Saturday, March 22, 2014

George W. Heath & Co.

Heath is a name well known to pen collectors -- though less for their own pens and pencils than for the overlays they supplied to some of the most prominent American penmakers at the beginning of the 20th century. Heath overlays are found on the pens of Waterman, Parker, Conklin, Moore, A. A. Waterman, Carey, and others, yet little is currently known about how the companies worked together, or for how long. Some Heath articles can be identified by a maker's mark, the most common of which is an "H" in a square, the square with two short lines extending right and left -- but this mark is only seen on silver, never on gold or gold filled items, even those in all other ways identical to their silver equivalents.

A much less common variant is an "H" in a spiky diamond, as shown below, also found only on silver.

The mark below is not restricted to silver objects, but I have never seen it applied to a fountain pen overlay. It seems most common on gold filled pencils.

This post will concentrate on Heath's earlier history. A good starting point is a rather boosterish volume published in 1912, Newark, the City of Industry. On page 116 we find the picture above, and the following entry:
IN the year 1892, George W. and Alfred C. Heath began business as partners in New York as "chasers and designers to the trade." The original location was at 137 Elm street, New York, but owing to increasing business more commodious quarters were obtained at 27 Thames street, and later at 380, 382 and 384 Canal street.

In May, 1912, desiring to avail themselves of the splendid manufacturing facilities afforded by Newark, and being disposed to do their share in making Newark famous, and proving that "Newark Knows How," the firm of George W. Heath & Co. moved the office and factory to the modern fireproof structure which they had erected at 206, 208, 210 First street.

The company is engaged in the manufacture of fountain pens, and in these days of universal education when everybody can write, there is an ever increasing demand for its product.

The pens made by this concern are known as Heath's Tribune Fountain Pens, the component parts of which are made of the best material obtainable, and are carefully assembled and adjusted by skilled men under the direct supervision of the members of the firm.

Besides fountain pens the company also manufactures gold pens, gold and silver pencils and art metal goods which are sold all over the world, through agencies established by correspondents and frequent visits of traveling salesmen among the dealers in various foreign countries.

All products that are made by this company bear the imprint "Made in Newark," and the goods are worthy of the city in which they were made.
This outline history is consistent with the other records I have consulted. In the Twelfth Annual Report of the Factory Inspector of the State of New York, submitted Jan 24, 1898, p. 260, "Heath Bros." is listed as engaged in "Silver chasing", with 5 employees. The following year's report (p. 272) is the same, but with 4 employees. The report for the year following, 1899 (p. 313) is shown below (the space between the Heaths' listing and the header has been trimmed for ready reference).

Alfred Charles and George Washington Heath are now listed as separate firms, specializing in "Chasing" and "Gold & silver novelties", with 2 and 6 employees, respectively. The report for 1900 (p. 347) adds addresses. Alfred C. is listed at 48 Church street, engaged in "Gold and silver chasing" with 5 employees. George W. & Co., now incorporated, is listed at 137 Elm street, manufacturing "Gold & silver novelties" with 7 employees. The business' orientation towards writing instruments is indicated by a brief entry in the Jewelers' Circular, vol. 38, Feb 1, 1899, p. 53:
Robert Dykes, representing George W. Heath, manufacturer of gold and silver pencils, penholders and novelties, 137 Elm St., New York, will show the firm's new lines in a few days. Conspicuous among the new productions are assortments of exquisitely chased bangle bracelets, quoted at an unusually reasonable figure. The concern's general lines will comprise an abundance of new designs.
Only scattered issues of the Jewelers' Circular are currently available online. This is unfortunate, for it is there that Heath advertises and is mentioned, not in contemporary stationery trade journals. In August and September of 1902, for example, the ad shown below ran in every weekly issue (e.g. vol. 45, Aug 20, 1902, p. 84):
The advertisement that is most significant, however, ran in the August 6 issue on page 62:

"Fountain pen covers" are what we now call overlays. Heath was actively soliciting business from penmakers, for both complete overlays and trim bands. When such solicitations first appeared, we cannot yet say, but we do now know that it was no later than August 1902.

The move to 27 Thames Street took place not long after, for the new address appears in the 1904 edition of the Trow Copartnership and Corporation Directory (vol. 52, p. 264). And shortly after that, an entry in the 1905 edition of Lockwood's Directory of the Paper and Allied Trades, vol. 31, p. 475 provides our first direct mention of Heath selling fountain pens. By the time the 1908 Trow (p. 357) and Lockwood (p. 441) directories were compiled, Heath had moved once again, to 380 Canal Street (Lockwood has it as 380 West Broadway; the building stood at the corner of the two streets).

