Friday, August 31, 2012

Wiley, another gold nib manufacturing pioneer

Although this entry is primarily about William E. Wiley, it also bears upon our ongoing research into the behind-the-scenes activities of Simeon Hyde in the early years of gold nib manufacture on both sides of the Atlantic.

Several years ago, the late John C. Loring published an article, "The Transatlantic Beginnings of the Gold Pen" (Stylus, Feb/March 2004, pp. 61-63), in which he perceptively noted Hyde's central role in buying Hawkins' gold nib business. Loring went on to speculate about Hyde's ongoing management of the business, proposing that "For the following fifteen years [from 1835], Hyde maintained gold pen factories in London and New York", also suggesting that since gold nibs were soon being made much more cheaply and in much greater quantity in America than in Great Britain, Hyde must have been bringing semifinished nibs from New York to be finished in London and resold as British. The evidence Loring provided does not support these conclusions (and other evidence opposes, such as the rarity of early British gold nibs and the fundamental differences in shape and form from their American counterparts), though in some cases it poses interesting questions -- such as the reason for the sudden drop in gold nib prices in London in 1850, a halving of the going price.

Loring tied this price drop to Simeon Hyde's departure from England in September 1848 after selling out his interest in the gold nib business to his partner, Francis Mordan (the departure and the change in ownership were noted by Frank Crosbie, cited by Samantha Grose and Jim Marshall, Francis Mordan and the Everlasting Pen, p. 22, but further corroboration of Hyde's places of residence and business dealings in the 1840s would be highly desirable). This doesn't make a lot of sense, however; if Hyde really had been taking advantage of American production efficiency in order to reduce the labor cost of gold nibs sold in England (itself completely unsupported speculation), one would expect English nib prices to go up, not down, once he left the scene.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Two early fountain pens

At the Washington, DC pen show this year I was fortunate to be able to acquire two rather esoteric bits of fountain pen history. Both formerly belonged to Mike Fultz; after he died, they ended up with a pen friend, who very kindly held them for me for months after I expressed interest, until we could finally get together in person at a show to work out a deal.
The older is a metal pen whose design owes much to contemporary propelling pencils, including the inset seal stone in the crown. The nib is extended by pushing forward the sliding collar at the rear, but that's not all, as it also reveals an opening with a thumb-operated pressure bar -- a very early sleeve-filler.
How early? It is marked "DARLING'S PATENT", the patentee being John Darling, of Stane, Lanark County, Scotland. The pen's design corresponds, albeit not exactly, to USA patent 68418, issued September 3, 1867. Darling had already successfully applied for British patents, including 3215, issued December 6, 1866, 74, issued January 11, 1867, and 288, issued February 2, 1867 (the last discussed but not illustrated in the Cantor Lectures), but as yet I only have these patents' titles, so cannot say if they differ substantially from the US patent in any key details. The US patent describes two main variants: in the first, the pressure bar was intended to be used to keep the underside of the nib supplied with ink (the feed was really nothing more than a bent tube) with the pen's reservoir to be filled by opening the end and pouring in ink; in the second, a second barrel aperture was added, the pressure bar being depressed through both apertures in order to fill the pen. It now seems obvious that the second aperture was redundant, and that a single central aperture would serve equally well to both fill the pen and expel ink as required, and this is fact appears to be how the pen shown above was made to be used, as there is no provision for opening the end of the reservoir and hence no other way the pen could have been filled. The pen appears to be of British rather than American manufacture, judging from its overall styling and appearance.
The second pen took a little more research to identify. The key was the October 2, 1877 patent date on its side. This would have been USA patent 195719, issued to John Morrow Might and William Hope Taylor of Toronto (Canadian patent 6462, awarded August 24, 1876; British patent 7617, awarded July 10, 1877). The construction is typical of contemporary US retracting dip pens and mechanical pencils, with similar gold filled trim and hard rubber components bearing the Day's patent stamp. The original cap is missing, and the patent drawings are not close enough to the actual pen to give a good idea of what the cap looked like. There are a number of features on the pen that do not appear in the drawings, including a rotating shut-off valve at the front of the barrel and the sliding collar which seems to have been intended to compress the internal sac by pushing inwards upon the slotted barrel. There is no nib, but interestingly enough the US patent explicitly states that the pen is designed to use "any ordinary pen-nib" (it is also noteworthy that the patent uses "pen" and "nib" in their modern senses).

