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

Tuesday, 11 June 2019

Commemorative Pencils

Commemorative "souvenirs" have been a big deal for collectors for centuries. At one time or another almost all of us have fallen prey to the schlocky "mementos" offered up by tacky souvenir stands everywhere. We may purchase something "for the kids" as a family vacation keepsake, or treat ourselves to a souvenir t-shirt while attending a major concert or sporting event, or we may simply be buying grandma yet another "Royal" teacup for her already overflowing teacup shelf. No matter the reason, we humans tend to buy a lot of this stuff.

Most of these trinkets eventually break, wear out, or simply end up in a garage sale or a landfill site. But on occasion these little gems survive for generations, far beyond their expected life span. More often than not, the motives of the original purchaser, and the stories that might explain the item's longevity, have been lost with the passage of time, but the fact that these items are still with us today is at the very least, proof of their value to their past custodians.

Within my collection there is a variety of commemorative type pieces, some could safely be labelled as belonging to the "schlocky memento" category, and a few are of a somewhat higher classification, although still being mementos that held special meaning to someone at a special time and place in the past.

Here are a few of the pencils, and in a future entry I'll focus on some of my other writing related commemorative pieces...

Duke of Wellington - Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington (1769-1852) - While he is remembered primarily for his defeat of Napoleon in 1815, the Duke of Wellington had established himself among the elite of the British military well before the Battle of Waterloo, and his influence, both militarily and politically, carried on long afterward. He was commissioned as an ensign into the British Army in 1787 and by 1803 Wellesley had become a Major-General, with his first major victory being against the Maratha Confederacy at the Battle of Assaye. Including his victory over Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo, during his military career Wellington fought in over 60 battles, and his tactics and battle plans are still studied at military academies around the world. He remained Commander in Chief of the British Army until his death in 1852, and he twice served as Britain's Prime Minister.

 The design patent for this commemorative pencil was filed the same year that Wellington died (1852), by Alfred Taylor of Birmingham (design patent # 87148). The finial is a bust of Wellington and the slide is styled with the Wellington Coat of Arms, along with his year of birth, year of death, and references to his two greatest battles - Assaye, and Waterloo.

General Charles Gordon (1833-1885) - General Gordon saw action in the mid-1850's during the Crimean War, and he went on to become known as "Chinese Gordon" for his efforts in suppressing the Taiping Rebellion in China during the early 1860's. Gordon spent much of the 1870's as Governor-General of the Sudan. In 1884 he was sent back to the Sudan with orders to evacuate Khartoum due to an uprising in the area. Instead, he apparently thought that trying to convert the leader of the uprising was a better idea, and that did not work out so well for him. Gordon was killed two days before a British relief force arrived.

In 1898, Field Marshal Kitchener arrived on the scene, ordered to exact revenge for Gordon's untimely death by the Mahdist forces. The Battle of Omdurman followed, and the British ultimately re-conquered the Sudan. Only after the battle did Kitchener find out from the British Prime Minister that the real purpose of his expedition had been to keep the French out of the Sudan. By getting there before France's army, he was able to ensure that France could not take possession of Sudan and that way force the British out of Egypt.

Known at the time (1899) as "The Khartoum Pencil", these pencils were made from battlefield relics (.303 shell casings), and converted into pencils by a quality pencilcase maker such as Sampson Mordan. The casing is engraved with "Omdurman" and "Remember Gordon".

Mappin Brothers of London had the exclusive rights to make and sell these pencils, with 10% of sales going to the "Funds of the Gordon Memorial College of Khartoum".

The "Royals" - In January, 1936, George V died and his eldest son Edward VIII succeeded him. That is, until December, 1936, when Edward decided to abdicate so that he could marry Wallis Simpson. Edward's brother George was next in line and his coronation was set for May 12, 1937 (the same date that Edward's coronation had originally been planned for). Edward's short-lived reign likely explains why I've not found any commemorative pencils for him, but the next two monarchies each offered up a pencil to those that desired such a memento. The first commemorated the inauguration of George VI and it was distributed by the Burgh of Coatbridge in Scotland. The cap of the pencil even included a tiny portrait of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth.
Not to be outdone in the tacky department, the coronation of Queen Elizabeth in 1953 also provided a commemorative pencil, complete with a "jewel-studded crown" finial.

At the time of their original purchase, the human emotional connection with these commemorative pencils almost certainly surpassed the functional appeal of a regular propelling pencil, and it is that emotional connection that in turn has attracted me to these commemorative pieces when I find them, but they just don't pop up all that often. I suspect that when our kids or grandkids clean out our home one day they will find similar trinkets that only hold memories for their current owners, but hopefully they will decide hang onto one or two and take care of them as a favour to some future collector in the coming generations!

