papers. These papers are impregnated with high-absorption zeolite with an alkaline buffer, and can be used to line pen storage areas or to wrap individual pens. Standard-sized interleaving paper costs under $0.25 per 6.5 x 10.125 inch sheet, and can be bought through Amazon or directly from the manufacturer. Studies going back over twenty years show that these acid-trapping papers outperform calcium carbonate dramatically, both in thoroughness of acid capture and neutralization, and in retaining the ability to trap and hold acids and other atmospheric pollutants over time (see Siegfried Rempel, "Zeolite Molecular Traps And Their Use In Preventative Conservation" (Western Association for Art Conservation Newsletter, January 1996), Getty Conservation Institute, "Performance of Pollutant Adsorbents (2001-2003)", and the Conservation Resources website). I now have MicroChamber paper lining most of my pen and parts storage areas, supplemented by silica gel canisters to absorb excess humidity. Though standard-sized paper is what I have, 14-inch paper is required if you want to pleat it around the dividing ridges of a standard 12-pen slotter box. Finally, I have no financial stake in any of these products -- I am using them because all the sources I could find indicate that they offer the best protection option (noting that activated carbon filters are of comparable merit, though much bulkier).

NOTE: There are MicroChamber papers that also incorporate activated carbon. And as a Facebook commenter noted, one can also place strips of MicroChamber paper *inside* celluloid pens for additional protection -- though if the pen is to be used regularly, the paper will have to be cut and shaped carefully so as not to interfere with the filling mechanism. The greatest benefits would be with button-fillers and other pens with barrels that are tightly sealed.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Inner cap repair: adding a washer

Nearly every fountain pen with a screw-on cap is also equipped with an inner cap. The inner cap is a short tube, usually but not always closed at the top end, which seals off the nib when the pen is capped. The inner cap also provides a solid stop when screwing the cap in place, the section face ending up pressed firmly against the mouth of the inner cap. The inner cap often also serves to hold the clip in place, as is the case with the Wahl pen shown in the cutaway view above.

A damaged or distorted inner cap is easily overlooked, but can cause real problems. When an inner cap leaks or does not seal against the section, the nib may dry out and not write promptly when put to paper, while ink may make its way around the interior of the cap and onto the section and barrel. If the face of the inner cap is not square to the cap's axis, the cap will not sit straight on the barrel when screwed in place. And if the inner cap is too short or entirely missing, it may be possible to screw on the cap too far. This risks both splitting the cap if it is turned beyond where the threads end, and destroying the nib by bottoming it out against the inside of the cap top.

Since inner cap problems are so easily overlooked, and since they so often require a lathe to remedy, many dealers don't bother addressing them. We do; a recent example is shown below.

The pen is a British-made Mabie Todd Jackdaw, an economy-line model that ended up in Spain, where it was fitted with an elaborate Toledo-work overlay. Top-line makers such as Mabie Todd made sure that their pens' inner caps were problem-free, but in this case the maker of the overlay wasn't quite so careful.

The pen came to us unused, yet I immediately noticed that the exposed hard rubber cap lip appeared to bottom out against the shoulder of the barrel overlay, which is quite thick. If this was indeed the case, twisting the cap on tightly would compress and could crack the cap lip. And if the cap wasn't being stopped by the section coming to rest against the inner cap, as it should, there would be a gap there instead and no seal. But what if the overlay had been perfectly placed so that contact was made in both places simultaneously -- section and inner cap, cap lip and overlay? A quick measurement with the sliding depth gauge I use to ensure sufficient nib clearance was not decisive. If the contacts weren't simultaneous, they were very close

Next step was to back out the section a couple of millimeters, then to screw the cap all the way on so that the inner cap pushed the section into the barrel. Sure enough, there was a gap of just .025 inches. The cap lip was taking all the pressure, just as I had suspected.

What to do? The barrel overlay could not be moved, for its lever cutout was aligned with the recess in the barrel under the end of the lever. Instead, the inner cap would have to be extended. A washer was cut from hard rubber, inner and outer diameters matching those of the inner cap, .030 inches thick. It was warmed and then pressed into position against the inner cap's outer face.

