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Just How Many Steel Dip Pens Did Us Companies Make In The 1860's?


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#1 AAAndrew

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Posted 09 February 2018 - 15:07

I'm in the process of writing for my blog the history of the Washington Medallion Pen Company, one of the early, successful pen companies, and the only one of the early ones who lasted well into the golden age of steel pens (1860-1920).

 

They were founded in 1855 as The American Steel Pen Manufacturing Company, and then the founders incorporated the Washington Medallion Pen Company in 1857 after one of them, Albert Granger, a former dry-goods store owner, was granted a design patent for his Washington Medallion Pen. 

 

fpn_1518185766__washington_medallion_pen

 

They made the Washington Medallion pen for a few years before outsourcing the actual manufacturing of the pens to a couple of English toolmakers who had been working for them: George Harrison and George Bradford, in 1862. 

 

At the end of 1863, Harrison and Bradford realized that the design patent had run out, so Albert Granger, for whom they had been making pens under contract, and from whom they had purchased all of the tools, dies, etc., no longer owned a patent on the design. 

 

So, they decided to make the Washington Medallion Pens for themselves, and started marketing the same pens under the name "Harrison & Bradford Washington Medallion Pens." They made them in their factory in New York City, and sold them through Eberhard Faber's stationery store. They started marketing them early in 1864, and were quickly served with a cease and desist order from the courts as Albert Granger and the Washington Medallion Pen Company was suing them. The injunction was lifted in July of that year, and they continued to make pens until the suit was settled in early 1866. 

 

Harrison and Bradford were not only prevented from selling any more Washington Medallion Pens, they were ordered by the court to pay back to Washington Medallion any profits they had made from the sale. The court assigned an investigator to determine how many pens H&B had sold, and what profit they made. 

 

This document, recovered from the archives of the Clerk of Courts in New York City with the kind help of FPN'er Welch, is a unique look into exactly how many pens were made at the time. We get statements at various times of the numbers of pens made by Esterbrook or Hunt, but those are within the context of marketing and always should be taken with a grain of salt. In this case, we have a court-appointed investigator looking at actual records. And this was also at a critical time, right on the cusp of the major development of the steel pen industry in the US. 

 

Now, this was one manufacturer in New York City, selling pens through Eberhard Faber from about April 1864 to about April of 1866, minus a few months in 1864. So, call it just under two years of sales. The pen already had a solid reputation prior to 1864, and there was not a lot of competition from other US manufacturers. Esterbrook was brand new (1860) and nowhere near the powerhouse they were to become in the next decade. Most of the competition at that time was from the British. They were, by-far, the top sellers of steel pens in the US. In some of Washington Medallions' early ads from 1856-57, they claim that the US spent $500,000 annually on British pens. 

 

With all of that context, here's what the investigator found in 1866. 

 


  • In less than a two-year period, Harrison & Bradford sold about 185,000 gross of pens (at 144 per gross, that’s 26,640,000 pens in less than two years!)

  • They made a profit of about $0.10 (ten cents) per gross on a price of $1.50 per gross (margins were so low because they were competing with British manufacturers who had much lower manufacturing costs so could sell their pens cheaper). In another decade Esterbrook was selling their top-seller, the 048 Falcon, for $0.75 per gross)

  • the court found Harrison and Bradford liable for a payment of $18,000


 

This gives us an interesting look into the size of the pen market in the US at the dawn of the golden age of steel pens. 

 

To compare numbers with what was happening in Britain, in 1846-47, all of British pen manufacturers made approximately 300,000,000 pens. The growth of these companies increased rapidly. In 1849, Birmingham produced 65,000 gross weekly, which would make for 487,000,000 yearly. And it only increased in both numbers and the speed of growth into the 1850's and 1860's. It wasn't until an economic crash in 1871 that the growth in Britain slowed, in time for tariffs to be placed on British pens, and American manufacturers to ramp up to the size where their production costs lowered enough to compete.  

 

It wouldn't be until the 1880's and 1890's that Esterbrook would start to approach such numbers as we see in the large manufacturers in Britain of the 1860 and 70's. 

 

Epilogue

 

Washington Medallion may have won the lawsuit, and continued making their Washington Medallion Pen into the early 1880's, but it was very quickly overwhelmed by the new kid, Esterbrook. 

 

George Harrison and George Bradford managed to survive the lawsuit, and made their own pens under Harrison and Bradford until Harrison left in 1875 to co-found Turner & Harrison with another English pen maker brought over, John Turner, who was one of the initial British pen experts Richard Esterbrook imported to help start his company. George Bradford carried on for another few years before trying to make his own branded George Bradford pens for a year or so. He then sold the whole factory to Miller Brothers Cutlery Company and became Superintendent of their brand new pen division in 1882. 

 

 

 

 



“When the historians of education do equal and exact justice to all who have contributed toward educational progress, they will devote several pages to those revolutionists who invented steel pens and blackboards.” V.T. Thayer, 1928



Check out my Steel Pen Blog


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#2 Roger W.

