Thursday, September 8, 2022

Remembering W. M. & C. -- and not for Nott


This lovely pencil arrived not long ago but to my frustration I could not recall what the letters "W. M & C" stood for. No luck with a Google search, nor checking Jon Veley's indispensible site. It was Jon who finally set me straight though, pointing me to . . . my own blog post here on Thomas Addison. Ouch.

At least I remembered that the "W" was for "Wilmarth". That alone should have sent me back to my research notes. Anyway, Wilmarth, Moffat & Curtis was the short-lived partnership that succeeded the partnership of Thomas Addison & Co. as of August 1, 1829. It apparently ended with the death of Jonathan Wilmarth on September 26, 1835, though another Wilmarth – William M. –  subsequently formed a new partnership with Addison, doing business as Addison, Wilmarth & Co. up until c. 1843. In 1849 Moffat and Curtis sailed for San Francisco, where Moffat won lasting fame among numismatists and California Gold Rush historians for his gold ingots and coins.

What first caught my eye about this pencil, though, was the seal end. It was clearly a portrait, not an idealized classical bust. Before the pencil arrived it seemed likely it might be someone prominent enough that someone might recognize the image. The task was considerably simplified, however, by the discovery upon arrival that the pencil had been engraved with the name, "Mrs. Howard Nott".

While the identification is for now tentative, it seems probable that this pencil belonged to Margaretta Matilda Stewart Bowers Nott (1810 – 1876), who in 1831 married Howard Nott (1809 – 1880), the son of polymath Eliphalet Nott (June 25, 1773 – January 25, 1866; described by Wikipedia as "a famed Presbyterian minister, inventor, educational pioneer, and long-term president of Union College, Schenectady, New York"). Though I have not yet been able to find any portraits of Howard Nott, pictures of his father show a decided resemblance to the profile of the pencil seal bust.

Margaretta Nott was buried in Brooklyn, at The Evergreens Cemetery on Bushwick Avenue. No photos online, but it is now on my list of historical graves to visit in the greater New York area.

Thursday, August 25, 2022

A gold pen from San Francisco


Having grown up in California, I have a special interest in pens made there. Especially appealing are those dating back to the 19th century and the Gold Rush era. Not many writing instruments were made on the West Coast back then, as manufacturing was concentrated in the Northeast and Midwest. So this dip pen was a lucky recent find with its gold nib marked "J. H./BAPTIS/S.F./5". 

John H. Baptis was a Civil War veteran who made and sold gold nibs in San Francisco from approximately the 1870s through 1900. I've not had time to do a thorough investigation, but in the San Francisco City Directory for 1878 there were but two listings under Gold Pen Manufacturers: Henry D. Pearce at 615 Montgomery, and Baptis at 328 Bush. By the 1880s Baptis was at 319 Kearny, where he appears to have remained as long as he remained in business. The Kearny address appears in the 1899 city directory, but in the October 31, 1900 Insurance Press it is recorded that a life insurance payout had been made for a J. H. Baptis of East Oakland (now Berkeley). 

Although the buildings in San Francisco are gone (319 Kearney in particular appears to have been lost in the 1906 earthquake and fire, as the building now on that site was built in 1907) Baptis's 1880 home at 1425 Milvia in Berkeley survives and was recently lovingly restored. You can read about it here.

The plain black hard rubber holder does not appear to be of West Coast manufacture. It is marked "F. M. LIBBY'S PAT. MAR.4.84." This would be US patent 294477 issued to Frederick M. Libby of Portland, Maine. It is a rather unusual design that proposes to add springiness to a nib by allowing it some movement rather that gripping it rigidly. 

UPDATE: Baptis appears in the Alameda County record of deaths as entry 267, 22 August 1900. He is recorded as 64 years 11 months and 15 days old, married white male, calculated birthday 7 Sep 1835. Tuberculosis is listed as cause of death; birthplace as New York.

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Improved plunger-filler packing seals


We have been selling specially-sized O-rings for plunger-filler ("vacuum-filler") packing unit repair for quite a few years, but not any more. Instead, we will be offering a significantly superior alternative, shown above. Instead of a simple donut-shaped seal, these incorporate two sealing flanges on both the exterior surface and in the central bore. Two sealing points instead of one is not only more secure, it also reduces friction while greatly improving lubricant retention within the seal. You can now order them here, or as part of our plunger-filler repair kit. For the present these are available only through our website, but we will be rolling them out in our eBay listings soon.

NOTE: We will continue to offer our original round-sectioned seals for the time being, as they are not only time-tested and cheaper, but are also somewhat easier to install. Though the new seals are more efficient, they must be installed in the packing compartment so that they are held snugly with no wiggle room. This may require reducing the outside diameter of the closure washer so that it can be seated all the way down against the seal. The older seals being round in section are much more tolerant of loose mounting.

Thursday, May 12, 2022

The Van Winkle Pen Company

It's not every day you see an early 20th-century taper-cap with a glass barrel. A patent application for this design was filed on October 24, 1910 and US patent 995307 was duly issued on June 13, 1911. The core part of the invention was the use of a metal tube between two barrel end pieces, over which either conventional pearl slabs could be mounted, or a glass tube allowing for insertion of printed advertising. This was the brainchild of Ralph F. Van Winkle, of Erie, Pennsylvania.

The patent date is imprinted at the end of barrel, next to the trim band. You'll also notice that there is a hole at the end of the barrel. Yes, this taper-cap is also a blow-filler. 

