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One Of The Earliest Steel Pen Manufacturers In The Us? - C.1827


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#1 AAAndrew

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Posted 26 March 2017 - 03:36

I believe I may have found the name of one of the earliest manufacturers of steel pens in the US. 
 
There are still some things that aren't clear. I fully admit it is still rather preliminary and speculative, but I found it interesting enough I thought I might share in case others have more information.
 
My examination started with a bill head I ran across from 1829 from David Felt & Co. in Stationer's Hall in Boston. David Felt was a successful stationer in Boston from 1815 until he moved to New York sometime around 1825, according to a couple of sources. It seems that he must have kept his store in Boston for a little bit (the original bill head is from 1829 and has the State St. address in Boston), but eventually he moved all operations to New York on Pearl St. (Later there were moves to Brooklyn, opening a branch in New Orleans, and more in New Jersey, as mentioned below) 
 
fpn_1490493484__img_1235.jpg
 
In the heading of the paper it mentions that David Felt & Co. are "Quill and Pen Factors". It turns out that David Felt believed in making many of the objects sold in his stores, from the books to playing cards, to, it appears, pens and quills. Later, as the demand for his manufactured goods continued to grow, he would eventually found one of the first company towns out in the wilds of New Jersey which became known as Feltville
 
Remember, at this point, the Birmingham manufacturers had just discovered how to make steel pens with mass production methods, rather than as bespoke, or hand-made items. (some point to 1822 as the year Gillott invented the screw press machines that made this possible, but there were several more years before the industry really started to take off)
 
That left the question, were these manufactured "pens" steel, or gold? Gold pens, as well as the steel pens, had been made for a while, but were made more like jewelry of the period, one at a time with minimal, if any, machining.
 
So, I started looking through old newspapers and it seems David Felt liked to advertise. The Evening Post in New York was a favorite. There are ads announcing all kinds of things, including 50,000 and 100,000 and even, at one point, 300,000 quills for sale. He did import goods from Europe and Japan, but in the periodic lists of new items for sale fresh off one boat or another, he never mentions pens.
 
Then I found two identical ads, one in March 24 and one July 23 of 1827.
 
fpn_1490496577__david_felt_1827_advertis
 
That's pretty clear, silver, steel and portable pens. Now, what a portable pen was, I don't know for certain, but I suspect it was one of the holders where the back comes off and slips over the front to protect the nib in transit: a cap, as it were.
 
There's another bill head from the New York offices on Pearl St.(1836) that lists 1 doz pens being sold for $1. That tells me two things, one they weren't gold, gold pens, I believe, would have been slightly more expensive, and that they were still making these steel pens the same pre-industrial way that was in vogue until Gillott and Perry and Mason came up with their innovations in the 1820's and 30's. That's why these pens were so expensive. Fifty years later, you could get a gross of top-quality pens for 75-cents.
 
fpn_1490493467__img_1236.jpg
 
The earliest account I've found of the origins of the American pen trade, written in 1857, talks about 1840 as the beginnings of the first attempts to make steel pens in the US. If I can show that these steel pens being sold by David Felt were indeed made in the US, at his factory in Boston, NY, or eventually New Jersey, we've got the earliest record of steel pen manufacturing in the US. 
 
So, as I said above, this is still somewhat preliminary and speculative, but there seems to be enough intriguing evidence to justify looking further. If any of you have any information about this company, please let me know. I'll report back should I find any more information, especially anything that supports or shoots down this theory. 
 
thanks for reading this far in a rather esoteric subject. 
Andrew

Edited by AAAndrew, 26 March 2017 - 04:47.

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#2 _InkyFingers

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Posted 26 March 2017 - 04:09

Wow. Esoteric. Wow. Perhaps it's time to be the last to make steel pen. Who wants to be last?


Thanks AAAndrew. Enlightening!

#3 Bordeaux146

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Posted 26 March 2017 - 05:15

I really like reading stuff that is pre Spencer.

There seems to be more variety in capital letters like P, B, D 



#4 Tweel

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Posted 26 March 2017 - 16:40

Interesting reading.  Have you tried your Washington Medallion pen?


fpn_1375035941__postcard_swap.png * * * "Don't neglect to write me several times from different places when you may."
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#5 AAAndrew

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Posted 27 March 2017 - 16:13

Interesting reading.  Have you tried your Washington Medallion pen?

