Sampson Mordan pencils
Perhaps the most popular of items made by Mordan are pencils, these vary greatly in design and price. Due to the wide variety of pencils available there is always something to suit a collectors taste and pocket. Condition and rarity is of course everything as far as price is concerned. It is possible to pick up the more readily available Mordan pencils in reasonable condition for a mere £30 to £40, whilst the more rare pencils can command as much as £1500. Between that range there is a multitude of pencils available for the avid collector. Mordan pencils are readily available online from independent antique dealer websites and from auction sites, there are also many to be found in offline antique shops, antique fairs, auction houses (many of which have an online viewing and bidding facility) and even, dare I say it, at car boot sales.
There are many types of Mordan pencils, some are just pencils, some are combination pen and pencils and others include useful tools such as quill cutters, penknives or a whistle. As well as pencils which look like pencils Mordan also made pencils which were designed to look like other objects, these were the famous novelty pencils which are very much sort after. Click here for novelty pencils.
Click on images to enlarge
Mordan pencils are made from a few different materials but most are made of silver or gold. Some have a full set of hallmarks, others just carry the Mordan name in one form or another (see the identification marks section on the homepage), also there are some which are believed to be Mordan that carry neither hallmarks or the company name. Bone or ivory is another material Mordan used to make pencils, these again are usually marked with the Mordan name in one form ar another.
S. Mordan and Co manufactured several different types of pencil, although the novelty pencils are probably the most sought after by collectors there are many other Mordan pencils that are highly collectable. These are for example the drop, slider, combination and multi purpose pencils. Whatever their type, all Mordan pencils have a high standard of workmanship and are just wonderful to hold in the hand and use. Give me a beautiful, quality 150 year old propelling pencil that works as good now as the day it was made, over any modern day equivalent.
Drop pencils and pencil holders
Drop pencils are called such because the pencil drops as it were from the casing of the pencil. This action is not always a literal drop as in caused by gravity, often the pencil is extended manualy, but technically can still be classed as a drop pencil.
Cedar pencils and holders
Drop pencils come in several forms, some use a wooden pencil, these wooden pencils were often cedar pencils. The cedar pencil was merely fastened to a casing, usually made of silver or gold, these are often referred to as pencil holders. The casings can often be just plain cylinder like objects bearing the Mordan name or hallmark, others may have a small amount of embellishment of some sort, such as a small amount of enamel work or some fluted or reeded lines. However there are some fine examples of drop pencils that have been gloriously decorated with fine engravings and mouldings, with magnificent scrolls and swirls, flowers and foliage, also with beautiful enamelling and precious and semi precious stones. This variation in decoration is replicated through out the Mordan range of products, thus catering for a multitude of tastes.
The cedar pencil is usually extended out of or retracted into the casing by means of an outer ring or button which slides forwards or backwards, moving the pencil out and back in with it, the cedar pencils often had a screw thread at the end which enabled it to be screwed into the holder securing it firmly in place. Some pencil holders have end caps, in this type the pencil is merely held in one end of the holder and is covered by an end cap when the pencil is not in use.
Other drop pencils
Aswell as the the cedar pencil holder style there are also mechanical drop pencils, these are pencils in their own right, with no wooden pencil insert. These pencils can at times be extended by a flick of the wrist depending on the stiffness of the mechanism. More often than not however the pencil needs to be held at one end and the other end pulled out to fully extend it, rather like the drawing out of a telescope. There are other drop pencils where the mechanism is extended out by pressing a button at the back of the pencil, although i have no personal experience of this type as they are relatively more modern by nature, often dating from 1904 onwards and my personal preference is more for the Victorian style and age of pencil.
Slider pencils are exactly that, pencils which are housed within an outer casing and they can be extended or retracted by means of a slider ring or button on the shaft of the pencil. Pushing the slider ring forwards pushes the end of the pencil out of the casing, pushing the slider ring back retracts the end of the pencil back in to the casing.
If the shaft of the pencil has two slider rings or buttons on it, then it is actually a combination dip pen and pencil, one ring extends and retracts the pencil, the other ring extends or retracts the dip pen. There are also Mordan pencils that have what appears to be one ring, but upon closer inspection the ring is actually in three sections and each section has a different colour of enamel on it. When each individual section is pushed forwards or backwards it extends or retracts a small pencil which contains lead the same colour as the enamel on its slider. The colours used are normally red, blue and black, so what at first appears to be a pencil, is actually 3 pencils in one. Another variation of this is where the pencil has 3 rings and each ring has a different colour enamel on it, each ring controlling the corresponding colour of lead pencil.
The slider pencils often have a seal at one end, possibly a semi-precious stone of some sort, this may be engraved with initials or some sort of symbol or may still be blank. The end where the seal is set will often unscrew to reveal a compartment for keeping spare leads.
There is usually a letter or letters engraved on the barrel at the other end of the pencil next to the tip, for example, M or VS, this relates to the hardness of the lead. Click here for details of lead sizes and hardness. The tip of the pencil will normally unscrew revealing a push rod which extends or retracts when the barrel is twisted one way or the other. It is the push rod which pushes the lead forwards ready for use, however when the barrel is twisted to retract the push rod the lead is not taken back with it, the lead needs to be pushed back into the pencil with your finger.
Work in progress, images and descriptions of individual styles/types of pencils to follow very soon.