Monday, 31 May 2021

This Mammoth Isn't Extinct... Yet

The father of a friend of ours passed away last year, and our friend was the Executor of the estate. Over a period of several months since then he has been working his way through his dad's home and sorting through his various collections. His father was in his 90's when he passed away. He had always been an avid collector, amassing several very respectable, and valuable, collections including cameras, record albums, and currency, during his lifetime. Sadly, he was not an avid collector of antique writing equipment!

Over the winter months we'd occasionally hear an update about the latest "finds" amongst his dad's collections, as he gradually curated them and found new caretakers for them; more cameras, more albums, and more coins.

Then, a little over a month ago, I received an email from him indicating that while cleaning out his dad's office he had come across a number of pens and pencils. Was I interested in having a look? YES!

He forewarned me that most seemed to be advertising pens that his dad accumulated wherever he went - hotels, car dealerships, restaurants, etc. but that there might be a few things of interest. He had two shoe boxes full of stuff. I could go through it and make an offer if I thought there was anything of value. 

There were indeed many, many, give-away pens. There were also more than a few excellent quality items in the boxes, although all but one was from the last 40 years or so. We agreed on a price for all and I was able to offset the purchase by selling off the majority of the items (yes, there are even collectors of dried up hotel ballpoint pens!). 

Out of everything in the two shoe boxes, I've kept just 3 items. All 3 are in like-new, unused condition, but only one qualifies as antique, and has been added to my own collection. Finding it in amongst all of the other, much more modern, stuff was quite a surprise. It was oddly out of place, and it made my day ...

The Esterbrook Mammoth Falcon # 340 - This pen nib is HUGE! At just under 2 1/2" long, it requires its own special pen holder (also quite large). To provide a bit of scale, here it is next to a more standard size Esterbrook nib from the same period (an Esterbrook Relief #314).

The following Esterbrook advertisement from the Publisher's Trade List Annual of 1884 describes the Mammoth in detail...

I'm not entirely sure how to interpret "We also recommend its use to elderly gentlemen, because of its firmness and smoothness of point.", but hopefully one day this particular elderly gentleman will stumble across one of the original Esterbrook Mammoth pen holders and be able to test it out! 

For our friend, the true mystery remained - why would this single 140 year old unused nib appear amongst his father's office items? He had no other antique writing equipment of any sort. 

From my own experience as a collector, my suspicion is that it simply fell into his lap as part of a lot while purchasing items for one of his various collections, and once in his possession he couldn't part with it. Case in point - amongst my own writing equipment collection I also have an assortment of cigarette package trading cards from the early 20th century, a victorian traveller's candle holder/light reflector, a couple of first day postal covers from the 60's, and several other odds and sods that were all acquired that way. They arrived without being specifically sought after, and so far they have refused to leave. I suspect that just like the Mammoth nib, one day these items will have my own kids scratching their heads as they try and figure out what to do with it all. 

And what about the other two items that I kept? - While neither qualify to join my antique writing equipment collections, they are both welcome additions to my "why not" collection - the first is a Faber Castell e-Motion mechanical pencil from a few years back. It will be staying for at least awhile as I really like both its great design and the rich green colour. The second is a lovely LAMY 2000 fountain pen stamped W. Germany, placing its manufacture sometime prior to 1991. I know virtually nothing about fountain pens, but this is now my 4th; I'd better be careful! 

Both pencil and fountain pen are unused, for now...

Saturday, 26 September 2020

"Handy" Little Items

"The hand is the tool of tools" - so said Aristotle, a little over 2300 years ago.

Over time, our tool of tools gradually came to represent many different aspects of the human condition, and by the Victorian era there were disembodied hands popping up just about everywhere, as they came to symbolize anything and everything deemed positive at the time - strength, fidelity, loyalty, romance...

This peculiar attachment to the unattached human hand resulted in a wide variety of household items being fashioned in ways that incorporated a hand, often female in appearance, and almost always the right. This included household items such as vases & dishes, and personal items such as jewellery & walking canes...

... and of course ... pencils...

These three little pencils all date to the latter half of the 19th century. They are fairly tiny - the two gold ones are only 3.5" (9 cm) when fully extended.

The silver one is even smaller, at just 2.75" (7 cm) fully extended.

Given the size of these pencils and the attached ring on a couple of them, they were likely attached to ladies' chatelaines, or perhaps a small neck chain. 

