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How Old Is The First Metal Dip Pen?


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#1 JotterAddict62

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Posted 10 April 2017 - 18:56

Just a thought that came to me. I did pick up a metal dip pen last summer.

Anyone care to take a swing at this question.


Edited by JotterAddict62, 10 April 2017 - 19:04.


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#2 AAAndrew

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Posted 11 April 2017 - 02:06

About this topic much has been written but little actually known. There's evidence the Romans used metal stylus for writing quite a while ago, but it was not using ink, so I don't count that as a pen. It was marks in a beeswax-covered wooden board. There's mention of metal pens, gold, silver, and perhaps steel, going back quite a long time. But these were curiosities, luxuries, one-off pieces of fine metal work often made by a jeweler. There is pretty good evidence that people were making steel pens in the late 18th-century in England and France, but again, not on any scale. 

 

The earliest pen maker I can find evidence  for in the US is Peregrine Williamson in Baltimore. He was making pens by 1808. In 1809 he advertised in The Evening Post (of New York) and included a testamonial from President Thomas Jefferson. fpn_1490636388__1809_williamson_ad_with_

 

The very interesting thing about Williamson's pens is that he advertised them as three-slit pens, and flexible. The three slits are the main slit, and two side slits to increase flexibility. When Perry set his first patent in 1830, he claimed this three-slit design as one of his important improvements in pen manufacturing. 

 

Before Williamsson, in 1806 there's an ad in the same paper for a stationer advertising straight from London "a large supply of steel pens." This shows that people were making steel pens on a commercial scale by this point, but they were generally large, often made from a sheet of metal bent into a tube and filed into the shape of a pen, sometimes using the seam as the split in the pen, they were often scratchy and not very flexible. So, they weren't very popular. And they were expensive. In 1809 a single Williamson pen was advertised for "100 cents." A dollar could buy a lot at that point. 

 

In the US, British pens stopped being imported during the War of 1812 (no surprise) but you do see a few more US manufacturers coming into the trade. In the 1820's a removable steel nib was seen, and then copied by Braham in his "patent pens" which were just quills pre-cut and trimmed to a small size like a steel nib. These were fit into holders and you could buy a box of quill nibs and a holder instead of buying a bunch of quills.  

 

In 1820's or so you start to have the first industrialized, mass production of pens in Birmingham. It was a bit of a group effort with several people who all seemed to be married or related to each other or worked for one or the other or all of them. They each stole from each other and innovated and by the 1830's you had a very healthy and rapidly growing steel pen industry in Birmingham. 

 

In 1828, the US House of Representatives spent a whole $1.00 on steel pens. 

 

In 1830, Bulwar-Lytton included a scene where a highwayman pulls out a steel pen and ink bottle in order to have his victim write him a check. This is also the same book that begins "It was a dark and stormy night."

 

In 1831, a Perryian Pen (pen made by Perry, one of the top Birmingham makers) now only cost 12.5 cents. That price would continue to drop drastically so that just a few years later you could buy a gross for 18 cents. 

 

in 1833 Gillott (another major Birmingham maker) announced his first exclusive Agent for the US and Canada (Thomas Jessup of New York)

 

It goes on and on through several early American companies, Esterbrook bringing his Birmingham workers in 1860, and on and on with splits and mergers until the early 1950's when just about all of the American pen makers are gone. Hunt still survives, and in England consolidation has wiped out the diverse  industry while keeping the various big names. 

 

That probably doesn't really answer your question, but it does tell you about as much as we know, at least in outline form of the beginnings of metal dip pens. I've focused mostly on steel pens, though gold  and silver pens were more common in the early years and deserve a timeline of their own. 

 

 


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#3 JotterAddict62

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Posted 11 April 2017 - 04:49

Thanks for the information and the time you took with your reply.

 

The pen that I picked up in a pen lot back last Aug. has Mosley London on it .

 

The pen has two sliders on it, one to extend and retract the nib, the other has nothing coming out when extended. I'm wondering if it might be for a pencil lead?

