Calendar pencil polished

The Propelling Pencil. Is It Counterfeit?

Mary Bassett's chest

Mary Bassett’s chest traveled from New Hamshire to Keene Ohio on a wagon, and 140 years later from Ohio to Arizona on a moving van. (The casters were added long after the original construction.)

When my brother and sister came to visit recently, one of the things we did was go through the antique clothing and miscellaneous belongs of grandmother, great-grandmother and great-grandfather and great-great-grandmother that have been packed away in this chest–some for more than 100 years. We were particularly fascinated with the “propelling pencil.”

Mary Bassett's chest

Inside Mary Bassett’s handmade wooden Chest


The chest itself is at least 190 years old, because the Bassett family traveled to Ohio about 1826, and we know that the chest made the journey with them. Over the years, more family treasures were added to the chest, like the propelling pencil we discovered.

I am still trying to determine the oldest items in the chest, but I do know that some were made by our great-great grandmother Mary Bassett Platt Morgan (original owner of the chest) The items include baby clothes of my great-grandmother and grandfather, who were born in 1842 and 1845–so those items are about 175 years old.

I mentioned Mary Bassett’s hand-made chest and the Bassett family journey to Ohio  and her father’s story , but have not yet revealed the contents of the chest (except for Great-Grandfather Doctor William Stout‘s certificates from Eclectic Medical College).


Inside the chest, the carpenter constructed a small compartment, presumably for smaller items like jewelry, pocket watches, and the like.  i remember from my childhood some doctor’s instruments stored in that compartment, but they are no longer there. I think maybe I gave them to my brother. (We have a running argument about who got the most family treasures.)

But here is what we found when we opened that compartment.

Mary Basset's chest

Contents of small compartment inside Mary Basset’s chest

On the left are miniatures of tintypes, then some collar stays, great-grandfather William Stout’s baby shoes (he was born in 1845), some identification notes, and a small silver object.  As you will see in the following pictures, what we later learned was called a “propelling pencil” did not look so shiny when we first noticed it.


Mystery Item

1. Mystery item found in antique chest

Before long, my sister discovered that if you slid the center ring down, you got this.

Mystery Item Looks like pencil

2. Looking like a pen or pencil

It was very small.

Size of Mystery Object

3. size of pencil before extension

4 center ring extends point

Some Internet research confirmed that this was a mechanical pencil, actually called “propelling pencil.” I was surprised to learn that mechanical pencils had such a long history. One article claims they were first invented in the 16th century, but a satisfactory lead–both thin and strong–took longer. According to Wikipedia ” This source says first patent for a refillable pencil with lead-propelling mechanism was issued to Sampson Mordan and John Isaac Hawkins in Britain in 1822. (Mordan soon bought out Hawkins and formed a British manufacturing firm called Mordan and Co. with stationer Gabriel Riddle. After 1836 Mordan operated the company alone.The company operated until a German bombing raid destroyed the factory in World War II and the company was formally dissolved in 1952).

My sister insisted that the hatch-marks on the end of the pencil must have a purpose, since everything else seemed to be there for a reason.  Research showed she was exactly right. It was used as a stamp for sealing wax.  Odd that such an advanced writing instrument as a propelling pencil co-existed with sealing wax.

End of propelling pencil.

End functions as a Stamp for Sealing wax.

Collector’s Weekly speculates that Sampson Mordan was also responsible for the numbers and letters that we see on our propelling pencil. “In the early 10th century, Vickery’s in Lodon carried everything from tricolor pencils to ones with calendars on their cases (These were likely made by Mordan.)

Calendar on Propelling pencil

6- a calendar with days and dates on turning rings

Experimenting with the pencil, we discovered that the first ring (on the left in this picture) represented the days of the week, and could be turned to line up with columns of numbers.  Here you see a month where Fridays fall on the 3rd, 10th, 17th, 24th, and if there is one–31st.

The cap at the top of the pencil screws off revealing an empty space with a solid bottom.  When we found that, we were convinced that this was a mechanical pencil ( a propelling pencil, it turns outu) and thats compartment was where the leads were stored. Impressed with the ingenuity of this little pencil, I decided to find out if it was really silver, and polished it up.