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Posted 10 February 2018 - 22:13

Fascinating.  I always wonder how many pens a pen maker might make of their brand or a given model for us to find an example today.  I figure for 1900 the sum must be in the thousands.  Regular dropper filler pens must have been thrown away in vast numbers for newer pens turned out in the 1920's, etc.  Hard rubber also becomes brittle over time and breakage took a toll as well.  So, with limited interest in the first place today, I have found a little more than 100 Boston Fountain Pen Company Pens.  Sold to Wahl for a goodly sum in 1917 they must have made thousands probably well over 100,000 from 1904-1917.  Fascinating how few there are today.  They also say that you could write for their catalog but, I've never seen one of those.

 

Anyway, I enjoyed reading the results of your research.

 

Roger W.



#3 AAAndrew

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Posted 11 February 2018 - 01:32

it is amazing how few survived. And for something like a steel dip pen, made to be disposable, an amazing amount did not survive. I've yet to see even one of those 26 million Harrison and Bradford Washington Medallion pens. I've seen some of the Washington Medallion Pens made by WMPC, they have the patent date on them, but I've not see an existing nib. I do have one of the boxes, but it doesn't have a pen in it. 

 

And like you say, the hard rubber pens were more prone to breaking, cracking, leaking, which would cause it to be tossed. It's amazing any survive. 



“When the historians of education do equal and exact justice to all who have contributed toward educational progress, they will devote several pages to those revolutionists who invented steel pens and blackboards.” V.T. Thayer, 1928



Check out my Steel Pen Blog


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

-Montaigne


#4 PAKMAN

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Posted 11 February 2018 - 02:16

Incredible story! Thanks! Hard to wrap my head around that many nibs being produced and sold!


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#5 Corona688

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Posted 11 February 2018 - 21:51

There must be a layer of steel in landfills and yards. I wonder if you could date the year by the pen tips.

#6 _InkyFingers

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Posted 12 February 2018 - 00:49

steely pen, the might of them.

thanks for the read Andrew.

#7 AAAndrew

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Posted 16 February 2018 - 14:52

And I found this about the Birmingham manufacturers from 1867. It says they were using ten tons of steel a week to make 98,000 gross pens. Each and every week. 

 

In a year, they made enough pens for a pen for every living human on earth. And that was Birmingham alone. 

 

From Cornish's Stranger's Guide Through Birmingham. Under the heading "Miscellaneous Manufactures in Metals"

 

Steel Pens. – This trade has its origin here about 1829, the first pens being made by Mr. Joseph Gillott, [ed.: notice how even as early as 1860’s the history of the pen industry is focusing on only the big names, and forgetting the real pioneers] whose name has since become so closely identified with the trade. Mr. Gillott’s manufactory (Graham Street) is open to visitors on application. There are twelve steel pen makers in Birmingham. Messrs. Hinks and Wells, Buckingham Street; Mr. Mason, Lancaster Street; Mr. Mitchell, Newhall Street, and Cumberland Street; and Mr. Brandauer, New John Street West, being amongst the principal. The number of men employed in the trade is 360, and of women and girls 2,050, besides whom a large number of box-makers, &c., are constantly engaged. The quantity of steel used weekly for the production of pens is about ten tons, and the number of pens made weekly, 98,000 gross, i.e., that is 1,176,000 dozen, or 14,112,000 separate pens. Thus, in one year, pens enough are made in Birmingham almost to supply one pen to every existing member of the human race. The prices range from 12s to 1 1/2d. per gross. To quote a recent writer (from whom most of these facts are taken) when it is remembered that each gross requires 144 pieces of steel to go through at least twelve processes, the fact that 144 pens can be sold for 1 1/2 d. is a singular example of the results attainable by the division of labour and the perfection of mechanical skill.”

 

I have also added the second installment of my Washington Medallion Pen history to my blog. This covers their beginnings and a brief look at their nativist message to buy American. 


Edited by AAAndrew, 16 February 2018 - 14:55.


“When the historians of education do equal and exact justice to all who have contributed toward educational progress, they will devote several pages to those revolutionists who invented steel pens and blackboards.” V.T. Thayer, 1928



Check out my Steel Pen Blog


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

-Montaigne


#8 welch

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Posted 19 February 2018 - 17:27

Great stuff, Andrew! It was a treat to help...ten tons of steel per week just in Birmingham!


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#9 AAAndrew

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Posted 19 February 2018 - 17:45

Thanks again for all your help. Keep an eye out for my next post. It will include the results of what you helped find. 

 

And yeah, ten tons of steel makes an awful lot of teeny tiny pen nibs. And the British used top-quality Swedish steel as the base for their pen blanks. And the US makers relied on the British steel pen blanks pretty exclusively up until WWI. So, Sweden to Britain to the US. A lot of steel was being used just for pens. 



“When the historians of education do equal and exact justice to all who have contributed toward educational progress, they will devote several pages to those revolutionists who invented steel pens and blackboards.” V.T. Thayer, 1928



Check out my Steel Pen Blog


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

-Montaigne


#10 _InkyFingers

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Posted 20 February 2018 - 00:36

This Washington Medallion Pen Company ... Oh what a treat it would be to find a stash for sale.  You entices us to this history and yet don't offer us compensation....

Oh ... how foul thee art!

 

Great lesson on steel pen history.. :D








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