Tuesday, June 9, 2020

In the Footsteps of Giants

The distinctive shape of this pencil had me asking some questions from an online seller who had listed alongside a bunch of other stuff:

I could make out some lettering on the one side that looked promising – “Pat. Applied For” showed up clearly enough:

On the other side there appeared to be markings, and the seller was kind enough to indulge me with a few better pictures.  “All I can make out is 12k,” the seller said, although what looked like weird heiroglyphics were underneath and around that . . . .

Thanks, I said.  And I pulled the trigger.  These are kind of tough to identify because they never seemed to be stamped very well, and the letters run vertically, stamped horizontally around the top:

“Century” is the name on these, for the Century Pen Company of Whitewater, Wisconsin.  I’ve been able to scrounge up three examples of these in different patterns over the years, all in ringtop configuration:

A nice, clean example in a pattern I didn’t have was incentive enough to bite, but I also knew there was a rabbit hole to explore here.  The Century in this configuration is identical to another mysterious pencil:

That lower one is marked “EVRDA”:

Joe Nemecek has a full sized example of the Century along these lines, and it is likewise identical to full sized EVRDA pencils (Joe’s Century is the bottom one in this next shot – the story was posted here at https://leadheadpencils.blogspot.com/2017/08/the-observation-of-century.html):

The EVRDA has been widely accepted as being from the last incarnation of A.A. Waterman & Co., made to accompany pens marked “Chicago Safety” and produce by a “Chicago Safety Pen Company.”  More on that later.

I’ve noted similarities between the Century and these pencils with a murky A.A. Waterman connection here before, but what I’ve provided has been skimpy – largely because these are two early brands which have generated great interest among the illuminati in pendom.  If you are within earshot of a conversation involving A.A. Waterman at a pen show, you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting someone with a really big brain, and the late, legendary L. Michael Fultz heavily and voraciously researched Century and its connections to the Parker Pen Company at the turn of the last century.

In fact, when I finally decided to “put on my big boy pants,” as my friend John Hall would say, and put together some research on the subject, one of the first things I found was a newspaper advertisement Fultz ran in 1994, seeking more information about the company (along with any pens one might happen to have available):

I addressed the handwringing that invariably comes during any conversation about Fultz in a piece I ran in The Pennant when I was editor – it’s easy and a copout to throw up your hands and say “if only Fultz were here he would tell us,” I said.  My point was that all the research we do and all the knowledge we acquire is utterly useless unless it is shared; we will never know what Fultz didn’t write down, but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn what he knew – using better resources available today, I might add.   After all, running an advertisement in a local print newspaper would be the last thing I would try!

So, knowing well that I might hear a rousing chorus of “Fultz already said that” and that I might do no more than repeat what Fultz already knew, here’s the story of the Century Pen Company.  Well, for today we’ll talk about the first one.

I report the sunburst Century Pen trademark twice in American Writing Instrument Trademarks 1870-1953.  The earliest, which predates the Century story passed down by our hobby’s oral tradition, was registered by a George A. Ogle on May 2, 1882.

This filing had me scouring newspapers much earlier than I expected, and I did find announcements for “The Century Pen” in 1882 – but nowhere near the wilds of Whitewater, Wisconsin:

This advertisement was published on May 13, 1882, just a week after the trademark was filed, in the Rochester, New York Democrat and Chronicle, listing Scranton, Wetmore & Co. as the sole agents selling the pen.

At the time the trademark was registered, it was indexed under “Pen-holders and pens,” and “pens” meant dip pen nibs in the parlance of the day. 

Note, however, that the advertisement in the Democrat and Chronicle clearly refers to fountain pens.  Advertisements then spring up during 1882 in Springfield, Vermont:

And, randomly enough, in Norfolk, Virginia:

And before the end of 1882, The Century Pen disappears – only to reemerge ten years later.  So who was George Ogle, and did he have any connection to The Century Pen Company that made my pencil?

George A. Ogle – at least, the one in our story – was a stationer in Baltimore, Maryland.   He first appears in an announcement published in The Baltimore Sun on August 9, 1864, when Samuel E. Turner announced that he had been admitted as a partner to his business after “for a long time been a salesman in my establishment.”  The firm was renamed S.E. Turner & Co.:

On June 7, 1875 Samuel Turner died, and another announcement appeared on July 3 that the partnership was dissolved.  Ogle would continue the business in his own name:

There is no announcement connecting Ogle to the sale of the earlier incarnation of Century Pens, but I’m positive this was our man.  Here is a notice published on April 22, 1884:

Note that Ogle identifies himself as the “Sole Agent for Todd’s Government Inks,” and the advertisements which appeared in Vermont were for both Century pens as well as “Todd’s Gov’t. Ink.” 

The closure of Ogle’s venerable stationery store at 3 South Charles Street was announced on September 2, 1901, when Ogle retired.  The store had been in operation since 1835:

George Ogle became seriously ill enough to warrant press coverage in 1905, but he survived.  He passed away on August 16, 1907:

And then, the story picks up again, with the dawning of a new Century . . .

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