The cap now seats on the inner cap, and not on the cap lip. There is virtually no change in exterior appearance, as the cap lip clears the barrel overlay by mere thousandths of an inch.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Nonproduction Watermans

Over the years I've seen several groups of unusual Watermans come to market from the estates of former Waterman executives and employees. The items shown above have such a provenance, though I bought them only recently, from an older collector. In many respects they resemble a group disbursed by the late Peter Stanton some twenty years ago, which included a number of clipless pencils with nonstandard features, as well as some interesting slender desk pens and a red and black Ripple 94 with a #7-style color band on the cap (which I still have, and need to photograph). Indeed, they may well have come from the same source.

From right to left, the items include: a completely unmarked 42-size safety, with Aikin Lambert-style feed and warranted nib; a slender smooth pencil, clipless; two clipless and unmarked Patrician pencils in black hard rubber; a 14 PSF cutaway demonstrator; and a truly odd pencil, whose oddness only became apparent once I opened it up.

Yes, this is a safety pencil! The mechanism is adapted from a small Waterman safety. It's all hard rubber -- no metal parts at all, and no imprints. The nose cone unscrews from the barrel, and when I opened it up I found a couple of extra pieces of lead inside. There's not really any lead magazine -- they were just floating around inside. The method by which the lead is held is also rather improvised, the propelling shaft being drilled and slotted at its end to hold and grip the lead.

And a bit more on the other items . . . 

The safety has a #2 New York nib, not a warranted as I first wrote. Initially I was under the impression that the packing unit housing had some distortion, as if it had been heated and then clamped, but upon looking more closely it seems the two flat spots may be intentional (when heated, the hard rubber did not spring back as it would if this were the result of pressure and heat).

Perhaps this was an experiment to see how rounded flats would look and feel, and if they would help provide more purchase for disassembly. Also worth noting is the surface of the pen, which looks as if it has a thin coat of opaque black lacquer. There are several spots where it seems to have worn away, allowing the hard rubber beneath to brown slightly.

The cutaway demonstrator is a 14 PSF. It's not all that early, as it has the flat barrel threads; the hardened sac is still in place, so I can't tell if the pressure bar is the later one-piece type -- though odds are it is. An interesting feature is the red-filled barrel imprint, which is likely original. Most standard production pens did not have their imprints filled, but one does sometimes find less common models with infill -- Signagraph pens being one example.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Pen tricksters: Pelikan edition

Long, long ago, Cliff and Judy Lawrence ran a few articles in their Pen Fancier's Magazine under the heading, "Pen Tricksters". Even back in the 1980s, people were "improving" pens without disclosing the work to potential buyers. As I recall, one of the "tricks" was cap lip replacement, hiding the seam under the cap band (a perfectly sound restoration method, if duly disclosed); another was reblackening -- though in one reported case it was the Lawrences who were in error, as they concluded that a Black Giant had been blackened since it faded when immersed in hot water (pristine hard rubber will indeed resist fading, but exposure to light will invisibly break down its surface; subsequent exposure to water will then result in instant fading).

I've seen my share of undisclosed repairs in pens purchased both online and face-to-face at shows. One that was completely new to me, though, is shown in the photo above -- the barrel of what looked like a nice clean unrestored Pelikan 100. Getting the filler unit out of one of these pens is delicate work, since the aged celluloid of the barrel is typically fragile. This is one of the few cases where soaking is an essential disassembly method -- which also has the side effect of loosening the barrel oversleeve (the "binde"). Which, once it slid off, revealing a whopping burn hole in the side of the barrel. The damage to the barrel must also have damaged the barrel's original binde. Someone then slid a new one in place over the hole, und Bob ist Dein Onkel.

Leroy W. Fairchild: miscellaneous notes


As I note in a forthcoming article in the PCA's Pennant, Leroy W. Fairchild was the Lewis Edson Waterman of the gold-nibbed dip pen era. In the last few decades pen historians have uncovered much about Waterman, but Fairchild remains almost completely unstudied. Rather than duplicate the contents of the Pennant article here, I will be using this entry to post additional information (genealogical, in particular), research notes, and source references, with links if available.

