Saturday, September 24, 2016

Double Takes

I had an epiphany recently, as I tripped over a pile of pencils that I haven’t yet written about: there’s a significant number of pencils in my collection which are notable only for the name imprinted on the clip.  “No names,” pencils like these are often derisively called, but I think the title isn’t a particularly good one since the name is about all this genre has going for it.  “Also rans,” might be a bit better,

I’m not saying I don’t appreciate a good name – wordsmithing is a particular passion of mine, and whether it’s at a complicated mechanism or a fairly ordinary pencil with a name like “Sapphire,” I appreciate both.  Nevertheless, with such a the huge number of conventional nose-drive, middle joint pencils and Welsh-mechanism flattops cluttering things up around the museum, I thought it was time to invest in a few parts storage cabinets (the six-inch drawers in which are perfect for storing up to around 8 pencils each) and clear out some room on the display wall.

Before I did, though, I thought it would be fun for a few Saturdays to introduce a few names that you won’t find in The Catalogue, since I’ve stumbled upon them in the course of collecting since the book was published.   Today’s selections require double takes, since it was only my incessant need to read the name on the clip that revealed these aren’t what you think they are.  Take these three for example, all of which look like later Chicago-made Conklins:

The length of that black one had me looking a bit closer, and I learned this is no Conklin.  It’s a “Commodore”:

As for the other two, one showed up in an online auction, so the title of the listing gave it away as a “Guvnor”:

The other, though, was in a junk box at an antique show.  That wide band struck me as just different enough to have a closer look, and I was surprised to see it is a “Skylark”:

Here’s a pair of pencils in a very distinctive brown “lizard” plastic with green streaks – very indicative of a “Majestic” or “Ambassador.”

One of them is, shown for comparison to the other one, which is marked “St. Regis”:

Here’s another pair, the longer of which is a familiar later Diamond Point:

The other one, with its red marbled plastic, lured me in for a closer look, to learn it is instead marked “Commander”:

Friday, September 23, 2016

A Couple More Hickses

Here’s a couple more pencils to think about:

The gold filled example was in an online auction, in which the seller indicated that the pencil had what looked like an “H” on it - I thought perhaps he was describing a Heath hallmark, which would have been very unusual.  Heath didn’t typically mark the company’s gold filled stuff, and the pattern on this one is interesting, but not something you’d expect to find on a Heath:

On closer examination, though, the mark isn’t Heath’s.  Note the W above the crossbar and the S below it, which indicates the mark is for W.S. Hicks:

The other pencil, is in sterling, with a really cool, funky pattern of alternating convex and concave panels:

It came in a collection of things I purchased a year or so ago.  At first, I was disappointed to find no hallmark, although it still would have held a place in my “unmarked but worthy” department:

But look more closely, and you’ll see something as good as a hallmark.  Do you see what looks like a serial number scratched into the surface of the cartouche?

There’s only one maker I know of which did that.  Here’s a pencil Hicks made for the jewelry firm Black, Starr and Frost (see “Welcome to the Family” at

And another example, from “The Part I Don’t Love” (’t-love.html):

Hallmark or no, I’m comfortable attributing this one to Hicks.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Three Interesting Hicks Patents

As I sifted through the victorians I had awaiting photographing and a note or two here, three had interesting patent dates worth mentioning.  The first I’ve discussed here before (See

I’ve had this one photographed for awhile but haven’t had the chance to write about it.  The patent date is December 24, 1867:

The unique thing about these is the nose pulls out to reveal a reversible pencil section, which actually retracts into the body:

The patent refers to Ryne’s patent number 72,684, which was assigned to Hicks:

This next one was in a small collection I purchased:

Since this one was not the primary objective of my purchase, it wasn’t until later that I noticed it had something more than good looks going for it:

“Pat. May 14 72.”  This is a reference to design patent number 5,851, applied for and issued to William S. Hicks himself, for “the combination of metallic and pearl surfaces, by which a highly ornamental case is produced.”

This last one came from Jim Carpenito at the Raleigh show a few years ago:

It’s more than a little rough, but I thought it was interesting because of the hard rubber extension rod, as well as its sheer size.  Here it is next to a December 24, 1867 patent Hicks:

What clinched the sale for me was a very faint imprint still legible on the barrel:

“Hicks’ Pat. Feb. 19, 67.”  That refers to Richard H. Ryne’s patent for a version of the combination magic pencil/slider dip pen, assigned number 62,227:

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

And Finally . . . To Get to the Pencils

When I sat down to write a short history of William S. Hicks for yesterday’s post, my primary objective was to learn enough to help me figure out when these two were made, and what they mean.  In the end, it was a full week researching what was going on with young William in those early years, but now that I have, these make a little more sense:

That lower one copies the same case as those made by Albert Bagley and Mabie Todd in the early 1850s, but this one is marked W.S. Hicks:

If this one was made before Hicks became a partner in Larcombe, Hicks & Mitchell, that would date it to before 1852, when Hicks was likely in some sort of association with Edward Deacon until 1848, then possibly with Bard & Brother briefly before joining LH&M in 1852.  Hicks’ partnership with Larcombe ends at the end of 1857 (to become Hicks & Mitchell), then in April, 1859, Mitchell withdraws and Hicks is on his own at 20 Maiden Lane.  I suspect it was after 1859 that this pencil was made.