Calendar pencil polished

7. Calendar propelling pencil after polishing

It was.

Although we have no direct evidence, I am convinced that it belonged to our Great-Grandfather Doctor William Stout.  From what I have been able to learn about him, he was always excited about the latest new ideas, and would have been happy to own this little tool. As to date, it would be in the early 1900s, when Grandfather was practicing medicine.


In order to get the numbers 1-31 in a grid with 7 columns, there are going to be four spaces left over in the bottom row.  On our pencil those squares are filled with the letters T A N V.  We still have not figured out the meaning of T A N V.

After reading the very informative site on all things Sampson Mordan, I suspect it is not the  Mordan “ever-pointed pencil”.  Our pencil may have been made by a company in America that ripped off the British company’s popular design.  In 1828 and 1829 the Mordan Company took ads to warn people about such nefarious activities.

“A warning to Merchants trading in Europe, East Indies, America, etc. about a spurious article made for sale in Foreign Countries.”

And their advertisements all warn that they use the Sampson Mordan company name or symbol on the real pens.  There is no S.M. or Mordan and Co. anywhere on our pencil. Furthermore, the Mordan Company put a number designating the thickness of lead near the point of the pencil, and ours has no such number.

Finally, the advertisements I have found for resale of the antique Mordan pens of this design feature either gemstones or fancy letters for seals on the cap rather than the simple hatch mark on ours.

I am hoping that one of the experts on mechanical pencils will be able to tell me what the letters T A N V mean and a probable date of manufacture.

But real or counterfeit, we consider this mechanical pencil a treasure because it was used by our ancestor and carefully preserved for one hundred years. Holding a pencil that was used by someone one hundred years ago definitely gives me the chills.

Suggested reading:

The story of Mary Bassett’s family’s journey to Ohio in her father’s story.

This has been one of my occasional posts on Heirlooms.  Other family history bloggers who write about heirlooms from time to time include:

Do you have an antique pen or pencil? Have you explored its history?

Mom and Dad and the Ninth, a Special Day

Today marks 78 years since my parents were married–June 9, 1938–a special day.

My sister and Brother are in Arizona for a reunion. They suggested we meet on June 9th, since that was the wedding date of Paul and Harriette V. Anderson Kaser. As I wrote in an earlier post about their courtship, the Ninth of the Month was always a special day for them, since it was the date in 1933 that they had their first official date.

The Love Letters

love letters 1938

Love letters 1938- Paul Kaser and Harriette Anderson

I am looking at letters from 1938–the year they were married.  As with most of the time during their long courtship (1933-1938), they were separated during the week and met on weekends.  Unfortunately, the letters that survive rarely include both sides of the conversation. I have almost daily letters from Dad during 1935, when they had just started dating, and not very many of his from 1938, although Mother’s letters indicate that he must still have been writing very regularly.

By 1938, Dad had landed that permanent job that qualified him (in their eyes, if not yet her parents) to marry her. He had moved into an apartment in New Philadelphia, Ohio where he worked for the federal Weather Bureau.  She was teaching school in the tiny town of Clark, Ohio and sometimes living with her sister Rhema Fair and Rhema’s husband Earl, but other times spending a night or two with her parents, Guy and Vera Anderson in nearby Killbuck, Ohio.

I have edited the letters slightly and removed the most personal (and mushy) bits.

Problems They Faced

Since she had a car and he did not, she drove to New Philadelphia each weekend, or he borrowed her car. In this letter in December 1937, it sounds like he may have gotten back late, and reflects other problems.

Well I went down to the office as soon as I arrived and they were very nice about everything so that’s all fixed. The only bad thing they let one of the other fellows drive my truck today and hes kind of hard on trucks and I don’t like that very well.

Had any sign as to how things are going to go over there this week. I hope they cool off now. {probably her parents, who did not want her to marry him.}I see in the New Phila {Philadelphia} paper where a Tusc {Tuscarawas} county teacher put under a peace bond. May be that’s what you ought to do. At least you aren’t the only teacher who has trouble with the board.

