Wednesday, October 19, 2016

About Time

It took two years waiting for this one on eBay:

The seller had it listed for $1,000.00 or best offer . . . over and over and over again.  I’d send him an offer for what I thought it was really worth every so often – drastically less than $1,000.00 – and was greeted with a brusque pshaw.  Still, it remained in my watch list and scrolled past time and time again, until finally, a couple months ago, I sent him the same offer accompanied by the message “are you tired of looking at this one yet?”

He was.

The reason I was reluctant to come anywhere near his asking price was because it was shown in the auction pictures in pieces, and I didn’t know if I could fix it.  What had me patiently waiting all that time was what was imprinted on the inner barrel, visible when the top is pulled:

“Lownds Patent Philada.”   I’ve been on a quest to find examples of the earliest American pencil manufacturers, and this is the earliest one I’ve found.  The imprint refers to patent number 32 – yes, that’s a two-digit patent number – issued to Jacob J. Lownds of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on September 22, 1836:

The Lownds patent predates Thomas Addison’s by nearly two years (see; John Hague’s second patent was issued three years later, and I featured Joe Nemecek’s example of the 1839 Hague patent at

By the way, when it came to the Hague, I wasn’t very happy with the photographs Joe and I got at the Philadelphia show, so I’ve since reshot them:

The Lownds patent mechanism operates by pulling the top back, rotating the barrel about a quarter turn, then pushing the top back down to advance the mechanism.  Fortunately, I was able to restore this example to working condition:

Although the Lownds patent was issued in 1836, the earliest references I have yet found for the pencil being manufactured and sold were in 1840.  Lownds placed and advertisement in the March, 1840 issue of the Journal of the Franklin Institute, listing his address at 20 Franklin Place:

Note that Lownds carries “Jackson’s Superior Black Lead Points.”  Could this Jackson have been William Jackson, who was issued a pencil patent on July 27, 1829 – the second pencil patent issued in America?  Philadelphia was a big town, and Jackson is a common name, but there weren’t many people in the pencil business at the time!

A.E. Wright’s Commercial Directory for 1840 contains a listing for Lownds – with a picture!  Note that this advertisement is just beneath one for Dobosq & Carrow, jewelers.  The jewelry firm was at the corner of Chestnut and Third, while Lownds operated at 20 Franklin, “running from Chestnut to Market, between Third and Fourth Streets”:

On August 16, 1841, the Philadelphia Public Ledger reported that Lownds & Dubosq, a partnership of Jacob J. Lownds and William A. Dubosq, was dissolved, with Dubosq being authorized to wind up the partnership at 5 Bank Alley:

Jacob Lownds apparently moved next door, to 7 Bank Alley, where he entered into a partnership with one J.H. Huguenele.   That partnership was terminated on January 7, 1843, and Jacob continued the business of making “Gold and Silver Ever-Pointed Pencils” at 7 Bank Alley:

On August 24, 1847, notice was published that Lownds & Osterloh, a partnership consisting of Jacob Lownds and A.F. Osterloh (the A was for Albert, we know from other times his name was mentioned) was also dissolved:

Lownds later relocated to New York City, where he was residing when he received two other patents.  On October 3, 1854 – the same day John Mabie received his patent for the ubiquitous “Mabie’s Patent” pen and pencil combo --, Jacob Lownds received patent number 11,752 for his own version of a combo, based on the action from his 1836 patent:

And, on December 8, 1863, Lownds received patent number 40,846, for a magic dip pen with a reversible pencil stuck in the top:

Lownds’ influence on the writing instrument industry, though, came from that first patent he received in 1836.  It turns up again – long after it expired – to become one of the most common Victorian mechanisms.

1 comment:

Lee said...

I have a mid-19th century metal key ring that is inscribed "John Hague Sen.,(with small r) New York" I find no records of a John Hague 'senator' from New York around this time. Do you think there is any connection? I know this is a long shot.