It was not easy to find Leroy W. Fairchild's middle name. He always used the "W", but the only way I discovered it stood for "Wilson" was in records where others provided it: for example, his son Leroy C.'s marriage record; a death notice in the New York Tribune on May 9, 1909; and Leroy C.'s obituary in The Suffolk County News, December 1, 1939, p. 4. Fairchild's first name was commonly rendered as LeRoy and Le Roy (ditto for his namesake son). This does affect search results.

It should be possible to find an exact birth date for Leroy W. Fairchild. So far, it can be narrowed down to around 1830, and probably the second half, using the following sources:
  • In the 1840 US census, he is not listed by name, but is checked off in the category of males between ten and fourteen.
  • In the 1855 New York State census, taken in June, he is recorded as 24.
  • In the 1860 US census, taken on July 24, he is recorded as 29.
  • In the 1863 list of men eligible for military service, compiled July 1, he is recorded as 32.
  • In a typed index card, transcribing an entry form of Nov 6, 1867, for the S.S. Java arriving in Boston from Liverpool, Queenstown, and Halifax, he is recorded as 38 (possible that a handwritten "6" was misread as an "8"?)
  • In the 1870 US census, taken on July 29, he is listed as 41.
  • In an 1873 passenger list for the Cuba, signed Sep 10, he is listed as 44 (but ID uncertain)
  • In the 1880 US census, taken on June 10, he is listed as 50.
  • In the 1905 New Jersey State census, he is listed as 75.
  • In his obituaries, which all state that he died on May 8, 1909, in his eightieth year.
All of the sources above (and others) agree that Fairchild was born in New York City, with the sole exception of the 1880 census. There he is listed as Wisconsin-born, with English-born parents, but this must be a recording error, as it is completely at odds with all other documents and records.

Very specific dates and parentage are provided for Fairchild's father (Starr Fairchild, b. Mar 14, 1797 Fairfield Co. CT - d. Jan 17, 1838) in one online family tree. Unfortunately, no sources for this information are given, and I have not been able to find any supporting evidence independently. This particular tree was much stronger on earlier generations, it seemed, for while Leroy W. and his mother were listed, their death dates were completely wrong and Leroy's siblings, wife, and children were absent (I have since updated their records, using the information presented here). Partial corroboration for Starr was found, however, in Longworth's New York City directories. "Fairchild Star, tailor" is listed in the edition for 1827-8, p. 190, at 5 York; 1828-9, p. 219, at 76 Reade; 1832-3, p. 284, at 270 William; and 1833-4, p. 251, at 63 Warren. In the edition for 1834-5, p. 276, he is not listed. In Doggett's directories from the 1842-3 edition through that for 1847-8, "Fairchild Eliza M. widow of Starr" appears, each time at a different address: 1842-3, p. 113, 129 Mulberry; 1845-6, p. 124, 194 Hester; 1846-7, p. 134, 26 Grand; 1847-8, p. 142, 116 Laurens. The listing is absent from the 1848-9 edition. Another document, the death record of Leroy W. Fairchild's sister, Mary Jane, gives her (their) father's birthplace as Connecticut. Both this and the death record of another sister, Anna Eliza, appear to list their father's name as Starr, though the transcription available online renders it as "Stan". Note that our Starr Fairchild should not be confused with the contemporary Connecticut inventor of the same name (US patents 4038, 4414, 4990, 5413, et al.)

Fairchild's mother's name was Eliza M., the "M" as yet unidentified. Looking at the same records used to narrow down Leroy W. Fairchild's birthdate, we end up with a birthdate of around 1805:
  • In the 1840 US census, she is listed as Eliza Fairchild, head of household, checked off in the category of females between thirty and thirty-nine.
  • In the 1855 New York State census, taken in June, she is recorded as 50, born in Orange County, New York, widowed head of household, living in New York City 38 years.
  • In the 1860 US census, taken on July 24, she is recorded as 54, living in the household of her eldest daughter Anna Eliza.
  • In the 1870 US census, taken on July 29, she is listed as 65, living with her son Leroy.
  • In the 1880 US census, taken on June 7, she is listed as 80, living with her widowed daughter Mary, close by her daughter Anna Eliza.
Eliza M. Fairchild was buried at Green-Wood Cemetery on Nov 15, 1882 (lot 612, section 107).

