Although I’m very much a 20th century boy, my collections do vary quite widely in terms of date. One of my oldest, both in terms of the date of the objects themselves and the fact it was one of my first targets, is my collection of 19thC Mordan pencils.
I’ve been collecting these since I was about 17, as they were small, made of silver (oooh!) and could be found affordably at fairs and in centres. Even a paperboy’s weekly wage could afford one if you hunted hard enough. I don’t have many, but those I do have I love. Since then, I’ve written about Mordan on my blog and for a couple of books and magazines. You can read those posts by clicking here, and here.
Naturally, I was extremely excited when I heard about the unveiling of a major private collection of Mordan and other high quality Victorian pencils at London’s prestigious Masterpiece fair, which is on now. Although I’ve fallen a little out of touch with the vintage writing equipment world (yes, there is one – don’t laugh), I still usually hear about the major events – but not this one. The veil of secrecy was well worth it. The collection is truly staggering – a masterpiece in its own right.
Amassed across decades by eminent Bond Street silver dealer Kenneth Bull, and dubbed the KB Collection, it is perhaps the finest and most comprehensive collection of Victorian silver and gold propelling pencils in the world.
Although cylindrical bodied pencils with decoration from engine-turned to gem-set and hand-engraved form the main body of the collection, it’s the novelty forms that stand out and make you gasp. Each containing an ingenious telescopic mechanism that’s an engineering masterpiece in its own right, but it’s the bodies that demand attention and hold the eye and mind. Made and decorated entirely by hand, forms include small pistols (not hard to find), Egyptian obelisks (harder, but not difficult, to find), a wild boar, a seal and other animals (hard to find), a roller skate and a sentry box (eye-wateringly hard to find), and Nelson’s Column (unique). If you wanted to make these today, not only would they cost many, many thousands each, but you’d be hard pressed to find anyone skilled enough to actually make them.
I’m also very fond of John Sheldon’s ‘Unique Pocket Companion’ of 1842 that combined a pencil, pen, desk seal, letter scale (to make sure you bought the right stamp), coin scale (to make sure you weren’t ripped off with shaved coinage), and even a toothpick! This was, effectively, the well-to-do Victorian gentleman’s equivalent of an iPad or iPhone.
Ken has decided that the collection should not be broken up, and I have to say I agree with him. As a result, all 600+ examples are being sold as a collection, hopefully to a museum. Ken is keen for people to be able to see and learn about these unique instruments, point out their importance to our history, and encourage new collectors. Bravo, I say!
So, what does the collector or would-be Victorian gent do next? Mercifully, after tempting us with his collection, Ken has produced a book based on his fabulous collection. Beautifully photographed and laid out by David and Teresa Shepherd, it covers the rarest and most desirable pieces from the collection, and a great many more. With detailed sections on Mordan himself, key contextual events or personalities, and his legacy, it’ll also become the standard work on Sampson Mordan in print. Very little else exists, apart from the reprinted ‘1898 Catalogue’ and a smaller publication on pencils by Jim Marshall of the Pen & Pencil Gallery.
Suitably entitled The KB Collection, this large format, hardback, full colour book is in a different league. The £95 cover price is gulp-worthy at first, but then just think of the price of an average silver Mordan – £100? £150? More? For too long we’ve deemed knowledge and books as having to be much ‘cheaper’ than the items themselves. No more! If you love pens and pencil and don’t own this – you need to. As a Mordan fanatic, author and publisher myself, I had planned to publish a book on Mordan and his pencils sometime next year or the year after. This is the book I would love to have published.
Contact Ken and order your copy by clicking here.
Photographed below in the KB Collection stand at Masterpiece are (top) Ken Bull, me, Judith Miller, and David Shepherd who published the accompanying book, and (bottom) Judith Miller, Ken Bull, and me. Photographs courtesy of Antiques News.