Thursday, 8 November 2018

More Long Longmore

Ever notice how the names of some people are perfectly suited to their career or personality? Well, oddly enough there is an "apt" name for that! An aptronym, or aptonym, is a name that aptly describes the occupation or character of the person.

A few examples -
Dr. Nurse - a local medical specialist, and obviously an over-achiever
Admiral Sir Manley Power - was a Captain in the Royal Navy during WWII; but when your name is "Manly Power" you can't possibly rest on your laurels as a "lowly" Captain!
... and of course we've all heard of the famous Thomas Crapper, and what he is best remembered for!

Then there was Josiah Longmore...

Perhaps I'm "stretching" the analogy somewhat with this one and making a "bigger" deal of it than it deserves, but after acquiring my first J. Longmore pencil and digging into its origins a little, I couldn't help myself.

Josiah Longmore was a mid-1800's silversmith, with business addresses in both Birmingham and London. Josiah had one patent to his name, filed in May, 1843 (U.K. Patent No. 9719), which appears to be a mish-mash of ideas that were really several patents crammed into one. The patent statement begins with a brief description - "Certain improvements in pens, penholders, and pencil cases." Longmore then goes on to describe in detail his improvements to pens (nibs), followed by an equally lengthy description of design changes for pen holders (primarily in how the pen (nib) is to be held securely within the  barrel of the penholder).

The final section (the part I was most interested in) deals with his improvements to pencil cases and consists of three components. The first describes changes to the lead propelling portion of the pencil, and the second describes the internal changes made to allow the elongating components to function properly. The final section has me a bit intrigued, as it defines a pencil case adapted for "Hall's patent metallic memorandum books". I've yet to come across examples of either a Hall's patent metallic memorandum book, or a pencil of any make that has been made for use with such a book.
J. Longmore's Patent Elongating Ever-Pointed Pencil
But for now let's go back to Longmore's pencil case improvements. What Longmore appears to have done was essentially invent what much later became commonly known as a "magic pencil". Magic pencils became very popular in the late 1800's and are generally described as those that extend in overall barrel length, as well as extending the writing tip, by simply holding the body of the pencil and pulling on the ring, or finial. The pencil extends "magically" in both directions at the same time, with the mechanism that performs the magic being hidden inside the barrel of the pencil. The "obelisk" example below is from the late 1800's and extends from just over 2" when closed to 4" when extended by holding the barrel and pulling on the ring top.

Longmore's invention was a slight inversion of this design, with the entire upper barrel sliding over the lower barrel (rather than sliding within the lower barrel). The "magic" of both ends extending at the same time is accomplished by pulling in one direction while holding the bottom half of the pencil.

J. Longmore & Co. Patent
The Mechanic's Magazine of 1846 includes a written description of "Longmore's Patent Elongating Ever-Pointed Pencil" in which they describe the convenience of a pencil that can shrink as much as two inches for carrying in one's pocket, as well as describing a couple of additional key benefits of the design - "...the objectionable external sliding ring is done away with; neither is there any slit to weaken the case, admit dirt, or cause derangement."
While the patent was granted in 1843, the above description first appears in 1846, which is also when the first advertisements for pencil also appear.
London Daily News - July, 1846
So all of this raises a few questions for me with regards to Josiah Longmore and his inventions. Perhaps someone reading this can shed some additional light on some of it ...

Why would there have been 3 distinct inventions all rolled into one - pen nib improvements, pen holder improvements, and pencil case improvements, rather than 3 separate patent filings? 

  • My guess is that Longmore simply couldn't afford to do it any other way. Up until the Patent Law Amendment Act of 1852, the UK patent process was extremely time consuming and outrageously expensive. A single patent could consume months of effort and cost £300 or more in fees (approx. £40,000 today). But maybe there are other viable reasons.
What became of Longmore and his inventions? 
  • The business must has been somewhat successful at some point as they had at least two locations (Birmingham and London), but the business seems to have disappeared by the late 1850's, and examples of his pencils, pen holders, and pens are fairly rare.
Is Longmore's invention the first incarnation of the magic pencil mechanisms of the late 1800's?
  • Hopefully, someone with more expertise in this regard knows the definitive answer but it is a little intriguing to think that Longmore may have been the first one to start the inventive wheels turning with all those that began manufacturing tiny, expanding, pencils for the masses just a few decades later.
  • At least one maker, good old Mordan & Co., liked the design enough to copy it (steal it?). Here is an example of a gold Mordan from around 1860 that functions exactly the same way as the Longmore, with the tip extending automatically as the two barrel sections are pulled apart. 7.5 cm closed (3 1/8"); and 12.5 cm when extended (5")

Sunday, 28 October 2018

Pull, Twist, Slide, Repeat

In the mid-1800's a number of American pen & pencil makers began creating, and patenting, nearly identical looking gold and silver telescoping pen & pencil combos. The barrels on these were most often fluted in design.

