Posted 31 August 2005 - 08:49 AM
Though I'm late with it, I promised some infromation on the Carter's Ink Company and consequently, here it is.
Part of this summary comes from a very laudable two part article by an old friend, Peter Markman, that ran in the July/August and September/October issues of Pen World in 2000 (Vol. 13, No. 6 & Vol. 14, No. 1) while some additional material comes from my own research.
William Carter was a Boston stationer with offices on Water Street just off of Newspaper Row in Boston and on the verge of the Boston financial district. He started by purchasing other manufacturers' inks in bulk and repackaging them as his own house brand. Very shortly after he became convinced that he could provide a better product by making ink himself. His first product, based on a centuries old formula, was an iron-gall ink which had a blue indigo dye added so that the writing was immediately visible. That blue was eventually overcome by the rapidly oxidizing iron salts in the ink so that it dried to a permanent, durable black finish. It is the basis for all true "Blue-Black" inks.
Carter's business grew during the American Civil War. His cousin, John W. Carter, a young Harvard graduate, joined the business about 1865 and focused on the ink making trade. It quickly outgrew the original offices on Water Street then moved a few blocks south on Congress Street.
On the evening of November 9, 1872 a fire started on Summer Street in Boston a few blocks from the Carter's offices and factory. It was a little more than a year since the great Chicago Fire, a dry, windy night. When the fire was brought under control twelve hours later much of Boston's financial and commercial districts were destroyed including everything of Carter's ink. But the company reputation was such that the Carters were able to rebuild with the help of a substantial investment from salesman J.P. Dinsmore. The company reopened at 35-37 Batterymarch Street, near the Boston waterfront, in 1873 as Carter, Dinsmore & Company.
Carter's continued to grow quickly enough to require new facilities after just a decade. Their new address was at 162-172 Columbus Avenue in th Back Bay. In 1895 the company, a single proprietorship and then a partnership for nearly forty years, incorporated for the first time as The Carter's Ink Company still at the Columbus Avenue address. The incorporation seems to have been, in part, a response to the untimely drowning death of John W. Carter.
Thus any Carter's bottles labeled Carter's Inks would date from before 1873 or after 1894. From 1873 through 1895, the label would read Carter, Dinsmore & Co.
In 1903, Richard Carter, John Carter's son became president of the company and proceeded to expand into items such as ink eradicators. He'd been a college student at the time of his father's death. Upon graduating from Harvard in 1898 he served an apprenticeship with the firm before becoming its leader.
By 1909 Carter's had once again outgrown its facilities. The company built a new factory on First Street in East Cambridge, Massachusetts on the corner of Atheneum, not far from the M.I.T. campus moving there in 1910. Carter's as a company would never move again. In fact its huge electric sign reading Carter's Inks was a landmark along the Charles River until the 1970's.
During the period from its inception right through the 1940s, Carter's conducted extensive experiments with many coloring agents and formulations of inks, keeping meticulous records of all research in inks, glues, and inked products such as carbon paper and typewriter ribbons. Most of the first truly successful inks made with analine dyes came out of the Carter's factory on Columbus Avenue. We might not even have the expression "red ink" for excess spending were it not for Carter's.
Besides selling ink under the Carter's name, the company also contracted with a number of other outlets to produce inks as house brands. Many of the new fountain pen companies followed the lead of Frank C. Brown at the Caw's Pen and Ink Company and sought their own brand of ink guaranteed to flow freely in their fountain pens. Not every pen manufacturer owned an ink factory as did Brown but many could contract with the largest ink manufacturer in the United States for specially labeled bottles of ink. Certainly A.T. Cross did and Rexall.
Not far from the Carter's facility in Cambridge on Washburn Avenue, a street since swallowed up by the M.I.T. campus and redevelopment in the Kendall Square area, William P. DeWitt and David J. LaFrance had a fountain pen factory that turned pen parts for contractors in the Boston area. DeWitt and LaFrance were both gifted inventors as well. They patented a spring-loaded pocket clip that was simple to make and gave a positive, non-destructive hold on the pocket. They also held patents on a distinctive lever whose vertical travel was limited by a tether on the lever's underside and a very effective ladder style feed. The quality of their work was so high that they won contracts from Rexall for their all metal Superite and Signet pens and from Laughlin Manufacturing Company of Detroit to supply pens to be sold under the Laughlin name. They sold sliding barrel thumb fillers to a number of companies in and around New England as well as producing both lever and thumb filled pens under the DeWitt-LaFrance and DeLaCo brands.
