Thursday, 15 February 2018

If Those Old Pens Could Talk

I confess, I rarely read poetry. However, I have always been intrigued by poets, songwriters, and others who can creatively conjure up amazing imagery, and invoke our emotions, in spite of the enforced constraints and frugal use of words demanded by their craft.

Until recently, if I were to try and think of a poem or song that had some relevance to writing back in the day when pen and ink were actually used, the best I'd be able to come up with would be - The Ink is Black, The Page is White, and other than the title I'd have to hum the rest. Three Dog Night brought the song to the top of the charts in 1972 but it was originally written in 1954 in celebration of the US Supreme Court's decision outlawing racial segregation of public schools. So, it turns out it wasn't really about writing at all...

Then, a few months ago, while sleuthing about, searching for possible additions to my collections, I came across this very clever "conversation" between a 3 year old pen and a diary, written in the middle of the 19th century by William Makepeace Thackeray (1811-1863).

As a collector, I've often wondered about the life led by each item in my collection - who owned it and once held it in their hand?; where had it travelled?; what interesting history had it recorded during its time?; and so on. Here, finally, was an actual pen from the Victorian era (named "Mordan" no less!) that was willing to share all of that and more ...

The Pen and the Album

‘I am Miss Catherine’s book,' the album speaks;
‘I’ve lain among your tomes these many weeks;
I’m tired of their old coats and yellow cheeks.

‘Quick, Pen! and write a line with a good grace:
Come! draw me off a funny little face;
And, prithee, send me back to Chesham Place.’


‘I am my master’s faithful old Gold Pen;
I’ve served him three long years, and drawn since then
Thousands of funny women and droll men.

‘O Album! could I tell you all his ways
And thoughts, since I am his, these thousand days,
Lord, how your pretty pages I’d amaze!’


‘His ways? his thoughts? Just whisper me a few;
Tell me a curious anecdote or two,
And write ’em quickly off, good Mordan, do!’


‘Since he my faithful service did engage
To follow him through his queer pilgrimage,
I’ve drawn and written many a line and page.

‘Caricatures I scribbled have, and rhymes,
And dinner-cards, and picture pantomimes;
And merry little children’s books at times.

‘I’ve writ the foolish fancy of his brain;
The aimless jest that, striking, hath caused pain;
The idle word that he’d wish back again.

. . . . . .

‘I’ve help’d him to pen many a line for bread;
To joke with sorrow aching in his head;
And make your laughter when his own heart bled.

‘I’ve spoke with men of all degree and sort—
Peers of the land, and ladies of the Court;
Oh, but I’ve chronicled a deal of sport!

‘Feasts that were ate a thousand days ago,
Biddings to wine that long hath ceased to flow,
Gay meetings with good fellows long laid low;

’Summons to bridal, banquet, burial, ball,
Tradesman’s polite reminders of his small
Account due Christmas last—I’ve answered all.

‘Poor Diddler’s tenth petition for a half–
Guinea; Miss Bunyan’s for an autograph;
So I refuse, accept, lament, or laugh,

‘Condole, congratulate, invite, praise, scoff.
Day after day still dipping in my trough,
And scribbling pages after pages off.

’Day after day the labor’s to be done,
And sure as comes the postman and the sun,
The indefatigable ink must run.

. . . . .

‘Go back, my pretty little gilded tome,
To a fair mistress and a pleasant home,
Where soft hearts greet us whensoe’er we come!

‘Dear, friendly eyes, with constant kindness lit,
However rude my verse, or poor my wit,
Or sad or gay my mood, you welcome it.

’Kind lady! till my last of lines is penn’d,
My master’s love, grief, laughter, at an end,
Whene’er I write your name, may I write friend!

‘Not all are so that were so in past years;
Voices, familiar once, no more he hears;
Names, often writ, are blotted out in tears.

’So be it:—joys will end and tears will dry—
Album! my master bids me wish good-by,
He’ll send you to your mistress presently.

‘And thus with thankful heart he closes you;
Blessing the happy hour when a friend he knew
So gentle, and so generous, and so true.

’Nor pass the words as idle phrases by;
Stranger! I never writ a flattery,
Nor sign’d the page that register’d a lie.’

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Westward Eastward Woodward

I have a few "Woodward" pencils in my collection that I had always assumed were from the same period and maker. Only recently did I discover that they were made by two different Woodwards, separated by about half a century, and half a world.

The top two pencils are marked "Woodwards & Hale"; the bottom two are marked "A.H.W.", and "Woodward's Patent", respectively.

One of America's earliest mechanical pencil making companies was Woodwards & Hale, of Brooklyn, New York, established sometime around 1828/1829.

The biographical memoir of General John Woodward - "John B. Woodward: A Biographical Memoir", by Elijah Robinson Kennedy, 1897, provides a little background on his father's business (Thomas Jr.). The memoir indicates that brothers Thomas Jr, George, and Charles, along with their father (Thomas Sr.), emigrated to New York from England in 1818/1819. Shortly after their arrival in America, Thomas Jr. became a silversmith and subsequently established a partnership with his brothers George and Charles, along with "Mr. Hale". This is corroborated by information found in "Longworth's American Almanac, New-York Register, and City Directory". The 1827 edition lists William H. Hale as an "engineer", and the Woodward brothers as having a variety of jobs. However, by 1829, the Directory lists Thomas Woodward as a "silversmith", while George & Charles Woodward share the same business address as William H. Hale at 22 Mercer Street, and the same business, "silver pencils".