 

 

025_zpsea9egfmb.jpg



#4 PaperDarts

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Posted 11 April 2017 - 15:30

That was so interesting, AAAndrew, thank you.

 

I loved the detail about Bulwer-Lytton's novel - just imagine a scenario in which a thief a) carried pen and ink and B) would take a cheque from the victim. 


"Life would split asunder without letters." Virginia Woolf

#5 AAAndrew

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Posted 11 April 2017 - 16:15

That was so interesting, AAAndrew, thank you.

 

I loved the detail about Bulwer-Lytton's novel - just imagine a scenario in which a thief a) carried pen and ink and B) would take a cheque from the victim. 

 

In the excerpt I've seen, it seems the highwayman, masquerading as a gentleman by day, accosts a traveler who pleads the great sentimental value of his gold watch. Being a highwayman with proper sentiment, he gives the victim the option of writing him a check (paid to bearer) for the value of the watch. The victim tries to take out pistols and shoot the robber who, "not even changing countenance, drew forth a small ink bottle, and placing a steel pen in it, handed it to the nobleman; saying with incomparable sang froid, 'Would you like my lord to try the other pistol? If so, oblige me by quick aim, as you must see the necessity of despatch[sic]. If not, there is the back of a letter, on which you can write the draft.'"

 

The wording indicates that this is one of the all-of-piece steel pens of the day. In other words, a most likely tubular steel pen fixed to a wooden handle, not one of the new-fangled replaceable nibs just coming out of Birmingham. Appropriate for a gentleman, to use a custom-made nib, not a mass-produced one made for clerks and merchants. (though they were the better made)


Edited by AAAndrew, 11 April 2017 - 16:16.

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#6 AAAndrew

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Posted 11 April 2017 - 16:18

Thanks for the information and the time you took with your reply.

 

The pen that I picked up in a pen lot back last Aug. has Mosley London on it .

 

The pen has two sliders on it, one to extend and retract the nib, the other has nothing coming out when extended. I'm wondering if it might be for a pencil lead?

 

 

025_zpsea9egfmb.jpg

 

That's almost certainly what that is. These are very popular in the mid-late 19th-century. It was useful for traveling and having a pen and pencil on you at all times. Much later, the combo pen-pencil gizmos that became popular in the 20's and 30's were capturing the same idea. 


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

 

"No one is exempt from talking nonsense; the mistake is to do it solemnly."

-Montaigne


#7 PaperDarts

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Posted 11 April 2017 - 20:11

 

In the excerpt I've seen, it seems the highwayman, masquerading as a gentleman by day, accosts a traveler who pleads the great sentimental value of his gold watch. Being a highwayman with proper sentiment, he gives the victim the option of writing him a check (paid to bearer) for the value of the watch. The victim tries to take out pistols and shoot the robber who, "not even changing countenance, drew forth a small ink bottle, and placing a steel pen in it, handed it to the nobleman; saying with incomparable sang froid, 'Would you like my lord to try the other pistol? If so, oblige me by quick aim, as you must see the necessity of despatch[sic]. If not, there is the back of a letter, on which you can write the draft.'"

 

The wording indicates that this is one of the all-of-piece steel pens of the day. In other words, a most likely tubular steel pen fixed to a wooden handle, not one of the new-fangled replaceable nibs just coming out of Birmingham. Appropriate for a gentleman, to use a custom-made nib, not a mass-produced one made for clerks and merchants. (though they were the better made)

 

 

I love it!  :lol:


"Life would split asunder without letters." Virginia Woolf

#8 sidthecat

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Posted 22 November 2017 - 05:07

Bulwer-Lytton was a figure of fun in his day for the wretchedness of his prose. There is (or once was) a bad writing contest named for him.

#9 AAAndrew

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Posted 22 November 2017 - 12:32

Oh, it still happens every year.

This year’s winner.

The elven city of Losstii faced towering sea cliffs and abutted rolling hills that in the summer were covered with blankets of flowers and in the winter were covered with blankets, because the elves wanted to keep the flowers warm and didn’t know much at all about gardening. —
Kat Russo, Loveland, Colorado

For the others, http://www.bulwer-ly...om/2017win.html
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