Friday, 15 January 2010

The Fly Press. Slitting the Nib.

Coming back to Gillott & Sons Steel Pen Manufactory in Birmingham in the 1870s:

Messrs. Gillott's establishment and the process of pen making is described in grand style in The Trades and Manufactories of Great Britain in 1865: marking, piercing, embossing, raising, grinding, and finally slitting.

Cumberland Pencil Museum. Photo L. Apostolakou
 "We next pass to the slitting-room. Here the nib is made. The machines which perform this operation have to be carefully prepared. Two exceedingly delicate knives are fixed in the press, a pen is placed in the groove, and the handle of the press pulled, and lo! the slitting is effected with the utmost accuracy. This was to us one of the most interesting parts of the work. After the slit has been made you could write with the pen".

And lo! The nib-slitting machine which is called fly press is in front of me. At a corner of the Cumberland Pencil Museum exhibition room stands one of the pieces of industrial archaeology that being long out of use has become more of an installation art than a once marvel of technology. The label says the fly press was made around 1880. I present it here in two parts.


Fly Press Used for Slitting Pen Nibs. Cumberland Pencil Musuem, at Keswick, England.
Photo L. Apostolakou

When the nibs are ready they "are sent in to the world in boxes. These boxes are also made on the establishment, and the work is simple, easy, and pleasant. Every reader is familiar with the many elegant designs which render some of these boxes so attractive."

 Pencil Museum, Keswick. Photo L. Apostolakou

Of course one should not leave Messrs. Gillott & Sons Manufactory without a glance at the workforce. All rooms are airy and clean and the girls working there are neatly and cleanly dressed. None of the stench and dirt of the engineering sector here. The girls have even decorated the windows with small trees and flowering plants making the work rooms into fragrant, beautiful gardens. "The utmost order and decorum reign everywhere".



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