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