Joseph Gillott's (pens)
|Parent||William Mitchell Ltd.|
Beginning and development
Joseph Gillott was a working cutler in his home town Sheffield, but in 1821 he moved to Birmingham, where he found employment in the steel toy trade, the technical name for the manufacture of steel buckles, chains and light ornamental steel-work generally.
About 1830 he turned his attention to the manufacture of steel pens by machinery, and in 1831 patented a process for placing elongated points on the nibs of pens. Subsequently Gillott adapted the stamping press to the requirements of the manufacture, as cutting out the blanks, forming the slits, bending the metal, and impressing the maker's name on the pens. He also devised improved modes of preparing the metal for the action of the press, tempering, cleansing, and polishing, and, in short, many little details of manufacture necessary to give them the required flexibility to enable them to compete with the quill pen.
One great difficulty to be overcome was their extreme hardness and stiffness; this was effected by making slits at the side in addition to the central one, which had previously been solely used. A further improvement, that of cross grinding the points, was subsequently adopted. The first gross of pens with three slits was sold for seven pounds. In 1830 the price was $2.00; in 1832, $1.50; in 1861, 12 cents, and a common variety for 4 cents a gross.
The simplicity, accuracy, and readiness of the machinery employed enabled Gillott to produce steel pens in large quantities, and as he sold them at high prices he rapidly made a fortune. He ultimately employed 450 persons, who produced upwards of five tons per week, and the price was reduced from one shilling each to 4 pence a gross. His son, also Joseph, continued the family business of manufacturing steel pen nibs and continued to live in the Birmingham area, close to the large factory on Graham Street in the Jewellery Quarter, known as the Victoria Works.
British Pens and present days
Nevertheless, the decreasing production of dip pens and the subsequent demise of the industry in Birmingham is often blamed on the invention of the ballpoint pen in 1938 by the Hungarian Laszlo Biro.
In 1920, when Hinks Wells & Co and William Mitchell came together at the Pedigree Works in Birmingham, founded a new company called "British Pens", which added Cumberland Pencils in 1921. After World War II staff from the London Jewel Company joined them and they began to produce ballpoint pens.
In 1961 British Pens acquired the pen businesses of Perry & Co. and other manufacturers like John Mitchell and Joseph Gillott's. As part of the Twinlock Group its name was changed to "Cumberland Graphics" in 1975. Byron Head, the Managing Director of William Mitchell, acquired British Pens in 1982, renaming it "William Mitchell Ltd.". The company still makes pens in the West Midlands.
Gillott currently manufactures fine-point dip pens, suitable for drawing, mapping and calligraphy purposes. Nibs currently produced are #170, 290, 291, 303, 404, 659, 850, 1068, 1290, 1950 and 2788.
- More about the Pen Trade in Birmingham (Archive), 1 Jul 2010
- Joseph Gillott, pen maker
- "Pen makers: William Mitchell and Joseph Gillott", Birmingham Mail, 3 Nov 2014
- "A Brief History of Writing Instruments, Part 3: The Battle of the Ballpoint Pens" by Mary Bellis on About.com
- Poole, Philip, and Michael Woods, letters to John Gwin, 1996-1998
- "About us", at William Mitchell website, retrieved 18 Jul 2014
- Pen Room: manufacturers Archived 2012-02-18 at the Wayback Machine
- Gillott products at WM website
- Gillott nibs in Scribblers website
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