A small piece of Burnham history from people who have experienced it………..
( A note to all my website readers: if you have experienced working in a fountain pen factory and want to put your story up on the web for all to read then send me an email to [email protected] )
Here is a further story from a chap who worked in the Burnham factory……..
Wonderful website for fountain pens. I liked your ‘Pen Makers-History’

entries by Terence Coleman. Burnham Pens in Gloucester Road, London, SE25

was my first job on leaving school in 1953. I hated it so much! My main job

was to cut the slots in the ink feed on a little machine that was somewhat

like a key cutting machine. I used to admire the foreman doing the ‘cream

jobs’ like turning the caps and bodies of the pens and cutting those very

intricate threads involved. I remember the workshop being up a flight of

outside wooden steps and the canteen being in a building which must have

been backing onto Northcote Road. By the time you finished queueing for your

tea at ‘tea break’, you had to gulp it down before the bell went to return

to work!


Bill White, Bognor Regis
My memories of Burnham pens are from long past, but as you are interested I will tell you best I can so here goes:

I started work at Burnham Pen Co as a machine setter in about 1958-9 and stayed until about 1961.
John Burnham was a large and well presented man, very proper in manner and very much the boss. I think there was another brother who seemed to keep in the background. I would guess they were in their 40’s and so must have been the sons of Harry Burnham. Family issues were never talked about to us workers.
The factory was in Gloucester Road Croydon, with two offices (converted shops) that backed on to Northcote Road.
My impression was that the company was very traditional in it’s methods and nothing much had changed since before the war.
The barrels and caps were machined out of solid rods of, I think, Bextrene. This was delivered by BX Plastics. The nib holders and feed bars were machined from solid rods of vulcanised rubber (I think). There was a small press shop for making clips etc over in Addiscombe but I wasn’t involved in that. In about 1960 they decided to try injection moulding to replace the Vulcanite parts, it was going well for the cheaper models when I left.
The boss was very particular about quality and the good standing of his products. He thought that he wouldn’t be able to get that distinctive mottle effect if they went completely down the injection mould route. The products were indeed first class, with good finish and functionality.
I think they had ceased as a company by around 1964-5. I wonder what became of all the plant, specialised machines? Still it was 40 years ago!
By Terence Coleman, Surrey.__________________________________

Another piece of history from a personal viewpoint…..
H Burnham & Sons Ltd

2a, 2, 4, 10 Selhurst Road

South Norwood


This company manufactured fountain pens and propelling pencils and moved to the above address in the 1930s from Selsdon Road. No.2a was originally a dairy and yard owned by United Dairies, the employees entrance being where an air-raid shelter is situated between no.2 and the shop at the corner of Sydenham Road (which is still there today). I commenced employment with H Burnham & Sons in August 1936 at the age of 14 earning a wage of 10/- per week (50p). The hours of work were Monday – Friday: 8am – 1pm 2pm – 6pm and Saturday: 8am – 1pm with holiday for one week in August (no pay). We worked on piece work which meant that each job was priced and you were paid by results. The prices for each job were so low that you were hard pushed even to earn 10/-. If you had a task which was a little easier to earn money you daren’t work too hard and exceed your basic rate or the price would be reduced. Wage increases were paid on birthdays …….
12/-per week at 15

14/- per week at 16

16/- per week at 17

18/- per week at 18

There were differing degrees of skill required to do various jobs and so these were also allocated on an age basis, the more skilful jobs going to older workers. Woe betide a foreman if he gave an 18-year-old a ‘kid’s job’. The factory was very hot in the summer and freezing cold in the winter. The department I worked in only had a valour oil stove for heat and didn’t get warm until a coke stove was lit in the downstairs department. I was taken off piecework and given instructions to ‘go anywhere, where needed’ and given a wage of £2.1 Op at 18 which was considered excellent at that time. Apart from the Capstan lathes nearly all the machinery was purpose-built in the toolroom.

Henry Burnham Snr was a director and only visited the premises about once a week. The factory was managed by the son, also a Henry Burnham and the office by his brother, W H Burnham. There were two other brothers who were evangelists but had no dealings with the running of the company although they were directors. A younger brother was J G Burnham. Harry Burnham had many ways of getting the best out of his employees. He knew everybody’s christian name even if someone ahd only worked there for a few days, although when he was in a bad mood (which was quite often!) he would use surnames. Following a maxim which was taught at school, namely ‘Work hard and you’ll get on’ (I have learnt differently since then).

From the commencement of war in 1939 we undertook work for the war effort. Although fountain pens and pencils were made for export and NAAFI we also made thousands of pencils for an Air Ministry contract. I remained with the company until called up in February 1944. During and immediately after the war the company was cramped for space so the shop at no.2 was purchased for £1,000.

A couple of years later no.4 was added and then finally, no. 10 which became the office and dispatch departments. Upon my release from the army in 1947 I returned to the company as foreman,a post which I held until 1963, just prior to the company ceasing business.Also in 1947 another company was formed called Metal Actions Ltd, at Morland Road in East Croydon. This had a manager in charge and made the metal components for pens and pencils. The Selhurst Road factory had a new director at this time, the youngest brother John G Burnham took over the manufacturing side of the business. In 1963 we could see that the business was being run down so most of us sought other employment. The company would never survive today as all bills were repaid within 3 days.

Many companies had pens made specifically for them including KenCroy pen (Kennards), Chatsworth pen (Boots), Gamages (London) and Waverley pen.

