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Pencils, the forgotten Victorian gems; information on silver pencils, dip pens and leads.

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silver Victoria pencil on stand

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.

silver dip penThese pencils / dip pens were made using hand
operated jigs and soldered.

The foliate sliders and the finials were cast.
Much of the decoration to the outer tube was hand-chased.

Victoria silver pencil

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.
slider on engraved silver pencil
silver pencilThe 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.

silver pencil

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.


engraving on silver pencil and end cabouchon

Available for purchase are all the Sampson
Mordan Patent lead types “VH”, “H”, “M”, “S” and “VS”, please email

for more information. These are
all handmade in Shropshire and Dorset by the Shire Studios. Another very
popular line is their brass ferruled/threaded cedar pencil refills for
Sampson Mordan cedar pencil holders.

There are various web sites with lots of
information about vintage lead sizes,

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
with respect these works of art will last another 100 years or so.

engraved silver pencil


To view Victorian dip pens, pencils and other
desk related accessories please go to


Author: Alan C Penn (Arian Antiques)