Tag Archives: heirlooms

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 out) and that small 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?

Cream Tea and Scones

I’m sure you have no trouble knowing what scones are, but there seems to be quite a bit of uncertainty about who first made them.  Was it the Scots in the 16th century? Was it the English? Is the name Gaelic, German or Dutch?

Whoever came up with the little cakes first, the British firmly embraced them for afternoon tea, perhaps as early as the 18th century , and then the British region of Devon came up with clotted cream from their Jersey cows, and although there’s no cream in the tea of a Cream Tea–the afternoon ritual generally includes scones, clotted (or Devon) cream. and strawberry jam.

I made AMERICAN scones.

tea and scones

Tea and Cranberry Scones and Lemon curd served on my wedding china.

Read how WRONG the scones are when made with dried cranberries (an American fruit, for one thing. Horrors!) and dusted with cinnamon sugar–the way I made them.  PLUS. I served lemon curd instead of clotted cream. And no strawberry jam. Heaven forbid.  The Guardian’s article about “How to eat a cream tea” had me laughing out loud. Perhaps I should be watching out for those “hounds of fury” that will be unleashed upon me by a afternoon tea purist!

However, the article writer at the Guardian is not a stickler for traditon. He does not like clotted cream, and much prefers double-whipped cream anyway.  I concur, having dumped a jar of clotted cream because it tasted “off.” Whoops–that’s how it is supposed to taste!

So make the scones or not–your choice.  But DO read the Guardian’s article on how to eat a cream tea. You’ll be glad you did.

And just a personal word of thanks to my daughter-in-law Rene for presenting me with a variety of teas and clotted cream, lemon curd and raspberry curd which inspired this article.

For more about my ancestors and tea, see this post.

Buttermilk Drop Scones

Serves 12-14
Prep time 10 minutes
Cook time 15 minutes
Total time 25 minutes
Allergy Egg, Milk, Wheat
Dietary Vegetarian
Meal type Bread
Misc Child Friendly, Freezable, Pre-preparable, Serve Cold
Region British
From book Joy of Cooking (1997 edition)
The history of Scones may be a bit fuzzy, and the toppings may be controversial, but this all-American version, drop scones using buttermilk and cranberries, is easy to make and palate pleasing.


  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 cup low-fat buttermilk
  • 3 1/2 tablespoons butter (melted)
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries (or substitute raisins, currants or other dried fruit)
  • sugar and cinnamon (for topping)


1. Heat oven to 400 degrees
2. Melt butter in microwave, or by putting it in an oven-proof ramekin in the oven as the oven heats.
3. Whisk together all dry ingredients (including sugar)
4. Beat egg, add and beat buttermilk and melted butter (cooled slightly)
5. Mix in the dried cranberries or other fruit
6. Mix together the moist ingredients and fruit into the dry ingredients. Mix just until no dry ingredients show. Do not overmix.
7. Using an ice cream scoop or large spoon, place mounds of 2 to 2 1/2 inches in diameter at least one inch apart on a lightly greased baking sheet.
8. Sprinkle tops with sugar and cinnamon
9. Bake at 400 degrees until tops are golden brown about 15 minutes. Cool on rack.


Unless you are a stickler for tradition, your scones do not have to rolled and cut in triangles, and scones do not have to be served with clotted cream.  In fact, the scones with dried fruit (of your choice) do not need anything on top--although Irish butter would never be amiss, and I enjoyed my scones with lemon curd.


Family Heirlooms

Heirloom china Forest Rose

Forest Rose pattern Inside of cup and on salad plate

The plate and teacup in the picture above are from my wedding china, purchased in 1960.  The china is Hutschenreuther Forest Rose pattern, made in Germany.  Little did I know when we picked it for our wedding registry that it was made in Bavaria, the home country of many  of my ancestors.

