Sampson Mordan, along with his partner John Isaac Hawkins, are credited with patenting the first mechanical pencil in 1822. Mordan pencils are widely sought after by collectors, as are many of his other unique “objets de vertu” such as figural pin cushions, menu holders, perfume (scent) bottles, and vestas. A simple eBay search will show dozens of Mordan items, many in pristine condition, with most Mordan items drawing significant bidding interest, and significant selling prices.
One writing related Mordan item that rarely shows up are travel inkwells, and I consider myself fortunate to have three Mordan travel inkwells in my collection at the present. The oldest is a small rosewood inkwell that dates to around 1845. It is just 1.25″ in diameter and 2.25″ high.
The cap is embossed with a crown (indicating that Letters Patent had been granted), along with the maker’s mark “Mordan & Co. Makers”. Mordan used this maker’s mark between 1845 & 1852. The lid is secured with a bayonet style (twist lock) rather than the more common threaded screw style.
Wood isn’t the wisest option for holding water-based liquids such as ink. The expansion and contraction of the wood while the inkwell is filled, or sitting empty, eventually results in cracking. That is likely what caused the lid on this one to split, 100 or more years ago.
The fact that it has survived for over 170 years is due to the owner taking the time to “fix” it with a wire wrap at the base of the lid. While not a professional restoration by any stretch, it would have allowed the owner to continue to use the inkwell, as most were simply thrown away.
This brass travel inkwell by Mordan would have been made around 1860-1880. It is 2″ square and 1.5″ high. On the front of the inkwell there is a simple push button release for the lid.
The newest Mordan travel inkwell in the collection is sterling silver and dates to 1902. It is 1.75″ in diameter and 2″ high. It has the same bayonet style lock mechanism for the lid as the rosewood inkwell. It is fully hallmarked London, 1902, with the maker’s mark SM & Co.
While there is a tiny bit of ink residue in the inner ink bottle, the overall condition suggests that it has spent most of its 115 year life devoid of ink and simply sat on display or was tucked away as a special piece. The cartouche on the lid is blank and there are no dents or dings in the beautifully hand engraved casing.
Travel inkwells were designed to be leak-proof, allowing a supply of ink to be taken along on one’s travels. Growing literacy levels, combined with the development of the rail system in the latter half of the 19th century, resulted in greater interest in travel. Makers of travel inkwells created a wide variety of designs, some more decorative than functional, to meet the demand.
As the 19th century drew to a close, two major technological advances in writing equipment sounded the death knell for the travel inkwell – the typewriter (1870’s) and the fountain pen (1880’s).