Leroy W. Fairchild had three sisters: Anna Eliza, c. 1828 - Feb 14, 1896; Mary Jane, c. 1832 - Apr 10, 1888; and Amelia T., c. 1834 - Jan 1899. Anna Eliza was widowed young: her first husband, Charles H. Dudley, died on Sep 17, 1850 at the age of 27. At the time of the 1855 census she was living with her mother, brother, and youngest sister, along with her two daughters, Ada (born c. 1848) and Anna (c. 1850 - May 23, 1893). Anna Eliza remarried on Dec 29, 1859, to Henry L. Grant, a prosperous banker. By the following July, the 1860 US census records that her mother and her brother Leroy's family were all living in the Grant household. Anna Eliza outlived Grant, dying in Manhattan on Feb 14, 1896, at the age of 68.

Mary Jane married James Cushing not long after the 1850 US census, where he is listed as an 18-year-old banker living in New York City with his parents. In the 1860 US census, the couple were married, both 28, and living on their own with two children, 5 and 7. They were well off, recorded as owning $9000 in real estate and $3000 in other assets. Mary Jane's younger sister Amelia T. was also living with the family, along with her husband, Alexandre Waldron, a plumber. Mary Jane Cushing died in Manhattan on April 10, 1888. James Cushing would become one of Leroy W. Fairchild's first backers, and the namesake for Leroy's youngest son, James Cushing Fairchild. Cushing died on July 5, 1873, only 41, of dysentery. He was on the Board of Education, and was a former School Commissioner, all while "engaged in mercantile pursuits". His death notice in the July 16, 1873 NY Daily Graphiccols. 3-4, specifically mentions his involvement with Fairchild's pen business, as did an 1869 ad for the Homoeopathic Mutual Life Insurance Company, of which he was Vice President, in The United States Insurance Advertiser, bound with The United States Insurance Gazette, vol. 29, May-Nov 1869 (unpaginated).

Amelia T. married Alexandre Waldron on April 5, 1860, in Manhattan; he was 30, she 26. As noted above, they were living with the family of Amelia's older sister Mary Jane as of June 3 that same year, at the time of the 1860 US census. Twenty years later in the 1880 US census they are recorded as living on their own, with two Irish servants but no children (note that given the 20-year gap, there could have been children who grew up and moved out, or who did not survive to adulthood). Amelia Waldron was buried at Green-Wood Cemetery on January 25, 1899 (lot 17753, section H).

By the evidence we have, Leroy W. Fairchild grew up poor. The family was at a new address every year, and he was just a boy when his father died, leaving his mother with four small children. It was common for boys to begin apprenticeships around the age of thirteen, so it is quite possible that the foundation date of 1843 later claimed for the Fairchild company actually represents the start of Leroy W. Fairchild's apprenticeship (it is equally possible, however, that it represents the foundation date of the company in which he was employed, and which he eventually rose to own). For now, this is speculation; we do know that around 1850, Fairchild was working for John Rendell, and already making important contributions (under "Pen", in Johnson's Universal Cyclop√¶diavol. 6, 1889, p. 184):
Two other men, Alexander Morton and Leroy W. Fairchild —the latter at first employed by Mr. Rendell, and the former by Mr. Bagley—about 1850 or 1851 added two important particulars toward perfecting this interesting manufacture. Mr. Fairchild bedded the iridium points in the gold instead of soldering them, thereby avoiding the galvanic and corrosive action of the ink on the two metals, the solder and the gold, as well as giving the points a firmer hold on the pen, and modified the form and roundness of the pen . . .
The "at first employed by" above is suggestive, but not entirely clear. Whether Fairchild came to Rendell as an apprentice or as a young journeyman, though, is less important than the fact that by the age of twenty he was more than pulling his weight in the shop of one of the most innovative penmakers of the time, who elevated him to a full partner in the business on Jan 14, 1853. Fairchild would have been all of 22 years old, with little personal capital, so this promotion must have been based entirely on his personal merits and abilities. For more on Rendell & Fairchild and Rendell's demise in 1859, see my post on Rendell here (noting particularly the entry cited in the update, under "Pen" in The New American Cyclopaedia, vol. 13, 1861, p. 101, containing a very early description of the Fairchild factory).