I called Mbg. {Millersburg} just now and Keith {his brother} is still coming along fairly good. I sure hope nothing sets in.

Mother told me that when she told her parents she was going to marry Paul, they didn’t believe it, and “when Paul went to talk to them, Vera (Harriette’s mother) was furious.” In later years, they became reconciled and my grandmother praised my father as being as good to her as her own sons.

The reference to the school board is because the Clark, Ohio school board continued to hold back teacher’s pay, (it was the tail end of the Great Depression after all)  a problem that Mother returns to frequently in her letters.

Paul worries about his brother, who has to have major surgery. Their father had died after surgery for a hernia.

The Special Day

Mother wrote letters like journal entries, recording her day’s activities and her feelings. One letter was being written on the 10th March, 1938.


Please don’t think I forgot what day yesterday was for I honestly didn’t. but last night I had such a headache I came home before P. T. A. was over and went straight to bed {Harriette suffered from migraine headaches all her life.} but dear I never forget the ninth and never will in fact it will even be more important as time goes on. Did you wonder what we would be doing on our next ninth? {June 9th when they would be married} I did. And you know what I decided.

Tomorrow evening we take the B. B. [basketball] boys to Fisher’s Restaurant and Thursday we go up to Bert Geauques for super and Friday night I am coming over to New Philadelphia, or am I? We could come back and then you could drive back Saturday, or is that too much. Just as you say.

She signed the letter “Duchess”. I explained Dad’s pet name for Mother in that earlier post, Love Letters and the Course  of True Love.


She returns to the subject of the Ninth in May, when, despite the fact her wedding was only two weeks away, she was on a bus trip through New York and New England and into Canada with students and other teachers.

Mother on a Road Trip

Dearest Paul,

This is the first night that I have stayed in the bus but the cabins are so terrible and cost .75 per person that I preferred to sleep in the bus with the women. Helen and Mellanie to be smart wouldn’t do it. We have gone only 721 miles, but have had a grand time and have seen a great deal. Today we were at Thousand Islands.

Mr. and Mrs. Bechtol are lovely. She popped corn tonight and when anyone fixes corn they are swell. We are going thru Vermont and New Hamp. Then for home. This afternoon I had a case of homesickness but stopped it quickly but I do have a lot to tell you. And I will always be happy after the ninth {June 9 when they are getting married}. I don’t think we will get home before Monday or Tuesday, but I will {?} all when ever we do.

I love you dearly,


Waxing Poetic

My Dad was a great reader, and in later years my Mother said one of the works he was introduced to by his friend Delmar Alderman was The Lady of the Lake by Sir Walter Scott. He must have been under Scott’s Arthurian Romance spell when he wrote this one!

To the Duchess, From Paul, Greetings

By this token do I acknowledge My indebtedness to Thee, Fair Harriette. Thy acceptance, know then, Will but place me further in Thy debt.

For Friendship, graciously bestowed, do I thank Thee.

For Companionship, indispensible, thank Thee.

For My Mind, awakened to the good meditation, thank Thee.

For My Soul, aroused to pleasant dreams, thank Thee.

For My spirit, refreshed anew to the content of life thank Thee.

For all that thou wert, for all that Thou art, for all that Thou canst be to me, do I offer my heart I gratefulness.

Receive then, carrissime, this earnest of my obligation as bearing My whole being, an unworthy, but willing gift. And grant me yet this one prayer, that I may be Forever



The BIG Special Day, June 9, 1938

Despite the ongoing problems she had with the Clark school board getting paid and despite his over the top romantic longings, they were finally married on June 9, 1938, as I explained in Love Letters and the Course of True Love.  And she did not regret resigning from the Clark teaching job.

 Coshocton Tribune June 1938

Coshocton Tribune Article, June 15, 1938

She had hoped for a real honeymoon trip, writing from her own road trip,

We aren’t crowded in the bus and so far I don’t believe the trip will be very expensive. At least I will try to keep it from being, because there are several things I want, I wish we were on our trip now. I bet we can have a nice trip and not spend much in fact I would even like to stay in a tourist camp with you.

