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.