The Story of the Invention of Steel Pens

Henry Bore

In these days of Public Schools and extended facilities for popular education it would be difficult to find many people unaccustomed to the use of steel pens, but although the manufacture of this article by presses and tools must have been introduced during the first quarter of the present century, the inquirer after knowledge would scarcely find a dozen persons who could give any definite information as to when, where, and by whom this invention was made. Less than two decades ago there were three men living who could have answered this question, but two of them passed away without making any sign, and the third--Sir Josiah Mason--has left on record that his friend and patron--Mr. Samuel Harrison--about the year 1780, made a steel pen for Dr. Priestley.
This interesting fact does not contribute anything toward solving the question, Who was the first manufacturer of steel pens by mechanical appliances? In the absence of any definite information, the balance of testimony tends to prove that steel pens were first made by tools, worked by a screw press, about the beginning of the third decade of the present century, and the names associated with their manufacture were John Mitchell, Joseph Gillott, and Josiah Mason, each, in his own way, doing something toward perfecting the manufacture by mechanical means.
The earliest references to pens are probably those in the Bible, and are to be found in Judges v. 14, 1st Kings xxi. 8, Job xix. 24, Psalm xlv. 1., Isaiah viii. 1, Jeremiah viii. 8 and xvii. 1. But these chiefly refer to the iron stylus, though the first in Jeremiah--taken in reference to the mention of a penknife, xxxvi. 23--would seem to imply that a reed was in use at that period.
There is a reference to "pen and ink" in the 3d Epistle of John xiii. 5, which was written about A.D. 85, and as pens made in brass and silver were used in the Greek and Roman Empires at that time, it is probable that a metallic pen or reed was alluded to.
Pens and reeds made in the precious metals and bronze appear to have been in use at the commencement of the present era. The following are a few notable instances:
"The Queen of Hungary, in the year 1540, had a silver pen bestowed upon her, which had this inscription upon it: _'Publii Ovidii Calamus,'_ found under the ruins of some monument in that country, as Mr. Sands, in the Life of Ovid (prefixed to his Metamorphosis) relates. --_"Humane Industry; or, a History of Mechanical Arts," by Thos. Powell, D.D.: London, 1661, page 61._"
This was probably a silver reed, and, from the locality in which it was found, was once the property of the poet Ovid. Publius Ovidius Naso was born in the year 43 B.C., and died 18 A.D. He was exiled at the age of 30 to Tomi, a town south of the delta of the Danube. This at present is in modern Bulgaria, but at the period mentioned was in the ancient kingdom of Hungary.
From "Notes and Queries," in Birmingham Weekly Post, we take the following:
"EARLY METALLIC PENS.---Metallic pens are generally supposed to have been unknown before the early part of the last century, when gold and silver pens are occasionally referred to as novel luxuries. I have, however, recently found a description and an engraving of one found in excavating Pompeii, and which is now preserved in the Museum at Naples. It is described in the quarto volume 'Les Monuments du Musee National de Naples, graves sur cuivre par les meillures artistes Italienes. Texte par Domenico Monaco, Conservateur du meme Musee, Naples, 1882,' and is in the Catalogue:
"' Plate I26 (v) Plume en bronze, taillee parfaitement a la facon de nos plumes 0.13 cent.
"' Plate I26 (y) Plume en roseau [reed] trouvee pres d'un papyrus a Herculaneum.'
"The former (v) is engraved to look like an ordinary reed pen, as now used universally in the East; and the other (y) has a spear shape, or almond shape (like many modern metallic pens), but with a sort of fillet or ring on the stem, which indicates that the 'y' example is not a reed, but a metallic stylus, or pen, while the 'v' example is shown clearly as a 'reed.' The two are, however, certainly older than A.D. 79, when Pompeii and Herculaneum were buried by the eruption of Vesuvius."
According to Father Montfaucon, the patriarchs of Constantinople, under the Greek Empire, were accustomed to sign their allocutions with tubular pens of silver, similar in shape to the reed pens which are still used by Oriental nations.
The following are translated from the French "Notes and Queries "-- L'Intermediare:_
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