By Ron Dutcher
One of the most prolific of the early pen makers, but one that has been very hard to research. If the biography below is correct and Hicks began learning the pen trade in 1832, then he most likely was a young apprentice for the Levi Brown company, the first gold pen making enterprise. Hicks was also an inventor with at least 10 patents awarded to him under his own name. Also William’s sons Wiiliam M. and Edward also were awarded patents. The W. H. Sembler noted in the biography frequently signed as a witness for these patents. Not mentioned in the biography is Richard H. Ryne and Halsey Monroe Larter who assigned patents to the William S. Hicks company. As a personal Interest,my great-great-great-grandfather John Dutcher also signed as a witness for Hicks’ 1867 Patent. Perhaps what Hicks is most famous for is his connection with Tiffany’s and Cartier. It was Hicks with a lesser extent Aikin Lambert who made the fancy gold pencils and pens for these famous luxury stores. Hicks’ mark was a large “H” usually but not always with a smaller “W” and “S” above and below the “H”. I have also heard that sometimes Hicks used a small acorn as a hallmark, but I have not been able to confirm this. The following is a biography of William S. Hicks found in the 1884 New York’s Great Industries By Richard Edwards:
William S. Hicks, Manufacturer of Gold Pens and Pencil Cases, etc., No. 20 Maiden Lane — The oldest established and most widely known manufacturer of gold pens and pencils in the country is Mr. William S. Hicks of this city. Mr. Hicks commenced in business as far back as fifty-two years ago, and in the interim his concern has built up an unrivalled reputation, and a strictly first class trade of large dimensions. 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. In 1857 a copartnership of which he was a member under the firm name of Larcombe, Hicks & Mitchell, was dissolved, since which date the business has been carried on under the widely known name of William S. Hicks. He learned his trade in this section of the city in 1832, and at that time resided in John Street. He was born in Reade Street, however, where likewise his son was born. He is thus a New York business man out and out, and forms an exception to the general rule in this respect. With him are now associated in the business his son and Mr. W. H. Sembler, a relative, and under their practical and able guidance, the business is being carried on in the most satisfactory manner. Hicks’ factory occupies the two upper floors of the large building, No. 20 Maiden Lane and forty hands here find steady employment. The house annually turns out a very large quality of gold pens and pencil cases, which are readily disposed of to the jobbers and to the trade in general, the house being represented all over the country by its travellers. Mr. Hicks is the oldest manufacturer in the business, and the reputation his concern has justly obtained and of an unrivalled character. Further comment upon our part would be superfluous. Suffice it to say, that the concern is in every respect a lasting credit to its founder, and a valued factor in the permanent industrial activity of the great metropolis.
Antonios V. Of The Fountain Pen Network provided another biography that was published in Illustrated New York: the Metropolis of To-day, published 1888, International Pub. Co. It is interesting that though this biography written four years after the first one pushes Hicks involvement in the pen business back to 1818.
WILLIAM S. HICKS, Manufacturer of Gold Pens and Pencil Cases, Nos. 231 to 235 Greenwich Street. The name of Hicks will ever be honorably identified with the trade in gold pens and pencil cases. As the oldest established mauufacturer, Mr. William S. Hicks has not only maintained the leading position in his line, but is noted for his remarkable skill and versatility, and for the originality of design and perfection of his product. He established the present business back in 1818, and during the long intervening period has continued to actively carry it on upon a basis of the utmost efficiency. Mr. Hicks was born in New York, and here learned the trade in which he has achieved such a marked success, and New York city is to be congratulated upon the fact that his gold pens are known and sold in both hemispheres as standard goods for over thirty years past. For a large part of time Mr. Hicks was located at No. 20 Maiden Lane, until March, 1887, the steady growth of trade, and desirability of superior light, power, etc., caused him to remove his establishment to the fine new building, Nos. 231 to 235 Greenlvich Street, corner of Barclay Street. Here he occupies two entire floors, 40×80 feet in dimensions, very handsomely fitted up with fine factory and salesroom. Mr. Hicks is the recognized leading authority on the proper and best method of manufacturing perfect gold pens, and employs a force of from 90 to 100 skilled hands in the various departments of the business. His pens are world renowned for exquisite temper, durable points, beauty of stock, and durability for outlasting all other makes. They have come into use in the leading mercantile and financial circles of New York, London, and all other large cities of the globe. and the universal verdict is that Hicks’ gold pens (in their assorted varieties) best suit the purposes of the public at large. He also makes a beautiful class of gold pencil cases, highly ornate and of exclusive original designs nowhere else duplicated. The unique devices, happy conceits, and amusing fashions introduced by him have gratified a very large circle of the community that prefers personal belongings of a refined character. In this connection we cannot suggest a better illustration of mr. Hicks’ talents and original ideas than his elegant and striking business card, showing the two hemispheres, his standard gold pen and various novel ideas in gold pencil cases, such as an owl, peg-top, dolphin. acorn, etc., as neat as they are handy arid graceful. Mr. Hicks displays a magnificent assortment in his show cases, and sells direct to the trade only, to whom he is known as a prompt, honorable husiness man, and both the pioneer and leading representative manufacturer of the best gold pens end pencil cases.
For more information, see the entry for Hicks in the Glossopedia.
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.