An extending upper barrel, in addition to the pen/pencil combination, provided the owner with much greater flexibility and reduced the limitations imposed by the common fixed length full-sized desk pens and pencils of the day. One could now take a quality pencil/pen with them when they travelled as the overall length could be reduced by as much as 5 cm (2") when closed, making the writing implement much easier to tuck away in a coat pocket or travel bag.

I currently have a number of these gold combos in my collection from American makers, along with an interesting one from a British maker.

Albert Bagley - The inner barrel has Bagley's patent date imprinted on it "Patented Jan 1 1850". Gold, fluted design, with cut & polished green chalcedony in finial. 10 cm (3 7/8") when closed and 15 cm (5 7/8" when the barrel and pencil are extended.

John Rauch - The upper barrel is imprinted with "Rauch"; no other imprints. Gold, fluted design (more ornate barrel pattern than the Bagley). 8.2 cm (3 1/4") when closed and 12.5 cm (4 7/8") when extended.

Watherston & Son - This one is interesting for a few reasons. James Henderson Watherston and his son Edward James Watherston began their business together in 1864, in London. They advertised as goldsmiths, jewellers, and gold chain makers. Their adverts also stated that they were "Goldsmiths to H.R.H. the Prince of Wales" (Queen Victoria's son Albert Edward, who became King Edward VII following Victoria's death in 1901). Their business was quite well respected for the quality of their craftsmanship, however, I have yet to find any indication that they made writing implements of any sort. This suggests that they may have had their writing implements made by one or more of the reputable pencil-case makers of the day such as Sampson Mordan (the 1898 Mordan catalog includes an example of a similar extending upper barrel combo) and then branded them as their own.

Like the previous examples, this combo is gold, but unlike the more commonly seen fluted pattern, the barrel on this one is the barleycorn pattern. It is 9 cm (3.5") when closed and 13.6 cm (5 3/8") when extended.

The late John Loring had many examples of these telescoping combos in his collection, and the imprints on some of them provide further insight into how many different makers produced this style of pen/pencil. Thanks to the kindness of John's family, his collections and associated descriptions continue to remain available online for the rest of us to enjoy and utilize for our own research and collections. John's collection web pages are located here -

If you take a wander through the "Pencils & Combos" section you'll find many other examples of this style of combo from several makers, including Albert Bagley, Kurtz & Monaghan, John Mabie, and John Rauch.

Jonathan Veley has also documented these types of combos from his collection, and his blog provides a great deal of additional information related to the various American makers and their associated patents. Jon's  blog can be found here -

Tuesday, 25 September 2018

Plumbiferously Speaking

So what could possibly have been of such value during the 17th to early 19th centuries that one might risk virtually everything to attain just a few pounds of it? Those found guilty of stealing it, or of possessing it illegally, could be punished with either a whipping & one year's hard labour, or with a 7 year sentence to be transported to the colonies. One of the notorious characters of the day - "Black Sal", was known for her thievery & smuggling of it, and she reportedly was eventually hunted down and killed by wolfhounds owned by one of her victims.

This near priceless material went by many different names - wad, plumbago, black cawke, black lead, and is more commonly known today simply as graphite. It may seem a little odd that good old pencil lead was once held in such high regard, however, there was a time when it was quite scarce, and only available in its native mineral form. The mining and distribution of graphite was quite tightly controlled. At a time when the annual wage for a labourer was approximately £12, a few hundred pounds of pure graphite could make one a fairly wealthy man, with prices reaching as high as £1,300 a ton at one point. Some of the best, and purest, graphite in the world came from the Borrowdale Mine, located in the historic county of Cumberland (now part of Cumbria).

Then, thanks to the French Revolutionary Wars taking place at the end of the 18th century, and the embargos placed upon France at the time, France found itself facing a severe shortage of pencils. The situation was so dire that one of France's Ministers of War, Lazare Carnot, took on the responsibility of finding a solution. He approached one of the army's bright young officers, Nicholas-Jacques Conte, to request his help in resolving the problem. According to legend, Conte came up with  a solution in a mere 8 days. By mixing powdered graphite with clay and then heating it in a kiln, he developed an approach for making different "hardnesses" of pencil leads that is still used today.

