Grace's Guide

British Industrial History

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James Perry and Co

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1890. Image courtesy of History World

James Perry was an educationalist in advance of his time. He lectured throughout the country on his method, based on what seems to have been a revolutionary idea then, that the pupil's interest be aroused in order to pursue their studies with enthusiasm. In order to test his theories, he ran two private schools, one for each sex, in London, where it can be assumed that the making and mending of quill pens was burdensome and time consuming and where a pupil remembered "the tedious waiting for the patient usher, who passed from desk to desk with his penknife, mending pens, and paying little attention to anything else."

No doubt this irked the energetic and methodical James, who invented a method of slitting a metal pen to give flexibility and ink flow. Metal pens of sorts had been in use since very early times, but won no popularity on account of their rigidity. While James did not patent the perfected nib until 1830, in the reign of George IV, pens made under his directions were in use as early as 1824, while it is recorded in 1819 he was giving metallic nibs of his design as rewards of merit in his schools.

It must be remembered that this was the age of the Scribe, in business, in the Law and in Schools. The typewriter was yet to come, and men spent their lives working for long hours, six days a week copying documents. The custom was that Law Scribes were allowed one quill per day, and a day's writing wore out the longest quill, so it can be imagined how much time was spent in trimming and mending and the difference the metal nibs must have made. One Robert Griffin, a Law Scribe, records that he wrote for eight weeks, eight hours a day, with a pen made by Perry, in 1824.

1824 James was joined by his brother, Stephen in starting a business in pen-making; pens were made for this, first in Manchester, then Birmingham and London.

1828 Josiah Mason was manufacturing pens for James Perry and Co. The excellence of their products swiftly raised them to the forefront of the new industry, exporting pens all over the world.

John Mitchell of Birmingham, is credited with having introduced the machine-made steel pen point in 1828.

Two years later the English inventor James Perry sought to produce more-flexible steel points by cutting a centre hole at the top of a central slit and then making additional slits on either side.

The development of excellent steel pens by James Perry in the 1830s and the mass production by stamping pens from steel blanks led to the metal pens supplanting the quill. Nevertheless, artists only reluctantly adopted the steel pen, and most drawings in pen and ink done before the 20th century were still produced with quills.

After 1847, the company became Perry and Co.

1875 Josiah Mason, who had continued to extend his works until they had the potential capacity to produce 40,000 gross of pens weekly, sold his works to the trustees of Perry & Co[1]

By 1876, they equalled Esterbrook as being the largest manufacturers of pen nibs in the world.

James Perry died without issue and Stephen was succeeded by his sons John and Lewis. The former became Managing Director and then Chairman. In the course of time, Edmund, the second son of John, became Joint Managing Director under his father's Chairmanship, a position he held until 1918.

By 1918 the Company had diversified extensively, making not only carbon steel pens, pencils, rubber bands etc. but also bicycle accessories and light cars. Even today vintage Perry cars are still to be seen.

1918 On the death of his father, Edmund decided to leave the Company and to manufacture pens in North London, which he did very successfully working on the techniques of stainless steel pens which were perfected under his direction. E. S. Perry, the company he founded in 1918, was incorporated in 1921, and continued in North London until the outbreak of the second World War, when pen making ceased "for the duration" and the company made armament components.

See Also


Sources of Information

  • [1] Britannica Online Encyclopaedia
  • [2] Britannica Online Encyclopaedia
  • [3] Berol Website
  • [4] History World