We have already reached the halfway point of our countdown to the bicentenary of Hawkins and Mordan’s 20 December 1822 patent for the first mechanical pencil. It therefore seemed appropriate that today’s entry should showcase a pencil released by Mordan & Co. to celebrate their centenary in 1922.
Named the “Centennial” with the model designation No. 1922 (see what they did there?), some of the first pencils to roll off the production line were actually hallmarked for 1921, so Mordan & Co. had clearly planned ahead a little better than I had. The earliest advertisement I have located for the Centennial appeared in the Illustrated London News of 17 December 1921, just in time for the beginning of their centennial year.
Advertisements continued to run during 1922 and 1923, the prices remaining consistent throughout, from two shillings sixpence for vulcanite up to two pounds and fifteen shillings for nine carat gold. The box of my vulcanite example is additionally marked with the code 1922/1A, which appears to confirm that it was the base model of the Centennial range.
The Centennial’s mechanism is similar to the first ever-pointed design of a century earlier, with a twist-action lead propulsion system, but now operated by a propeller ring at the back of the pencil. A tiny barrel imprint just below the propeller ring reads “S. MORDAN & CO. PATENT”, unfortunately without the benefit of an application date or number.
Some information can be gleaned from the included instruction sheet, which describes how to go about changing the lead, a process that requires the pencil’s mechanism to be completely withdrawn from its outer sheath. Lest the user baulk at this somewhat convoluted operation, the instructions also stress the potential benefit: “N.B. – This Ever-pointed Pencil is the only type that ensures an absolutely rigid writing point.”
The Centennial’s design was first patented in 1921, with a subsequent application in 1928 for a similar pencil with removable sheath that appears to build on the success of the original (see patent illustration below).
In practice, disassembly of the pencil is reasonably painless, and the point is free from any unwanted movement as advertised.
The Centennial may have remained a part of their range for several years after the anniversary, although the decline in Mordan’s advertising suggests that business may have been difficult during the depression years. This was also a period of intense innovation in the mechanical pencil market, particularly at the budget end where there was no shortage of competition.
Despite continuing to trade until the outbreak of the second world war, the destruction of their factory in a 1941 bombing raid effectively ended Mordan’s operations as a manufacturing business. After the war, their patterns were sold and the Sampson Mordan name acquired by Edward Baker of Birmingham, also the majority shareholder in the Yard-O-Led pencil company which is still in the luxury pencil business today. Sadly there appears to be little appetite for innovation, the bulk of their current range being based on patterns of a century ago.
Even so, I must admit to double-checking Yard-O-Led’s pencils in the wild hope that there might be a “Bicentennial”, but to no avail. It looks like Hawkins and Mordan will just have to make do with Mechanical Pencil Month this time around.