For those who are uninitiated with the delightful art of Victorian silver pencils / dip pens, the pictures below tell all. These beautiful objects are a joy to behold and demonstrate the finesse of the silversmith’s trade.
The foliate sliders and the finials were cast. Much of the decoration to the outer tube was hand-chased.
Whilst many collectors enjoy them for their aesthetic beauty, some still use their pencils today. Indeed, the renowned artist and illustrator Steve Hembley of Shire Studios uses pencils from his collection on a regular basis. He has even created a precision machine to produce the leads. (More of which later.)
There are a myriad of makers, designs, sizes and shapes. All of which make collecting these gems fascinating and challenging. The most prominent maker being Sampson Mordan.
When purchasing a silver slider propel pencil there are a few dos and don’ts.
|Make sure the slider works smoothly and is not loose or wobbly. This is the part that extends the pencil mechanism from inside the tube.|
|The lead will always be protruding from the nozzle. Moving the slider up obviously retracts the propel mechanism safely into the tube thus protecting the lead.With the mechanism out, turn it clockwise and the lead should propel. If you wish to use the pencil it is essential that this mechanism works properly.|
Some dealers just force a bit of lead into the nozzle and plead ignorance.
Others will tell you that leads are easy to obtain, which is not entirely true. You won’t be able to nip down to your local stationers and buy them. Today we use the Metric system, back then we used Imperial measurements.
|To determine if the drive pin is working, turn the mechanism and see if it pushes the lead out (rewind and push the lead back in with your finger). If the lead is too big it will be stuck in the nozzle. Do not force it as it can cause damage to the drive mechanism. Instead ask if you or the owner can undo the nozzle. This unscrews and is the part that determines the lead size and holds the lead in place.|
With the nozzle removed you can see the drive pin moving in and out by rotating the mechanism. If it doesn’t move or indeed there is no drive pin, carefully replace the nozzle (be careful not to cross the thread) and say ‘no thank you’.
If, of course, the pencil is purely for display then I suppose it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t work properly. However, this will affect its value!
The majority of Victorian silver pencils will have no hallmark – this was general practice in those days. The same applies to gold pencils and dip pens.
Available for purchase are all the Sampson Mordan Patent lead types “VH”, “H”, “M”, “S” and “VS”, please email
There are various web sites with lots of information about vintage lead sizes, www.vintagepens.com being one of several.
If a lead size cannot be found it is possible to take an oversized lead and with fine emery paper and a plastic ruler reduce the lead to fit by rolling. Not very time consuming, slightly messy, but it does work.
Victorian silver pencils are now over 110 years old plus and the majority of these still work perfectly.
Handled gently and
To view Victorian dip pens, pencils and other desk related accessories please go to www.arianantiques.co.uk
Author: Alan C Penn (Arian Antiques)