Back in England, the demand for the purity of Cumberland lead carried on well into the 19th century, with pencil-makers demanding more and more of the rare commodity. An excerpt from Volume I of the 1839 edition of "The Art Union" describes the situation, and explains why some continued to favour the pure Cumberland lead - "...a most inconvenient mode of supplying the ore to the pencil makers has long prevailed. The mines are opened and worked for a short time, about once a year, or sometimes two years, depending upon the consumption by the Public; the mine is then sealed, and the ore raised sent to London to the owners warehouses; where, once a month, a sale is held, and the purchasers go and select the ore at so much per pound; when this is consumed, if more be required before the day of periodic sale, upon payment of a very heavy fee a large purchaser may get a fresh supply, but it is only of the rejected of the former sale, for there is no fresh supply from the mine until all the stock is sold. The consequence is, that the best pencils are only to be had out of the first selections; from this time they become worse and worse until a fresh supply arrives - of pure Cumberland lead. The largest consumers are now Mordan & Co., and nothing can exceed the care and skill of their selection, and the beautiful machinery with which their pencils are made, so as to ensure the lead of equal size and quality, and perfectly central in the cedar; thin small points too, for the ever-pointed pencils, are made by the most accurate machinery; the advantage of using the native black lead over the common compositions is in the depth and richness of its colour; the pure native ore has often hard particles in it, and these the more frequent as the stock is again and again looked over; but the composition pencils, though sometimes free from this defect, never attain the firmness and richness of the pure Cumberland lead." (author unknown - initials "A.B.")

Here are a few examples of pencil leads & boxes from my collection :

Mordan Ever-Pointed Lead Refills

Mordan Cedar Refills

Wm. Lund - Ever-Pointed Lead Refills

Wm. S. Hicks - "Finest Cumberland Leads"

Sources :

Background on Borrowdale Mine - Industrial History of Cumbria

Wikipedia - Nicolas-Jacques Conte ; Lazare Carnot

Monday, 3 September 2018

Figural Travelling Inkwells

Travelling inkwells of the late 1800's took on many forms; some were designed for function over style in order to ensure that the ink remained in its container no matter how arduous the form of travel, some were made from precious metals and exotic materials to reflect the social status of the owner, and some were designed primarily as a novelty, with any concern over potential ink leakage taking a backseat to the creativity of the design. 

These novelty travelling inkwells would often be purchased to be given as gifts, or picked up as a souvenir during one's travels. We've all been in that situation while vacationing, not knowing what to pick up for our loved ones back home - "What should we get for Aunt Harriet? She's impossible to buy for!" "Well, she likes hats so let's get her an inkwell that looks like a hat box!". 

Maybe the conversations didn't always go exactly like that, but there was an almost endless variety of figural inkwells made, and fortunately many have survived in spite of their somewhat inferior quality. 

Regardless of the exterior shape of the figural travelling inkwell, most of them are very similar in terms of their inner workings and how they were made. 

"Hat Box" - snake skin covering
A pressure clip is pushed to open the inkwell's outer case, which then reveals an inner casing consisting of a secondary hinged lid as well as another pressure clip that holds it in place. 

"Hat Box"- inner casing
The glass inkwell is revealed once this secondary lid is opened. The inside of the inner lid would normally be lined in either leather or cork so that a reasonably good seal is formed with the glass bottle when closed. The casing and most of the fittings were made from brass and formed into a wide variety of shapes. 
"Hat Box" - bottle and leather seal

Various types of leather were used to cover the outer casings, including shagreen and snake skin.  

Here are a couple of other figural inkwells in my collection...
"Heart" - engraved brass interior


Saturday, 18 August 2018

Well, Well, If It Isn't His Nibs

Why, yes, yes it is his nibs... and some of the boxes in which they reside.

While trying to come up with a title for an entry about some of my pen nib boxes, I was reminded of childhood visits with our grandmother. She grew up in England at the turn of the 20th century and she retained a number of common British sayings her entire life, after emigrating to Canada as a teenager. As 1960's rural Quebec kids, most of these sayings made little sense to us, but she made sure that we always knew what she meant! If one of the 5 of us started to get a little too self-important, or bossy, she'd soon have the cheeky one back in her/his place with an eyebrows raised stony glare, and the words "well, well, would you look at his nibs?" in her finest British accent. But I digress...

Victorian era pen nib manufacturers created an amazing variety of nib styles and sizes to suit every writing need and personal preference. Manufacturers were also very astute to the whims of the buying public when it came to marketing their products, resulting in nibs being designed and produced not just for their functional purpose but often simply to commemorate someone, or something, in much the same way as sports memorabilia is produced today. Here are a few...

