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 "Manly 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 has 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")


  1. It would be interesting to see inside one of these to study how the mechanism actually works.

  2. As near as I can figure out ... Multiple internal brass barrels, with the outer-most being locked in position and having a spiral slot. The next inner barrel (which holds the pencil tip) slides freely from the barrels but has a pin that fits in the slot, and somehow, as the barrels are pulled apart it slides forward along the spiral groove until fully extended. I have one that the solder connected the barrels has come loose; I'll try and find it and take some pics to send you.