Dip Pen - History

History

The Jewellery Quarter and surrounding area of Birmingham, England was home to many of the first dip pen manufacturers.

The first steel pen is said to have been made in 1803 (but in Daniel Defoe's book "A Tour Through the Whole Island of Great Britain - 1724-26" Letter VII he wrote: 'the plaster of the ceilings and walls in some rooms is so fine, so firm, so entire, that they break it off in large flakes, and it will bear writing on it with a pencil or steel pen). In Newhall Street, John Mitchell pioneered mass production of steel pens in 1822; prior to that the quill pen had been the most common form of writing instrument. His brother William Mitchell later set up his own pen making business in St Paul's square. The Mitchell family is credited as being the first manufacturers to use machines to cut pen nibs, which greatly sped up the process.

Baker and Finnemore operated in James Street, near St Paul's Square. C Brandauer & Co Ltd., founded as Ash & Petit, traded at 70 Navigation Street. Joseph Gillott & Sons Ltd. made pen nibs in Bread Street, now Cornwall Street. Hinks Wells & Co. traded in Buckingham Street, Geo W Hughes traded in St Paul's Square, D. Leonardt & Co./Leonardt & Catwinkle traded in George Street and Charlotte Street, and M Myers & Son. were based at 8 Newhall Street. By 1830 John and William Mitchell, Joseph Gillott, and Josiah Mason were the major manufacturers in Birmingham.

In Germany the industrial production of dip pens started in 1842 at the factory of Heintze & Blanckertz in Berlin.

By the 1850s, Birmingham existed as a world centre for steel pen and steel nib manufacture. More than half the steel nib pens manufactured in the world were Birmingham-made. Thousands of skilled craftsmen and women were employed in the industry. Many new manufacturing techniques were perfected in Birmingham, enabling the city's factories to mass produce their pens cheaply and efficiently. These were sold worldwide to many who previously could not afford to write, and encouraged the development of education and literacy. By 1860 there were about 100 companies making steel nibs in Birmingham, but 12 large firms dominated the trade. In 1870 Mason, Sommerville, Wiley, and Perry, merged to form Perry & Co. Ltd. which later became one of the largest manufacturers in the world.

Richard Esterbrook manufactured quill pens in Cornwall. In the 19th century, he saw a gap in the American market for steel nib pens. Esterbrook approached five craftsmen who worked for John Mitchell in Navigation Street with a view to setting up business in Camden, New Jersey, USA. Esterbrook later went on to become one of the largest steel pen manufacturers in the world before eventually going out of business.

One improved version of the dip pen, known as the original "ball point", was the addition of a curved point (instead of a sharp point) which allows the user to have slightly more control on upward and sideways strokes. This feature, however, produces a thicker line rather than the razor-sharp line produced by a sharp point.

The oblique dip pen was designed for writing the pointed pen styles of the mid 19th to the early 20th century such as Spencerian Script, although oblique pen holders can be used for earlier styles of pointed penmanship such as the copperplate scripts of the 18th and 19th centuries. As the name suggests the nib holder holds the nib at an oblique angle of around 55° pointing to the right hand side of the penman. This feature helps greatly in achieving the steep angle of the writing but more importantly prevents the right hand nib tine from dragging on the paper as can be experienced when using a straight nib holder with a straight nib for this purpose.

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