Saturday, June 30, 2012

Scythe revival?

Nothing to do with pens, but everything to do with old tools discovering a new audience:
People who scythe put up with a lot of Grim Reaper cracks. Then again, long-handled, crescent-bladed scythes don't use gas, don't get hot, don't make noise, do make for exercise, and do cut grass. . .
While Americans persist in cutting grass with labor-saving devices, faithful scythers believe their old tool has plenty of life left in it. In the dozens just 10 years ago, U.S. scythe sales are nearing 10,000 a year now, for a kit that costs about $200. Predictably, scythe buyers are small, green farmers; unpredictably, they are also city folk and suburbanites.

At Marugg Co., which has been selling scythes out of Tracy City, Tenn., since 1873, the typical scythe buyer used to be an Amish farmer or a horror-movie prop master, according to Amy Wilson, the current owner. Now, it's "anybody and everybody," she says. "It makes it difficult for advertising, but still…"
Full story in the Wall Street Journal.

A mystery Parkette

Periodically someone asks about a mystery pen on the pen forums: a 1930s Parkette that is a lever-filler but also -- seemingly -- a button-filler, with a hole in the end of the barrel covered by a screw-off blind cap. It's not so odd or mysterious, however, as the picture above will make clear. The pen is an ordinary Parker Parkette, adapted so it can do double duty as a pocket pen or desk pen. Usually the parts of the ensemble have been scattered, so the purpose of the blind cap isn't obvious. The central hole, incidentally, is there because Parker made these pens from celluloid tube stock, which was cheaper and faster to cure than solid rod (a solid plug certainly could have been used, as Parker did for the cap tops and the barrel ends of non-convertible Parkettes, but this was an economy pen, made in the depths of the Great Depression).

Conklin blotter

When I first got this blotter it seemed unremarkable, though the use of the old ink blot disaster trope provided some amusement. It was only at second glance that I noticed the swastikas, used to highlight the slogan, "You Never Blot with a Conklin" (you'll have to click on the picture to see the larger version). The blotter may be dated to the 'teens, when the swastika was still an innocent symbol most closely associated with American Indian art and design.

Friday, June 29, 2012

The dissolution of D. F. Foley & Co.

Foley was a major name in the gold pen (that is, gold nib) industry for several decades. John Foley was the main player, but this note is about his son Daniel and his company, D. F. Foley & Co.

I was recently looking through issues of The Jewelers' Circular and Horological Review that are available online through Google Books. In vol. 23 (1891), there are a number of entries concerning the dissolution of D. F. Foley & Co., one of which also notes the company's founding date (February 1888) and date of incorporation (January 1891).

On August 12, p. 38, all seems to be going well. Four traveling salesmen for the company are mentioned by name:  Fred Warner, A. S. Canning, H. McGuire, and J. Andrews. On September 3, however, The American Stationer, p. 529, notes that "D. F. Foley & Co., manufacturers of gold pens, New York, have been attached", and on September 21, p. 28-d, The Jewelers' Circular reports: "The sheriff was last Friday placed in possession of D. F. Foley & Co.'s office, 180 Broadway under an attachment for $3,352 in favor of G. Treadwell. The claim was assigned to Mr. Treadwell by Robbins & Peacock and is for goods sold and delivered. An attachment for $982 in favor of Eberhand [sic] Faber which was issued against the same firm last Tuesday was satisfied the next day. These difficulties, we are informed, will speedily be adjusted as the few creditors are kindly disposed." Two days later, on p. 23-b, we are informed that the sheriff's sale has been adjourned from Monday until Friday, and that "John Foley has satisfied a judgment for $5,963.37 obtained against him June 28, 1890, by M. Noonan, and also one for $634.69 entered in favor of D. F. Foley on the same date." More detail appears in the same issue on  p. 28-f, where it was reported that: "Next Monday Deputy Sheriff Heimberger will sell the stock and fixtures of D. F. Foley & Co., 180 Broadway, under the following attachmedts [sic]: W. S. Hicks, $674; G. A. Treadwell, $3,052, and Eberhard Faber for $1,071. The judgments were for goods sold and delivered. last week the office of the company was closed by the sheriff and business was suspended. Mr. Foley started the business in February 1888, and incorporated it in January of the present year."