And what of the Mabie, Todd & Co. lookalikes?  I doubt that was any problem, given the close relationship between the two companies early on.  Bard & Brother was the building block eventually acquired by John Mabie and others to form several partnerships culminating in the familiar Mabie Todd name, and I’ve found other evidence of connections between the two companies, such as a December 24, 1867 patent date (assigned to Hicks) on a pencil also marked Mabie, Todd & Co. (See

As for the other pencil, it was a gift from Robert Foster (ebay seller capecodpga), thrown in along with something I bought from him (you’ll see that one a little later) with a note to the effect of “whaddaya make of this” – unfortunately, it isn’t working, so I can’t show it to you extended.  As for the mechanism, it’s a conventional magic pencil, so there’s nothing unusual there, either.  What’s interesting is the strange imprint on the nose:

The acorn, shown on the right, is a William S. Hicks trademark and one of the worst trademarks of all time: most often, it’s mistaken for the number 8 and it wasn’t until Andy Beliveau told me what it was and for whom it was that I caught on.  There’s one just like it on the example I have marked for the jewelry firm Black, Starr & Frost (see

Now Hicks wasn’t bashful about putting his name on things, so I’m wondering if the acorn trademark was used primarily on items manufactured by Hicks for sale by others.  The interesting thing, and the one that caused Robert (and me) to pause, was that very deliberate “X” on the other end of the sterling mark.  The most obvious possibility is A.T. “Cross,” which used that very play on words, but there’s a couple problems with that hypothesis.  First, whenever you see the “X marks the Cross” mark, it’s flanked by an A and a T (as shown here, from an article I wrote back in 2013 at

The other problem with this theory is that neither Hicks nor Cross was the sort to have someone else make a batch of pencils for them: both were proud manufacturers, not what I call “producers” selling other manufacturers’ wares.  I found no reference to Hicks in Barbara Lambert’s definitive history on Cross, Writing History: 150 Years of the A.T. Cross Company, nor any other connection between the two companies.

I do wonder though - if the acorn mark was used in connection with Hicks products sold to retailers for resale, maybe early on in the mark’s use the “X” designated resale, and later on using both an X and a nondescript acorn proved duplicative.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Early History of William S. Hicks

William S. Hicks, according to his obituary, was born in 1818 or thereabouts - it might have been 1817.  A century later, The Jewelers’ Circular ran a short summary of his company’s history in its February 5, 1919 issue:

Another sketch, published in Illustrated New York (1888), contains another short biography:

Several accounts trace Hicks’ involvement in the pen and pencil industry back to 1832 - the 1888 sketch indicates that he “learned the trade” while living on John Street in 1832; but the 1919 sketch provides a more specific detail:  “A record now in possession of the present members of the concern shows that on May 23, 1837, William S. Hicks became an apprentice in the employ of [Jesse S.] Brown.”  New York City directories of the time do not show a Jesse S. Brown listed in the jewelry trade, although there is a listing in Longworth’s American Almanac: New-York Register and City Directory for a Jesse Brown, shipmaster, at 55 Rutgers.

That’s Brown.  Jesse Browne – with an e on the end – is another story.  Jesse Browne, a jeweler at 4 Green Street, with a residential listing at 85 Liberty, first appears in the 1827 edition of Longworth’s American Almanac, New-York Register and City Directory:

The 1832 and 1833 Longworth’s directories continue to list Browne as a jeweler, although his address changes to 480 Broadway. However, for the 1834 edition, Browne’s business address changes to 68 Spring, and he is listed with a different profession:

“Browne Jesse, pencilcasemaker.”  The 1837, 1839 and 1840 Longworth’s directories continue to list Browne, in “pencilcases,” with his business still at 68 Spring but his residence changed to 430 Broome.  Neither Browne nor Hicks are listed in the 1841 directory.  While Browne disappears for good, the 1842 directories are the first in which there are listings for a William Hicks – two in Doggett’s, actually, and neither is accompanied by a middle initial:

William Hicks, the pencilcase maker at 81 Laurens, is clearly our William S. Hicks.  But what of William Hicks, the silversmith at 75 Sullivan?  At first, this might look like two different people with the same name – not terribly unlikely in a city like New York, but the 1842 Longworth’s directory lists William S. Hicks, the pencilcasemaker, at 75 Sullivan.  Doggett’s 1843 directory lists William S. Hicks, a pencil case maker, at 73 Sullivan.   In the 1845 directory, Hicks relocates to 90 Thompson, to share a storefront with another pencilmaker, whose name is long since forgotten to history: Edward Deacon:
Deacon first appears in the 1837 Doggett’s New York City Directory, listed as a silverworker at 705 Greenwich:

