By Ron Dutcher
Antonios Z. of the Fountain Pen Network directed my attention ot a post of his where he uncovered a Senate Inquirery from the 1890s, looking into how the embargoes under the Benjamin Harrison Administration had affected American industries, including the fountain pen industry. Frederick W. Holmes, Jr., completed the survey and sent it back to the Senate, where it was added to the report. In his letter he said:
The industry was established in 1840, and was a very large concern, but it gradually fell away until I bought it five years ago. I was foreman at the time. The demand for this special line has gradually decreased so that at the present time, while I have the tools which used to run about 70 hands, I now employ 9, and running three-quarters time. A little over a year ago I employeed 15, and ran overtime part of the time.
There has been very much competition in my line of goods. As an instance, four years ago I received $36 per gross for clinical thermometer cases; now I sell them for $20.
I have not produced near as many goods in 1893 as in 1892. I presume it is the tariff question being unsettled which has demoralized every branch of trade, and mine, being a luxury, is affected greatly.
I have not reduced wages, although I am making goods very much cheaper. It would be the last thing for me to do to reduce wages, as I was a journeyman myself five years ago.
I can not give the exact cost of living of my hands, but I know two of them have bought real estate, which they deserve, as I kow they are very thrifty.
I presume the cost of living has rather decreased within the last four years. I believe the cause of the present depression is on account of the tariff question, together with over production. The best thing in my opinion to remedy the depression would be to return to the schedule of duties which was prevalent when Cleveland was nominated for President.
I use no raw material.
When I have to get a loan, I pay 5-1/2 or 6 percent.
My labor is all skilled.
The only way to meet much more reduction on goods is to reduce wages.
I employ 7 men, 2 girls (or women, rather), 1 boy.
Work forty-five hours per week ar present, three-fourths time.
I do not wish any change in the duty on the goods I manufacture.
With the clues Antonios provided, I was able to look up F. W. Holmes in the 1916 New York City directory and there I found that the Holmes office was at 409 Pearl Street. The directory gives the names of Holmes’ sons as William K. Holmes and George W. Holmes. William K. Holmes was awarded five different patents between the years 1907 and 1929. After reading the above letter, It is nice to see that Holmes was able to survive the 1890s and make it at least until the 1930s.
Below is the drawing for William K. Holmes’ 1907 Fountain pen. William’s father, the F. W. Holmes who wrote the letter above, signed as a witness for his son’s patent. Nevertheless, I have never seen a Holmes Pen before. Has anyone? Let me know if you have one.
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.