Friday, November 25, 2016

Edward Deacon's Legacy Survives

A few weeks ago, I posted an article detailing the early history of William S. Hicks, one of America’s oldest and longest-lasting manufacturers of writing instruments.  The article was posted back on September 20 at

In that article, one of the names that emerged in connection with the young Hicks was Edward Deacon, a pencil case maker who first appears in the New York City Directories in 1837 as a silverworker, who beginning with the 1842 directory listed his occupation as “pencil cases.”    Hicks shared space with Deacon at 90 Thompson beginning in 1845, and Hicks was still at 90 Thompson in 1848, the year Hicks later claimed his firm was founded.

Edward Deacon may or may not have remained involved with Hicks at the time: while his business address had changed to a Spring Street location, another member of the Deacon family – Francis – appears at 90 Thompson.  Two years later, in 1850, Edward Deacon moves again, this time to 5 Liberty Place at the corner of Maiden Lane, and it was at that location where Hicks’ first formal partnership, Larcombe, Hicks & Mitchell, sets up shop alongside Deacon in 1852.  After that year, Deacon disappears.

Deacon appeared to enjoy considerable success during his fifteen-year career as silversmith and pencilmaker, as his elaborate advertisement in the 1850 directory suggests:

You would think that for as long as Deacon was in business, you might see a few examples of his work surviving.   I never had - I assumed that his were some of those in the vast sea of ubiquitous unmarked pencils.  Not even the late John Loring had an example among the ones he posted at his online site of Victorian pencils.

Fast forward to the Ohio Pen Show, which annually features two auctions: a Thursday night auction of lesser writing instruments and parts, and a Saturday night “main event” auction featuring higher quality pieces.   I’m usually slumming around the Thursday night one, and this year was no exception.  What was an exception this year is that there were no photographs of the auction items posted in advance, and when I slipped down to the auction preview room, I was surprised to see several lots of Victorian pencils being offered.  None of the pencils were identified by maker - all were identified in the catalog only as “Misc. Victorian” with the exception of a few Fairchilds.

I pulled out my loupe and examined each one carefully, since most of the time you can only see hallmarks or other identifying marks on these pencils under magnification.  The largest of the lots was the only one which contained a couple marked pencils: Lot 53 was described as “LOT OF TWELVE SLIDER PENCILS AND PEN PENCIL COMBOS IN ENGRAVED GOLD FILL AND STERLING. GOOD CONDITION-SOLD WITH ISSUES.”  In that lot were a pencil marked only “Addison’s” (I discussed this one with David Nishimura, who believes this one predates the issuance of Addison’s patent . . . kind of cool) and another marked “Rauch & Co.,” which was kind of interesting to me since the “& Co.” would have been John Mabie, founder of Mabie Todd.

'Kind of interesting' left me on the fence as to whether to attend at all.  Since the Ohio Show is so close to Newark, I come home on Thursday nights after early trading to pack up for the show proper, and I was more interested in getting things ready to bring over for the first day of the show than I was in hanging around until 11pm or so for things I wasn’t over the moon about.  Truth be told, the only reason I attended the auction was because the first lot was a bag of pencil leads and erasers, and I’ve been thinking about offering vintage leads and erasers through my pencil lead business, the Legendary Lead Company (insert shameless plug here).    I figured I’d bid on lot 1 when the auction started at 8, then scoot if I didn’t win.

Damned if I didn’t win lot 1.  Since I was already there and the beer was flowing in the back row, I hung around a bit to see what else might come up.  By the time the Victorians came along, I’d unintentionally bought a few other lots of stuff I didn’t need and was experiencing some regret at having bought things I didn’t really want.  That meant when lot 53 came up for bids, I was determined to win the only thing in which I had any real interest when I previewed the auction.  It cost me, but at $250 for the dozen I figured I could sell the unmarked ones for $25 apiece and keep the Addison and Rauch for free.

Well, maybe not.  Since I had previewed the auction very hastily, and the lighting in the room was pretty terrible, I went over each one in that lot more carefully and in better light to make sure I didn’t miss anything before I consigned the ten no-names to inventory.

I did miss something.  Here is one of the ones I thought was unmarked:

Sterling silver, with a nice finial:

And a tiny, barely perceptible imprint:

“E. Deacon.”

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