So why is the right hand the predominant one portrayed in the design of all of these items and pencils?  The symbolism of the right hand has a long history of positive messaging, with various religions and cultures showing a clear bias towards the right. In Christianity for example, it is a place of honour - "the right hand of God". Many cultures imposed "rules" that governed which hand was used for which bodily function, with the right hand generally being the favoured one (e.g. for eating, greeting, etc.), and the left hand ... well, let's just not go there. Basically, since the beginning of time the left hand drew the short straw, and those born left hand dominant were often forced to "convert" and learn to use their right, often causing more harm than good - Left Hand Bias

For the most part we've gotten over the left vs. right debate (at least in terms of our appendages), and as unique as our hands may be in the animal kingdom, the disembodied hand has become far less of a "thing" since the mid-20th century... at least until this came along...   "Thing T. Thing"

Sources :
- Wikipedia
- YouTube
- Images of vase, brooch, and cane downloaded from internet

Wednesday, 5 August 2020

"Mor dan" Just An Inkstand

James Watt is credited with inventing a document copying device in 1780 (although he is far more widely known for his work with steam engines). As is so often the case, necessity was the mother of invention. Watt apparently found it quite frustrating not having copies of his business correspondence unless he manually reproduced them. With this invention he was able to "automate" the process and retain his own copies of all his letters and documents.

The mid-1800's saw a significant growth in demand for copying devices and a quick scan of the catalog of the Great Exhibition of 1851 indicates that amongst the exhibitors there were more than a dozen manufacturers of copying presses, along with many suppliers of copying papers and special copying inks.

During this period, S. Mordan & Co. created a number of different styles of copying presses, including this screw press/inkstand combination, with a design registration date of March 4, 1856, registration # 3813. Interestingly, it appears that Mordan had a small "copying" problem of their own when they made these as the registration number impressed into the brass handle of the press is shown as "3183" although the design number recorded by the British Patents, Designs, and Trade Marks Office at the time was "3813".

This 1879 stationery catalog advertisement shows a near identical copying press. According to the Bank of England's Inflation Calculator, the original price of approx. £3 would be somewhere around£400 ($700 CAD) in today's currency values.

In its simplest form, making a copy with a copying press consisted of taking an original document and layering it with a thin, dampened, translucent paper, then sandwiching the two sheets between two oiled sheets of paper to prevent ink bleeding, and inserting it all into the press. By using pressure some of the ink from the original would be transferred to the copy as a mirror image of the original. Hence the reason for using thin translucent paper as one would simply flip the copy over for it to be readable. This basic process upon which the Watt press was based remained in use for over 100 years. The use of copy presses began to decline in popularity as carbon paper and typewriters came onto the scene towards the end of the 19th century, although some were known to still be in use well into the 20th century.

These two pics show the internal "press" board with the brass plate that receives the outer brass screw, and the original instructions, still affixed to the underside of the press plate.

I have yet to actually try using the copying press but will eventually find the appropriate inks and papers to do so.

Sources :


Sunday, 7 June 2020

Filling The Gaps

There are currently over 120 Mordan pencils in my writing equipment collection. Most of them can only be dated to within a few years of their manufacture based upon the maker's mark used at the time of production, as many early pencils were not stamped with full hallmarks.

Not long after John Hawkins and Sampson Mordan filed the first patent for a mechanical pencil in December, 1822, Hawkins was bought out and Sampson Mordan and Gabriel Riddle became business partners (October, 1823 through the end of 1836). Finding examples from the Mordan/Riddle partnership period with full, clear, hallmarks and in good working condition can be a challenge. However, the increased home time during the current pandemic situation has resulted in significantly more screen time for me, which occasionally translates to time spent searching the globe for new sources of items for the collection, trying to fill some of the gaps.

For quite some time now I have been slowly assembling examples of pencils from each year of the partnership of Sampson Mordan and Gabriel Riddle. One of the longest-standing gaps in this grouping has been an example of an 1829 Mordan/Riddle. In April, I came across one that was listed online at an antique shop in the UK and I snapped it up.

"S.MORDAN & Co:s PATENT" - 1829 - includes "SM-GR" maker's mark, which was used from 1824-1830, as well as full hallmarks for London, 1829. For a mechanical device that is 191 years old, this pencil is in amazing condition ; the hallmarks are clear, the casing is clean (no dents or dings in the silver, and no sign of rubbing), the tip is undamaged, and the mechanism is fully functional.

Mordan/Riddle - 1829
Mordan/Riddle 1829

Hallmarked London 1829
Waffle seal

While this fills one opening in the collection, there are still a few examples from the early 1830's that I need to find.

And for those that might be mildly curious, here are some examples of a other early Mordan hallmarks & maker's mark combinations ...