However, they spent their honeymoon one night at the Neil House hotel in Columbus, paying an outrageous $4.50 for their room and more to keep the car in the garage. Her memories included the smell of peanuts from the peanut vendor outside the front door.

Neil House honeymoon

Neil House hotel in Columbus Ohio and parking garage receipt for the night of their wedding.

Then they spent a few days at 4-H cap Hervida in Washington County, where Dad had been hired to lecture about weather because of his job with the Weather Bureau. There he lectured on weather subjects and she did First Aid. She noted that she had learned First Aid when she was a basketball coach.

Despite the problems and difficulties that plagued their five years of courtship, the marriage lasted the rest of their lives, and for the rest of their years, they grew nostalgic about the 9th of any month. Dad addressed anniversary cars to The Dutchess for decades.  In 1988, we celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary–marking that special day.

Paul and Harriette Kaser

Paul and Harriette Kaser, 50th Wedding Anniversary, June 1988

4, 5, 6, 7, Whatever, BEAN SALAD

Bean Salad ingredients

We’re having a party on Saturday night to gather family and friends to welcome my sister and brother to Arizona. After all they came from both coasts–California and Virginia– in the middle of a very hot Arizona summer. The least we can do is rustle up some vittles for a good old barbecue.  Like family favorite Bean Salad.

No summer gathering is complete in my family without my Bean Salad  Five Bean Salad, Four Bean Salad, if you’re lucky even more.  Whatever the bean count, this recipe has never failed me.

One of the most dilapidated–because the most used–of the cookbooks I inherited from my mother’s home ec teaching days holds the recipe for this bean salad, which the contributor made with four beans. I’ve added one more type of bean for a Five-Bean Salad

The spiral-bound Salad Book is a gathering of favorite recipes from home economics teachers across the country.  While there are some very good recipes in this book, I will admit that some of the recipes make me cringe and think, “This person was teaching young girls to COOK?” Various bean salads take up 7 1/2 pages in the book, but this one has always been my favorite. The secret ingredient is tarragon, which lends an indescribable tang.

However, I am on an herb-growing kick, and decided to try some summer savory instead of tarragon. After all, my German ancestors, called this herb the bean herb!

Use whatever canned beans you have on hand. Make it several days ahead of time, because marinating in the fridge just continues to improve the flavor. If you are fortunate enough to have fresh herbs on hand, pay attention to the amounts, as it takes more fresh herbs to equal the flavor of dried.

5 Bean Salad

Serves 12-20
Prep time 10 minutes
Dietary Gluten Free, Vegetarian
Meal type Salad
Misc Child Friendly, Pre-preparable, Serve Cold
Occasion Casual Party
From book Salads, Favorite Recipes of Home Economics Teachers 1950's
My 5-Bean salad comes from a 4-bean salad recipe in a vintage spiral-bound cookbook of home economics teachers' favorite recipes.


  • 5 cans Beans (Drained. Suggested beans: wax beans, green beans, garbanzos, kidney beans, black beans)
  • 1 green pepper (Sliced thinly in rings)
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup vinegar
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil (Olive oil not suggested as it solidifies at cold temperature)
  • 1 teaspoon salt (Seasoned salt if you wish)
  • 2 tablespoons dried parsley (or 1/4 Cup fresh parsley diced)
  • 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon leaves (Or 1 T fresh summer savory leaves)
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried basil leaves (Or 1 T fresh basil leaves)


  • 1 onion (Mild. Sliced thinly)


1. Drain beans, and rinse black beans and kidney beans. Dump in very large bowl.
2. Add sliced green peppers and sliced onions (if you use them). Red Bell peppers make a nice presentation, or use both red and green.
3. Stir together all remaining ingredients until dry mustard is well dissolved. Pour over vegetables. Cover and refrigerate a day or more before serving.


I called this one 5- Bean Salad but feel free to use what you have on hand. Italian green beans, pinto beans, navy beans, white beans--anything goes. The important thing is the tasty dressing and the marination time for the bean salad.