The change in Leroy W. Fairchild's economic status between 1860 and 1870 is striking. At the time of the 1860 US census he was living at the house of his brother-in-law, along with his wife, two small children, and his mother. No assets are listed, neither real estate nor personal. In a list of the taxable incomes of New Yorkers in 1863, however (The Income Record: A List Giving the Taxable Income for the Year 1863 of Every Resident of New York, 1865, p. 138), Fairchild is listed as having earned $5400, putting him in the top 15% of New York City residents with incomes of $600 or more. And by the time of the 1870 US census, he was living in Norwalk, Connecticut, with six children, his mother, and three servants plus a nurse. The census further records no less than $18,000 in real estate and $100,000 in other assets.

Leroy W. Fairchild married Sarah Ann Cholwell on January 23, 1856, in Norwalk, Connecticut (New York Times, Jan 28, 1856, p. 8). She was born in New York or Connecticut around 1837, and died in New York City on January 8, 1890. She was buried three days later at Woodlawn Cemetery.
There were six children from the marriage: Leroy Cholwell (1857 - Nov 30, 1939); Anna (Sep 1, 1859 - 1896); George Winfield (Oct 17, 1861 - Sep 28, 1948); Harry Penton (Feb 18, 1863 - Mar 27, 1947); Charles Ring (May 1865 - May 30, 1902); and James Cushing (Jun 1869 - Dec 7, 1946). All of the children were born in Manhattan save James, who was born in Nemack, Connecticut. Leroy C., Harry, and James all went into the family business. George and Charles did not; George pursued a long and successful business career, but Charles died relatively young and apparently troubled.

Leroy Cholwell Fairchild married Julia Louise Moore on Oct 19, 1882 in Manhattan (the digitized record mistranscribes Leroy's middle initial as "J" instead of "C"). Their son, also named Leroy C., was born Jan 20, 1884 in Essex, New Jersey; the birth record lists the father's age as 28, the mother's, 21. Their daughter Adelaide was married on Dec 1, 1909 in Manhattan to John Welles Arnold, age 25. Their daughter Lila, 22, was married on Nov 4, 1915 in Manhattan, to Lucius Porter Janeway, age 23. Leroy C. and Julia L. M. Fairchild were divorced on Jun 4, 1913, in Accomack County, Virginia. On Jun 26, 1913, Leroy C. married Mabel H. Pigot of Brooklyn, herself recently divorced (Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Jun 26, 1913, p. 1). Leroy C. was described as "of Wachapreague. Va." Leroy C. died on Nov 30, 1939; the following obituary appeared in The Suffolk County News, Dec 1, 1939, p. 4:
Le Roy Cholwell Fairchild, who resided on Seaman avenue, Bayport, died last night in Dr. King's Hospital at Bay Shore. He was in his 83rd year. Mr. Fairchild, who has lived in this vicinity for the last 27 years, was born in 1857, the son of Le Roy Wilson and Sarah Cholwell Fairchild. He had been retired for more than 30 years, having been in the jewelry business. He is survived by his wife, Mabel Hincken Fairchild; two daughters, Mrs. John W Arnold of Chappaqua, N. Y., and Mrs. Lucius P. Janeway of New York City; a step-son. Palmer Nostrand Pigot of Garden City, and three brothers, James C. of Sayville, Harry P. of New York City, and George W. of New York City. Funeral services will be held at the R. M. Harry Isaacson funeral parlors at 3 o'clock on Sunday afternoon with the Rev. Joseph H. Bond of St. Ann's Episcopal Church officiating. Interment will follow on Monday morning in Woodlawn Cemetery, Brooklyn.
Although the Fairchilds had been active members of local society, it seems Leroy C. had been relying more upon the income from the trust fund set up by his father than from any assets of his own (The Suffolk County News, Dec 22, 1939, p. 2):
Although the will of the late LeRoy C. Fairchild of Bayport, who died on November 30, provides for the establishment of a $60,000 trust fund for his wife, Mable [sic] H. Fairchild, the petition filed in Surrogate's Court at Riverhead states the the testator's estate is valued at less than $2,500 in personal property and "less than $2,500" in real property. The will executed on June 17th, 1938, bequeaths $60,000 in trust to the United States Trust Company.
Leroy C. had declared bankruptcy back in 1905. As reported in the New York Tribune, Sep 2, 1905, p. 10:

It is noteworthy that his largest creditor by far was his own father, Leroy W. Fairchild. The bankruptcy was finalized not long after (New York Times, Sep 25, 1905, p. 11).

