Mechanical Propelling Pencils

With grateful thanks to BADA member David Buck of Steppes Hill Farm Antiques.

In December 1822, Sampson Mordan and his co-inventor John Isaac Hawkins filed the first patent (Pat No 4722) in Great Britain for a metal pencil with an internal mechanism for propelling the graphite "lead" shaft forward during use. 

Over the next 100 years plus, an amazing variety of ingenious mechanisms were devised, produced, and patented. The simple lead pencil developed into a sophisticated and fascinating writing instrument.

There were other manufacturers, including some in America and the rest of the world, but pre-eminent amongst them had to be Mordan. In particular, the Novelty and Figural types produced by Sampson Mordan & Co in the mid to late 19th century have become highly prized. 

Mechanical Propelling PencilsThey seem to reflect the culture and passions of the Victorian period so well. If it moved or you could eat it, shoot it, or swing it, play it or perform with it, covet or dispute it, then the chances are a silver Pencil was made to represent it. 

Owls, Pigs, Foxes, Horses, Chickens, Ducks, Cats, Dogs, Frogs, Fish, Fans, Boats, Axes, Knives, Corkscrews, Cutlery, Whistles, Flutes, Pipes, Cricket Bats, Tennis Rackets, Golf Clubs, Umbrellas, Gavels, Keys, Hammers, Screws, Nails, Plumb Bobs, Paint Brushes, Lanterns, Telescopes, Matches, Mallets, Whips, Bullets, Guns, Artillery Shells, Daggers, Bottles, Pillar Boxes, Clocks, Crosses, Quills, Egyptian Artifacts, Political and Satirical Characters to name but a few, were all produced by Sampson Mordan and others in the form of a mechanical novelty pencil. 

In some instances the subject represented a significant current event, such as the Percussion Pistol dated July 6th 1840. It is likely that these were made to commemorate an assassination attempt on Queen Victoria, by one Edward Oxford, who was tried for high treason at the Old Bailey on July 6th 1840, but was acquitted on the grounds of insanity and sent to Bethlehem Hospital. It is more than likely that several of these novelty pencils have as yet undiscovered and undocumented links to events in the turbulent Victorian era.

Mechanical Propelling PencilsAlthough these 'Ultimate Mordans' are of great appeal to collectors, the imaginative approach was also applied to the standard range of propelling and sliding Pencils. Great innovations are shown for instance by the multi-coloured and combination pencils also produced by the prolific manufacturer.


Click here to view a collection of pencils currently available from BADA members.


Click here to view stock from Steppes Hill Farm Antiques.