Manufacturer and builder 1, 1871
The manufacture of gold pens has grown in a few years from an insignificant novelty to a business of well-known importance and extent. The use of such pens is steadily increasing, and is visibly affecting the chirography of the present generation. The flowing illegibility of the goose-quill, and the stiff precision of the steel pen, are both giving way to the virtues of the gold pen, which combines the good points of both its predecessors. It is elastic, soft, equable; it will always mark, and never scratch or blot; it may receive exactly the qualities required by its owner, and when he is once suited, he can rely upon it for years.
In describing how these useful implements are made, we have to confess at the outset that they are not of pure gold. In fact, nothing is that is designed for use or ornament in the arts. Pure gold is too soft for jewelry of any kind. Boils for jewelry and for pens it must be alloyed. In the former, eighteen carats is the usual fineness -that is, eighteen twenty-fourths, or eighteen parts gold and six parts alloy. In making pens, a greater amount of alloy is needed to give time required elasticity and hardness, and to snake a pen that shall not lose its spring too quickly, as would one of pure or even eighteen carat gold. The alloy used is composed of pure silver and pure copper; but the proportions are kept secret, since upon them, and the mode in which the metals are prepared, depends the whole value of the pen. We say pure silver and copper; this is, in fact, all that is used in first-class establishments, and by the proper proportioning of these metals, the gold can be rendered so hard and elastic as to rival steel in the durability of its temper. After being properly alloyed, the gold is cast into bars, and is then ready for the rolling-mill. In order to follow the pen through all its stages, let the reader step with us into the manufactory at 138 Wooster street, New-York City, and see how a pen is made by Messrs. Mabie, Todd & Co. This is the firm which makes the pens offered in our premium list. Time room where the pens are made is a large, pleasant one on the second floor. Near time middle of time room is the furnace where the gold is melted into ingots for the rolling-mill. This mill or machine consists of a pair of polished steel rollers driven by means of powerful gearing. Through these the ingot is passed again and again until it has become a strip of about six times the final thickness. This strip is taken to a punch and cut up into pieces of this shape: as nearly as we can represent it. [ei kuvaa] These little blanks are the first forms of the future pens. They are perfectly flat, and not nearly as long or wide as in their final shape, but much thicker. The next step is to prepare the pens for receiving their points. This is done by running the point of the blank under a little revolving cutter. Looking at it edgewise, after it leaves the wheel, we see that a small notch has been cut across the point, so that the point itself is a little lower than the rest of time surface, thus: In this the "diamond points" are attached. These deserve something more than a passing notice. They are composed of a natural alloy of iridium and the rare metal osmium, sometimes called iridosmium. This is the hardest of all alloys, being equal in this respect to quartz. It is the densest body known, having a specific gravity above that of platinum. It comes into market in minute grains, and, when in shape for pen-points, is worth about two hundred dollars per ounce, or about ten times as much as gold. It is a common notion that gold pens are pointed with diamonds. Such a thing as a diamond-pointed pen may have been made, but we never saw nor heard of one. In fact, a diamond could not be put upon a gold point, in the usual way, without being destroyed by the heat necessary for soldering. These iridosmium points, however, answer the purpose perfectly. They are so hard that they practically never wear out by use they are indestructible by acids; and heat, up to the melting-point of gold, has no effect upon them. Some cheap pens we believe are made with platinum points, which soon wear out, owing to the softness of the metal. Two of these little points are put into the groove, cut along the apex of the blank; for unless the " point " is a very large one, two are required for each pen. The gold is then heated under the blow-pipe until it softens at the tip of the blank, and the points adhere to it, snaking what is called in the arts a sweat-joint or union. In this way the point is rendered perfectly secure. The action of the most corrosive ink can not loosen it, since the gold itself holds the point.
When gold pens were first made, it was thought necessary to use solder for fixing the points. The ink acting upon this soon destroyed it, and thus ruined the pen. The process which we describe has done away with the use of solder, except in repointing pens; but even when it is used, at the present time, it contains so much gold as to be practically indestructible. We have in our possession a gold pen that has endured several years of constant writing, and is perfectly sound today, and, for all we can see, good for another campaign of equal length. But to return to our workshop. We have now a bit of gold with two exceedingly hard points upon the tip. It has, however, but a remote resemblance to a pen. It is too thick and too short, and it must be rolled out. To preserve the points in this process, one of the rolls is flattened on one side, and fitted with a spring to receive and protect them as the blank runs through. In this process the pen is brought to nearly the required. thickness; but it loses its shape almost entirely, becoming a long, irregular, and somewhat pointed oval. The slips are then hammered, to give them temper or elasticity. On this subject of tempering one might easily write a whole chapter.
