James Perry was a schoolmaster in Manchester during the early part of the 19th century. Around 1819 James worked out a steel pen design that provided better ink flow and flexibility than was previously available with existing steel pens. While steel pens had been around for quite some time prior to James’ new pens becoming available, the quill was still the favoured writing instrument due to the frustrating limitations of the steel pens available at the time.
He initially began making these steel pens as rewards of merit for his students, and by 1824 James and his brother Stephen had started their own business making and selling steel pens. The business grew rapidly and soon their stationery and related product offerings included pens, propelling pencils, inks, inkstands, and a wide variety of other items.
Perry & Co. continued to expand, eventually having offices in London, Brussels, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, and New York. When James died in 1843, the business was carried on by Stephen. What began as the result of one person’s simple desire to improve the writing experience of his students, turned into a major enterprise that ultimately lasted well into the middle of the 20th century. At one time or another Perry & Co. produced and/or sold everything from steel pens to general office supplies, and bicycle chains to actual cars.
The 1883 Perry & Co. Illustrated Price guide (available online thanks to Google) provides an amazing look at the breadth of products that Perry & Co. had on offer at the time .
The “Patent Perryian Gravitating Inkstand” appears to have first come on the market around 1842. While I haven’t found the actual original “patent” for the inkstand, the first advertisement (complete with testimonials) that I found was in Bent’s Literary Advertiser for January to December, 1842.
The ceramic cylinder could be filled with ink, and when not in use it could be rolled upwards and “locked” in place by a small brass wedge that slides under the cylinder. The novelty of the inkstand was that this action allowed the ink to be protected from dust and from evaporation between uses.
A clever design in its day, with an equally clever product name that just sort of calls out to you, and subconsciously you suddenly find yourself “needing” a Patent Perryian Gravitating Inkstand