When Richard Carter decided to turn the tables during the boom of the Roaring Twenties by producing fountain pens to compete with the pen companies whose inks competed with his, he went around the corner to DeWitt-LaFrance and obtained their services in producing pens that matched in quality anything that Waterman, Parker or Sheaffer produced.
Carter's pens begin to appear in 1924. By 1926, the DeWitt-LaFrance operations had moved into the huge factory at 239 First Street, Cambridge. It is not clear whether Carter's acquired DeWitt-LaFrance outright or simply was its landlord and primary customer. The latter is more probable, at least through 1930, because of the connections that LaFrance had to the Chilton Pen Company.
In 1927 Carter's introduced a line of plastic pens in the standard flat top style of the day. By 1929 the pens, in some cases, had contrasting black cap tops and a new plastic called pearltex was introduced to the line. Changes continued with the contrasting cap tops and barrel ends growing more rounded then disappearing. But Richard Carter's venture into fountain pen production proved to be a commercial blunder. With the Great Depression in full swing, there were too many pens from too many makers chasing too few consumer dollars. The Carter's pens were gone by 1938.
The company enjoyed a lot of wartime success supplying ink, carbon paper and typewriter ribbons to record the messages of troops and their loved ones and the vast record keeping of the government. Unfortunately, greasy printing inks were not Carter's forte and those inks were the fuel in the new phenomenon of the ballpoint pen.
Richard Carter died in 1949 and the company went into decline. It was sold in 1975 to Dennison Manufacturing Company. The new Dennison management looked over their acquisition with the hard, beady eye of the accountant and determined that the company records dating back to the 1860's, those meticulous records of ink experiments and contracts for house brands of ink, were more a liability than an asset. When they could not be foisted off on any library as a tax write-off, the records were dumped in a landfill. All that remains of Carter's now are some products of Avery-Dennison and the buildings on First Street in Cambridge and Columbus Avenue in Boston.
I hope that this helps you a bit, Max.
Posted 31 August 2005 - 03:06 PM
Oh, my aching librarian's heart.
But Rob, I actually find it rather strange, because the Harvard Business School is just up the street, and their collection of corporate archives is vast. (I worked there in the 1980s!) I cannot imagine that the curators would have turned down a corporate archive for such a well-known and successful Boston company. It is exactly what they were focused on collecting, and there was plenty of room for it.
Where did you get this info? I'm not challenging you -- I'm just trying to understand how this could have happened.
Posted 31 August 2005 - 08:29 PM
This always seemed strange to me too. I got this story from a collector from central Massachusetts, Prescott G. Smith, some twenty years ago. If you have any old Pen Fancier's Magazines, you'll find Prescott listed in the "lifetime honor roll". I did some checking to see if anyone had a collection of Carter's papers, including the Baker Business Library but found nothing.
I can't say for certain that the offer was made and refused. Perhaps the philistines at Dennison just called in a carting company without ever offering the papers. It was, after all, the period when we were tightening up on gifts for tax breaks after Nixon and his criminal conspiracy abused that loophole. I don't know. I do know that no library that I could find in Boston or Cambridge had any Carter's records.
And, Elaine, I don't feel challenged at all. It was a good and appropriate question.
Posted 03 September 2005 - 10:59 AM
I'm curious as to how you've arrived at these dates? The earliest reference that I've found for the beginning of their pens is 1926. I've never located anything definitive for their end date. People generally mention 1931 - 32 as the end date for the Coralite and Pearltex pens. Carter made some lesser pens thereafter but collectors tend to disregard those.
