Thursday, April 10, 2014

More unusual Edward Todd pens

The pen above lacks its cap and nib. It's been sitting forgotten in my parts box for years, noticed only when I had to rummage around to see if I could find some Edward Todd parts for yet another project pen. Fully marked, "The Todd Pen", it is -- most unusually -- a middle-joint eyedropper.

Nearly all middle-joint pens are A. A. Waterman or Sterling products. Likely this pen was made under license, as it appears to predate the expiry of the 1899 middle-joint patent.

The other unusual Edward Todd is also missing a few parts -- the feed and the cap -- but what a nib! It's a fully marked "J" nib, with the "J" stamped in relief just as done with steel "J" dip pen nibs. Very hard to find in gold fountain pen form, and for some reason more often seen on German pens such as early Montblancs.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

State of the Blog

Over 170 published posts now, with several more articles in progress. Over 3000 page views in March. We have some shows coming up soon, along with other springtime activities, so posting may slow down a bit. On the other hand, you never know what interesting items may turn up for a quick profile.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Edward Todd enameled pen


Edward Todd was a venerable company that started out in the dip pen era, and though its fountain pens were not technically innovative, they often took a very distinctive path when it came to design. If you run across an American-made boxed and matching set of a metal pen, pencil, and pocket knife, odds are it's Edward Todd. Ditto for elegant solid gold pens with inlaid enamel decoration -- true vitreous enamel, and not so-called "cold" enamel, as used by Wahl-Eversharp and a few others.

And don't forget pens with fully enameled overlays, such as this recent acquisition. Not at all common, with most examples badly chipped. For some reason enameled overlays were much more popular in Germany and Britain -- though the European preference was for transparent colored enamel over guilloché.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

George W. Heath & Co.

Heath is a name well known to pen collectors -- though less for their own pens and pencils than for the overlays they supplied to some of the most prominent American penmakers at the beginning of the 20th century. Heath overlays are found on the pens of Waterman, Parker, Conklin, Moore, A. A. Waterman, Carey, and others, yet little is currently known about how the companies worked together, or for how long. Some Heath articles can be identified by a maker's mark, the most common of which is an "H" in a square, the square with two short lines extending right and left -- but this mark is only seen on silver, never on gold or gold filled items, even those in all other ways identical to their silver equivalents.

A much less common variant is an "H" in a spiky diamond, as shown below, also found only on silver.

The mark below is not restricted to silver objects, but I have never seen it applied to a fountain pen overlay. It seems most common on gold filled pencils.

This post will concentrate on Heath's earlier history. A good starting point is a rather boosterish volume published in 1912, Newark, the City of Industry. On page 116 we find the picture above, and the following entry:
IN the year 1892, George W. and Alfred C. Heath began business as partners in New York as "chasers and designers to the trade." The original location was at 137 Elm street, New York, but owing to increasing business more commodious quarters were obtained at 27 Thames street, and later at 380, 382 and 384 Canal street.

In May, 1912, desiring to avail themselves of the splendid manufacturing facilities afforded by Newark, and being disposed to do their share in making Newark famous, and proving that "Newark Knows How," the firm of George W. Heath & Co. moved the office and factory to the modern fireproof structure which they had erected at 206, 208, 210 First street.

The company is engaged in the manufacture of fountain pens, and in these days of universal education when everybody can write, there is an ever increasing demand for its product.

The pens made by this concern are known as Heath's Tribune Fountain Pens, the component parts of which are made of the best material obtainable, and are carefully assembled and adjusted by skilled men under the direct supervision of the members of the firm.

Besides fountain pens the company also manufactures gold pens, gold and silver pencils and art metal goods which are sold all over the world, through agencies established by correspondents and frequent visits of traveling salesmen among the dealers in various foreign countries.

All products that are made by this company bear the imprint "Made in Newark," and the goods are worthy of the city in which they were made.
This outline history is consistent with the other records I have consulted. In the Twelfth Annual Report of the Factory Inspector of the State of New York, submitted Jan 24, 1898, p. 260, "Heath Bros." is listed as engaged in "Silver chasing", with 5 employees. The following year's report (p. 272) is the same, but with 4 employees. The report for the year following, 1899 (p. 313) is shown below (the space between the Heaths' listing and the header has been trimmed for ready reference).