The ad below appeared in Commercial America, vol. 8, no. 4 (October 1911), p. 35.

Another Van Winkle product was the No-Dip Penholder, another blow-filling design -- basically a fountain pen for use at the desk, utilizing ordinary dip pen nibs.

This ad appeared in Commercial America, vol. 10, no. 1 (July 1913), p. 31. By this time the Van Winkle Pen Company had moved to Franklin, Pennsylvania, which is also the location indicated on our taper-cap pen at top. Unfortunately the company was out of business shortly thereafter. A brief entry in Geyer's Stationer of October 14, 1915, p. 11 reports the demise the previous week of R. F. Van Winkle of Franklin, PA from a brain tumor, noting that he had been in "poor health for more than two years, and because of this was forced to relinquish his business interests and retire to private life. The Van Winkle Co. was then disbanded."

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

John Holland and aluminum

One of the items in a recent eBay lot was the twist-pattern dip pen shown above. When it arrived, my initial reaction was disappointment: I had been hoping it would be silver, and possibly Gorham, given that maker's fondness for the twist. Instead, it was aluminum. It was even so marked.

Upon closer inspection, the holder end proved detachable -- one of those reversible plugs, allowing the nib to be stored inside the barrel.

And, lo and behold, on the previously hidden part of the plug, there was a familiar imprint: "JNO. HOLLAND". No disappointment here, after all.

I'd not been aware of aluminum being used by John Holland, and knowing a bit about the history of aluminum production (outlined here), I reckoned that this dip pen would date somewhere in the later 1880s or 1890s, with the imprint explicitly identifying the material as aluminum suggestive of the era when it was still something of a novelty. And indeed, a dive into Google Books turned up several references to John Holland's activity in the manufacture and sale of aluminum items in the 1890s. On p. 127 of the April 1895 issue of Aluminum World we find this listing:
JOHN HOLLAND GOLD PEN CO., CINCINNATI, O.—This concern makes a specialty of drawing aluminum tubes for penholders and similar class of work. They are also making an aluminum comb which is receiving a large sale. 
Mr. John Holland of the company, is noted for his researches in the metallurgy of iridium, and his discovery of the use of phosphorus as a flux in the melting and fashioning of the metal for gold pen-points. Mr. Holland has placed the same energy and business skill to his work with aluminum that he has already shown in his manufacture of gold and iridium work, and is doing a large business in this line.
On p. 153 of the May 1895 issue, there is the following ad. It would appear that the Star Aluminum Company was a Holland subsidiary. Note that "Star" was later used by Holland as a brand name for their fountain pens.

Following up with a search of Cincinnati city directories, it seems 1895 was the year Holland got involved in the manufacture of aluminum items. The 1896 issue of Williams' directory, whose annual publication date was in June, carried this ad on page 1813.

The 1895 issue, however, which would have been compiled the year before, lists only two companies under the heading Aluminum on page 1845, one for castings, the other for novelties, neither of them John Holland -- whose listing on page 779 makes no mention of aluminum articles.

ADDENDUM: At the 2022 Baltimore pen show I was able to take this quick picture of four Holland aluminum reversible traveling nib holders, courtesy of Scott Jones. Each holder has a different pattern.

Thursday, February 24, 2022

A Slender Maxima set: restoration choices and the preservation of history

This Parker Vacumatic set came to us from an old collection, assembled in the old days when vintage pens could be found in the wild in such abundance that most collectors soon gave up on restoring every single new acquisition. And like many such items, it was no longer exactly as it was when it left the factory. Which raised the question of how to proceed: whether to put the set back to its configuration when new, or to preserve its history of subsequent use and service.

So what was the set's original configuration? The pen's date code is worn away, but the Non-Stop repeater pencil's date code is for the second quarter of 1939. Wide bands identify both as Slender Maxima models. Striped screw-in end jewels and striped section plus the profile of the blind cap tassie would suggest 1938 production but would also be consistent with an early 1939 date. This would fit with the Blue Diamond clip and the date code of the pencil, not to mention the distinctive Streamline Art Deco box.

The nib, however, is a replacement of Major rather than Slender Maxima form, with a date code for the second quarter of 1941. It could have been installed at any point after then, though -- and one other clue suggests that it likely happened in the middle of the war years.

A Vacumatic made in 1939 would have left Janesville with an all-metal filler unit with an aluminum plunger. This pen's filler was replaced with a plastic unit, which could have been manufactured no earlier than 1942. 

Wartime (as opposed to postwar) dating was confirmed once the filler unit was removed, as it's all plastic, not just the plunger. All-plastic filler units turn up regularly in 51s and Vacumatics made during WW2, but by then Parker had standardized production and all models used the same small-size filler unit. It's rare indeed to find an all-plastic filler in a larger size, since they were only made as replacement parts for older models -- clearly in very limited numbers, given wartime production constraints. Our pen's replacement filler unit is at top, while a standard-sized unit is below.

Collectors tend to prefer pens as original as possible, so I initially reassembled this one with an all-metal filler unit from c. 1939-41, though with some hesitation. I knew the filler unit it had come with was something unusual, and told something about this particular pen's own story. Nor did it escape me that it was hardly consistent to replace the war-era filler while leaving the 1941 nib in place. After briefly posting the set for sale, however, Daniel Kirchheimer questioned me about these very issues, prompting me to return the pen to the configuration in which it had arrived at the shop.

Historical authenticity isn't always best served by trying to turn back the clock. For some of the most compelling stories old items convey only begin after they were sold and put to use.