The oldest manufacturer of writing instruments in the country was started by Richard Cross in 1846 in Providence. The company was passed to his son Alonzo Townsend Cross, thus the name, A.T. Cross. Cross started out not as a pen company, but as a manufacturer of beautiful silver and gold casings for wooden pencils. Fountain pens became the rage around the 1870s but competition (Waterman among them) and technical difficulties may have kept Cross from pursuing this market until 1938. Alonzo had other plans. Cross was the first in a fierce battle with two competitors to create the stylographic pen. Cross beat them to a patent and then eventually developed 21 patents for writing instruments. Cross was one of the first to create the mechanical pencil and then stylographic pens (the precursor to ball point pens) in the 1870’s.
Fountain pens with the slip-in inexpensive nib started in England in 1828. When fountain pens caught on in the United States in the 1870’s, they became mass produced by several companies but mostly led by Waterman from New York City and Wirt from Pennsylvania. Seeing there were flows of ink and leakage problems with the fountain pens, Cross was convinced that the stylographic pen was the way to go. Cross helped finance the manufacturing costs for their stylographic pens with manufacturing and supplying the fountain pen makers with pencils. It wasn’t until 1907 that Waterman patented and corrected the ink and leakage problems.
Vintage pens can run to some as high as $2,000 – $2,500 depending on age, condition, and rarity. A local collector/dealer, David Nishamura, had an original Cross stylographic pen from 1885 (the black one shown above) listed for sale for $125. His website has a wealth of information: www. vintagepens.com. The pens from the late 1800’s are beautiful and interesting. If you have vintage pens, he can help you to identify, repair, or replace parts.
Q. I have a wooden chair with a Brown University insignia on it that I inherited from my grandfather. Can you tell me what it is worth?
A. Your chair was most likely made by Standard Chair of Gardner, Massachusetts. Standard Chair began in 1837. Today, Standard Chair, is still family owned and located in Gardner, and is the largest manufacturer of these types of chairs for nearly every institution in the country. Sometimes called a “Regents College Chair”, the chairs are all wood and are traditionally painted black with the insignia (usually painted in gold) in the middle of the back rest. New chairs sell in the $375-$500 range. Used chairs sell between $50-$150 depending on condition and desirability of the institution.
Karen Waterman is an antique furniture and decorative arts appraiser in the East Bay area and will answer as many questions your own “hidden treasures” as possible. By sending a letter of email with a question, your give full permission for use in the column. Names, addresses or e-mail will not be published and photos will be returned if requested. Send e-mails (digital photos are encouraged) to [email protected] Send snail mail to East Bay Newspapers, Att. Karen Waterman, P.O.Box 90, Bristol, RI 02809.