With this as background, it is not surprising that Leroy W.'s will, signed on Nov 16, 1906, did not immediately disburse his assets to his four surviving children, but instead set up trusts to provide them with a steady annual income of $3,000 each. The original amount of each of the four trust funds was around $70,000; the will also discharged any unpaid debts between sons and father. The full will can be read via Google Books here. One of its provisions was for Leroy W.'s burial at Woodlawn Cemetery, plot 6858, section 13, stipulating that no others were to be buried there, excepting only his son Leroy C. The will provided for the trust funds to pass down to the next generation upon his sons' deaths, with the assets of each fund being paid out in full upon each grandchild reaching his or her majority. The one exception was the only son of his son Charles Ring, who received only a flat $1,000 -- a stipulation that was contested unsuccessfully in a case heard by the New York Supreme Court in the later 1940s.

Harry Penton Fairchild appears to have been more committed than his elder brother Leroy to the pen business, and more successful in it. Whereas Leroy C. retired on his trust fund income after their father's death (and may have retired, de facto, a few years earlier, at the time of his bankruptcy), Harry P. is still listed in the 1930 US Census as working, occupation "Manufacturer Gold Pens". By the time of the 1940 US census, however, the listing reads "no occupation", so at some point between 1930 and 1940 he had retired. Harry P. Fairchild died on Mar 27, 1947 and was buried at Woodlawn Cemetery. His last address was 390 West End, New York City. I have not found any evidence of any children; Harry P. was survived by his wife, Fermene G. Ayres (born Dec 1864; in various records one also finds "Fermina" and "Minnie"). According to the 1900 US Census, they were married twelve years before.

James Cushing Fairchild married Clara Porter in Manhattan on Nov 8, 1893. He died in Sayville, New York on Dec 7, 1946. According to his obituary in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Mon Dec 9, 1946, p. 13, col. 4, James C. had retired from the family firm in 1920. He too was buried at Woodlawn Cemetery, with his wife's family (the Samuel Porter plot).

George Winfield Fairchild did not go into the family business, though in the 1880 US census both he and his brother Leroy C., 18 and 23 years old, are listed as "Clerk in Store". In the 1900 US census, he was living in New Rochelle with his wife, son, daughter, and two servants. His occupation was listed as "Broker (stocks)". He appears to have been active in other business ventures; in 1907 he was appointed receiver for Alexander Typewriter Co, as judgement creditor. George W. was the last surviving son of Leroy W. Fairchild. He died on Sep 28, 1948 in Palisades Park, Bergen, New Jersey.

Charles Ring Fairchild also did not go into the family business. In the 1892 NY State census, he is recorded in Brooklyn's Ward 22, a 27 year old salesman. He makes a more dramatic appearance in 1896 -- or rather, disappearance (American Stationer, vol. 40, Sep 10, 1896, p. 416):
Charles Ring Fairchild, who is a son of Leroy W. Fairchild, the retired gold pen manufacturer of this city, and is a well-known Western jewelry drummer, is missing. The police of California and neighboring States have been searching for a week for some clue to his whereabouts. He was last seen at Butte City, Mon., where he was at the Hotel McDermott up to September 3, when he disappeared from the hotel. He traveled for several wellknown San Francisco jewelry houses, and left behind him in the hotel safe packages containing $5,000 worth of samples. News of his disappearance was received yesterday in this city by his brothers, Leroy C. and Henry P. Fairchild, who are in business at 220 Fourth avenue. The missing man's father is out of town. The brothers said yesterday afternoon that they could not account for his disappearance. Charles is a muscular six footer. He is thirty-one years old and married. Up to a year ago, when he went West, he lived in Brooklyn with his wife. He was of temperate habits and enjoyed the confidence of his employers to an unusual extent. His brothers received word from Butte City that it was thought at the hotel there that he had become demented suddenly, and that his absence had awakened fears that he might have met with foul play at the hands of persons who knew that he traveled with valuables in his possession. The brothers also learned that the dealers whose goods he carried had put in written claims for the jewels held by the hotel proprietor, and that the latter had refused to give up possession of the samples until they were fully identified by personal representatives of the owners. The brothers had heard nothing from the missing man since he went West. He was not interested in the pen manufacturing business in this city.
The story was also reported in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle (Sep 9, 1896, p. 1) and in the New York Times a few days later (Sep 12, 1896). Charles' reappearance was reported the next week (American Stationer, vol. 40, Sep 17 1896, p. 453):
Charles Ring Fairchild, the missing traveling salesman, has been located at Spokane, Wash., where he was seen on September 7 by a traveling salesman. He had been disposing of some of the finest sample jewelry in his possession to raise money to get home. He appeared to be unbalanced mentally.
I have not traced what happened to him thereafter in any detail. In the 1900 US census he is probably to be identified with the Ring Fairchild recorded living in Pigeon Township, Evansville, Indiana, a boarder along with his wife Maude, occupation "Travl. Salesman (books)". He died in Chicago on May 30, 1902, and was buried there at Oakwoods Cemetery. As noted above, Charles' only son was the only grandchild of Leroy W. Fairchild not to receive a trust fund. The son was also named Charles Ring Fairchild, and was born in Brooklyn on Jul 28, 1886. His parents were both 21 and New York-born, his mother named as Gertrude E. Brown. His 1917 draft registration record lists him as a married resident of Jersey City, a mechanical engineer in New York City for the Locomotive Feed Water Heater Co.

