Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Peter Miller's reproduction pen trays

Many reproductions aren't made to deceive. Nonetheless, as time goes by and they acquire a bit of wear and age, they can end up mistaken for originals. I've noticed this beginning to happen with the pen trays originally made and sold by the late Peter Miller, an example of which is shown below.

Peter's trays were ubiquitous for a couple of decades, starting at the end of the 1980s. Nearly every pen collector owned a few. They came with either Parker or Waterman labels (nicely printed on plastic strips, the Waterman version with shiny gold letters on black), and in various configurations -- most common variations upon the basic single tray shown above being double-wide and over-under (two trays in one double-height frame). The felt color also varied, with green and red by far the most common. Since original trays were scarce and expensive, these attractive repros were understandably popular -- so much so, that they are immediately recognizable to anyone who was active in pen collecting during their heyday.

For those who aren't so familiar with the look of Peter's trays, a glance at their corners and their backs should be enough to distinguish them from originals. Their wood frames are assembled with simple mitered butt joints at the corners, whereas original trays were made with dovetail joints, as seen below.

The bottoms of the repro trays are closed up with a rectangle of stiff cardboard held in place by wooden stringers, small tacks, and a blobby application of hot glue. As these trays were never meant to deceive, no effort was made to hide their method of construction -- which is decidedly modern, and a bit slapdash. Older trays are also less than highly finished on their undersides, but even those using similar construction do not generally have the wooden stringers, and the cardboard or wood closure sheet will show more signs of age.

In addition, the labels used on the repros are printed on much thinner stock than was used for originals -- more like thick tape than plastic sheet -- with the gold of the Waterman label much more reflective than anything available in the early 20th century. In hindsight, it would have been a good idea to have stamped these on the back with the maker's name and "REPRODUCTION". At the time, though, the pen community was small and Peter's trays were so familiar that no one thought about the possibility of confusion in years to come.

PS Peter Miller's display tray and case manufacturing operation was eventually passed along to David Tallant (I can't recall the timing, but I think it was while Peter was still alive). While it is possible that these products are still being made on a small scale upon request, they have not been offered new for many years now, neither at pen shows, nor online.

1 comment:

Michael Quitt said...

I still have a bunch of Peter’s trays and one or two of his showcases. Agree...they were never made to deceive. They did offer a new collector a place to store or display their pens. When I first started do shows, I used those trays on my table and they served me well back then.