Posted 03 September 2005 - 07:16 PM
I came at the dates through research. DeWitt-LaFrance moved into the Carter's building on First Street in Cambridge in 1926 but began producing pens for Carter's at least one and possibly 2 years earlier. I have a jpeg of a 1925 ad for Carter's pens saved inaccessibly on my currently dead computer. As far as the end is concerned, I was unsure of the exact end date so I said that the production was over by 1938. That covers enough time to squeeze several generations of weaseling into. The pens were available through 1934 at least. There were much less distinguished pens bearing the Carter's name thereafter for a year or three.
But, seriously, the "collectors" who ignore the last Carter's pens or the products of the decline of some other great name in pen production are just folks with more money than brains rather than true collectors. If the company's name was on the product, it bears examining and collecting because it too tells a part of the company's history.
I don't mean to insult you personally, Jeff, but you took a direct whack at one of the many points on which I'm hypersensitive. Pardon me while I hop around cursing for a few minutes until the pain subsides.
If self-described "Christian" homophobes, bigots and racists can claim to "love the sinner but hate the sin," I must say that I respect the collector but despise the attitude. It's fine to say that you're going to collect one type of pen or focus on a narrow range of a company's output and intensively collect and learn about it. That's how people become expert in a subject. But to dismiss an entire portion of a company's product as unworthy of notice is snobby claptrap.
On some other lists there have been endless, and largely empty headed, discussions about who's a collector as opposed to an accumulator of fountain pens. It's a discussion that goes nowhere and means nothing so I'm not trying to start it here. If you want to discuss it we'll open another thread somewhere appropriate like in the satire forum. But just collecting the grand products of a company at the top of its form is bull patooties of the worst kind. It leads to misinformation and error born of narrow minded self-righteous ignorance like that of Dubya and his Administration. I can't find words vile enough to express my disdain for that kind of dilettante pseudo-collector attitude. It's like saying that the history of Rome in the Augustan Age is worth studying but all the rest is shit. That's pseudo-intellectual nonsense of the kind that drools out of George Will's pen even when he's on his medication. I find that attitude disgusting. I'm sure it's not yours but rather some ugly, useless bit of trash you picked up on the sole of your shoe and didn't notice in time to scrape it off.
Sorry. The pain's subsided now. Maybe I'll tell you how I really feel some other time.
Posted 04 September 2005 - 03:54 PM
I think you’re extrapolating too much from the above statement. Research is one thing, but collecting takes money. Research takes money too (I work at a research lab) but for me at least, it’s a different order of magnitude. I would suggest that you have the brains and money equation reversed. If money were not an object then I would collect everything. For instance, my Carter collecting (as in purchasing) focus is on the oversize models only. The reason is simple. These oversize pens are fairly expensive, so if I spend money on all the other pens then what’s going to be left when that pristine 6117 comes along (hope springs eternal).
You said, “But to dismiss an entire portion of a company's product as unworthy of notice is snobby claptrap.” I can’t speak for others but when I say that I don’t collect all other models it doesn’t mean that I ignore them; it just means that I don’t buy them. Like many people, I “collect” images of many pens that I study but don’t buy.
I expect your response was triggered over the word “disregard” in “Carter made some lesser pens thereafter but collectors tend to disregard those.” Hmm…I didn’t really apply strict scrutiny to that word when I wrote it. It’s true that some people dismiss certain pens they deem a lower order of being. I imagine that the colloquial usage of “second and third tier pens” itself evinces bias.
I gather that you take offense at the pens of an esteemed company being disrespected, that the estimation of the company should somehow extend some quality of merit to the entire catalog or, at minimum, that all the issue of its works and days should warrant some notice if not close inspection.
You said, ‘If the company's name was on the product, it bears examining and collecting because it too tells a part of the company's history.” But this assumes that the company itself merits scrutiny without regard as to why we pay attention to the company in the first place.
I have a friend whose interest is the history of technology. He doesn’t pay that much attention to things that others do. He mostly wants to know how the technology evolved. That’s his bailiwick. I expect he ignores all manner of information that the rest of us are keenly attentive to. But this doesn’t necessitate intellectual snobbery. In like manner, people tend to pass over Stratfords as being “unworthy” when they see them, although I recall there was some relation to Salz. Perhaps Salz collectors pay more attention to Stratford but most others have already collected their datapoints regarding these pens and aren’t looking to expand their sample size. They’ve already reached their conclusions. They may be mistaken (as people were mistaken about Esties) but does this make them narrow minded?
