The Manhattan Pen Makers Project

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Levi Brown

By Ron Dutcher

Perhaps one of the most important of the early pen makers. He is known as the pioneer of the gold pen industry, creating the first workshop for the sole purpose of making pens. The first practical experimenter with gold as a substance adapted to the manufacture of pens was a Mr. Hawkins in England, the first gold pen with an iridium point being made in 1834. In August, 1835, Mr. Hawkins transferred all his right and title to his process of gold pen manufacturing to Aaron Porter Cleveland, of New York, for the sum of three hundred pounds sterling, and a percentage arising from the sale of the pens. Mr. Hawkins intending to retire from the business and to settle at Bordertown, New Jersey, and pursue his profession of a civil engineer, but Mr. Cleveland induced him to continue making the pens in London, while he (Cleveland) proceeded to New York and founded the business in America, and in which Mr. Simeon Hyde took part. In October, 1836, Mr. Cleveland taught Mr. Levi Brown how to make the pen.

LeviBrownWatchAt the time Levi Brown was a watch maker in Detroit. Actually he was more of a jeweler and silversmith who made fancy engraved watch cases and imported the watch movements from England. (Pictured here is a Levi Brown fusee watch. One of the prizes in my collection, but unfortuantely the chain is broken and I dread sending it to anyone to have it fixed.) This business was a partnership with his brother-in-law Chauncery Payne. Brown first made pens while still in Detroit, but he made these the same way he made watch cases, one by one with great care and effort. He charged a very expensive $5 for each gold nib he made, but customers who used them considered that price cheap when considering that they would never need to cure and trim a goose quill again.

In the late 1830s, Cleveland compelled Brown to move to New York to concentrate on the pen business there. Brown sold his Detroit workshop to Charles Piquette, one of his employees, who would turn it into the Piquette Pen Company of Detroit.

LeviBrownAd1Upon setting up shop in New York, Brown hired John Rendell, who likely had some experince working in the steel pen factories of England where he had recently emmigrated from. Rendell arranged the work shop into an assembly line format. Instead of having the craftsmen work on the pens one by one, from beginning to end, he had the workers concentrate on just one operation of the process, and pass the parts on to the next worker for the next process. Rendell also brought into the shop cutters and rollers so that the craftsmen no longer needed to do many of the steps by hand.

Notes:
  1. John Isaac Hawkins (1772–1855) was an English inventor who made his living as a civil engineer. He also invented an automatic “Ever Pointed” pencil, and he referred to nibs made by his process as “Hawkins’ Ever Pointed Pens.” —RFB


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.

© 2016 Ron L. Dutcher
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