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By Ron Dutcher
Robert Hodge is the earliest pen maker to appear on the Manhattan Pen Makers Project, but sadly I have not been able to find much about him. What I can confirm is that Hodge was born around 1746. He appears in the 1786 New York Directory as a book binder, stationer, and quill cutter at 38 Maiden Lane. He is also listed as a member of the General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen.
He appears again in the 1790 New York Census. He has four dependents and one female slave.
In the 1791 New York Directory, Hodge had moved to 237 Queen Street, corner of King Street.
Hodge passed away on August 24th 1813 at the age of 67 years.
Ms. Vanpelt of the New York Public Library sent me a biography of Robert Hodge in Sketches of Printers and Printing in Colonial New York, New York: Dodd, Mead, & Company, 1895:
ROBERT HODGE was born in Scotland in 1746, and learned his trade as a printer in Edinburgh. At the expiration of his apprenticeship he went to London, and after working there two years as a journeyman, came, in 1770, to Philadelphia, where he found employment in the printing-office of John Dunlap. Two years later he formed a partnership with Frederick Shober. They established themselves in Baltimore, “where they intended to have published a newspaper,” but not meeting with sufficient encouragement, toward the close of the same year they removed to New York. The partnership was dissolved early in 1775, Hodge selling his interest in the business to Shober, and engaging in bookselling. On the approach of the British, Hodge fled to the country, abandoning a large part of his stock, which was subsequently destroyed by the invaders. After residing in New York State for a year or two he went to Boston, “and there, in connection with others, opened a printing-house.” After the war he returned to New York and resumed business as a bookseller. About 1788 he, with Samuel Campbell and Thomas Allen, added a printing-office to the book-store. Each of the members of the firm maintained a separate place of business in his individual name; their publications being advertised as “for sale at their several book-stores.” Among the books issued by them was The New York Directory for 1789, the third attempt at such a publication. It was a small duodecimo of one hundred and forty-four pages, a part of which was devoted to statistical matter. Allen withdrew from the firm before 1792, when Hodge & Campbell issued an edition of the Bible. About this time the building used by the firm, which was also Hodge’s dwelling, was destroyed by fire, entailing heavy loss. Soon afterward Hodge & Campbell separated. The former continued the business of a bookseller for several years, but about 1800 disposed of his stock and purchased an estate in Brooklyn, where he resided until about 1810, when he returned to New York City, living at No. 3 Beaver street until his death. He died on the 23d of August, 1813, leaving a considerable property to charity, to a sister, and to numerous nephews and nieces.
Ron’s original text has this address as 83 Maiden Lane, but I have found Hodge located at 38 Maiden Lane in two references (A Register of Artists, Engravers, Booksellers, Bookbinders, Printers & Publishers in New York City, 1633-1820, New York: New York Public Library, 1942; and Evans’ American Bibliography: Volume 7, 1786-1789, by Charles Evans, Chicago: Columbia Press, private printing, 1912) and at 83 Maiden Lane in none. —RFB
This article is part of the Manhattan Pen Makers Project, originated by Ron L. Dutcher. Except for typographical corrections and the footnoted address, 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.