There are a few more notices of adjournments, and a note on October 14, p. 38, that Hugh McGuire, former vice president of D. F. Foley & Co. was now representing Aikin Lambert in the "far West and Pacific Coast" (a near-identical note also appears in the October 15 issue of The American Stationer, on p. 824). Then on October 28, p. 38: "The Sheriff last Wednesday, after repeated adjournments, sold out the stock and fixtures of D. F. Foley & Co., 180 Broadway. The proceeds of the sale amounted to $2,300."

What happened? Unfortunately, at this time Google Books only provides us with issues of the 1891 Jewelers' Circular from the beginning of August through the end of October. But we can speculate that D. F. Foley's troubles might well have begun on April 16 of that year, when a major fire destroyed their factory. The entry in the Annual report of the Committee on Fire Patrol, to the New York Board of Fire Underwriters, May, 1891, pp. 24-25, is as follows: 
"April 16, 1891—11.25 P.M.—Nos. 585 to 589 Hudson Street and Nos. 771 to 775 Greenwich Street, six-story brick building, occupied by Wood & Hughes, silversmiths; F. W. Seybel, hatter; New York Wagon Co.; H. I. Robinson, dining saloon; P. W. Wilson, office; Post Office station; [p. 25] Spiral Machine Co.; Calendar and Time Co.; Andrews Manufacturing Co.; Paper Glaze Co.; D. F. Foley, gold pens. The fire originated in the rear of second floor and extended throughout entire building, causing total destruction of building and contents; also extended to the following buildings: No. 591 Hudson and Nos. 777 and 779 Greenwich Streets, communicating with No. 593 Hudson Street, occupied by Robert Taggart as a furniture storehouse (the furniture and personal effects were the property of E. A. Swain, Mrs. J. Williams, Mary J. Jones, J. S. Francis, F. H. Armstrong, Shafter, Chisholm, Forster, Addy, Rhodes, A. P. Jersey, Leach, Lafabrique, Levy, E. A. Baldwin, E. L. Bush, R. C. Hoagland and E. Donnelly); No. 781 Greenwich Street, three-story brick dwelling, occupied by J. Eaton and G. Hoffman; Nos. 778 to 784 Greenwich Street, five-story brown-stone tenements; No. 583 Hudson and No. 90 Bank Streets, five-story brick tenement, occupied by J. Carmody, J. E. Doughty, Sam Burke and H. B. Versefelt; No. 92 Bank Street, three-story brick dwelling, occupied by Mrs. N. Townsend; No. 94 Bank Street, three-story brick dwelling, occupied by T. Fitzpatrick and M. J. Naughton; No. 96 Bank Street, two-story and attic brick dwelling; No. 98 Bank Street, two-story and attic brick dwelling; Nos. 584 to 588 Hudson Street, five-story brick, occupied on the first floor by C. L. Ryan as a tea store.

Patrol (Nos. 2 and 3) in service 16 hours and 30 minutes.
Covers spread, 79 stock and 23 roof.
Insurance, $304,175 ; loss, $238,375.30."
This remains, however, speculation: this entry doesn't make clear how much was lost, in stock or machinery (the loss on-site may have been total, but how much was kept there and how much at their Broadway showrooms?), nor does it tell us if D. F. Foley & Co. was adequately insured (an old post at Lion & Pen mentioned a couple of other New York City penmakers affected by fires, but not D. F. Foley). Surely there will be answers to many of these questions in the issues of the Jewelers' Circular and American Stationer from spring of 1891. Let us hope that they get digitized and made available soon!

ADDENDUM: the Trow City Directory for 1890 on p. 101 lists D. F. Foley & Co. at 23 Maiden Lane and 587 Hudson, with principals Daniel F. Foley  and Henry S. Aikin. The same entry appears on p. 91 of the 1889 edition. In the 1888 edition, Daniel F. Foley is not listed.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Serendipitous staining

Discoloration usually devalues a vintage pen or pencil, and dramatically. Which is why I was able to buy this Mandarin Senior pencil for next to nothing -- around $40, lacking the clip and clip screw, as I recall. But look at how handsomely mottled it is! Like real yellow tortoiseshell, once cleaned up and polished. Still no idea what did the staining; it looks as if the pencil lay in some sort of liquid, since the darkening is predominantly on one side. In any event, I'm not going to try to stain a pen to match.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

"Removing" a monogram, the old-fashioned way

Despite what some self-serving sellers claim, an engraved name on a pen normally cannot be buffed out. If the material is solid, an unsightly flat or hollowed area will be left; if the material is laminated -- gold filled or rolled gold -- the results will be even worse. Jewelers have known this for a long time, which is why one occasionally comes across a pen like this, where an engraved indicia has been covered by a new indicia plate, soldered in place. In this case, the "new" plate was installed a good long time ago, during the original working lifetime of the pen -- a Waterman 0502 from the very beginning of the 20th century.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

A Victorian parts hoard

Wish I had some provenance for this lot that I picked up some years back. Bought it pretty much as scrap silver, and it mostly consists of parts of American mid-19th century dip pen and pencil combinations.
No maker's mark on anything, unfortunately, and nothing quite distinctive enough to pinpoint a maker. Early examples of this sort of combination were made by Bagley, but many are also found with Fairchild imprints -- and others with no imprints at all. By all appearances the hoard is an old one, all from one factory, perhaps rejects or old stock set aside to be sent to the melter and then forgotten.

Friday, June 15, 2012

A good buy

I was going through some parts the other day and came across this now-empty ziplock bag -- a bag with a story. Quite a few years ago, before eBay and other websites changed everything, I traded a Black Giant for 100 (or was it 150?) new old stock Parker 51 nibs. They were straight from Parker UK, and had tips no one wanted -- italics, obliques, and reverse obliques. I ended up hanging on to a few, but all the rest are now long gone. Guess I should have taken a photo of the bag when it was still full!

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Stephen Champlin's pen

Several years ago I was lucky enough to acquire a fine Lownds' patent dip pen and pencil combination in solid gold. Although the metal content is not specifically marked -- not unusual -- the patent information is clearly imprinted along with the maker's name, William Wilmarth.
The patent is number 11,752 of 1854, for an "Improved Pen and Pencil Case". Both Lownds and Wilmarth were active in New York City in the 1850s.
The most notable thing about this pen-pencil, however, is its former owner. Although it came without any provenance, the engraved name, "S. CHAMPLIN. U.S.N.", clearly refers to Commodore Stephen Champlin (US Navy records up through 1882 list no other S. Champlin who served as an officer). Born in Rhode Island in 1789, Champlin was a first cousin of Oliver Hazard Perry, and commanded the Scorpion at the Battle of Lake Erie in 1813. Champlin was reportedly the last survivor of that battle, living until 1870, though his career was cut short by crippling injuries suffered in an engagement in 1814.
Two US Navy ships have been named after Stephen Champlin, as has the town of Champlin, Minnesota.

UPDATE: This very pen-pencil appears to have been mentioned in Champlin's will, signed December 17, 1869, bequeathed to a grandson:
"Item Fourth: I give, devise and bequeath, to my daughter, Eliza Ellen Cook, mine and my wife's portraits and frames for same, writing desk formerly used by my wife, gold pen and holder, picture and key, entitled Union, with frames, photographic album containing fifty pictures, and eighteen numbers of Shakespeare's pictures; and to her son, Stephen Champlin, my gold pencil case and pen."
Other gold pens are mentioned, but no other pencils or pencil cases, as mechanical pencils were then called.

UPDATE: Here is a nice 1856 Wilmarth advertisement for Lownd's patent gold pen and pencil cases. The ad is also informative for the history of the firm, noting that William M. Wilmarth had previously been associated with Eaton, Griffiths & Co., and before that, Addison, Wilmarth & Co. Maiden Lane was the center of the Manhattan jewelry trade throughout the 19th century, including pen manufacture.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

EHCO origins

While our knowledge of the bigger pen companies has advanced considerably over the years, little is known about most of the smaller players. EHCO (Eggens-Hambler) is just one example, and the announcement of the firm's foundation reproduced above nicely documents the company's origins. It provides an exact foundation date -- Feb 1, 1922 -- and details how the two principals were both veteran employees of Waterman, and that they set up their new firm just down the street from their old employer -- EHCO at 180 Broadway, Waterman at 191. The article comes from Office Appliances, March 1922, p. 52.