Gold, like most other metals, can not be rendered elastic enough for a spring by the action of heat and cold only. The spring-temper, which is just what is wanted in the pen, most be got by some other process, such as rolling, hammering, or some other form of compression. Formerly, a single blow of a droppress put all the temper into a pen that it ever got. Some makers used a few blows of a hammer, while others relied upon the rolling only for the spring. This is not sufficient, as is easily proved by such pens getting out of shape and becoming " too soft " by use. Messrs. Mabie, Todd & Co. now give each blank a long-continued hammering, which makes it very like a piece of steel. Indeed, the pens thus tempered are so hard that at one time the manufacturers had great difficulty in getting a press that would round them up without splitting the shanks. The tempered blank is now transferred to a machine, where a die cuts the pen to the proper size and nearly the proper shape. It is then ready for the name and number, which must be But on while it is fiat. This is done with punches suited to each size of pen.
The pen is still flat, with a great deal of superfluous metal around the point. It must, before any finishing, be "brought up " into its final form. This is done by a most ingenious and expensive press. During the erection 'of this press, one of the best machinists in New-York City was occupied ninety days in fitting the dies only, to say nothing of building the remainder of the machine. We believe the total expense was a thousand dollars. If our readers will take the trouble to look at a gold pen, they will see that there are two different curves in it. One with a long radius forms the middle of the back, while the edges are turned up at a very sharp curve. In order to do this, the press strikes two blows. In the first place, a die with an end-section, somewhat like this, strikes a blow upon the middle of the pen and curve of the back. While the blank is held fast by this die, two others turn up the edges by coming together at the sides, somewhat like this little figure: [ei kuvaa] The two blows that these dies strike are exceedingly powerful; and although the metal has a great deal of spring, they set the shape so that it is almost impossible to destroy the form of the pen without braking it. Our pen has now almost its final shape, but it is as wide at the point as four or five finished pens should be; and, though there are two bits of iridium in the point, there is no slit. Taken altogether, it is still a very awkward piece of metal. To cut the slit between the points, a copper disk is used, much thinner than ordinary writing-paper, and covered with emery.' flour and water. It runs at. the immense speed of 5700 revolutions per minute. It seems a very simple thing to hold the point of the pen on this wheel for a few seconds till the slit is formed. But take , up one of those pens and tell us where the two iridium or iridosmium points touch. Probably you will look twice, brush the point with your finger, and, after holding it carefully up to the light, say, " Y-e-s, you can see the place." But this young man at the wheel takes up a pen, holds it an instant, fastens it in a peculiarly made steel holder, drops it upon the wheel, and in five seconds the thing is done with, the slit running just between the points. If this were not exactly done, a little flake of metal would be taken from one or the other side, which would chip off, to the ruin of the pen. It must be understood that when the iridium points sink into the gold, they are not soldered to each other, but, though in contact, are free; so the slit must of course run between them. The dressing-up of the slitting-wheel, so that it will run perfectly true and with smoothness, is a very delicate operation, and might almost be considered a trade by itself. We now have the slit begun, but it is not yet long enough; so it passes to a pair of " shears," which look more like a hand-stamp in shape than any thing else; and by these the slit is completed in length. Then a small steel saw, hardly as thick as the paper upon which we print our magazine, is used to widen the slit, so that the .sides shall touch nowhere except at the points. Our pen now has points and ribs, a slit and temper, or " set," to a considerable degree, but not enough, nor altogether in the proper place; and, moreover, the nibs are rather at sixes and sevens. So away goes the pen across the room again, where it is laid in a grooved bit of metal and rubbed with a steel tool, a little like a burnisher, to give the nibs " the set " and proper shape. We now come to the final grinding of the points, which is a distinct trade, and is done with a revolving disk and copper wheels. These are arranged thus; [EI KUVAA] a is the disk, b, the copper wheels. A mere touch of flour of emery, mixed with oil; the pen held for a moment on one or the other, turned about, tried upon paper, touched here and there to smooth corner, side, or tip, and the point is in shape. For a moment, and a moment only, the copper disk a is allowed to run between the points and up the slit, and then the pen is jerked away. The whole operation is so quickly performed that one wonders why it was done at But by means of a magnifying-glass one can see how rough each point seemed inside, and how the burr left by the saw stood up before this last grinding; and how afterward the roughness has disappeared as if by magic, and the pen is finished, so far as writing qualities are concerned. It must still be polished inside, and then the nibs are " stoned,".so that the ink will flow over them. This produces the roughness seen on
the inside of the pen along the nibs. It is done with a bit of Scotch hone.
Then the pens are taken by boys who put them on sticks, cut so as to hold them tightly, and polish the outsides of them upon a drum made of felt. A great many thicknesses of felt, cut out - in circular form, are put upon a spindle, screwed fast with a nut, and turned so as to make a solid cylinder, of time shape shown above. After polishing, the pens are " lapped," that is, held a moment against a revolving stone to make the edges of time body even, and with this they are finished, perfect in every respect. Twenty years ago, a manufacturer could carry on the business of pen-making with $1000 worth of machinery. At the present time, it can only be successfully done with many times that amount.