Birmingham pen trade

The Birmingham Pen Trade evolved in the Birmingham Jewellery Quarter and surrounding area in the 19th century. [citebook|title=Birmingham and the Midland hardware district|author=Samuel Timmins|year= 1967|publisher=Routledge|id=ISBN 0714611476]


In Newhall Street John Mitchell manufactured pens, he pioneered mass production of steel pens (prior to this the Quill pen was the most common form of writing instrument), Mitchells are credited as being the first manufacturers to use machines to cut pen nibs greatly speeding up the process. His brother William Mitchell later set up his own pen making business in St Paul's square.

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, Leonardt & Catwinkle traded in George Street and Charlotte Street and M Myers & Son. were based at 8 Newhall Street.

In 1828 Josiah Mason improved a cheap, efficient slip-in nib which could be added to a fountain pen. This was based on existing models.

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 world wide to many who previously could not afford to write. This has encouraged the development of education and literacy.

Mr 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.

Esterbrook returned to Birmingham for help when in 1928 the British Government filed restrictions on US imports. John Mitchell's factory was sought to produce Esterbrook pens within the UK. (Mitchels were then operating in Moland Street).

In 1930 Esterbrook introduced a fountain pen into Britain that had a nib made of osmiridium, which eventually replaced large scale production of steel-tipped pens.

During World War II, pen manufacture in the city was slightly disturbed, Mitchell's factory on Moland street was hit by an incendiary bomb and the premises were part re-built during the war aided by the Government on condition that a Government stationery office and ammunition assay office could reside there. Esterbrook were still manufacturing pens in Birmingham up until 1973.

During the first half of the 20th century Swan Pens opened a large gold pen making factory in the city taking advantage of the skilled gold workers of the jewellery quarter, around this time Osmiroid International had a large production plant in the city.


External links

* [ General history of the pen]
* [ The Birmingham Pen Trade Heritage Association and Museum]

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