 

No, I never did try it. One of these days. 


Check out my Steel Pen Blog. https://thesteelpen.com/ . 

 

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#6 AAAndrew

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Posted 27 March 2017 - 17:18

So, I have a follow-up to the post above. After some more research (I did mention that this was preliminary and speculative), I made two important discoveries and created an additional question. 

 

Having plowed through a lot of 19th-century references I knew that "Factory" was just a shortened form of the original "Manufactory." I applied this same reasoning to the term "Factor" and assumed it was short for "Manufacturer".   It turns out, I was wrong. "Factor" is actually the opposite. It means an agent or seller of something. 

 

So, my original premise, and "discovery" turns out to be false. David Felt was most likely not a manufacturer of steel pens, but instead was a "Factor" or agent selling someone else's steel pens. 

 

This opens up the question of whose steel pens these were. Where these British, or was someone in the US making steel pens? Could this have been the near-apocryphal Williamson pen? (Peregrine Williamson is supposed to have begun making steel pens in New York around 1800)

 

As a reminder of the timelines: In the 1820's the first attempts at making steel pens with mass-production methods were begun in Birmingham. 

 

The first ad for Gillott's steel pens in The Times (of London) was in 1832. These were some of the very first mass-produced steel pens. 

 

fpn_1490634081__1832_earliest_ad_for_gil

 

So, in the early 1830's, and even into the 1840's, the steel pen industry was still being invented. Birmingham was the epicenter of the action.

 

Yet, not even two years after Gillott's first advertisement in The Times, I found this little gem in the Long Island Star newspaper dated October 23, 1834. 

 

fpn_1490633837__1834_atwood_patent_pen_i

 

So, while David Felt may not have been one of the first manufacturers of steel pens in the US, he was one of the earliest recorded agents selling the early steel pens. 

 

And now I have identified one of the earliest manufacturers, and previous to this, un-mentioned in any previous histories of the steel pen industry in the US. 

 

I'm not the best patent researcher out there, but I can't  find any actual patent. I suspect "patent" used in this case just means unique. 

 

Now for more searches on Atwood. 


Edited by AAAndrew, 27 March 2017 - 18:34.

Check out my Steel Pen Blog. https://thesteelpen.com/ . 

 

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#7 AAAndrew

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Posted 27 March 2017 - 17:43

Ok, too good to pass up. Finally found some Williamson ads. But this one takes the cake. Nothing like publishing the testimonial from President Thomas Jefferson. (Jefferson left office March 4, 1809, this ad was published March 18, 1809, in The Evening Post (NY). 

 

Notice the price: $1 each. These were not mass-produced. 

 

fpn_1490636388__1809_williamson_ad_with_


Edited by AAAndrew, 27 March 2017 - 18:35.

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#8 Bordeaux146

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Posted 27 March 2017 - 18:01

So Thomas Jefferson may have been the 1st president, or nearly so, to write with a steel pen?

Very interesting.



#9 AAAndrew

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Posted 27 March 2017 - 18:33

I would be fairly confident to assert that. Both Washington and Adams were less of the adventurous types to try some new-fangled inventions (outside of new forms of government, of course). I can easily believe that Thomas Jefferson, an inventor himself, would be willing to try something so outrageous as a steel pen. Adams was known for his penny-pinching ways, and these would have been outrageously expensive in the day. 

 

It is possible for Washington or Adams to have tried one, but they were expensive, and rare.

 

Williamson is, so far as I can tell, the earliest recorded steel pen maker in the US. There may have been a jeweler or silver smith who made a metallic pen for a client here and there, but these would have been one-offs. Steel pens were rare and expensive even in England at the time. It's actually quite surprising to find a manufacturer who makes steel pens as a product at this time on either side of the Atlantic. Only a couple of names, names out of the mists of time, vague recollections already in the 1830's, are put forward as making steel pens before the 1820's. 

 

The other interesting thing about the ad is the mention of side slits to increase flexibility. This idea of a three-slit pen comes up again when Perry filed his patent of 1830 introducing the hole at the top of the slit and two side slits. This was supposed to be one of his major contributions to the modern steel pen. But like Waterman, rarely do you have an innovation that comes out of thin air. 