With regards to these specific pieces... for the most part, my writing equipment collecting tastes are literally "all over the map", but perhaps something more subliminal was guiding my subconscious as I acquired these pieces... I live in the city of Waterloo, which is next to the city of Kitchener, and the town of Wellesley. We are also next door to the County of Wellington, and the "Royal City" of Guelph, both only a few miles down the road... and we're not even in England...



U.K. National Archives - British Design Patents

Tuesday, 16 April 2019

Lesson Learned - Hopefully

For me, one of the great joys in being a collector has been the learning opportunity that accompanies each and every acquisition. The knowledge so graciously shared by other collectors and experts has been invaluable as the collection grows along with my own expertise. However, I'm also guilty of being a slow learner on occasion, only advancing my knowledge as a result of the poor outcome of a particularly risky decision that I've made (usually pertaining to the actual condition of an item vs. the seller's overly inflated opinion of the "treasure" they're selling). While I have made my share of bad decisions over the years, only recently has the additional spectre of fakery & fraud crept into my current sphere of collecting.

Stories of fakes or frauds in the collecting world are not unusual, but I would never have thought that anyone would actually find it to be a worthwhile endeavour to create fake antique pen (nib) boxes and sell them as "sealed" (unopened) pen boxes... until now.
Contents are actually a mix of low value pens
Fake "sealed" boxes of pens

Other fake boxes

Some antique pen boxes are quite rare and can sell for significant sums of money, but the average box, including most, or all, of the original pens within, generally sells in the $20-$50 range. This is hardly the kind of financial return one might hope for when undertaking a completely illegal counterfeiting effort that consists of making replica boxes, and then filling them with actual vintage pen nibs (just not nibs that match the label on the box!). There is also the reality that pen box collecting is not exactly considered to be a major market opportunity. But apparently there are some folks out there that disagree, and I recently became aware of this type of fraud with my own collection.

I've been acquiring pen boxes for less than a year, and I consider myself to be a complete neophyte in terms of knowledge in this particular area (an earlier blog entry talked about a few of my early acquisitions -

So I was quite excited when I came across a posting in a collectors' forum offering a large number of vintage dip pen nib boxes and their contents for sale. The poster is well known as a writing equipment collector/dealer and these boxes had been part of a much larger acquisition. The poster's expertise and collecting interests do not include pen boxes so they decided to dispose of the boxes as a lot. This was a great opportunity for me to increase my pen box collection so I reached out to try and negotiate a purchase.

The only problem was that the seller had also just become aware that several of the boxes were fake. They very openly, and honestly, pointed this out to me after they'd opened a couple of the sealed boxes and discovered a range of less valuable mixed pen nibs inside that did not match the box labels. While the fakes resulted in several of the boxes now having no value, most of the lot was genuine. So, an acceptable price was agreed to and a package containing over 20 pen boxes from 3 different countries, over half a dozen different pen makers, and the efforts of one fraudster, arrived a couple of weeks later.

Some of the good ones
... and their contents
Now one might rightfully wonder what would possibly motivate someone (me) into buying fakes, knowing full well that they are fakes? The answer is simple really ... to learn.

Here was an opportunity for me to significantly reduce the potential cost of this particular learning experience as I already knew that several of the boxes were fake! If you need to, re-read that sentence; there is sound logic in there somewhere, I'm certain of it!

I regularly sell & trade items from my collection so that I can acquire other items that are of interest or simply to do a little "culling of the herd". Expanding my knowledge to include some of the bad stuff enables me to not only make the best acquisition decisions that I can, but also allows me to be as honest as possible when I present items for sale or trade.

What will happen with these particular items? Well, the fake boxes have been segregated and marked as fakes so that they can't be re-sold. Their contents (over 1,000 pen nibs) will gradually be sorted. I've already found several rarer pens among them, which raises another question as to why someone would fill fake boxes (that the experts can generally tell are fake without even opening the box) with a mix of pens that might actually have some value on their own. I may keep a few of the more interesting pens and then sell of the remainder to other collectors, calligraphers, or anyone that may be looking for a few hundred random vintage dip pen nibs.

So did I learn anything? Well I'd like to think so. The information provided by the experts and collectors within the online groups has been invaluable and I've expanded my awareness of the world of fakes. The individual that I interacted with in this transaction was extremely open and honest throughout the discussion, and what I received exactly matched what had been described to me (the good and the bad!). It is also a reminder that it's always ok to ask questions; there may be fraudsters out there, but there are also a lot of experts and experienced collectors that are are more than willing to help educate those of us that are still on the steeper side of the learning curve.