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Lewis Edson Waterman's unhappy medium

Biographers of old praised the famous; the inclination of our time is to cut them down to size. When I started looking into Lewis Edson Waterman's family life -- in particular, his split from his wife and his relationships with his children -- the fact that all details had been so thoroughly expunged from his official biographies primed me to assume the worst. As more information came in, however, I began to question my initial assumptions. The story still has many gaps, but Waterman now comes across as more victim than villain.

Waterman married Sarah Ann Roberts on June 29, 1858 in Pittsfield, Illinois. He was 20, she was 21. We know nothing about how they met, and next to nothing about her family background. By the time Waterman moved to Boston in 1864 to work for the Aetna Life Insurance Company, there were two daughters: Lou Ella, 4; and Fay Elma, 2. The following year Sarah Ann Waterman gave birth to twins, of whom only one, Rose Anne, survived. And with that, our story truly begins.

As noted in my addendum to Lewis Edson Waterman's long strange trip:
Waterman and his first wife were converted to Spiritualism in the late 1860s. The story is recounted in great detail in Benjamin Coleman, “The Twin Sisters: An Instructive Narrative”, The Spiritual Magazine, vol. 4, Sep 1869, pp. 401-404. Their daughter Rose, born in 1865, had a imaginary playmate who turned out to be her twin sister -- Sarah, called Lily -- who had died at birth. Waterman's wife Sarah Ann turned out to have psychic powers and was recognized by Spiritualist authorities as a medium. . . .
Since that was posted, further digging has dated the Watermans' commission of the "spirit portrait" of Lily to January 1869, and the matching photo of Rose to March 1869. Not only were copies of the images sold, but Sarah Ann Waterman was advertising her services as a "Psychometer, Clairvoyant and Medium" in the Boston-based weekly, The Banner of Light ("the newspaper of record for East Coast US Spiritualism"), from February 6, 1869 (p. 7, col. 1) on. In the June 12, 1869 issue (p. 8, col. 1) there was an enthusiastic article about the Watermans and their management of customers' communications with the departed: "Mr. Waterman, a thorough business man, has reduced the executive part of this correspondence between residents of the two worlds to a perfect system. Each letter sent or received, is numbered, copied and filed away alphabetically." Two more children had arrived by this time: Lewis Edson Junior, 2; and Sarah Amanda, 1.
Sarah Amanda died the following summer. "Effusion of Brain" was the cause listed on the death certificate. The obituary above was published on August 6, 1870 in The Banner of Light (p. 4, col. 4). Waterman's biographers state that his health broke in 1870 under the stress of work, obliging him to give up his position as Aetna's main Boston agent for less demanding freelance work. I had previously speculated that this might be associated with the disappearance of the partnership of Waterman & Chester as Aetna's Boston agency in the fall of 1869, but whatever the pressures of work, the heaviest blows turn out to have landed a year later. Within a few months after Sarah Amanda's death, the Watermans had left Boston for New York: on November 19, 1870, under "Movements of Lecturers and Mediums" (p. 5, col. 1), The Banner of Light reported "Mrs. S. A. Waterman, the psychometrical reader, was in town [Boston] last week, and was warmly welcomed by her numerous friends. Possibly she may locate in Boston again."

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Lewis Edson Waterman chronology: Wirt vs Lapham & Bogart, 1887-88

Trial testimony can be an outstanding source of information for the historian. In 1887 Paul Wirt sued Daniel W. Lapham and Francis H. Bogart for patent infringement. The trial records were published in pamphlet form the following year. The contents are a gold mine for researchers, but here I will discuss only the testimony of Lewis Edson Waterman.

Waterman was first called to the stand on October 27, 1887. He stated that he was 49 years old, living in Brooklyn, with his business address at 155 Broadway, and that he had been engaged in the fountain pen business for four years. Asked about his experience in that business, he responded: "I have used fountain pens for twenty-five years; and as an agent I have sold the pens for no less than ten years; for over a year before I commenced to manufacture my own I made fountain pens my special business -- using, investigating the merits and mechanical construction of all the pens I could get hold of."