"MORDAN & Co PATENT" - This maker's mark was used in 1823 & 1824 - The combo below is an example of one of these very early Mordans. It has been well used by previous owners, as evidenced by the rubbing and minor dings, but the markings are still visible, and the pencil and pen holder mechanisms remain fully functional. The nib (pen) holder has a  Joseph Bramah clip, and the lion passant appears in several places, certifying the quality of the silver. It is approx. 13 cm long (5.25") when extended.
Mordan Combo - 1823/1824
Bramah Clip

Mordan Combo - Double-ended

This little aide memoire, or tablet, pencil has a nicely engraved barrel and is only 8.5 cm (3.25") long. The maker's mark on it is a bit of a mystery. At first glance the maker's mark appears to the the same as above - "MORDAN & Co PATENT". However, if you look closely, there appears to be the remnants of a very faint "S" just to the left of "MORDAN".
A "mystery" or a "missed read"?

I have not been able to find any references to Mordan having ever used "S MORDAN & Co PATENT" as a maker's mark. Without the "S", it is an 1823-1824 pencil, but if that is an "S" then I'm not sure where it fits in, although likely within the same general time period. Perhaps it is filling a gap I didn't even know existed?

"S.MORDAN & Co MAKERS & PATENTEES" - There were a few variations of this maker's mark which were used from 1830-1844. This mark, along with a hallmark that included "SM-GR" indicated a manufactured date period between 1830-1836, while "S-M" on its own was used from 1837-1844.
This pencil has the maker's mark above but is absent of other markings/ hallmarks that would help narrow its date of production, so the manufacture date range is a 15 year period, from 1830-1844. The pencil is 11 cm (4.5") when extended. It is fully functional, with a rarer "onion" finial.

"S.MORDAN & Co MAKERS" - This maker's mark was used from 1845 - 1852. This pencil is also in working order; it has a very slender barrel (just 5 mm in diameter vs. 10 mm for 1829 pencil). It is 11 cm (4.5") when extended and has a shield-shaped finial .

S.MORDAN & Co MAKERS 1845-1852

With the variety of markings that Mordan used, along with the rarity of the early, fully hallmarked examples, filling all the gaps may be impossible, but the search is always fun... the biggest downside is that staying at home for too long may quickly become quite expensive!

Friday, 31 January 2020

The Tongue Of The Absent

If we could go back in time a few years... let's say maybe 150 or so... long before internet & cell phones, even before rotary phones and party lines, the effort required in order to keep in touch with friends and family members living or travelling beyond a very small geographic distance from ourselves ranged from being quite a challenge to being quite impossible.

The furthest back anyone alive today would be able to remember, in terms of long distance communication, would be the early days of the telephone. As a kid, our family home had a nice oak wall phone, similar to the one below, with the separate receiver piece that you held to your ear, and speaking piece that was mounted to the main unit, complete with a hand crank that one would use to notify the operator that you wanted to make a call (and operators were actually human beings back then!). We were connected to the rest of the world through the local community party line, allowing everyone in town to quietly listen in and stay current with your personal business.
The demise of the party line resulted in a very long dry spell in terms of gossiping and public shaming opportunities. Thank goodness Facebook finally came along!

But I digress... Prior to the telephone, and all that followed, the challenge of keeping in touch was met by putting pen to paper; the pen was "the tongue of the absent".

I stumbled across this phrase a few months ago and was struck by the depth of meaning behind its simplicity. Imagine for a moment how difficult it would be for most of us living today to actually sit and write a letter, knowing that this might be the only way to convey one's thoughts, and that the message itself may take weeks or months to reach the intended recipient. So many letters that survived that period in our history are filled with eloquent thoughts, put to paper with beautiful handwriting... with not a single "lmao", "lol", or "wtf" to be found.

Here are a few "tongues of the absent" from the collection that would have travelled with their owners during the mid to late 1800's ...

W.S. Hicks - This is a nice black hard rubber pen/pencil with gold filled trim. It is approx. 3 3/4" (9.5 cm) long when closed and 5 3/4" (14.5 cm) when extended as a pen. The barrel has the patent date of Dec. 24, 1867 imprinted on it, which is actually the patent date for a combo pencil/pen invented by Richard Ryne of New York, which he assigned over to Hicks. The pencil end pulls out and reverses to make use of it as a pen, which has a nice gold Mabie Todd #4 nib.

John Rauch - A solid gold pen/pencil combination made by the American maker John Rauch with attached ring to hang from a man's watch chain or perhaps a lady's chatelaine. It has an interesting extending inner barrel design that was used by a number of American pencil case makers in the mid-1800's, allowing the item to be quite compact when closed. It extends from 3.25" (8.0 cm) to a full 4.75" (12.5 cm) when the inner barrel and pen are extended. It has a solid gold Wahl nib which I believe is much newer than the combo itself.


