History of John Holland
L. Michael Fultz
The John Holland Pen Company started in business about 1862 and ceased production about 1950. Its most collectible pens include the gold dip nibs and elaborate holders of the firm’s early days, its sterling, gold and gold filled decorated eyedropper fillers, its pens with unusual filling systems dating to the 1915-1920 era, and the large and colorful “Jewel” pens of the 1920s and 1930s.
Key Persons, Key Dates, Key Events...
George Sheppard begins manufacture of gold dip nibs in Cincinnati about 1841. About 1850 John Holland becomes an employee of Sheppard's firm. In 1862, Holland purchases the business. He expands the line into pencil cases, dip pen holders, pencils, even telescoping toothpicks. Holland is reputed to have begun experiments with fountain pens in 1859. These earliest pens had metal bodies. However, by 1870 the Goodyear firm was offering vulcanized hard rubber for use in pens and other items. Holland’s earliest fountain pens used a trough style feed... sort of a tube which, it was hoped, would convey the ink to the nib.
By 1879, fountain pens were an important element of the product line and the firm was advertising its pens, sometimes using the slogan “We have no record of any fountain pen having been offered to the public before the John Holland fountain pen”. New feed designs, including overfeed styles, much improved the writing and flow qualities of the pens. In 1884, the firm opened a new factory for the production of fountain pens. Like its competitors, Holland placed small ads in literary and scientific magazines.
Holland sold its pens though a network of jobbers, commercial travelers and dealers. One of Holland's dealers was a Janesville, Wisconsin teacher of telegraphy named George S. Parker. Parker invented and Patented an improvement on the Holland overfeed.
In 1889, the firm was incorporated into a joint stock company. During the 1890s Holland employed one of the other ‘giants’ of the American pen industry, Julius Schnell, who is considered a genius in designing both pen mechanisms and also in designing pen manufacturing facilities.
The Holland company used a large number of brands and trademarks for its pens: McKinnon, Clymax, Fount-Filler, Fountograph, Paragold, Imperator, Premiere, Royal, University and several others. Many of these trademarks were for stylographic pens (note Holland’s use of “McKinnon” a clear reference to Duncan “Mackinnon” one of the inventors of the stylograph). However, the “Holland”, “Jewel” and “John Holland” trademarks were reserved for the top of the line pens.
Feeds on Holland pens undergo a series of improvements finally resulting in the “Elastic” feed of 1902. The firm also expands its advertising program. In 1905, Holland Patents the ‘pull’ or saddle filler; in 1906, the firm Patents the “Eureka” sleeve filler; in 1907, it Patents the “Grip Clip” pocket clip which was held in place by ‘feet’ pushed through the breather holes in the cap; in 1910; Holland introduces its unusual screw safety cap (one end screwed on to cover the nib which the other was designed for posting on the end of the barrel); finally, in 1915, the company Patents the ‘Hatchet’ filler, a unique combination of the lever and crescent systems. Almost all of these systems were marketed at the same time and the line contained a large number of models, styles and sizes. Holland once advertised “more than 100 styles”.
John Holland dies in 1917, but his sons continue the business in his name. By 1920, Holland Pen is marketing conventional lever filling pens. In 1925, Holland follows the industry into using plastics for barrels and caps.
The Great Depression was very difficult for Holland, which entered the business downturn with limited capital and fewer resources than its competitors. After 1930, the quality of Holland pens is much lessened but the company carried on into World War Two. Pens are assembled from purchased parts with nibs drawn from old stocks. Profits, if any, were mainly derived from the office supply business conducted on the ground floor of the Holland building. In 1950, John Holland’s last surviving son dies, and the business shuts down. Finally, in 1980, the Holland building, already damaged by fire, is sold at auction and the remaining fixtures, parts, and artifacts are auctioned or, sadly, taken to the dump.
Most Collected Pens...
Almost all Holland pens are collectible but are often difficult to find outside of the upper Midwest region of the USA. Since many of the Holland pens are elaborately decorated with engraved, repoussed, or filigreed metalwork, these are avidly sought. During the 1920s and 1930s, Holland used many colorful plastics for their pens and some models had rubber end caps or were rubber with plastic end caps.
Among the rarest Hollands is a hard rubber sculpted pen in the form of a ‘tree trunk’, this design is so understated and so elegant as to form the absolute highlight of any collection possessing one; however, only three or four examples are known. They are conventional lever filling pens with gold filled clips and levers.
Since the Holland company had a long history in the manufacture of gold, sterling and gold filled pen holders and similar products their overlay and filigree work is of very high quality and is avidly sought. All of Hollands fancy decorated eyedroppers and the overlay and filigree sleeve fillers, pull fillers and hatchet fillers are relatively rare. Giant pens with #10 and #12 nibs were made in dip pens, eyedropper filling pens and in the more unusual self-filling styles; all are rare. The painted Holland pens are also quite rare (rarer than the similar Greishaber, Sheaffer, and Conklin models) but scarcest of these is the full sized man’s pen and matching pencil, elaborately decorated in hand painted lacquer.
Finding treasure in a neglected desk drawer...
Several of the Holland models from the 1930s and 1940s use clips and other trim items purchased from outside contractors. These pens are sometimes confused with similar appearing but much lower quality pens of others.
For more information...
Volume 12, Nos. 2 & 3 (Nov/Dec 1998 and Jan/Feb 1999) of Pen World International contain the definitive article on Holland and Holland pens written by Bill Holland. These same issues contain two pages of Fred Plewa’s wonderful drawings of Holland pens. Back issues of these magazines are available from the publisher.
This story is dedicated to Bill Holland, Dick Johnson, Jack Leone and all the other lovers of Holland pens.
Written by L. Michael Fultz, Editorial Director, Penbid.com
©2001 by Penbid.com, Inc.