UPDATE: The full Canadian patent may be viewed here -- thanks to George Kovalenko for the pointer.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

More pens of the famous

We know where Isaac Pitman's personal pen is; but what about these pens, noted in the American Stationer of 1909?
Dickens is as popular now as ever, so who knows what one of his pens might sell for now ("Boz" was a Dickens pen-name).

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Isaac Pitman's pen

How did I miss this, back in 2004?
The gold-nibbed pen used by shorthand pioneer Sir Isaac Pitman has been sold at auction in Bath for more than £700.
The pen belonging to Sir Isaac, who lived in city, was valued at between £80 and £120 by Bonhams auctioneers.

 It was part of a sale of items from his home in Bath's Royal Crescent and the Pitman family home of Eastcourt House near Malmesbury, Wiltshire.
From the BBC, which provides only a very small image of the pen, taken from the Bonhams catalog entry ("An F. Mordans pen with turned wooden body and gold nib"), still available online with a zoomable picture. The Trowbridge Museum was reportedly unsuccessful in their attempt to acquire the pen for their collection, but as of 2007 the pen had found another and equally appropriate home:
A 170-year-old pen which belonged to Sir Isaac Pitman, the creator of the revolutionary method of shorthand, is now on display in Wetherby.

The gold-nibbed pen he used to create the system is set to inspire a new generation of Pitman students in the town's Pitman Training Group headquarters.

The wooden ink pen, which has a solid gold nib, was bought by the managing director of the group so it can join a small collection of Pitman artefacts on display at the Wetherby headquarters.
The Pitman Wetherby website is here, but it seems to be devoted strictly to business, with no mention of the pen or the other Pitman relics noted in the article.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Some uncommon Sheaffers

From top to bottom: a gold filled "Pigmy" (lengthy discussion of the model here; often misspelled "Pygmy", rare in any form, but especially so with overlay); Canadian "reverse trim" Lifetime Balance (silver striated with gold filled rather than the usual chrome trim); Canadian Lifetime Balance with Clipper-style clip; oversize Univer flat-top (sub-brand models are usually small economy pens); large WASP Clipper plunger-filler (not rare, but uncommon and attractive). All picked up at the Washington, DC pen show last week.

The Univer is also interesting in that it illustrates how Sheaffer created more color variety in its Univer line, taking a standard Dupont black and pearl and giving it a coat of tinted nitrocellulose lacquer. This was most commonly done with green or red lacquer. In this case, decades of wear and polishing have left some areas only thinly covered, revealing the original black and pearl color underneath.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Waterman 1893 Columbian Exposition medal

Pen makers proudly advertised the medals they had won at industrial fairs and international expositions. Waterman was awarded numerous medals of this sort -- so many, that they had replicas made so that a full panoply of awards could be exhibited in multiple locations.

This recently-acquired example is a an electrotype copy of the large bronze medal received by the Waterman company at Chicago's Columbian Exposition of 1893. Electrotypes were extremely precise copies made by plating a thick layer of copper into a mold of the original object. "Thick" is relative, however, as the copper shell was still thin enough to require backing, typically being filled with lead alloy to give support and weight.
That is the case with this medal; the construction method is easily visible in the seam running around the rim. There are some very deep dents to the rim as well, due to the softness of the lead core.
Although by definition not as rare as original award medals (each of which is, normally, unique), original electrotype copies are nonetheless extremely rare. It is likely that only a handful of copies were made of each medal, and in over 20 years of collecting, the number of surviving examples I have run across is few indeed.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Washington, DC pen show

We're on our way back from this year's DC pen show. Once again, it was a big show and very active, the major emphasis on new pens, but still with a large vintage contingent. I was particularly happy to be able to buy some items from Mike Fultz's collection that I'd been tracking for nearly two years now -- not necessarily the sort of things that would set the average collector's heart a-flutter, or that would even be remarked upon on the average pen forum, but esoteric bits that are pure gold to those who love the odd, the old, and the eccentric.