Most importantly, the good half of the acquisition has allowed me to significantly expand my collection of pen boxes and their contents and now I need to prepare the next drawer in the cabinet for their safe keeping .....


Saturday, 16 March 2019

The Well-Appointed British Walker of 1901

Several years ago, our daughter and son-in-law moved to a small community in the Lakes District in northern England. Our travels to the UK had previously consisted of a short trip to tour Scotland, and  another to attend our daughter's wedding in Cheltenham. Both of those trips hold great memories for us, but it was our visits to their home in the Lakes District that solidified our love of England and Scotland.

The beauty of the Pennines,  including Nine Standards Rigg, miles off in the distance on Hartley Fell, can be seen from their front yard, and the gorgeous vistas of Ullswater and Windemere are just a short drive to the west.

Front yard view of the Pennines
Nine Standards Rigg
On our very first visit we noticed large numbers of people out walking, everywhere! The community where our daughter was living was located along the Coast to Coast "Walk", just one of countless walking paths in the area. We soon discovered that walking is a serious pastime in this part of the world and over the years we've enjoyed a good many walks with the family.

All of which led me to wonder about the origins of this oddly intense and widespread desire in the UK to go for a "walk", no matter the weather conditions. The climate in that area can often be quite pleasant and inviting; however it seemed to us that just as often there would be hours, or days, of unrelentingly foul, dreary, wet, and occasionally frigid, weather conditions, and yet the walkers were ever-present (including ourselves).

A cold, puddle-jumping, stone circle walk at Castlerigg
A cool, pleasant day for a Pennines walk

It turns out that the majority of the credit for popularizing this sometimes odd behaviour belongs to an 18th century Jesuit Priest named Thomas West. Well travelled throughout Europe and the Lakes District, he eventually settled in Furness, and decided to write a guide book for the area. "Guide to the Lakes", was published in 1778 and became a major success, with 7 editions being printed before the turn of the century. Thus began Lakes District walking tourism, and the rest is walking history...William Wordsworth, Alfred Wainwright, and many other writers, followed, but it was Tommy W. that first made the idea of simply walking for pleasure a "thing".

The walkers of today's England, whether out for a casual Sunday afternoon trek, or a 7 day walk along Hadrian's Wall, are all equipped in similar, if more modern, fashion to their Victorian ancestors, with a variety of gear to suit the particular walk they've undertaken; day pack or overnight backpack, food, water, proper hiking boots or good trail shoes, light windbreaker, or full-on rain/all-weather gear, etc. 

One of the more noticeable differences between the modern and the late-Victorian walkers would be today's omnipresent cell phones that virtually all walkers have with them. It serves many purposes as a walking "aid" - as a phone of course, should calling for help become necessary, but also as a camera, a gps/mapping device, a timepiece, and even a place to record field notes. 

And absent of a cell phone, what special equipment did the well appointed walker of the late 19th / early 20th century have? ... 

Why, a pencil of course!

But not just ANY pencil... those that could afford it might carry something like this one with them; an exceptional "companion pencil" dating to 1901 and made by London silversmith William Hornby. 
1901 Companion Pencil - William Hornby
Recently acquired from the KB Collection of Pencils (shown on page 75 of the book), this sterling silver companion pencil includes three different coloured pencils, a compass, a whistle, AND a sun dial. At just 8cm (3") in length and 2cm (.75") wide, it allowed walkers of that era to accomplish many of the same functions as our phones offer us today...

Lost? - Compass
Need help? - Whistle

Time for lunch? - Sun Dial
Sketch a memory or take notes

Most of my rarer pencils date to the early to mid-1800's but this one was so unique and in such exceptional condition that I couldn't resist. It is fully hallmarked (in two locations) for William Hornby, London, 1901. All three of the pencils are fully functional and are extended by using the enamelled slider buttons. The compass is inset into the pencil within a band of gold. and is still working. The whistle and sun dial flip open from the back. The whistle has a small protective cap of silver. The sun dial is probably the most unique feature. When the whistle cap is removed there is a tiny "v"notch at the open end to catch the sun's rays. Calibrated at 51 degrees north (as marked just under the "v"), this corresponds to London's latitude. It can be suspended from an Albert chain using the the swivel and ring located at the top.

"I'm just going out for a wee walk dear..." "Well don't forget your pencil..."

Sources : Wikipedia - Walking in the United Kingdom

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.