Writing it Down in Style!

Pen knibs were known by all kinds of names, these three containers clearly being intended for the legal market!

Pen knibs were known by all kinds of names, these three containers clearly being intended for the legal market!

Although fountain pens have been manufactured since about 1880 and ball-point pens since just after the Second World War, it’s only since about the mid-1950s that the latter have enjoyed almost universal use.

For much of the 19th Century the quill pen reigned supreme, but by the 1880s the steel pen, or nib, had become popular. Law writers still used the quill for documents, but by the 1920s it had virtually disappeared from use.

The first steel pens appeared in about 1830 and gradually, over the next 30 years or so, various manufacturers (most of whom were to be found in Birmingham) introduced numerous types of pen, vying with each another in their attempts to capture the market by improving and expanding their range of designs.

Such a proliferation of pens was available that at times the buyer was bewildered about which choice to make. To assist, pens were advertised for use for particular purposes.

For example, one manufacturer advertised “No. 130 Garrick Pen: a first class pen for book-keepers and general use.”

Another announced “The Civil Service Series have been issued at the special request of gentlemen in the legal profession as also in the Inland Revenue Office, and are high- 1 ly recommended as being j suitable for engrossing, and for styles of writing used in the above mentioned services.”

Yet another claimed to be “…the pen that glides”, and the manufacturers of the Waverley pen even claimed “..3007 newspapers recommend them”!

Remember how most of the ink we once used at school was knoum as blue-black? This splendid container of Stephens’ Blue Black uniting fluid serves as a timely reminder.

Remember how most of the ink we once used at school was knoum as blue-black? This splendid container of Stephens’ Blue Black uniting fluid serves as a timely reminder.

This last pen, with two others by the same manufacturer, became quite famous through being advertised at
railway stations, with the rhyme “They come as a Boon and a Blessing to men, the Pickwick, The Owl and the Waverley Pen.” Among the pens produced were those inscribed ‘School Pen’, ‘Post Office Pen’ ,
‘J’ Pen and ‘Relief. There were even pens with the names ‘Solicitors’ Pen’, ‘Barristers’ Pen’, ‘Lady’s Pen’ and ‘Red Ink Pen’. This didn’t not necessarily mean, it seems, that solicitors, barristers or ladies used them, or that they were used with red ink! Many banks and railway companies even had pens with their own names on for use by their staff.

I work in a solicitors’ office, and some time ago I was in touch with other members of the legal profession regarding the use of steel pens. Various snippets of information emerged, the most interesting being:-“I well remember the time of the pen and ink – filling up inkwells from the large stone bottles of Stephens’ Ink -inkwell with flaps on, glass and pewter style. ‘J’ and Waverley nibs were great favourites at the office and I used to go across the road and get them in small boxes at the stationer’s shop.”

“I had to change the blotting paper on the desks of each of the four partners. Every Monday, before the staff arrived at 9 am, I also had to wash and fill all the inkwells, change the blotting paper and pen nibs which were on the desks of all 60 employees.”

“My first ‘seat’ in the office (1926) was to share a desk with a qualified ‘writer’ aged 70. My art training and careful observations of the writer’s techniques soon enabled me to acquire skills in engrossing. Ink for general office purposes was supplied in stone bottles. However, for engrossing, the lasting quality of ‘home made’ black ink was preferred. The basis of this was the Japan stick with additives including oak gall. The steel pens in use were those manufactured by J. Gillott, although for engrossing and especially for the texting and the flourishing of headings, these were substituted with a quill. The latter was prepared with a pen knife from a goose or swan primary feather.”

“I joined here in April 1933, and the nibs I used then, mainly for writing in ledgers, I recall were named ‘Swan’. The three engrossing clerks here in 1933 were solely employed in engrossing deeds and even faircopying completion statements and ground rent statements. I do not recall the type of nib they used -1 know that each of them had a row of different sorts and sizes on the top of their high sloping desks and they always sat on a high stool when working at their desks.”

By the 1950s demand for steel pens began to fade away because of the introduction of cheaper fountain pens and the new ball point pens.

I myself started work in 1959, and our cashier at that time still used a steel pen and ink when entering up the ledgers. I still remember hearing the scratching of pen on paper when I took her morning tea!

John Hill