Saturday, 9 June 2012

A Squeezer from the Old Calligraphy Box



The old calligraphy box all dusty and rich with used up ink bottles and blackened nibs yields yet another treasure: Mudie’s Squeezer Pen. It is a pointed flexible italic nib with a half-moon vent hole. It is made of copper. It is marked Mudie’s Squeezer Pen 115 New Bond Street W1. In the 19th and early 20th century, many businesses ordering their own nibs from steel pen manufacturers required their names to be inscribed on the nib and it seemed that Mudie’s was not an exception. But who was Mudie?


English publisher and founder of Mudie’s lending Library comes to mind. Charles Edward Mudie established a stationery business in Bloomsbury, London, in 1840 and went on to open the famous and very successful lending and subscription library in New Oxford Street, near the British Museum. The Squeezer Pen is probably not connected to Charles Edward Mudie as it bears a different address from that of the Library. Is it possible that there was a branch of Mudie’s in New Bond Street?

A box of Mudie’s Squeezer Pen “Fits Every Hand” is part of the National Trust Collection. As with other steel pen manufacturers Conway Stewart produced custom-made nibs. Looking at the Book of Conway Stewart The Official Number Book, the list of custom made pens and pencils includes Mudie’s Scholar Pen 115 New Bond Street W1. Is it safe to assume that Conway Stewart was the creator of the Squeezer Pen? Interestingly that same pen is included in the Imperial War Museum Collection as part of a group of items associated with Winston Churchill. Was the Squeezer one of Winston Churchill's writing instruments of choice?


Mudie’s Squeezer Pen has been cleaned and polished and tested by Palimpsest on Sennelier calligraphy paper and Rhodia paper using J. Herbin’s Lie de Thé. It is a pleasant flexible italic nib, quite wet and comfortable to write with. Palimpsest likes the history and the mystery surrounding it. 

 Mudie's Squeezer Pen on Rhodia paper

Mudie's Squeezer Pen on Sennelier calligraphy paper

UPDATE Oct. 2017: Volunteering at the OXFAM bookshop I came upon this label stuck at the back of a book cover:

10 comments:

  1. Thanks for this post, Palimpsest. I'm not sure I ever completely bought the argument made by some that the malleability of gold alone explains its use for nibs, but I hadn't thought of copper and other potential substitute metals (besides steel). Is there any explanation for the Squeezer name? Jack/USA

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  2. I don't know why it's called Squeezer. Maybe it had to do with its flexibility?

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  3. Something like, "I've got a copper-nibbed pen. It's a real squeezer."? Yes, I guess I can see something like that usage, especially as commercial slang. Helps to reinforce my feeling that there were more reasons for gold as a nib material than just malleability. Jack/USA

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  4. How did malleable copper NOT become a popular nib material? I'll take a shot at a quick 'n' dirty theory. Steel nibs were introduced, oh, somewhere around the 1850s or thereabouts, right? A half-century later the fountain pen makes its appearance. What's the market for a pen with a self-contained inkwell that can be used anywhere? Schoolkids doing copybook work? Immigrants to the States scribbling letters to family back home? Maybe. But schoolkids and immigrant letter-writers work in fixed locations, right?

    But in 1900 I'd sell to men (and a few women) on the go: corporate secretaries, commercial travelers, tycoons, aristocrats, factory superintendents, and the like. So how do I persuade Mr. Big to reject the pen and inkwell offered by the helpful servant at his club? That's where gold nibs, and chased silver barrels, and all that in the early fountain pens come in. You--Mr. Big--are now able to write in ink anywhere yourself. For the sake of preserving established relations, you want to convey that prestige and not just utility are why you're waving away that helpful servant.

    What about gold's malleability, also possessed by copper? According to my kitchen-table theory, malleability (i. e., "flex") had nothing to do with the adoption of gold as a nib material. No one regarded flex has having merit until later in the commercial history of the fountain pen, and then by only a fairly small market segment. That segment was too small to then attract the attention of copper producers, who were busy drawing gigantic lengths of wire for electrification.

    Thanks to Palimpsest for allowing me this extended head-scratching. Anyone have any thoughts? Jack/USA

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  5. I think the virtue of gold was that it would resist attack by the inks, which were more corrosive back then. Steel pens were disposable items bought by the gross but a fountain pen was an expensive thing so you'd want it to last.

    The name Squeezer has puzzled me too; maybe the idea was that you could squeeze more writing onto a page, or more words out of a nibfull of ink?

    Also, what sort of writing was it intended for? They predate the italic revival of the 20th century, so I'd guess it was more for a decorative engrossing hand.

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  6. Thanks, Alan--I don't know enough about the inks of the period. I'm not a scholar of the subject, just a kitchen-table detective. I'm pretty sure any manufacturer who chooses gold as a production material needs a very good reason. I've never found anything definitive.

    I like your idea of gold's resistance to corrosion, although I don't recall seeing any print ads from about 1910 on touting that. The popular reference book I once consulted had fountain pen advertisements starting in the 1910s, but nothing before then, if my memory's okay.

    Alan and Palimpsest, I'll go with "all of the above" as an explanation for the Squeezer name. It seems a good term to distinguish it from more rigid steel nibs, as a way of characterizing its writing features, etc.

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  7. I used to know Martin Mudie at prep school in the sixites, and remember well going to his mother's shop , Mudie's in Bond Street or New Bond Street , I was too young to know the difference. It was full of wonderful stationery and 'objets' and I was given a pair of opera glasses as a souvenir.

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  8. I have an undated Compliment Card from Mudie and Sons Ltd, 115 New Bond Street, London W.1. which accompanied an ivory chess set sold in the 1950s. With reference to the Squeezer Pen comments, the Telegram address for Mudie and Sons was "Squeezers, Wesdo, London"! The Trade Entrance to Mudie's was in Horseshoe Yard, off Brook Street, W.1.

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  9. Thank you all for all the interesting discussion!

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  10. Thanks for this. I have three Mudies Squeezer Pens but they're marked 15 Coventry St. W. It came in a small bundle of pens I can date to the 1850's to 60's. I've found advertisements for C.E. Mudies at New Oxford St and King St in Cheapside, London in 1862, they also had a Mudies Manchester Library at 74 and 75 Cross-street and one on New-street in Birmingham. But I don't have the best sources of British pens. What I can tell you is the origin of the stub pens as seen by those still in the 19th-century. The first stubs were made around the 1850's as a response to requests from users who needed to write quickly and smoothly and didn't care so much about decorative writing. They were looking for the ease of writing once found in quills. As an article in 1891 describes it, the first steel pens were uniformly pointed and "failed to give that ease in writing which was the characteristic of the old quill..." It says that about a generation later manufacturers began to make stub pens. And if you look at the names associated with many of the stub pens you'll see they're marketed at those who write a lot, and quickly and whose works are then written "fair" by clerks: lawyer, barrister, judge's quill, congressional, etc...

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