Friday, November 14, 2014

RIght Under My Nose

I’ve been on a Victorian kick lately. In the wake of writing American Writing Instrument Patents 1799-1910, I’ve been on the hunt for examples of the earliest American mechanical pencil designs. On my checklist was one Albert G. Bagley of New York, who acquired four of the earliest patents. From the earliest, he was awarded patent number 4,557 on June 6, 1846, for a penholder:

Number 4,840, awarded on November 6, 1846 for an "Everpointed pencil":

Number 4,991, awarded on February 27, 1847 for a method of forming metallic pen barrels:

and number 6,981, awarded on January 1, 1850 for a pen and pencil case:

The closest I thought I had come to finding an example of a Bagley-patent writing instrument was this one:

Other than that carnelian orb suspended at the aft end, this one appears to be a dead ringer for a Mabie, Todd & Co. victorian combo:

Yet the only markings I was able to find on this one were on the nib:

Unfortunately, though, nibs are easily replaced and I lacked any proof that the writing instrument itself was a Bagley . . . or so I thought.

One of the pioneers in researching early writing instruments was the late John Loring, who was posting pictures of his collection on the Internet long before I gave a second thought to any pencil that wasn’t made from a really pretty plastic. Although John passed away on October 7, 2009, his family has continued to maintain his website and pictures of the pencils in his collection online (worth a read at Loring had several Bagleys, all of which are shown on his "for sale" page – please don’t bug the family about trying to buy anything: (1) the collection is already sold and (2) it’s important that the family doesn’t grow weary of receiving inquiries and take these pages down.

Several of the examples in John Loring’s collection share the Mabie Tood-like fluted barrel of my example, and a couple even have carnelian orbs set on the tops. That might be encouraging, but it isn’t conclusive. However, the last photo in his Bagley section was a crude sketch he attributes to Susan Hale, made in the 1990s. The sketch shows another Mabie Toddish pencil that extends to reveal, on the barrel underneath, a patent date of January 1, 1850 – Albert’s last patent. When I went downstairs to give my example a tug, sure enough it does have an extension tube, and just as Susan Hale observed twenty years ago:

January 1, 1850. Guess I’ve had a Bagley in my collection after all!

Now for those other three patents . . .


Anonymous said...

It's interesting to see a patent dated January 1. I wonder if the Patent Office was open on New Year's Day in those days, or there is another reason that it could occur, such as a waiting period that expires, etc.

LLK from Ohio

Jon Veley said...

Hello LLK,

U.S. Patents are issued every Tuesday, whether or not it's a holiday.

Glad to see other Ohioans around here!