Annie Fairchild was Leroy W. Fairchild's only daughter. I have not found much about her, but the Brooklyn Daily Eagle report on Charles Ring Fairchild's disappearance, cited above (Sep 9, 1896, p. 1), also notes that his father Leroy W. Fairchild "is at present out of the city for the benefit of his health. Only a few months ago he lost a daughter."

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Taps for inner cap extraction

Pulling inner caps can be tricky work, especially when the cap is celluloid (which shrinks with age) and the inner cap is hard rubber (which does not). I'll eventually get around to explaining the techniques I use, and particularly the ways I apply heat, but for now I'd like to share the chart below. If you decide to use taps as inner cap extractors, you'll want to make sure they are sized correctly. If you use a mix of metric and fractional inch taps, you should virtually always be able to thread a tap into the inner cap without having to cut too deeply into its inner surface, which risks both breakage and loss of inktightness. For the same reason, try to get taps with the finest threads you can for each given diameter.

OD (inches)
Tap size
OD (mm)
12-24 or 12-28
.3125 or .3150
5/16” or M8
7.94 or 8.0
.4375 or .4331
7/16 or M11
11.1 or 11.0

*Special thread – a bit harder to find

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Unger Brothers, rebranding, and mass production in the pen trade

A cluster of Unger Brothers items recently came our way, which prompted a consultation of our reprint copies of the 1904 Unger catalog and the 1905-6 supplement. The pens don't figure very prominently, unfortunately, but the perusal was extremely rewarding for a very different reason. Though I had surely read it before, the introduction to the second reprint (Ulysses Grant Dietz, "Variety, Affordability, Modernity", The Unger Bros. Supplementary Catalogue, 1905-1906, Cincinnati, 1999) explains the company's market position in terms that are directly applicable to those manufacturing jewelers catering more specifically to the writing equipment trade. The following passage should help shape our understanding of both the marketing of generic precious metal dip pens and mechanical pencils, and that of fountain pen overlays (Heath's position, in particular):
You must keep in mind that these catalogues were not available to the general public. No consumer could possibly have sifted through the dizzying array of forms and patterns. This awesome assortment of elegant goods was aimed at the myriad retailers, large and small, who would select from it a smaller range that would be right for their particular market. A Chicago wholesaler, for example, might select a couple hundred different items that it thought it could then sell to small retail outlets in the mid- and far-west. An established local retailer, on the other hand, would select an even smaller assortment, perhaps fifty different items. These it would mix with other selections from other manufacturers, creating a product line that was unique to its own store. In this way, individual retailers created an identity of their own that was based on other manufacturers' products. 
A case in point is Daniel Low & Co., established in Salem, Massachusetts in 1867 as the local jeweler-silversmith. By 1893 they had begun their own mail-order venture, and by 1901 claimed to be the largest mail-order dealers in gold and silver in the country. Their 168-page retail catalogue for that year includes silver made by many different manufacturers, including numerous pieces drawn from Unger Brothers' line. . . .
Consumers who bought goods from the Daniel Low catalogue probably had a vague sense that they were buying from the silversmith himself -- and that's just what Daniel Low wanted. The Unger Brothers name meant nothing to the average consumer. Only in Newark itself, where Unger maintained a retail outlet in its factory for local shoppers, did the name mean something.
Grant notes that there were over 4000 different items on offer between the 1904 catalog and the 1905-6 supplement, and that wholesale prices were strikingly low. Coincidentally, I had recently stumbled across an article in the American Stationer (vol. 36, Dec 6, 1894, p. 1038) about Unger Brothers pitching the companies' products to the stationery trade.
There is a wrong impression among stationers that the prices of sterling silver goods are high, but we want to say that there is little difference between the the prices of the plated article and the article of genuine sterling silver. In short, we take the articles which are carried by many stationers and improve and beautify them. We mount them in a sterling finish, make them available for the finest stationers trade, and at a cost only slightly advanced over the plated article.
The full passage is much longer, also mentioning Unger trying out an ad, shown below, which appears two pages previous (p. 1036).