Sir Josiah Mason's "John Bull Pen" - Josiah Mason (1795-1881) was an English industrialist and at one time was the largest pen producer in England. He was also a major philanthropist. In 1860 he founded an orphanage near Birmingham which he endowed with £300,000, which led to his being knighted in 1872. In 1875 he founded Mason Science College which eventually became University of Birmingham. Mason's John Bull pen pays homage to England's famous national character, John Bull

J. Alexandre's "Baron Von Humboldt Pen" - These nibs were made by Perry & Co. around 1860 (the nib box contains a facsimile of part of a letter of approval from the Baron to J. Alexandre dated May 19, 1858).  Baron Von Humboldt (1769-1859) was a Prussian polymath, geographer, naturalist, and explorer. He was one of the first to propose that South America and Africa were once connected, and he was the first person to identify human induced climate change (in 1800 and in 1831) based upon his observations during his travels.

Perry & Co. "Queen Mary Pen" - During the First World War, Perry & Co. received approval from Queen Mary (1867-1953) to produce a limited run of 20,000 boxes of these nibs, as a fund-raiser for the Queen's "Work for Women" fund.

Mumm & Zaum "Christian IX Pen" - Mumm & Zaum was a major continental Europe stationer in the late 1800's. One their commemorative pens was made for Christian IX (1818-1906), King of Denmark from 1863 to 1906. What I particularly like about these nibs is that they were each impressed with the image of the King. 

As a young man, Christian had hoped to marry Queen Victoria, his 3rd cousin. When that plan was foiled he married his second cousin, Louise of Hess-Kassel. They had 6 children, 4 of whom actually sat on thrones throughout Europe, either as monarchs or consorts (Denmark, United Kingdom, Russia, and Greece). His descendants include Margretthe II of Denmark, Elizabeth II of England, Philippe of Belgium, Harald V of Norway, Felipe VI of Spain, Grand Duke Henri of Luxembourg, Constantine II of Greece, Queen Anne-Marie of Greece, Queen Sofia of Spain, and Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh, earning him the sobriquet "the father-in-law of Europe".

Sources :

Grace's Guide to British Industrial History

Monday, 23 July 2018

A Special Pencil My Way Came - Carpe Diem

As collectors, we are always on the hunt for that next special item that will enhance our existing collection. It may be for something rarer than anything we currently have; it may be for something to fill a specific gap in our collection, or it may just be to find a better example of an item we already possess.

But sometimes that special item finds us first ...

During a recent visit to the U.K. I attended my first pen show and I was quite impressed with the range of writing equipment on display. While I have a fondness for fountain pens, my collecting interests are in other writing related areas and I was unsure as to whether a "pen show" would provide  me with much opportunity to find anything other than fountain pens; I was wrong.

In the weeks leading up to my trip, I was encouraged to attend the show by couple of UK collectors. One of them was also going to have a table at the show and he was kind enough to bring a variety of writing related items for me to view. As a pen show novice my intent was to just look, listen, & learn; don't touch anything without invitation; and especially try to avoid buying anything this first time round!

Arriving at the show just after it opened, I spent the first half hour or so wandering the hall and checking out the wide range of fountain pens on offer; everything from early vintage pens to the most modern; some with price tags that were quite affordable, and some that were simply hard to believe could be that expensive. A few vendors had a smattering of pencils, dip pens, or other writing related items that caught my eye but I kept moving until I eventually arrived at the table of the vendor that I had corresponded with.

His offerings included a range of books on collecting writing equipment (I purchased two), a variety of fountain pens, some incredible early dip pens, and a variety of early mechanical pencils. Thankfully (for me) the show was somewhat quiet at that point so the two of us were able to chat for quite some time and I learned a lot from him as I was shown (and allowed to hold) some of the rarer pencils that he had available. Several of them were of interest to me but they were each well outside what I felt I could afford to spend. I eventually thanked him for his generosity in sharing some of his wealth of knowledge with me and I left with just the two books.

But thoughts of two of his pencils kept spinning through my head all afternoon and soon my good intentions and I were well on our way down that proverbial paved road. Within a few hours of leaving the show I was back in touch with the vendor; we worked out an agreeable package deal for the pair and about a week later they arrived.

Both pencils are exceptional and both quite rare, but in very different ways. An earlier blog entry described the first one - "And Here's To You Mr. Robertson".

The second pencil lacks the provenance of the Robertson "traveller", but it more than makes up for that with its shear beauty.

This is an 18CT gold enamelled pencil by S. Mordan; adorned around the finial, slider, and base, with a total of 20 seed pearls. It is not hallmarked, but it is believed to date to about 1840 (the custom fitted case that the pencil resides in is from the retailer "Halstaff & Co."; that name and the accompanying London Regent Street address in the box were only used between 1838 & 1842).

The intricate enamel work on the solid gold casing, along with the seed pearls, also fit nicely into that timeframe as it matches with some styles of jewellery that were fashionable during the early "Romantic Period" of Queen Victoria's reign (1837 until Albert's death in 1861).
I went to the show intentionally not seeking to expand my collection and failed miserably...carpe diem!