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 :

Wikipedia

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 & Co PATENT
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".
"S"? MORDAN & Co PATENT
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.
S.MORDAN & Co MAKERS & PATENTEES 1830-1844
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

Monday, 7 October 2019

Made In One Maiden

Maiden Lane is a short street (barely half a mile long) located in Manhattan's Financial District. The street has a very interesting & colourful history dating back to the late 17th century, but from the beginning of the 19th century to the early 20th century it was also the centre of New York's jewellery district. During this period, Maiden Lane, along with a couple of adjoining streets, was home to many of America's major pen and pencil case makers. 

According to Jonathan Veley's extensive research, summarized in the blog series - "From Bagley Through Todd", one particular address on Maiden Lane was home to a revolving door of pencil case makers over a relatively brief period of about 15 years starting in the mid-1850's ... One Maiden Lane.

The first of the pencil case makers at One Maiden was likely Bagley, Houghton, & Co. Albert G. Bagley had partnered with Henry H. Houghton sometime around 1849 and their company was listed down the street at #12 Maiden Lane in 1853. Bagley's tenure at #1 Maiden Lane would have to have been quite short as he retired in 1856. The only Albert Bagley pencil I have may pre-date his time at One Maiden Lane. It has his January 1, 1850 patent date imprinted on the inner barrel ...

Albert Bagley Combo Pencil / Pen
Albert Bagley Patent Jan. 1, 1850


Coinciding with Bagley's retirement, Henry Houghton established a partnership with Charles Newton beginning in 1856. A little over a year later, Houghton died, and Newton carried on the business on his own, eventually establishing a partnership with James Byrne and Joseph Monaghan in 1861. This partnership was joined by Keller Kurtz in 1864.

Newton, Kurtz Pencil
As Veley explains in part two of his "From Bagley Through Todd" blog series, Byrne left the company shortly thereafter and on January 1, 1865 a new partnership was formed, named Newton, Kurtz & Co..

Newton, Kurtz c. 1865
This Newton, Kurtz & Co. pencil is imprinted with the company name, as well as the imprint for Charles Goodyear's May 6, 1851 vulcanized rubber patent...


Kurtz, Monaghan c. 1867
Kurtz, Monaghan
Constant change was the norm at One Maiden Lane, and just over a year later Charles Newton retired, and in May, 1867 the company name became Kurtz, Monaghan & Co.. This example of a Kurtz, Monaghan is one of my favourite ebonite (hard rubber) pencils as it is the much rarer "red" colour. It is imprinted with the company name, "Kurtz & Monaghan N.Y.", as well as the Goodyear 1851 patent date.

In March, 1870 Kurtz retired, but Monaghan would not be alone for long. In September, 1870 Edward Todd (who had retired in 1868 from another pen & pencil case maker of note that was located just down the street - Mabie Todd & Co.) established a partnership with Monaghan under the name Edward Todd & Co.. This company name stayed associated with the business through a number of succeeding partnerships, extending into the 20th century, although the company appears to have departed from Maiden Lane prior to 1895. The inner barrel of this tiny magic pencil is imprinted "Sterling", along with the Edward Todd logo.

Edward Todd Magic Pencil
Edward Todd c. 1900








The above pencils are examples that represent several, but not all, of the makers resident at One Maiden Lane over that brief period between 1856 and 1870. There may be named pens & pencils out there from some of the other partnerships (e.g. Bagley, Houghton & Co., or H. H. Houghton & Co.), but I've yet to come across any. In some cases the maker may have simply continued to produce items bearing the name of a predecessor. For example, Veley's blog series includes a newspaper advertisement from December, 1859 which states "Bagley's Celebrated Gold Pens and Pencil Cases, Manufactured by C.F. Newton". This was 3 years after Bagley's retirement and 2 years after Houghton's demise so Newton may well have simply continued producing "Bagley" pencils and pens right up until his partnership with Kurtz began, and never produced any imprinted with just his own company name.

Jonathan Veley provides a fascinating (and vastly more thorough) history of the parade of partnerships at One Maiden Lane in his blog and I highly recommend taking some time to read all four parts of the story.


Sources :

Jonathan Veley - The Leadhead's Pencil Blog - blog series "From Bagley Through Todd"

Wikipedia - Maiden Lane 



Thursday, 18 July 2019

Forget-Me-Not, Until You Do

Ever since we humans first clued in to the fact that we are not immortal, many of us have quite naturally pondered our own mortality and what the world might be like in the days and years that follow our demise. For 99.99% of us the world will simply carry on as if nothing of any import has just taken place. But within the orbits of our own little worlds, most of us hope that there are friends and loved ones that will remember us, and that they will share some of those memories with others... our secret desire for at least a smidge of immortality.

Others are less passive in their efforts to be remembered. Wealthy philanthropists may leave a legacy of buildings or have streets named after them; some of the more noteworthy will have monuments raised in recognition of their accomplishments; the artists among us will create stunning works that outlast their creators by generations; but for most of us... well, some may have little to offer other than to bequeath precious heirlooms to their loved ones ... and for some Victorians pondering this question, perhaps a few came to the conclusion that what could possibly be a better reminder of dear old what's-his-name than a "Forget-Me-Not" pencil...

Here are a few "Forget-Me-Not" pencils from my collection. Sadly, but not surprisingly, the stories of their original owners and recipients are now long forgotten. The images of the barrel engravings of "Forget-Me-Not" are not as clear as I'd like, due partly to wear, and partly to some rather poor photography skills on my part.

Wilmot & Co. - This one likely dates to the latter half of the 19th century, and was made by Wilmot & Co. in Birmingham, England.




Thomas Addison - Addison was one of America's earliest pencil case makers and held one of the earliest patents for an American made pencil. Patent # 736  was issued in May, 1838. Addison had already been in business as a pencil case maker long before that, having first been listed as a pencil case maker in New York in 1823/1824, according to research done by David Nishimura1. The example below likely pre-dates Addison's 1838 patent as it is identical in design to one made by Woodward & Hale, that was advertised in the Long Island Star in 18332, suggesting that Addison may have been making his pencil cases under license from another early pencil case maker. A series of blog entries on the Leadhead's Pencil Blog, by Jonathan Veley3 describes these early American makers in much greater detail.





Unknown Maker - This one is a calendar pencil. The ring showing the days of the month is present, although it is missing the tiny ring at the top that would have had the letters representing the days of the week. It is likely American made, and has a couple of traits that suggest it may have been made by either Thomas Addison, or Woodwards & Hale, in the first half of the 19th century. The general design style fits with both those makers, and in addition, the steel tip closely matches those present on both Addison and W&H pencils from the 1830's.




Sources :

Vintage Pen News - David Nishimura - Thomas Addison, pioneer pencil maker
Leadhead's Pencil Blog - Jonathan Veley - Woodward's Patent
Leadhead's Pencil Blog - Jonathan Veley - The Brothers Woodward