“I took up a pen to write…”

Sometimes it really does take an expert to untangle historical clues. Looking carefully and researching widely can only get you so far without serious expertise in a specific field.

I’ve been looking more carefully at our photographs of the pen nib in Georgiana’s workbox and wondering how to work out whether it belonged to her or was from a later date. Without secure, recorded provenance or evidence (such as a date and signature in a book or a personal engraving on a ring) it’s almost impossible to know for sure whether an object belonged to a particular person. If you can prove that it dates from the right period, that’s a big step forward.

Pen 2 FBWhat we know as a ‘nib’ was the ‘pen’ in the 1800s, attached to a ‘holder’ made of various materials such as wood, tortoiseshell and bone. This meant the nib could easily be replaced.  Just like this one, pens dating from as early as 1815 did not have a breather hole to act as an ink reservoir but they did have a slit, indicating that the timing is right for Georgiana to have owned this ‘dipping’ pen. Gillett’s ‘Damascus’ as shown on the box was already on sale in 1829 when Georgiana married.

But somewhere out there are experts in Victorian pen nibs who could tell us more – and perhaps even date this pen more closely.


Photographs © Mike Rumble

Workbox: National Trust of Western Australia ACC: 2008.11 Wonnerup

Quotation: Letter from Georgiana Molloy to her mother 1832 (Cumbria Archive centre ACC: D KEN 3/28/9)

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