Sampson Mordan - Most of my pencil/pen collection consists of Sampson Mordan items so I really had to include at least one of them here. This combo is quite special for a couple reasons, beyond simply because it's a Mordan. It was one of my first acquisitions almost 20 years ago when I first started collecting writing implements. It is in near mint condition, and everything functions perfectly. At the time, my interest was limited to pencils, so although acquiring this combo was interesting, I never even bothered to look at the nib until several years later. It was quite a surprise then to see that the nib was a rare solid gold Francis Mordan pen! Francis was Sampson Mordan’s son and he had his own business selling pens, nibs, ink, etc.

The inner part of the barrel pulls out and then there are two tiny sliders to extend the pen or the pencil. The extended inner barrel is embossed with "S. Mordan & Co." as well as the Mordan "arrow", indicating solid gold. It is 4.5" when the pen is fully extended.  

Thursday, 19 December 2019

Baby, It's Cold Outside

Last night's temperature here was a rather frosty -19C (-2F) with the wind chill. What better reason than that to crank up the furnace and spend a bit of time gently cleaning the newest addition to the collection?

This tiny pencil is the nicest one to come my way in quite some time. It arrived during this week's cold snap, causing that horrid seasonal earworm to find its way into my head as I opened the very cold package that it was in, argghh.

It is a rare and special little pencil, so I'm glad that it arrived safely, and is no longer bouncing around in freezing delivery trucks ...

Edward Todd Magic Pencil
c. 1880
A figural magic pencil, it was made in the U.S. by Edward Todd & Co. The design is of a Native American papoose in a "wicker" cradleboard (from the expression on the baby's face, it appears to be still trying to get warm!). The inner barrel, and cradleboard are made from silver, while the baby's face and arms are copper. It is tiny; just 1.25" long closed, and 2.25" when fully extended.

Edward Todd & Co. was established in 1870 and the company remained in business for over half a century. The company's primary focus seems to have been gold & steel pens (nibs), along with the increasingly popular fountain pens (based upon what I could find online in terms of old advertisements, various forums, etc.). Most of the surviving pencils made by Todd seem to be of the novelty/figural type, and even those are quite rare to find in such near-perfect condition. The combination of metals used is another uncommon aspect of this particular pencil. I believe this one to be an early Todd pencil (c. 1875-1890), as the imprint is simply "Edward Todd & Co.", and it does not include the Todd company maker's mark that generally accompanied the Todd imprint on most of the later pencils.

Edward Todd & Co.

Now it's time to put on some great old classic Christmas tunes and get rid of that damn earworm...

Tuesday, 26 November 2019

Other Writing Related Commemoratives

This is a followup to the June, 2019 entry - Commemorative Pencils, and shows a few of the non-pencil commemoratives/souvenirs in my collection.

While humans and souvenirs have gone hand in hand since the dawn of time, the 19th century industrial revolution allowed Victorians to begin mass producing souvenir type items. These may have had little intrinsic value, but perhaps offered their owners a significant emotional connection to a special event, person, etc. The resulting boom in souvenir collecting, and subsequent retention of these items by intervening generations, has helped provide us with a view into just what was deemed to be important, way, way back in the day...

While most of today's souvenirs & commemoratives may have a life expectancy measured in days and weeks, and are produced in factories located in far-away lands, during the Victorian period many of the souvenirs were of quite high quality for the time, and it was common for even higher end production houses in England to produce their own commemoratives.

General Gordon Ink Bottle - In the 1880's, General Charles "Chinese" Gordon was a big deal in England, and there were many different commemoratives made in recognition of his accomplishments, following his death in 1885. Gordon first established a name for himself (literally)  for his role in suppressing the Taiping Rebellion in China during the 1860's, becoming known as "Chinese Gordon". Gordon took over command of the Chinese "Ever Victorious Army" in 1862 and under his leadership they, along with the Chinese Imperial Army, finally put an end to the rebellion in 1864, after over a decade of fighting that had resulted in many tens of millions dead. Although Gordon received credit for his leadership during the conflict, in reality Gordon had also managed to alienate his troops to the point that by the end of the uprising most of his troops had mutinied and those remaining consisted primarily of Taiping rebels that had been taken prisoner and subsequently convinced to switch sides. But the folks back home considered him to be a hero - "Chinese Gordon".

It appears that Chinese Gordon may have had a wee problem understanding orders and in finding ways to work constructively with the locals, a trait that resurrected itself during the Siege of Khartoum almost 20 years later, which resulted in his being beheaded two days before a British relief force arrived.