Waterman was called again on April 25, 1888, and questioned at much greater length. He was asked about earlier fountain pens, most notably the Penograph and the Purdy, and was aggressively grilled about their construction and function. As the following excerpt shows, Waterman more than held his own as the exchanges became increasingly testy:
Q. "Will you swear positively that it is not the fact -- that is, that it is not due to the porosity of the substance?"
A. [Waterman] "I swear that I think it is not and I believe it is not."
Q. "Will you swear that it is not?"
A. "I believe that you are honest but I won't swear to it, and, in the same sense, I will not swear to this."
He was then asked in some detail about his personal history:
[Waterman] "I have been in the pen business five years as a manufacturer."
Q. "And before that what were you doing?"
A. "Do you want my history?"
Q. "Yes, we will go through your history."
A. "I was not making or selling fountain pens."
Q. "What were you doing prior to the time you first entered the fountain pen business?"
A. "I was working for The National Car Builder."
Q. "How long were you engaged in that business?"
A. "I was with the Car Builder and another railroad paper four or five years."
Q. "That is immediately prior to your engaging in the pen business; is that it?"
A. "Yes."
Q. "And before going into the Car Builder business what were you doing?"
A. "I was with the Railroad Gazette."
Q. "How long were you with the Railroad Gazette?"
A. "With them and the Car Builder, as before stated, about four or five years."
Q. "And before you went into the Railroad Gazette and Car Builder business, what were you doing?"
A. "Life insurance business."
Q. "How long were you in that business -- the life insurance business?"
A. "About fifteen years."
Q. "And before you entered the life insurance business, what was your occupation?"
A. "A book agent."
Q. "How long were you in that business?"
A. "I couldn't give exact answers as to time without consulting my -- I don't know as I have got anything that would give the dates."
Q. "About; I don't care as to the date?"
A. "Ten years, more or less."
Q. "And before your being a book agent what were you doing?"
A. "Well, I taught school after I left the farm in my boyhood."
Q. "How long did you teach school?"
A. "I don't recall."
Q. "About how long?"
A. "Well, I taught a term or two when I was about fifteen years old."
Q. "How long did you teach?"
A. "Well, a term or two."
Waterman's responses appear to have been accurate but terse, with nothing volunteered or expanded upon unsolicited. There is no mention of his activity as a Health Lift promoter, nor as a teacher of shorthand. Nonetheless, his answers about his work for the railroad press neatly plug the gap in our published chronology between his listing as an agent for Aetna in Maine in 1877 and his his tenure as corresponding editor of National Car Builder (January 1881 to August 1882, per Rimakis and Kirchheimer), clarifying the nature of his declared occupation of "Publisher" in the 1880 Federal census.

What are we to make of Waterman's earlier testimony that he had used fountain pens for 25 years (since 1862!), and had, as an agent, sold them for "no less than ten years" (since 1877), and had "for over a year before [he] commenced to manufacture [his] own . . . made fountain pens [his] special business"? The questioning at that point was not at all hostile, and there is no evident tension in the exchanges. Waterman was probably speaking rather freely and expansively -- not to mention selectively, considering what we now know about the Frank Holland saga. Likely as not, he had indeed played around with fountain pens in years past, and had sold (or solicited orders for) them now and then during his travels. But when asked directly how long he had been "in the fountain pen business", his answers were consistent: since 1883.

With heartfelt thanks to Jonathan Steinberg, veteran stylophile, who gave me access to his copy of the Wirt trial records -- a document of singular interest and importance.

The American Bookseller: online copies

Next in our series of listings of digitized online copies of stationery trade journals is the following, for The American Bookseller. A few issues are also available through the Internet Archive.

Jan-Jun 1876, vol. 1: Google, Hathitrust
Jul-Dec 1876, vol. 2: Google, Hathitrust
Jan-Jun 1877, vol. 3: Google, Hathitrust
Jul-Dec 1877, vol. 4: Google, Hathitrust
Jul-Dec 1878, vol. 6: Google (NYPL); Hathitrust (Chicago), (NYPL)
Jan-Jun 1879, vol. 7: Google, Hathitrust

Jan-Jul 1880, vol. 9: Google, Hathitrust
1880, vols. 9-10: Google, Hathitrust
Jul-Dec 1880, vol. 10: Google, Hathitrust
1881, vols. 11-12: Google, Hathitrust
1882, vol. 13: Google, Hathitrust
1883, vol. 14: Google, Hathitrust
Jan-Jun 1884, vol. 15: Google (NYPL), Google (Cornell), Hathitrust
1884, vols. 15-16: Hathitrust
Jul-Dec 1885, vol. 18: Google, Hathitrust
1886, vols. 19-20: Google, Hathitrust
Jan-Jul 1887, vol. 21: Google, Hathitrust
Jul-Dec 1887, vol. 22: Google
Jul-Dec 1887, Jan-Jul 1888, vols. 22-23: Google, Hathitrust
Jan-Jul 1888, vol. 23: Google, Google (Chicago), Hathitrust
1888, vols. 23-24: Hathitrust
Jan-Jul 1889, vol. 25: Google (Chicago), (NYPL)

Jul-Dec 1889, vol. 26 (title page misnumbered): Google, Hathitrust
1889, vols. 25-26: Hathitrust
Jan-Jul 1890, vol. 27: Google
1890, vols. 27-28: Hathitrust
Jul-Dec 1891, vol. 30: Google (NYPL), Hathitrust

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

An unusual nib: Foster's patent of 1889

This nib appears to be a typical Aikin Lambert product, but when turned over a surprise awaits.