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#10 escribo

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Posted 27 March 2017 - 18:52

Steel Pen is the Root of All Evil

 

Interesting

 

esc


I may not have been much help, but I DID bump your thread up to the top.


#11 rwilsonedn

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Posted 27 March 2017 - 19:06

This may also identify Jefferson as the first president to do a product endorsement.

ron



#12 AAAndrew

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Posted 27 March 2017 - 19:59



Steel Pen is the Root of All Evil

 

Interesting

 

esc

 

Counterpoint from 1833:

fpn_1490644666__1833_defense_of_steel_pe

 

 


 

 

This may also identify Jefferson as the first president to do a product endorsement.

 

It reads more like the president's secretary was thanking Williamson for the gift and saying a few nice things about it. Not a purposeful product endorsement. 


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#13 Ink Stained Wretch

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Posted 15 April 2017 - 09:35

I would be fairly confident to assert that. Both Washington and Adams were less of the adventurous types to try some new-fangled inventions (outside of new forms of government, of course). I can easily believe that Thomas Jefferson, an inventor himself, would be willing to try something so outrageous as a steel pen. Adams was known for his penny-pinching ways, and these would have been outrageously expensive in the day. 

 

It is possible for Washington or Adams to have tried one, but they were expensive, and rare.

 

George Washington died in 1799, so I think he had no chance to use a steel pen. John Adams died in 1926, so he had some chance to have used one, but he was quite old, for those days, at the dawn of the 19th Century; so he may not have been inclined to use something like a steel pen when he had obviously been vigorously using the quill for his entire life.


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#14 El Gordo

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Posted 15 April 2017 - 13:42

S


 

Now for more searches on Atwood. 

 

Did you look under Google Books for Charles Atwood and steel pen ?

 

BTW : https://patentlibrar...1836-x-patents/, meaning it could be lost forever (or not).


Edited by El Gordo, 15 April 2017 - 13:46.

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#15 AAAndrew

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Posted 13 November 2017 - 21:32

Wow. What a difference eight months can make. This thread is very, very dated and inaccurate. I've done a lot more research and have a much better discussion of the history of the steel pen in America on my blog, https://thesteelpen.com/. 

 

Here's where I lay out my divisions of the history of the steel pen

The early years

Much more on Peregrine Williamson

The laying of the foundations of an industry in the 1820's

The explosion of the 1830's

and much more to come. 


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#16 _InkyFingers

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Posted 15 November 2017 - 15:17

For sure these are just the beginning of times. It would help if we know a little about the quill also. Perhaps a detailed process of preparing the quill for writing. And why it was out lawed to pluck goose feathers....

Edited by _InkyFingers, 15 November 2017 - 15:17.


#17 AAAndrew

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Posted 16 November 2017 - 10:40

I've not heard before that it was outlawed to pluck goose feathers. I have read that, ideally, each goose would provide about five good feathers a side, twice a year, for quills. So, that's 20 quills per year per goose. And the numbers of quills imported to England just from Russia would number in the hundreds of millions each year. That gives you an idea of how many geese there were in Russia being raised just for quills. Most quills came from Holland, Russia, Germany and a handfull of other countries. 

 

The other main thing about quills is that people hated to have to mend them. Over and over you read how people were lousy at mending their quills. Having cut a couple myself, I think today we'd say that people were lousy at cutting quills well, and that they were used to a much higher standard of quality in their cut quills. I can make an ok pen out of a feather, but it's just ok, and it's not necessarily consistent. And that's another thing you read about the advantages of steel pens over quills, that they're consistent so your writing will look the same at the beginning of a long letter as it will at the end, with the implication that with a quill, it will most likely need mending, or you'll have to switch quills before the end of the letter and the mended or new quill will write differently and make your hand look different before you're finished. 

 

I'll write a post or two more about quills at some point. Meanwhile, you can check out https://thesteelpen....oosing-a-quill/ and then in my foundational history post https://thesteelpen.com/2017/10/24/pen-history-prehistory-and-the-craft-era/ I mention a " history of the quill" article from 1838 you can read. 


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#18 AAAndrew

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Posted 19 November 2017 - 01:48

to help you find the topics you're interested in, I've just added a table of contents to my blog organizing my posts by topic. I will, of course, be adding to this as I add posts. 

 

Andrew 


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