Friday, December 13, 2013

Dunlap patent stylographic pen

This stylo bears an imprint for Louis E. Dunlap's US patent of November 18, 1884, number 308,144. Dunlap had been the manager of Livermore's Stylographic Pen Company at 290 Washington Street in Boston, but appears to have struck out on his own in the midst of the what seemed to be a booming market for stylographic pens. The exterior of the pen is typical enough for stylographics of the era, but let's take a look inside.

The needle assembly is a press-fit into the point section. When pulled out, it is just as described and illustrated in the patent: a spring-loaded needle, with the spring action provided by a helically-cut section of hard rubber tube -- not vulnerable to corrosion, like a metal spring, nor likely ever to break from fatigue given the short working travel of the needle and the robust proportions of the hard rubber coil.

Advertisements and obviously-paid magazine writeups of the Dunlap pen appear in a burst in 1885. At some point in 1886 the ads stop appearing; the American Stationer for the second half of 1886 is not available online as yet, but there are several ads in the issues of the first half of the year, and none in the years following.

How long Dunlap remained in business is hard to tell. The company moved from its original address at 296 Washington Street in Boston to 280 Washington at the beginning of 1886 (American Stationer, vol. 19, Jan 28, 1886, pp. 93-4). The Boston Almanac and Business Directory for 1888 (vol. 53, p. 433; copyrighted in 1887) lists Louis E. Dunlap under "Pens" at 280 Washington, and the same entry -- just his name, in the "Pens" category -- appears in the following two years' volumes unchanged. The year after (vol. 57, p. 444, for 1892, copyrighted 1891) the address is 277 Washington, and in the two years thereafter the address changes to 7 Milk. I have not been able to find any mention of Dunlap in the American Stationer after 1886, so it seems probable that even if Dunlap continued to sell his remaining stock for some time afterwards, his company was really only a going concern for a couple of years. The pens are certainly not easy to find, though even with the imprints obscured, you can't mistake the interior construction. Dunlap later applied for a patent for an improved ink pellet, which was issued to him in 1897 (US patent 590,139)

Dunlap had assigned half of his stylographic pen patent to Herbert W. Thayer of Franklin, Massachusetts, so it is possible that Thayer was Dunlap's silent partner in the pen venture. Thayer later became involved in local and state politics, and he is described then as being a manufacturer (A Souvenir of Massachusetts Legislators, 1904, p. 162). Thayer died in 1908, trampled by a runaway horse startled by the sight of an electric car (New York Times, Jan 16, 1908).

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