This pattern is no longer in production. As of 2000, the Hutschenreuther line as been part of Rosenthal.   There is a very similar one called Continental made by Rosenthal, but mine has the hallmark and the distinctive pattern of the Hutschenreuther Forest Rose, with its gold leaf stem and leaves.

Heirloom china Forest rose pattern

Forest Rose pattern on salad plate

Description: A single white rose shadowed in gray, with stem and leaves in brown with gold leaf.  The hallmark Is a CM in a shield with 18 on one side and 14 on the other. Hutschenreuther and Hoenberg are inside an oval surround all of this, with Germany below the oval. This would indicate it was made in the original Carl Magnus Hutschenreuther (later merged and expanded several times). A more detailed history here.

china hallmark

Hutschenreuther mark on bottom of salad plate

This has been another in my occasional posts on family heirlooms–in this case family collectibles rather than more valuable antiques.

Other bloggers doing Family Heirloom stories:


School Snack Picture: Family Collectibles Identified

After School Peanut Butter Cookies

After school snack of peanut butter cookies and milk. Harriette Kaser’s china, vintage Daffy Duck glass and Grandma Vera Anderson’s apron.

I used this  picture with family collectibles in my post about peanut butter cookies. Here’s the background.

Mother’s China

The cookies sit on a china saucer that is all I have of the set of china that my parents (Harriette and Paul Kaser) used for many years.The bottom of the piece has two logos–one is a brand featuring the letters H C and L combined into a pattern. The other is a seashell (although it doesn’t look like a natuilus.  The words , letters and numbers “Eggshell Nautilus, U.S. A. L 39 N 5” also are printed on the bottom.

I learned from RobinsNest.com, that the company is Homer Laughlin, and the company source told me that company was founded by two brothers in East Liverpool Ohio, in 1871.  Later, the company was to build more factories across the river in Newell West Virginia, and that is where my mother’s china would have been made. Eventurally the company was purchased by the Wells family, who still run the business.

There were many designs called Eggshell Nautilus, and this pattern, which does not show up for sale much on line is called Ardmore. From the E-How website, I learned keys to the letters and numbers found on the bottom of the piece. I learned it was made in December 1939 (So probably purchased in 1940 when I was one year old.) Although pretty, these pieces qualify more as family collectibles than fine antiques.

The Homer Laughlin Company now now concentrates on Fiesta Dinnerware.  The same company that did the delicately painted China of my mother’s pattern and hundreds others, also started the now better-known Fiesta Ware in 1935.

Grandma Vera Anderson’s Apron

This apron, used here as a kind of tablecloth for the after school snack, was made from flour-sack material. It has made it through three generations of use, and my grand daughter now wears it when she visits me to cook–a fourth generation of wear.  I wrote about it, and other aprons here. Flour sack aprons and garments are definitely family collectibles–few survive because they were USED.

The Daffy Duck Glass

When I was young we had a cupboard full of these juice glasses.  Jelly and cheese spreads came packaged in these glass jars with pry-off metal lids.  An environmentally sensitive packaging gimmick before anybody was particularly paying attention to the environment, enhanced with the kid-catching cartoon figures. So that makes my Daffy Duck glass one of the more valuable family collectible as each year passes.

In fact, for a while you could still get your pimento or pineapple (oh my gosh, I had forgotten about pineapple cheese spread!) in a glass jar–but, sadly, without the cartoon characters. I could not find any manufactured in 2016.

UPDATE: I wrote to Kraft’s page on Facebook, and got the following information:

Kraft still makes Jar Cheese in Old English, Pimento, Pineapple available all year round and Roka Blue which is available during the winter holidays only. We suggest trying out our product locator here http://bit.ly/1KAUCMx to see local grocery stores that may have stocked the product within the last 30 days.

That worked for me. So have fun.

You can also find it on line, but CHECK the EXPIRATION DATE.

This has been another in my occasional posts on family heirlooms–in this case family collectibles rather than more valuable antiques.

Other bloggers doing Family Heirloom stories: