Saturday, 28 June 2014

The Pencil Pen of Hinks and Wells

The old box duly opened and a steel pen sample retrieved from within and wedged into the rose opening of the pen holder, Palimpsest proclaimed herself ready to test Hinks and Wells Pencil Pen no. 3. 

Hinks and Wells were part of the thriving steel pen trade centred in Birmingham, the steel pen capital of the world in the 19th century. The company was formed in 1836 by George Wells who in 1852 took John Hinks as partner and the factory produced some 1.8 million gross of pens every year. They were mostly famous for their celebrated J pen, a blue or black nib with a J embossed on it. 

The Pencil Pen has no such claim to fame as its embossed colleague but a very good nib it is indeed. If it was named "Pencil" because of its smooth writing, it certainly lives up to its name. This is a brass nib with a short shank a round vent and an upturned tip.  There is very little flexibility. The nib takes to the ink immediately and writes comfortably holding a good amount of writing fluid. No scratching no skipping, the Pencil Pen is a smooth operator, all down to its short shank and curved tip that makes writing so pleasurable. 

It performed well with all the inks I tested it with: Rohrer & Klingner Scabiosa, Diamine Burnt Sepia, Waterman Havana Brown, J. Herbin Vert Empire. I could write an average of 71 characters after one single dip.

The nib is marked "Pencil Pen Hinks, Wells & Co England 2836"; a large number 3 is imprinted next to the breather hole. Palimpsest is intrigued with the upturned tip, such a great detail in an otherwise unremarkable looking nib. It measures 3.5 cm from tip to base and 7 mm in width. Available to buy at Inklinks on Etsy. Check out the video by the Pen Pro.

Sunday, 22 June 2014

The Stylographic Pen of Edith Wharton

Edith Wharton Source Masslive

He drew out a note-case and one of the new stylographic pens. "I've even got an envelope - you see how everything's predestined! There - steady the thing on your knee, and I'll get the pen going in a second. They have to be humoured; wait - " He banged the hand that held the pen against the back of the bench. "It's like jerking down the mercury in a thermometer: just a trick. Now try -"
She laughed, and bending over the sheet of paper which he had laid on his note-case, began to write. Archer walked away a few steps, staring with radiant unseeing eyes at the passersby, who, in their turn, paused to stare at the unwonted sight of a fashionably-dressed lady writing a note on her knee on a bench in the Common.

Edith Wharton, The Age of Innocence, first published 1920 

In Edith Wharton's literary masterpiece the pen used by the unconventional Countess Ellen Olenska is itself unconventional. Newland Archer, born and bred in the suffocating environment of New York's aristocracy, finds himself in love with the free-thinking Ellen and her unorthodox ideas. It is Newland himself that carries the novelty pen and travelling to Boston on false pretences sneaking away from his future wife meets Ellen in the park and encourages her to write a note refusing the advances of her estranged husband. Countess Olenska represents an escape from Newland's regulated and predictable world, she breathes a different air in a world alive with uncertainty and newness where pens have to be humoured to write and where fashionably dressed ladies write letters sitting on a park bench in Boston. 


If the Livermore stylographic pen was the first ever on the market, then Wharton's pen is an anachronism since the story takes place in the early 1870s and the pen was patented  in 1884.
Dunlap patent stylographic pen, patented in 1884;
an ad of the Stylographic Pen Co. Boston

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Pencil Archaeology

The General Pencil Company of today started off as American Pencil Company in 1889. It was founded by Edward Weissenborn who learned the art of pencil making in Germany  and set up his own pencil factory in New Jersey in 1860. It is an interesting story with ups and downs with the pencils surviving it all and being ushered into the 21st century. A small chapter in this big story is the pen holder that has been rescued from oblivion. It is a pen holder made from a pencil.

"American Pencil Co" inscribed in Mariage font

The wooden shaft is inscribed with the name of the American Pencil Company in golden lettering. The font is Mariage, a blackletter typeface designed by Morris Fuller Benton in 1901, chosen by the American Pencil Co. probably in a bid to "espouse tradition". A faint shape which looks like a crest is inscribed between "American" and "Pencil".  It is possible that there has been a series of different dip pen nib holders of this type as this one is called "Fairy No. 2" a title perplexingly followed by "Glass - Finish" 102. Glass finish? Is it perhaps "Class finish"? Nope. I think this is definitely a G. Where is Mr Weissenborn to explain all?

The mysterious "Glass - Finish" inside a rectangular frame.

"American Pencil Co London" inscribed on the metal tip.

The nib holder which is a pencil!

But what is perhaps not apparent at first sight is that this pen holder is actually made out of a pencil. Yes, it is a cylindrical shaft and at the top the graphite is clearly visible. As for the metal tip, this is inscribed "American Pencil Co London" which leads one to inquire when was the London branch of the American Pencil Co. opened in the British capital.

Ah the joys of pencil archaeology.