The "relief force" itself was a disaster in the making from the very beginning. Field Marshal Sir Garnet Wolseley was assigned the task of rescuing Gordon and his troops. But he refused to go up the Nile without the aid of French-Canadian Voyageurs that he had come to admire, resulting in long delays. When the "voyageurs" finally arrived from Canada, many of them were in fact lawyers from Toronto led by a city alderman that wanted to "see the fun of war"; none with any boating skills.

But once again, back home in England Gordon was still a hero, and one to be memorialized in as many forms as possible...

From the little information that I could find pertaining to this pressed glass ink bottle, the design was believed to have been done by "Thomas Kidd" around 1885/1886. At over 4" in diameter, it is quite large for an ink bottle, especially one that only holds about 2 ounces of ink. The pressed glass is actually a very deep ruby red, although it appears to be black until held up to a light.

The top of the bottle reads "'CHINESE GORDON' INK BOTTLE". There are four quadrants around the base of the ink bottle showing - a profile image of General Gordon, "BORN 23RD JAN 1833", a pair of crossed swords, and "DIED AT KHARTOUM 26TH JAN 1885".

Chicago World's Fair Inkwell - 1889 saw the Paris World's Fair (Exposition Universalle) captivate Europe, and the world, with its architecture, displays, and its most prominent feature, the Eiffel Tower. America's ego was severely bruised by all the attention that France was getting and it demanded that something bigger, grander, and simply put, just far more over the top, be done, and thus began a 3 year rush to create the Chicago World's Columbian Exposition. It was to be billed as a celebration to mark the 400th anniversary of Columbus' "founding" of the New World. The timelines to create the exposition were impossible, the budget ever growing, and hints of a possible major recession were building, but nothing would quell the drive to have the biggest and best world's fair ever conceived.

And they seem to have pulled it off against all odds. It was held in an area known as Jackson Park, Chicago (along the shores of Lake Michigan). Consisting of nearly 200 buildings spread across 690 acres, with exhibits from 46 different countries, it attracted nearly 27 million visitors during the 6 months it was open. Some of the "firsts" at the fair included the first Ferris Wheel, and it was massive as a first attempt at such an engineering wonder - 264 ft. high, with 36 cars, each capable of holding 40 people. Other Columbian Exposition firsts - Shredded Wheat (how has it been able to survive this long?); the first commercial movie theatre; Juicy Fruit Gum; Pabst Blue Ribbon; Aunt Jemima pancake mix; Cracker Jack; the zipper; first ever elongated coins (squashed pennies).... and spray painting (invented by necessity as they otherwise would never have finished the buildings on time). Westinghouse won the bid to provide alternating current power; underbidding Edison's direct current company... and the result is what we all now have in our homes...

At the time, Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show was a major attraction around the world, and it had even been part of the Paris World's Fair in 1889. Unable to negotiate a deal that would include his show in the Exposition, Buffalo Bill cleverly secured a 15 acre property immediately adjacent to Jackson Park where he held his show during the Exposition, and reportedly netted a healthy profit of a million dollars (approx. $30M today).

There would have been no shortage of souvenirs available during the Exposition for its millions of visitors to consider as mementos of their visit,  including specially minted coins, postcards, spoons, photo books, and ink bottles...

One of these millions of visitors selected this little item, either as a personal souvenir, or perhaps as a gift for a loved one. Designed to give the appearance of a stack of gold coins, the gold coloured metal casing contains a small ink bottle (1 1/2" high and 1 3/8" in diameter). The top "coin" of the casing is imprinted  "Christopher Columbus" "1492 - Chicago, U.S.A. - 1892".

The "Queen Mary" Pen - Following the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, Queen Mary took it upon herself to establish an organization that would raise funds to assist in finding employment for women during the war.  Many organizations found ways to contribute to her fund, and one such organization was Perry & Co. In 1914, Perry & Co. created a limited edition of just 20,000 boxes of pens, with each box containing 18 pens. Each pen is embossed "The Queen Mary Pen".

Christian IX Pens - Who? Perhaps not a recognizable name to many of us but he should be. King Christian IX ruled Denmark from 1863 until his death in 1906. His enduring legacy was not so much any of his accomplishments as Denmark's ruler, but rather his accomplishments as a parent. He and his wife, Queen Louise, had 6 children, all of whom were married into other royal families across Europe, resulting in King Christian IX becoming known as "the father-in-law of Europe". Some of the better known names among his many descendants - Queen Margrethe II of Denmark, Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom, King Phillipe of Belgium, King Felipe VI of Spain, and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.

These pens date to 1877. Each pen is embossed with a likeness of the King.

Sources : Wikipedia