Yore Write!

The Tongue Of The Absent

If we could go back in time a few years… let’s say maybe 150 or so… long before internet & cell phones, even before rotary phones and party lines, the effort required in order to keep in touch with friends and family members living or travelling beyond a very small geographic distance from ourselves ranged from being quite a challenge to being quite impossible.

The furthest back anyone alive today would be able to remember, in terms of long distance communication, would be the early days of the telephone. As a kid, our family home had a nice oak wall phone, similar to the one below, with the separate receiver piece that you held to your ear, and speaking piece that was mounted to the main unit, complete with a hand crank that one would use to notify the operator that you wanted to make a call (and operators were actually human beings back then!). We were connected to the rest of the world through the local community party line, allowing everyone in town to quietly listen in and stay current with your personal business.

The demise of the party line resulted in a very long dry spell in terms of gossiping and public shaming opportunities. Thank goodness Facebook finally came along!

But I digress… Prior to the telephone, and all that followed, the challenge of keeping in touch was met by putting pen to paper; the pen was “the tongue of the absent”.

I stumbled across this phrase a few months ago and was struck by the depth of meaning behind its simplicity. Imagine for a moment how difficult it would be for most of us living today to actually sit and write a letter, knowing that this might be the only way to convey one’s thoughts, and that the message itself may take weeks or months to reach the intended recipient. So many letters that survived that period in our history are filled with eloquent thoughts, put to paper with beautiful handwriting… with not a single “lmao”, “lol”, or “wtf” to be found.

Here are a few “tongues of the absent” from the collection that would have travelled with their owners during the mid to late 1800’s …

W.S. Hicks – This is a nice black hard rubber pen/pencil with gold filled trim. It is approx. 3 3/4″ (9.5 cm) long when closed and 5 3/4″ (14.5 cm) when extended as a pen. The barrel has the patent date of Dec. 24, 1867 imprinted on it, which is actually the patent date for a combo pencil/pen invented by Richard Ryne of New York, which he assigned over to Hicks. The pencil end pulls out and reverses to make use of it as a pen, which has a nice gold Mabie Todd #4 nib.

John Rauch – A solid gold pen/pencil combination made by the American maker John Rauch with attached ring to hang from a man’s watch chain or perhaps a lady’s chatelaine. It has an interesting extending inner barrel design that was used by a number of American pencil case makers in the mid-1800’s, allowing the item to be quite compact when closed. It extends from 3.25″ (8.0 cm) to a full 4.75″ (12.5 cm) when the inner barrel and pen are extended. It has a solid gold Wahl nib which I believe is much newer than the combo itself.


Sampson Mordan – Most of my pencil/pen collection consists of Sampson Mordan items so I really had to include at least one of them here. This combo is quite special for a couple reasons, beyond simply because it’s a Mordan. It was one of my first acquisitions almost 20 years ago when I first started collecting writing implements. It is in near mint condition, and everything functions perfectly. At the time, my interest was limited to pencils, so although acquiring this combo was interesting, I never even bothered to look at the nib until several years later. It was quite a surprise then to see that the nib was a rare solid gold Francis Mordan pen! Francis was Sampson Mordan’s son and he had his own business selling pens, nibs, ink, etc.

The inner part of the barrel pulls out and then there are two tiny sliders to extend the pen or the pencil. The extended inner barrel is embossed with “S. Mordan & Co.” as well as the Mordan “arrow”, indicating solid gold. It is 4.5″ when the pen is fully extended.  

Table of Contents