The first advertisements for Heath fountain pens that I have found date to the end of 1909. They appear in The Insurance Press, starting with the November 9, 1909 issue (page v), and show a chased slip-cap eyedropper-filler with a V. V. clip. The same ad is still being used in early 1911, but in the spring of that year,  new ads promote a screw-cap model instead, as seen below (Apr 5, p. 23).

According to most sources, the move from Manhattan to Newark took place in May 1912. This notice datelined April 1, however, ran in The Metal Industry (vol. 11, no. 4, Apr 1913, p. 188):
George W. Heath and Company moved from New York City to Newark and built a two-story factory at 208 First street, to make gold fountain pens and gold and silver pencils. The plant cost $16,000 and has electric power. Fifty hands are employed on the job.
At the end of the year a clutch pencil was introduced, discussed in previous posts here and here. A thumb-filler appears in another advertisement from June of 1915 (The Insurance Press, Jun 9, 1915, p. 27).

While the company continued to offer items under the Heath name, by all evidence the bulk of its business lay in contract manufacturing. Quantity of surviving examples isn't always a reliable gauge of quantities produced, but in this case the contrast between the scarcity of Heath-branded pens and pencils and the size of the factory and workforce is too stark to ignore. I strongly suspect that Heath continued to be the prime supplier of high-quality overlays to the US fountain pen trade as long as overlay pens continued to be made. In particular, Heath was probably the maker of all of Waterman's overlays -- early electrodeposited fine silver examples a possible exception -- from around the turn of the century all the way to the end of overlay pen production at some point in the 1930s. Waterman often publicized its production methods, and in some detail, yet never in any of these accounts is there any mention of in-house manufacture of overlays.

The later history of Heath is particularly obscure, with many of the usual online sources unavailable in volumes postdating the 'teens. I have not been able to find any obituary or death notice for George W. Heath; his last appearance in US census records is in 1930, when he was 61, with occupation listed as "none". Newark city directories consistently list George W. Heath & Co. up through the 1929 edition, but it is gone in the 1932 and 1935 directories. Was it out of business, or did it relocate? If so, did its founder sell out or retire by the time the census enumerator interviewed him in 1930? I did find a notice of Alfred Charles Heath's death, published in 1938 in the Manufacturers' Association Bulletin (vol. 16, p. 38; Google Books snippet view only). It mentions his association with George W. Heath & Co., but does not make clear if the firm was still a going concern [the date of this notice should now be discounted; see the Addendum below -- D].

The popularity of metal pens and pencils declined sharply with the advent of colorful celluloids, which must have cut deeply into the Heaths' business. The brothers were already diversifying, however: while they held a number of patents, the latest that has anything to do with writing instruments is US 1514965 (an extending pencil), applied for in 1922. All subsequent patents, starting with US 1605723, also applied for in 1922, are radio-related, and from the 1923 Newark city directory on, we find the Heath Radio and Electric Manufacturing Company ("radio parts and condensers") listed alongside George W. Heath & Co. at the same address. The Heaths were not alone in this combination of pursuits, with Triad/Tri-Pen and Hayakawa Tokuji (Ever-Ready Sharp/Sharp) offering notable parallels, though also significant differences.

Neither of the Heath brothers appear to have had any children. Census data indicates that their father, Alfred C. Senior, was an engraver from Birmingham, who came to the USA in 1868 with his wife Jane. Nearly all  their eight-odd children were born in New Jersey, including George W. in February 1871, but Alfred Charles Junior (mistakenly listed as Charles Alfred in the 1900 census, it seems) was born in England about a year and a half later, coming to America only in 1880 -- so there may have been some back-and-forth travel of the family over the years (Alfred C. Heath Senior appears to have died back in Birmingham, aged 83).

PS There was no connection between the New Jersey Heaths and the midwestern Heath company of Heathkit fame.

ADDENDUM: Shortly after posting this, I managed to find an all-too-brief death notice for Alfred C. Heath in the New York Evening Post, Apr 26, 1929, p. 4, col. 2:
ALFRED C. HEATH, Newark radio manufacturer, is dead today at his home, 25 East Highland Avenue, East Orange, N. J. He was born in Birmingham, England, and came to this country forty years ago.
I also found this notice of the factory building's sale in the New York Sun, Nov 5, 1935, p. 35, col. 4:

At this point it looks as if both the radio and the pen businesses were wound up not long after Alfred C. Heath's death -- by mid-1930, from the census records, consistent with the companies' absence from the 1932 city directory, which would have been compiled the year before. The delay in selling the factory building is entirely understandable in the middle of the Great Depression, though liquidation could also have been delayed by probate or other legal complications and the need to clear the building's contents.


Jon Veley said...

Excellent work! There was one other bunch who transitioned from writing instruments to radio -- after DeWitt-LaFrance was absorbed by Carter's, they went from making "Superite" pens and pencils to the "Superadio."

David said...

That's a nice footnote. I wouldn't be surprised if there were others as well.