Wednesday, 13 February 2019

The Three Musket Tears

I almost shed a few wee happy tears yesterday when the first of my recent KB Collection auction purchases arrived, which included three musket pencils. The three were sold together as a single lot (an "all for one, one for all" kind of thing I suppose). I hadn't really intended to bid on this particular lot but one of the pencils was a design by a British maker that I had been looking for for some time. So I threw in a low ball bid... and they threw back an invoice...

The first two pencils are unmarked and made of electroplated base metal or German silver. They would have been made as a bit of a novelty item in the mid-1800's. These two rifles each have a pencil, a toothpick, and a dip pen built into them.

But it was the 3rd pencil that had my attention. It is also German Silver, and made by Josh Baker. The imprint on the lower barrel is "JOSH BAKER NO 1166 4 APR 184". That would have been "1842" at the end but they ran out of room on the barrel when this one was stamped. This one has a pencil and toothpick but no dip pen. It is 8.5cm (3.5") closed and 10.5cm (4") when the pencil is extended.

1842 Josh Baker Novelty Pencil

After spending hours trying to find out more about Josh Baker, I had all but given up when I found an entry in "The Practical Mechanic and Engineer's Magazine" of 1842 attributing design #1166 to "Joseph Baker", not "Josh Baker". So now I have two names, Josh & Joseph. The barrel of the piece is clearly "Josh" and the design registration is clearly "Joseph". Could it be a typo in the registry, or second "Baker" that is part of the business? So far I've been unable to find out where in England they were made, or whether Baker made any other pieces. The search for clarity continues.

And now that I think about it, perhaps those weren't happy tears... my watery eyes may have been a result of having received the credit card bill for the auction purchases on the same day as the shipment of pencils ...

Sunday, 10 February 2019

Signed, Sealed, Delivered

I suspect that few of us that are currently alive in the 21st century have received a letter or document in the mail that has been sealed by anything other than the gum on the envelope flap. The first machine made envelopes only appeared in 1845, when a patent for the mass-production of envelopes was filed by Victorian postal official Edwin Hill, and astronomer/inventor Warren De La Rue. Pre-gummed envelopes didn't make their first appearance until almost 50 years later.

Envelope Making Machine of Hill & De La Rue
Hill & De La Rue Display at 1851 Great Exposition

Prior to pre-gummed envelopes, starting in medieval times, the wax seal was commonly used. Early on, the "wax" was a mixture of about 2/3 beeswax and 1/3 resin but the mixture gradually became mostly resin, allowing, among other things, a variety of colours to be produced. The use of wax seals significantly increased in the mid-Victorian era as the reading and writing skills of the general population also increased. An additional factor during this period was that the cost of postage was determined by both the number of pieces of paper used, and the weight, so wax seals became a common way to reduce the weight. The seals used varied from larger handheld seals, to signet rings, and even ... attached to pencils.

Here are a few examples of pencil seals...

S. Mordan Makers & Patentees - This gold pencil dates between 1837 & 1844. The intaglio seal represents a British Fox Hound carved into a white quartz capstone. The actual seal is a mere 8mm (5/16") across which shows how finely detailed some of these hand-carved seals are.

English Fox Hound
English Fox Hound Wax Seal

Mordan Makers & Patentees - 1837-1844

S. Mordan Makers & Patentees - This silver pencil dates between 1837 & 1844. The intaglio seal represents two hands supporting the world, carved into a quartz capstone. The seal is 8mm (5/16") across.

Globe & Hands
Globe & Hands Wax Seal

Mordan Makers & Patentees - 1837-1844

S. Mordan & G. Riddle - This silver pencil is stamped "S. Mordan & Co's. Patent", and hallmarked "SMGR", London, 1826. The intaglio seal represents an image of a fly under the word "VITE" (Quick) carved into a bloodstone capstone. The seal is 8mm (5/16") across.