For myself, I have a significant interest in Carter as a company but this interest is derivative of my interest in its early pens. It is not unbounded. I don’t, for instance, investigate how Carter dealt with the effects of monetary policy even though its impact was considerable. I don’t say that this is a matter unworthy of interest, only that I’m not interested in pursuing it. Focus is bounded attention. I leave my interpretation at that. It seems that you take it a step further. You didn't elaborate on the instances that prompted your irritation. I expect your stance comes from your greater experience in this field. I wonder if this means that in ten years when I have more seasoning we'll see eye to eye on this. We'll continue this thread in 2015.
By the way, what exactly happened to your computer? Do you already know what you need to do to extract your data?
Posted 04 September 2005 - 07:58 PM
I tried to be clear that it was not you or even an attitude that I thought you had toward collecting that I was going to roast in my flame but rather something that I've observed in others that gets me going. Your comment hit my "elbow" very close to the sensitive spot and I was off. Please take nothing I said personally.
I do understand conserving funds for the 6117 or other treasure, believe me, I do. My esteemed colleague (there is not a drop of sarcasm in that; there are few collectors whom I hold in such high esteem), George Kovalenko, has accused me of spreading myself too thin. He's right, but I reserve the right to be considered thin in at least one aspect.
You must understand, Jeff, that twenty-five years ago I wasbuying pens at an average of less than $5 each. I hadn't much money, but I could afford to add a few hundred pens a year to my collection. In fact, as a point of orientation, I stopped buying Parker 51s when the price crept up to $2 each because I had most colors, variations, boxed sets up the yin-yang. Besides, I find them a boring pen.
I found my first Carter's Senior early on. It was a nearly untouched 5117 (big mottled blue sucker for the uninitiated) which led to a lovely red/black plastic ribbon set in the celluloid case and others but also to a lot of questions. Who had the patent on that tethered lever? And who held the clip patent?
Then I began finding other pens with the same clip: a Prudential from Newington, Connecticut, a Laughlin, a Walker-Davison and so on. One day I brought some of them into Bromfield Pen in Boston to show to George Salustro, the repairman. George took one look and said, "Yeah! Yeah! Old man LaFrance. DeWitt and LaFrance. They made 'em over in Cambridge."
For me, rather like your friend researching the backwaters of computers, that had me off and running on a treasure hunt that led to the mysteries of Rexall pens, the history of Laughlin and other by-ways of pen history, spreading myself thinner and thinner all the time.
What I needed to rant about is not your focus on collecting what you like most, which is perfectly legitimate and a positive thing, but the whole concept that some pens are unworthy of collecting. That those pens are inferior and thus beneath the notice of those who are truely Co-llec-TORS.
A while back I got in a lot of hot water (there was a time when I was out of hot water, you ask?), particularly from Esterbrook collectors, over my ranking companies in tiers. The inference that many drew was that I thought lower tier pens were less worthy of collecting than those a tier or two higher up the scale. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Even as much as I rank on Limited Editions, they are pens worthy of being collected though, I would contend, at about 2 cents on the dollar at retail.
In any case, the Esterbrook collectors were out combing the hillsides for me with torches and pitchforks, a few even in lederhosen, because I'd "put down" their beloved pens. So, please excuse me my taking the opportunity to be a one-person mob hunting down the monster of pen snobbery while being both correct and ironic at the same time.
But let me also counsel you that you can have a wonderfully broad collection of pens that sell for less than $20 and that were from the same factory as that 6117 you covet simply by knowing who made what and for whom.
Posted 30 September 2006 - 05:59 PM
Do have have any knowledge of Carter's in Canada?
I have a few of their ink bottles; it seems that they manufactured in Canada. Years ago I went to the address I found on one of their products and went around the building but there was nothing to show that they had ever been there and nobody knew anything either.
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