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By Ron Dutcher
Albert Bagley was one of the first pen makers to make a fortune from the gold pen business. He was born in Vermont in 1814, but somehow made it to New York and apprenticed under pioneer pen smiths Levi Brown and John Rendell. Bagley had a good eye for detail and he saw many areas of the craft which could be improved. He patented not only improvements in the pens, but also improvements in the machines and tools to make them. He streamlined his work so well, that he advertised in Scientific American that he could sell gold pen nibs to other pen makers at the lowest prices available.
Like many sucessful pen makers after him, Bagley was quickly brought into the courts. In 1850 Bagley created something of a celebrity scandal. He had hired a lovely 16 year-old-girl to work for him. He assured her parents that he would protect her from the rough working class types in the factory and he would personally see to it that she would be safe in his office. As it turned out she was not so safe. She became pregnant. Her parents sued Bagley and won, receiving $1,600 in damages. Bagley's wife Eugina left him. Many biased newspaper men predicted that the scandal would ruin Bagley, but as P.T. Barnum would say, "Any publicity is good publicity." And sure enough, Bagley continued to prosper.
In 1856 perhaps in part as retribution for prospering even after the earlier scandal, Bagley was sued again, and this time the situation was far more critical. W. Hawley, a district attorney witness, had entered Bagley's store and bought a pen as evidence. Under the patent law of August 29th, 1842, all items needed to be stamped with the full patent date. Imprinted on Bagley's pens was "A. G. Bagley Pat 1850" not the "Jan 1, 1850" required under the law. Since the fine for this infringement was $100 per item, and Bagley was selling hundreds of these pens, he would be ruined if he lost the case.
Bagley's testimony was simple. He stated that he was following the "spirit of the law" even though he failed in some of the details. Judge Betts, in the end, agreed and found Bagley not guilty.
Interestingly, the story doesn't end there. While Bagley was tied up in court, he had left his partners, G. and E. Smith owners of the Luckey Jewelry Store, in some control of the pen business. Apparently they believed Bagley would lose his case and this gave them the legal right to take Bagley's assests and open a new company on their own. They advertised the new company "E. and G. Smith Pen Co (Formerly AG Bagley) Bagley was not amused. He went back to court and sued them for "breach of privelge in partnership", arguing that the advertisements had hurt his business. Presiding Judge Sanford agreed with Bagley and awarded him a huge $7,500 verdict. The Smith brother's next advertisement was the liquidation of their jewelry business.
Even though Bagley was born and raised in Vermont it seems that his loyalties laid with the South as the Civil War approached. Bagley sold his business to H. H. Houghton and C. F. Newton and moved to St. Louis, where he again manufactured pens and pencils. The 1870 Census shows that Bagley was still in St. Louis with a new wife named Mary and a daughter named Ada. He is listed as a gold pen manufacturer and holding assets worth $5,000.
Recently I have been comparing notes with John C. Loring who has perhaps the finest collection of Bagley pens. Loring also has a great interest in the early American pen makers and has published some wonderful articles on the subject for Stylus Magazine. Also Loring has put on line some great pieces of his collection. If you are reading this, then you surely want to see Loring's site: Also I would like to thank Loring for telling me about a Bagley nib he found imprinted with "St. Louis" instead of the usual "New York", and this clue lead me to find Bagley in the census records there. I never would have found him there without Loring's tip.
The pen pictured below is part of my personal collection.
This article is part of the Manhattan Pen Makers Project, originated by Ron L. Dutcher. Except for typographical corrections, the text is as Ron published it. Ron wanted to include photos of advertisements or pens from each maker; he had some photos, but the gallery was far from complete. Photos here are a mixture of what Ron had and what I have been able to add from my own photo library. As with other reference articles on this site, you should not take this information as absolutely authoritative or complete.