The 1839-40 directory reports that Edward Deacon, the silverworker, moved to 155 Spring.  For the 1842-1843 directory, Deacon’s occupation is listed as “pencilcases” for the first time, and while his residence hasn’t changed, his storefront is at rear 90 Thompson:

In 1846, Deacon is listed as having storefronts at both 90 Thompson and 151 Spring, while Hicks is listed only at 90 Thompson.  A man named Henry H. Mitchell is first listed in the New York directory that year, as a silversmith at 10 Clarkson.  In 1847-1848, Mitchell’s profession is changed to “pencil cases,” and he joined Hicks at 90 Thompson. Edward Deacon is listed only at 151 Spring, suggesting that whatever association he had with Hicks was finished – perhaps.  In the following year’s directory, for 1848-1849, while Edward Deacon remains solely at 151 Spring, a Francis Deacon joins Mitchell and Hicks at 90 Thompson.

The year 1848 is widely reported as the year William S. Hicks’ firm was founded, including this account, published in New York’s Leading Industries in 1884:

“Mr. Hicks started in business on his own account in William Street in 1848, and after removing into Beekman Street for a short time, he eventually in 1850 removed to his present address [20 Maiden Lane].

The New York Directories confirm this story – in part.  Although there was never a listing on William Street for William S. Hicks, there was someone else located at 101 William Street:

Bard and Brother was a company founded on its reputation for making gold pens – not pencil cases.  Did William Hicks start his own career making pencil cases anonymously for Bard & Brother, the partnership of Edmund and James Bard located on William Street?  I believe that is a strong possibility: Bard was later bought by Smith & Todd (that’s Edward Todd, later of Mabie, Todd & Co.) in May of 1851, and when other members of the Bard family attempted to revive the company in 1858, the attempt was short lived – and according to Mabie in America by David Moak, when Bard & Brother went defunct in 1860, among the firm’s largest creditors was William S. Hicks.

Hicks’ tenure at Bard & Brother, if it occurred, was shortlived: in the 1849-1850 directory, William S. Hicks and Henry Mitchell moved their business to 15 Beekman, confirming another detail in the 1884 account.  Hicks maintained his residence at 90 Thompson, while Mitchell moved to Brooklyn.

Meanwhile, two other pencil makers, George Wyckoff and Richard J. Larcombe, who did business together as Larcombe & Wyckoff, opened shop at 23 Day making pencil cases and were first listed in the 1848-1849 directory.  The partnership was shortlived; in the 1849-1850 directory, Wyckoff disappears, and Larcombe relocated to 30 Cortlandt.

Edward Deacon also relocated, to 5 Liberty Place, at the corner of Maiden Lane.  He took out a more elaborate advertisement in the 1850-1851 directory:

In 1851, Hicks and Mitchell relocate to 9 John Street, while Larcombe remained at 30 Cortlandt.  But the following year, in the Wilson’s 1852 business directory, there’s a listing for a new partnership, Larcombe, Hicks & Mitchell, under “Pencil Case Makers,” at 5 Liberty Place and 20 Maiden Lane, which is right across Liberty Place:

Where Edward Deacon is also listed under Pencil Case Makers, still at 5 Liberty Place:

It will prove to be the last mention of Deacon, other than a listing for an Edward Deacon (this may or may not be the same guy)  in the 1853-1854 directory as a “pianofortemaker” on Fifth Avenue.  Larcombe, Hicks and Mitchell continues until the partnership is dissolved on January 1, 1857, as reported in The New York Times:

The dissolution notice indicates that William S. Hicks and Henry Mitchell continued their partnership as Hicks & Mitchell, but two years later, on April 4, 1859, the two agreed to dissolve their partnership, ending at least twelve years in business together:

As stated in the second dissolution notice, William S. Hicks continued in business at the 20 Maiden Lane location.  After the Civil War, business really took off for Hicks: he set up an office in London in 1865, and another office in Paris in 1875.  By the 1880s, Hicks had become the most established writing instrument firm in New York.  Hicks outgrew the venerable location at 20 Maiden Lane, and according to the 1888 biographical sketch, in March, 1887 Hicks relocated to larger quarters at 231-235 Greenwich Street, at the corner of Barclay, where 90 to 100 skilled employees turned out the company’s products.

On April 4, 1890, William S. Hicks died of pneumonia, and The American Stationer reported his passing:

Before his death, Hicks had taken his two sons, Edward D. Hicks and William M. Hicks, into the business, and while the loss of the elder William was doubtless a blow, Edward and William M. continued their father’s business under the name “William S. Hicks Sons” without missing a beat.    The company even supplied nibs to The Parker Pen Company, which refused to pay for them, claiming they were not suitable:

William M. Hicks passed away in 1908, and Edward continued the business by himself under the same name, taking in his son (William S. Hicks’ grandson, who was also named William M. Hicks) into the business in 1917.