Thursday, March 9, 2017

Cat seal

Nineteenth-century pencils often featured seal stones in their crowns. Sometimes these were glass, but better examples typically boast seals of bloodstone, moonstone, carnelian, and other semiprecious materials. And sometimes these seals are engraved, usually with initials. More elaborate engravings are unusual, and especially unusual is this engraving of a cat found on the bloodstone seal of a fine 15K gold Mordan-style pencil from the mid-1800s.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

20-year anniversary

The last few months have been more than usually hectic. So much so, that I entirely forgot the twentieth anniversary of, which went online at the end of January 1997 (first snapshot at the Wayback Machine is from June). It was one of the first pen sites on the web, predated slightly by Jonathan Steinberg's, and launched in parallel with friend and colleague Simon Gray's Battersea Pen Home site at (we shared ideas and software -- FrontPage, way back then).

Despite longstanding intention to give the site a complete revamp, it remains more of a palimpsest. The most recent major structural change was to the catalog and Pen Profiles sections to make them mobile-friendly. Carrying over those same changes to the rest of the site is on the to-do list, though a full redesign may arrive first.

Looking back, one of the biggest changes between then and now is the ease of online commerce today. Back then, we were turned down for a credit card processing account because we didn't have a bricks and mortar store. Assets, credit rating, established business -- none of that mattered. For the first months we processed online credit card orders (received by fax, for security) through the merchant account of a friend with a local antiques store. We were running more sales through his account than he was, but we couldn't get our own account until bank policy changed several months later. Not that that account was much of a deal, with all the added charges and surcharges and hidden charges and overpriced required processing equipment. It's all so much easier, cheaper, and more transparent now.

Then there was all the time spent on shipping. No online postage then -- we had to take our packages to the Post Office, waiting in line at the end of the day to mail them at the counter. We pretty quickly set up multiple printers to handle labels, including the multipart labels for Express Mail, Registered Mail, and customs (two different labels for the latter, large and small), but there was no getting around those lines. That was one reason we long maintained a rather high minimum order threshhold, so that we didn't get overwhelmed with small orders that would push our Post Office time to unacceptable levels. As I recall, I did look at postage meters, but at the time they were both expensive and insufficiently flexible, especially as regards international shipments.