I was also pleased to be able to spend some time talking with Jim Marshall about the early history of the iridium-pointed gold nib and my recent research into Simeon Hyde (and others). Jim has written and published in this same area, but with a stronger emphasis on the British side of the story, so it was useful to compare notes. The Hyde article here will probably receive an update or two over the next several days to incorporate new material.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Jewel-tipped pens

Recent posts have made passing mention of the precursor to the iridium-tipped gold nib. Here is an example of one of these rare jewel-tipped nibs. The construction is more clearly visible from the underside.
The metal of the nib wraps around each of the gemstone tips, holding them in place with the assistance of some sort of cement. Although these nibs offered some flexibility, the bending action took place almost entirely towards the back of the slit, giving a feel harder than desired for those accustomed to the quill, flexible all the way to the tip. This same criticism was leveled at the first iridium-tipped nibs, too -- but it was not long before the new nibs were being made with quill-like flexibility.

Jewel-tipped nibs were made for a relatively short time. They were very expensive, and were never mass produced. Surviving examples are few, with fewer still retaining their gemstone tipping fully intact.

Invention and investment: How the iridium-tipped gold nib came to America

By the second half of the 19th century, accounts of the origin of the iridium-tipped gold nib were already getting confused and contradictory. Had it not been for nibmaker John Foley's interest in setting down the facts, the story might never have been untangled. Fortunately, in 1875 Foley published a short but detailed history based upon his own correspondence with the men most closely involved, most notably Aaron Porter Cleveland and John Isaac Hawkins. This was bound as part of his firm's catalog, yet there is nothing in the account that suggests that as an historical record it was to any significant extent distorted by commercial considerations.

Hawkins was an extraordinary character, feelingly eulogized in 1885 as follows:
He was a wonderfully prolific inventor, was a martyr to inventive genius; ever at work upon new inventions, some of which founded the fortunes of others, but none of them yielded much to himself. His share was comparative poverty, amply compensated by that intense enjoyment of life only known to the enthusiast, and which mere money cannot purchase.
Hawkins died in New Jersey in 1855, poor and obscure, but he appears to have been characteristically open and forthcoming in responding to Foley's queries about the invention of the iridium-tipped nib. His testimony is no less valuable, however, in clarifying how his invention was eventually commercialized:
"While at Birmingham," Mr. Hawkins says, " I concluded an agreement with the Rev. Charles Cleveland, brother-in-law of Mr. Simeon Hyde, of New York, for the sale of the business, and by his desire transferred all my right to his brother, Mr. Aaron Porter Cleveland, for the sum of three hundred pounds sterling ($1,500) then in hand paid, and a percentage arising from the sale of Pens. This transfer is dated August 22, 1835; and one point in the agreement was an engagement on my part to stop in New York and instruct a confidential workman of his nomination there, in the art or process of making the Pens . . . [p. 64]

Sunday, August 5, 2012

A happy reunion (and revival)

Sorting through a parts box a few weeks ago, I came across an old friend -- a large black European button-filler that I found sometime in my very first few years of pen collecting. Unfortunately, I can no longer recall where I got it, though I am quite certain it was before I attended my first pen show. It's marked only "MONREAL", but whether it is German, Italian, or Spanish, I cannot say.

It may be a little big for carrying around, yet it sits very happily on my desk at work. It's got a fine nib, lively and responsive, which makes jotting down notes a pleasure.
Why did it end up in that parts box? Probably because its cap bands were very loose, and at the time I did not know how to tighten them. In fact, I tried to keep them in place using some sort of cement, but the results were unattractive and unsatisfactory. Have you ever bungled a repair, and then stuck it away so as not to have to think about it? I think this was what happened here -- though luckily, the bungle wasn't so bad as all that.
After all those years, it brought a smile to my face to see a botched job that I could now easily make good. The bands were eased off and the cement carefully chipped away. The bands were then swaged in place, nice and tight, and polished bright. I also tightened up the clip, which is held in Duofold-style, but whose combined hard rubber cap top and inner cap was jammed tight by the shrinkage of the celluloid cap. Getting it loose was another thing my younger self was incapable of -- though kudos to him for prudently leaving the job to someone more experienced!