Unger Brothers' range and volume was vastly greater than that of the more specialized manufacturers working behind the scenes of the pen and pencil industry. Since hardly any Unger catalogs have survived, it should not be cause for surprise that no catalogs have yet turned up for manufacturers of overlays, or for the makers of all those unbranded and rebranded pens and pencils we spend so much time puzzling over.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Aikin Lambert pencils in base metal?

There is a tendency for collectors of Victorian pencils to dismiss examples in materials other than silver or gold (or gold filled). Figural novelty pencils in precious metals or with precious metal trim fetch far more than figurals in nickel plate. I'd always presumed that the premier makers of novelty pencils never made examples in base metal, until I ran across the following ad and article, both in The Publishers' Weekly, vol. 13, Mar 23, 1878:

The sea-bean pencils, in particular, are quite familiar to collectors, but being unmarked and devoid of gold, no one ever suspected that they could have been made by a company such as Aikin Lambert.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Earliest record of Mabie Todd's Swan?

Mabie Todd's "Swan" was one of the earliest and longest-lived fountain pen names of all. The company itself dated the name's introduction to 1890, but I have recently found records that put the date back a few more years.

The writeup below appeared in The Evening Journal (Jamestown, NY), May 25, 1888, p. 4, col. 7:

The mention below is exceedingly brief, but there can be little doubt that it too referred to Mabie, Todd & Bard's fountain pen. It appeared in The Daily News (Batavia, NY) on Jun 13, 1887, p. 4, col. 3, and again on Jun 15, 1887, p. 4, col. 4:

As yet, all the mentions of the Swan in New York City newspapers that I have found are post-1890, though one would expect the earliest announcements there. For now, June of 1887 is our earliest notice -- though a yet earlier mention is sure to be found eventually.

NOTE: David Moak, in Mabie in America (2003), opined that the first Swan fountain pens were made no earlier than 1888, since all known examples bear imprints denoting that they were made under US patents 378986 and 378987, both granted on Mar 6, 1888. The application dates for these patents, however, were Aug 4, 1886 and Apr 27, 1887, which would be entirely consistent with the mentions in the advertisements above. These very early pens would presumably have had a "patent pending" or "patents pending" imprint.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

A notable early Waterman ad

The advertisement shown below was published in Our Society Journal, vol. 6, Apr 1886, p. 17 (Google Books, Hathitrust). The very early use of the globe as a logo is immediately striking, but no less significant is the mix of promises and testimonials below. While the testimonials are from prominent individuals whose names also figure in other Waterman promotional literature, the promises are from individuals or companies directly involved in Waterman manufacture.

This roster includes not only "The Ideal Pen Co., 155 Broadway, N. Y." and "L. E. Waterman, Manager", but also H. P. & E. Day, Rubber-Mfrs., Seymour, Ct. ("Holders of the Finest Hard Rubber") and Mr. Leroy W. Fairchild, Gold Pen Mfr., N. Y. ("Each Gold Pen of First Quality") -- clearly and unmistakably identifying Waterman's two most important original subcontractors.