Fly "VITE"
Fly "VITE" Wax Seal
S. Mordan & Co's. Patent - 1826

Once pre-gummed envelopes appeared, the use of seals quickly declined and during the 20th century they were mostly relegated to use on legal and ceremonial documents. As we continue into the 21st century there is a small resurgence in handwritten correspondence and the use of personal seals is likewise enjoying a bit of a comeback. So there is still hope that one day I'll actually receive a letter sealed with wax.


Friday, 25 January 2019

The Post Office

A collection of Victorian and early 20th century writing equipment wouldn't be complete without at least a minor nod to some of the other interesting items associated with the written word during that period.

In my collection, one such minor nod includes a couple of early 20th century Canada Post items. I am honestly trying to restrain myself when it comes to "minor nods" such as this, but those that know me may be inclined to suggest that I try harder, as when it comes to collecting & collectors, a "couple" of anything can easily become another rabbit hole that quickly leads into a whole new warren crying out for further exploration ...

According to Wikipedia, the first known international letter sent from what would, over 400 years later, become part of Canada, was sent in 1527 from St. John's, Newfoundland to King Henry VIII of England. The first known paid mail delivery within Canada took place in 1693, and Canada's federal postal service began just after Confederation, in 1867.

Canada Post Scales - Pritchard & Andrews, Ottawa
This Canada Post scale set dates to the early 20th century, and was made by Pritchard & Andrews, of Ottawa. It would have originally had a beautiful finish of glossy black paint with gold trim (only tiny fragments of which remain due to a rather harsh life over the last century). It would have been a beautiful looking piece in its day, with the black and gold of the centre stand and arms complemented by the gold tones of the solid brass scale pads, suspension chains, and weights. The weights are in ounces - 8, 4, 2, 1, & 1/2. Every major piece of the set is individually stamped "Canada P.O."

Postage Canceller - Monticello
A few weeks after obtaining the Canada Post scales, my wife handed me a small bag containing a postage canceller and an assortment of 40 metal date stamps that went with it. The canceller was from the Monticello General Store and Post Office in Monticello, Ontario. For over 35 years, from 1931 to the late 1960's, my wife's grandfather owned & operated the Monticello General Store (& Post Office). She had been given the canceller almost 40 years ago, following her grandfather's passing, and it has lain in a drawer, mostly forgotten, ever since.
These two simple items remind us of a time before the automation of the postal service, where the service provided was entirely done in person, and by hand.

Wednesday, 5 December 2018

Great Oaks From Little Acorns Grow

The mighty oak has been around much longer than we humans have, so as obvious as the title statement may seem, it apparently wasn't until the 14th century that someone decided that it should be recorded as a proverb. Since then we've attached a great deal of symbolism to the oak tree, and its humble beginning as a tiny acorn.

During Victorian times acorns were considered good luck charms, and also represented youthfulness, strength, and stability. Acorns were just one of many special symbols of the Victorian era that were represented in various novelty forms of the period, including pencils.

My collection includes a few lucky nuts; a tiny walnut pencil (made from an actual walnut shell), and several acorn pencils. Two of the acorn pencils stand out for a few reasons; they are gold, they have some interesting imprints, and both are exceptionally tiny as they are the size of real acorns when closed (approx. 2.5cm / 1") and just over 5 cm / 2" when extended.

The first one is a W.S. Hicks gold acorn magic pencil. While it doesn't have Hicks' name on it, there is an imprint on the side of the nut casing - "Pat. Sep. 25 77", which is the date associated with the Hicks U.S. Design Patent # 10,260.

The tip on this one needs to be replaced but otherwise it is in good working order in terms of extension/retraction and the lead advancement mechanism.