Instead of the usual roughening at the front, it has been impressed with a waffle-like pattern -- and a patent date of September 3, 1889, which allows us to identify it with US patent 410272, issued to John T. Foster of Arlington, New Jersey. The most relevant passages in the patent description follow:
The sixth step of my process consists in striking the nib portion of the blank by a punch, a single blow being ordinarily sufficient, the punch being formed with a roughened or engraved face to impart a rough or indented or matted surface to the pen . . .

The surface of the nib is roughened, not merely by superficial scratches, as in the stoning process, which in course of time are worn off by rubbing of the pen against a sponge or pen-wiper to clean it, but by indentations deeply and forcibly pressed into the metal, whereby a better capillary surface is afforded for holding the ink.

Foster's other patents have nothing to do with writing instruments, and it appears his interest in nib manufacture came out of an involvement with general metalworking. I have not seen any other nibs made to Foster's design, so it would seem that despite the patent's claim, this stippling offered no measurable benefits -- and one wonders if it might even have interfered with capillary action along the slit.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Waterman's model renumbering: pinning down the date

In 1917, Waterman made a number of changes in its model numbering system. Several different models had previously shared the same number, differentiated by letter suffixes. Afterwards, the tens place was used to denote model type, with suffixes used much less extensively.

A year or two back I tried to narrow down exactly when this change took place. I looked at all the ads I could find, and concluded that it must have been between late February and late August. Now that we've found more online sources for the stationery trade, I revisited the question. The range can now be trimmed to between late April and late August, though with some caveats.

A prime source was The American Stationer. The Waterman ads that appear on the covers of the February 24, March 10, and April 21 editions all present a range of pens under the older numbering system. The cover ad on August 27 uses the new system. The ads in between don't provide model numbers at all -- which may not be accidental. The same pattern holds for other trade journals in which Waterman advertised regularly. The first ads I could find that used the new system appeared in Geyer's Stationer on August 16, 1917, p. 3, and in the Jewelers' Circular on August 22, 1917, p. 108.

Unexpectedly, however, there is another ad in Geyer's on September 6, p. 69, where the old numbering system pops up one more time. This, and the four months of ads without model numbers, got me thinking. If one were to make a numbering change of this sort, how would it be done? Advertising the new numbers right away would cause confusion, since there would be many pens with the old numbers still in the system. Continuing to advertise the old numbers after production of the new numbers had started would pose similar problems. Extrapolating from this, I suspect that Waterman deliberately planned on three or four months' transition, figuring that this would be enough time for dealers to turn over most of their stock, but without worrying too much if some older stock remained. Notices about the change were surely sent out to dealers, with equivalents of old and new clearly laid out, though I do not recall ever seeing an example (this must also have been discussed in the Pen Prophet, if anyone has copies from 1917). If this is correct, the actual date when the Waterman factory began imprinting pens with the new numbers was probably late April or early May of 1917.


Yes, that's a 62 on the end of that barrel. One of my last purchases at the Los Angeles pen show this past weekend: a crisp and glossy, price-banded and new-in-the-box Waterman 62. What's a 62? It's the post-1917 number for what was the 12SF lever-filler. That is to say, a slip-cap lever filler. This one has its cap, but I've left it off to show off the barrel in all its oddness.

Waterman slip-cap lever-fillers are rarely seen, with those numbered 6X so elusive that I could not remember having seen one before this. How could I turn it down? The price band, interestingly enough, is for a 12. You'd think that if they would make the pen, they would also print up the correct price bands. But dealers were also issued gummed bands, so it may be that the pen was banded or re-banded by a retailer, perhaps after a nib change (the nib is unusual, a nice stub). The seller -- an old friend -- told me the pen came from a Chicago show auction. This must have been some time ago, however, surely at least 20 years back.