L Coleman ( Submitted by By Terence Coleman, Surrey )
Early Days – Prior to fountain pens as we know them.
Quill writing instruments made primarily from goose feathers were used for almost 13 centuries until the leak proof pens of L.E.Waterman were introduced in 1884.
The best quills were made from the first four flight feathers of each wing and were sold through book shops and stationers’. But quills were soft and continuously had to be re-cut during their short life which lasted only a few days. However more long-lasting metal nibs of the 18thC did not stem the production of quill pens as the metal nibs were either too soft or too hard. Later improvements in the steel industry created more flexible nibs and so began the decline in quills.
The gold nib was most flexible but wore out due to its softness. To offset this problem a method of attaching iridium to the point was devised, during the 1820’s, in order to give a very durable point.
The next stage was to create a method to hold a reservoir of ink to enable extended use which was the problem with the dip pens. Reservoir pens ( or fountain pens ) were noted back in the 17thC but none were totally leak proof until the late 19thC when Mr L E Waterman patented his feeder design in 1884.

L. E. Waterman Pen Company ……. 1884 – Present
Lewis Waterman patented his design for an improved feed and then went on to become one of the main pen makers. In 1884 Waterman and one of his customers Asa Shipman formed the Ideal Pen Company in New York and in that year made a total of 200 pens. By the end of that year Shipman had left the business and Waterman carried on alone. With the business still growing steadily he formed the L.E.Waterman Pen Company in 1887 and by 1901 at the time of his death he was selling 1,000 pens a day. Waterman over the years have made pens using many filling methods :
Eyedropper – 1884 to 1928
Pump Filler (1st Style) – 1899
Pump Filling (2nd Style) – 1903 to 1926
Safety Pen – 1907 to 1940s
Sleeve Filler – 1910 to 1915
Coin Filler – 1913 to 1914
Lever Filler – 1915 to 1955
Cartridge Filler – 1936 to present
Ink-Vue Filler – 1935 to 1940

SHEAFFER …………. 1912 to Present
At the age of 40 Walter Sheaffer, although a jeweller, felt he could improve on the current design of fountain pens. He believed there had to be another way to fill fountain pens with ink instead of using an eye dropper or the crescent filler.
In the back of his jewelers shop he tried out many designs and eventually obtained a patent in 1908 which had a deflatable rubber sac and a lever which pushed a pressure bar to deflate the sac. But this design had some inherent problems which were later removed in his subsequent patent of 1912. Now he went fountain pen production in his jewelers shop and sold the pens through two ex-Conklin salesmen. The venture was successful and the salesmen Kraker and Coulson put up partnership money which allowed them to form the W A Sheaffer Pen Company.
By 1917 they had produced 100,000 pens with 100 employees. The Lifetime pen was introduced in 1920 even though in was three times the price of competitors it was a success as Sheaffer had focused on value for money and quality. ( “Lifetime” meant the gold nib was guaranteed for the life of the first owner ). Sheaffer continued his attention on quality and in 1924 the White Dot trademark appeared – this representing quality and durability to customers.
Detailed below is a summary of the pens and improvements Sheaffer introduced over the four decades to 1960.
1920 The Lifetime pen was introduced
1924 Plastic pens were first sold
1926 Hard rubber for caps and barrels was discontinued
1926 Serial numbers began to be stamped on Lifetime pen nibs
1929 Introduction of Balanced pens
1928 The Penelope range introduced aimed at women
1931 Introduction of the Feathertouch nib
1931 Auto graph pens marketed with solid gold wide bands for engraving
1933 The new shorter clip with a middle hump and small round ball was introduced
1934 Chrome trim introduced on Lifetime pens
1934 Wasp pens were introduced as the ecenomy range
1935 A new short clip with middle hump and small flat ball was introduced
1936 Introduction of a transparent section to show the ink supply
1937 Lifetime pens with plastics barrels and metal caps were marketed
1942 The Triumph circular wrap around nib was introduced
1949 The introduction of the Touchdown filling system
1950 The TM(Thin Model) was introduced
1952 The new Snorkel filling system was marketed
1958 The Lady Sheaffer Skripsert range was launched
1959 Sheaffer’s PFM ( Pen For Men ) was introduced

Parker Pen Company……. 1888 to Present
George S. Parker started the company and his lucky break came in 1892 with the “Lucky Curve” pen which customers liked as it didn’t leak as did so many of the pens in those days.
In 1898 Parker was granted a patent which showed the first slip-fit type of outer cap and by a year later he had almost 9,000 dealers selling his pens. By 1904 Parker had introduced a lever type filling method which incorporated a rubber sac which fitted to the section very similar to present pens. This new innovation is viewed as one of fountain pens great advances.
In 1921 Parker introduced the ‘Duofold’ pen which was guaranteed for 25 years and was developed from the previous “Jack Knife Safety Pen”. The Duofold is a quality pen which still lasts to this day.
By 1933 the “arrow” pocket clip design was introduced along with the new filling system: the Vacumatic. This type of filler was also a great success for Parker. The Parker 51 was launched in 1941 and took the market by storm generating vast sales.

The Moore Pen Company ….1896 to 1956 ( The American Fountain Pen Co 1899 to 1917 )
Mr Moore had patented a pen with a retractable nib in 1896 which in many ways was similar to Watermans safety pen. A partnership with FC Brown was formed to make the pens however the partnership had ended by 1899 leaving Brown holding the patents which were later that year passed onto The American Fountain Pen Co who produced Moores pens until 1917 when they became The Moore Pen Company.
Lever Fills were introduced in 1918 and by 1927 the new plastic pens were being introduced. However the firm came to an end in the mid 1950’s when the ball-point pen was introduced.