The second acorn is more intriguing. It is imprinted "L.W.F." for "Leroy W. Fairchild", another American maker and a contemporary of Hicks. Side by side, these two acorns appear  to be almost identical twins. The most noticeable differences are that the Fairchild barrel is a little shorter and stubbier than the Hicks, and the engraving on the cap is more detailed on the Fairchild.*

In addition to the "L.W.F." maker imprint, there is a British design lozenge indicating that the design patent was granted on the 28th day of September, 1877. So far my searches have failed to find out who the holder of that design patent was. However, the barrel is also imprinted with "Pat. Sep. 25 77", which refers to the American patent belonging to W.S. Hicks. While Fairchild was prolific in filing his own patents, he did not have one filed on that date, and both the design and patent of this pencil clearly belong to Hicks.

The presence of the design lozenge suggests that Fairchild made this for export to the U.K. The use of the Hicks patent date may have been done with Hicks' blessing but it may be just as likely that Fairchild simply stole Hicks' design and imprinted the barrels of his pencils with his own initials, and the Hicks patent date assuming no one would care. **

At this point, the information that I have on Leroy W. Fairchild is somewhat limited but my collection includes a number of other Fairchild pencils and pen/pencil combos that have patent dates imprinted on the barrels belonging to patents owned by a variety of other makers. He is the only maker I've come across that seems to have done this on a regular basis, and the logic behind it escapes me. More digging is required...

Additional Information Since Posting (see asterisked items above) :

* So here's a wacky theory - if we assume that the makers used actual acorns as "models" when designing these pieces, one could surmise that the Fairchild was fashioned after the American Red Oak acorn (short & stubby) and therefore made in America and imprinted with a design lozenge for export to the UK. The more elongated one, with just the Hicks patent date on it, is of similar shape to acorns from the English Oak tree. So perhaps... this one was made in the UK (Hicks did have locations in both New York & London), for the domestic UK market. Maybe...?

** David Nishimura (Vintage Pens) kindly shared some of his expert knowledge on how the LWF imprint combined with a Hicks patent date could have occurred. Apparently, during this period, it was common for makers to license other companies' patents. David indicated that the Fairchild acorn may have been manufactured under license this way, or could even have been made by Hicks but stamped for subsequent retailing by Fairchild. Cooperation amongst competitors was common, and there is no evidence to suggest that patent infringement ever took place.

Friday, 23 November 2018

Old is Old, But Black is Gold

... at least it is to me...

In a much earlier Blog entry I wrote about Charles Goodyear and a few of the pencils in my collection that had casings made from his patented vulcanized rubber (also called black hard rubber, BHR, or ebonite). One of the downsides of rubber is that it naturally oxidizes, with heat and light being the two main culprits when it comes to the oxidation of the rubber.

And for collectors like me, who prefer to have their items on display and looking much like they did when their original owners were using them, rather than hiding them away in a drawer, that means that some of these old ebonite pencils and combos eventually start looking a lot more like their current owner (grey and weathered) than they should.

I currently have over 20 BHR pencils and combos, and about half of them are looking a little rough as a result of oxidation. I recently began looking into options to revive the rubber a little and after some discussion with Mark Hoover, a fellow collector and owner of La Belle Epoque, I purchased a tube of Mark's "Restoration Balm".

I received the balm in the mail this morning and spent a couple of hours this afternoon working on two of the BHR's - a W.S. Hicks magic pencil, and a John Hoagland combo. I'll let the following images speak for themselves with regards to the effectiveness of Mark's product ... but let me just say in advance ... Thanks Mark!

John Hoagland Combo Pencil/Pen - There is no discernible maker's mark on this combo, but it does have a nice John Hoagland #4 nib. Once I cleaned up the BHR, I spent a bit of time on the gold fittings as well.

W.S. Hicks Magic Pencil - While the Hicks name is not present on this magic pencil, it does have a telltale indicator imprint - "Pat. March 21 '77", which refers to U.S. Patent 112,917 filed by William S. Hicks on March 21, 1877. Also imprinted on the barrel is a very faint A.G. Days patent date of August 10, 1858. Austin Goodyear Days patent was for “improvements” that he made to Goodyear’s 1851 patent. He was a cousin to Nelson Goodyear.

Now I just need to find the time to work on the remaining 20+ BHR's...

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 "Manley 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 have 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 -