Thursday, June 7, 2012

Livermore in Providence

A. T. Cross may be the best-known early pen manufacturer in Rhode Island, but Livermore was another company making large numbers of stylographic fountain pens back in the early 1880s. The die-cut trade card shown above lists a Boston address, while other flyers place the Stylographic Pen Company in New York City; nonetheless, Livermore appears to have been based in Providence, the other addresses being those of agents and distributors.

The bronze Medal of Excellence shown above was awarded in 1879 by the American Institute to Charles W. Livermore "For Stylographic Pens". Pen companies bragged about the prize medals they had won, but surviving examples are rare indeed.

Shortly after beginning working on this post, I ran across the brief notice above. Dating from 1885, it states that Livermore's Providence factory was a four-story brick building at the corner of Arnold and Brook Streets. This really caught my eye, and after a quick look at Google Maps, it seems pretty clear that the factory site can be none other than Brassil Park -- the very same playground that my daughters go to nearly every day from their nearby school!

UPDATE: The most probable site of Livermore's factory appears not to be the park, but immediately across the street to the south. The park was occupied up until 1955 by the Arnold Street Primary School; across the street stood the Hennessey Laundry building -- a four-story brick structure.

UPDATE: ID confirmed as the Laundry Building -- according to the kind reference librarian at the Rhode Island Historical Society, the 1886 and 1887 editions of the Providence City Directory list C. W. Livermore at 44 Arnold St, in the business section under Pen and Pencil Case Manufacturers. The name section of the directory lists Charles W. Livermore, Stylographic Pen Co., at the same address. Livermore died in Warwick in 1889, and it's not clear what happened to his pen business afterwards. In the 1892 directory, 44 Arnold Street was listed as housing a "steam laundry" as well as two other businesses. I will try to get to the Historical Society library next week to see what more I can find, and perhaps to the Providence City Archives as well.

ADDENDUM: Though I did not mention it in the original post, Livermore himself had a rather interesting life. From Walter Eliot Thwing, The Livermore Family in America, 1902, pp. 658-9:
He was the general superintendent of the Spencer Repeating Rifle Works in Boston during the early '60's, perfecting the famous rifle used in the Civil War. He became an ardent worker for the eight-hour league, and for a few years was a member of the common council of Boston from Ward 11. At that time he lived on Shawmut avenue, corner of Lenox street. After the war was over he moved to New York City, and opened the first "dollar store" that became prominent on Broadway. Later on he moved to Metuchen, N.J., and introduced there the artesian drive well, of which many at the present time bear his name.

When the Lehigh Valley railroad passed through that town he sold his property, and after being elected judge of that district, and serving three years, he returned to Providence in 1871, identifying himself again with the manufacture of jewelry, under the firm name of Rathburn, Leonard & Livermore, until the death of both of his partners, when he continued the business alone for a short time. He was the first person publicly to introduce a successful fountain and stylographic pen, and that which bears his name has come to be very extensively used in this and foreign countries. He established agencies for its sale in the principal cities here and in Europe.
What isn't mentioned in this account, though, was Livermore's role while on the Boston City Council in the recovery and preservation of the wreck of the Pilgrim-era ship, the Sparrow Hawk -- a wreck whose traditional identification has recently been confirmed by an in-depth technical study. Contemporary accounts of the excavation and display of the wreck on Boston Common may be found here and here. Livermore eventually donated the Sparrow Hawk to the Pilgrim Society in Plymouth, as described in the December 1888 issue of the Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, pp. 216-19 (Livermore describing himself as "much broken in health" and "desirous of finding the most suitable permanent resting-place for it").

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