In July, 1831, the New York Mirror included the following testimonial regarding Woodwards & Hale: "The most highly wrought and admirable specimen of the ever-pointed pencil, we have lately seen from the manufactory of William H. Hale (Woodwards & Hale) of Brooklyn. It is not only superior, we believe, to all others in usefulness, but exceeds in beauty anything of the kind we ever saw. The point through which the lead passes is of steel, a decided improvement, rendering it more durable and complete; and the wreath of flowers and foliage entwined around the surface is really brilliant. We learn that the original inventor of this article is Mr. John J. Hawkins, civil engineer, and formerly a citizen of the United States. He sold the patent right for a trifling sum, to Mr. Mordan, without being aware how profitable it would become. The Physiognotrace, and also the Manifold Letter Writer, were invented by the same individual. The great perfection to which this indispensable requisite to a gentleman's pocket, and a lady's desk, has been brought in the manufactory of Woodwards & Hale is certainly creditable to those artisans, and to the country, which has long been far behind France and England in similar works of elegance and taste."

Here are some close-ups of the two Woodwards & Hale pencils (Note the steel tips; described above as the "decided improvement" over the Hawkins/Mordan pencils available at the time)...

The first is a nice slider pencil with an "Onion Top" finial; 4.5" (11.5cm) when open. The second is a calendar pencil; slightly smaller at just over 4.0" (10.5cm) when open. Woodwards & Hale continued as business partners until 1839, at which point Hale stepped away from the business and it carried on for another 15 years or so as Woodward Brothers.

Alfred Havilah Woodward of Birmingham, England, obtained his first U.K. pencil patent in November, 1883 (U.K. patent #5224), and his U.S. patent for the same pencil design was granted April 1, 1884 (U.S. patent (#296,302).

A.H. Woodward used a couple of different marks to identify his pencils. His early pencils were imprinted "Woodward's Patent", and some of his later pencils were only marked on the tip, "A.H.W.", and "I.X.L.". The I.X.L. indicated that it was made at Woodward's "I.X.L. Works" manufactory in Birmingham.

A.H. Woodward's drop-action pencil was imprinted with "Woodward's Patent". Pressing the top releases the writing tip and pressing it again, while holding the pencil upside down, returns the writing tip to the inner casing. 3.25" (8.0cm) when closed, and 4.0" (10.5cm) when extended.

In spite of the time and distance gap between the two pencilcase makers, it is a little intriguing that, in addition to sharing the Woodward surname, they were all from Birmingham, England.

Distant cousins perhaps?

Friday, 2 February 2018

Hey Buddy, Gotta Light?

For those of us over 40, or perhaps a tad older... it doesn't seem all that long ago that smoking was a perfectly acceptable social pastime, and even considered by some as being quite fashionable.

Cigarette smoking became widespread in North America following the invention of the cigarette making machine in 1881. Prior to this point, cigarettes were hand rolled and as such the demand was fairly limited. Fast forward a few decades and by 1944 cigarette production was over 300 billion per year, and apparently nearly 75% of the production during WWII was being allocated to service men & women.

Without question, smoking was prevalent virtually everywhere by the mid-20th century. And as with anything that the public widely embraces, there are always clever people coming up with gimmicky items to go along with it, including pencils...

Gorham Matchstick Pencil - Gorham Manufacturing was founded in 1831 in Providence, Rhode Island, and became one of America's largest manufacturers of sterling and silver-plate items. This tiny matchstick pencil was likely made during the last decade of the 19th century, or early 20th century. It is sterling silver and the match head is yellow and blue enamel. A tiny slider extends the pencil tip. It is almost identical in size to an actual wooden match - 2.5" closed and 3.0" when fully extended.

Lady's Smoking Set - This is a fairly rare matching set consisting of a cigarette holder and a pencil; just what every young lady of a certain social upbringing would have wanted as a special gift for her birthday or at Christmas. The outside casings of both are sterling silver, finished in a white guilloché enamel, with hand-painted roses. The cigarette holder tip appears to be bovine (cow bone). The pencil is 3.5" long and marked "Sterling Germany". The pair likely date to the 1920's or 30's.

Ronson "Penciliter" - Ronson began manufacturing their 2nd generation Penciliter in 1948 and Ronson's advertisements during this period reflected the societal norms at that time -

"...It’s finely balanced… it’s streamlined… it’s always at hand for the two things he does most - lighting (press -it’s lit… release -it’s out)… and writing. He’ll constantly use... constantly thank you for the new Ronson Penciliter! ". 

What man could possibly live without one? Especially when life apparently consisted primarily of lighting & writing? Come to think of it, I'm fairly certain that my dad had a Penciliter in his basement workshop when I was a kid.

The barrel of this one is marked Ronson "Penciliter" 1/20th 14K Gold Filled (which basically means there is virtually no gold in it, but just enough that they could say there is some). At 5.5" in length, this is a rather large and heavy beast of a pencil; a nice, solid pocket protector would certainly have been needed!