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The First Propelling Pencil - Sampson Mordan & Co

The history of Sampson Mordan & Co

Letter of Patent 1828

Sampson Mordan, born in 1770, began his career as an apprentice to John Bramah who invented an ‘unpickable’ lock. Mordan then later established his own business with John Isaac Hawkins in London in 1815, after filing for patent for a metal pencil with an internal led propelling mechanism. In 1823, Mordan bought out Hawkins, received his own silver mark and joined forces with a wealthy stationer, Gabriel Riddle. They manufactured many stationary goods, including their new metal mechanical pencils.


In 1836, the partnership between Mordan and Riddle dissolved and Mordan continued to run the company alone. After successfully running the business alone, Mordan died in 1843 and the business was passed to his two sons, Sampson Junior and Augustus. The business had many other ownerships after this, until it was converted to a limited liability company in 1898, known as S. Mordan & Co Limited.


S. Mordan & Co, unfortunately, stopped trading in 1941 when their manufactory was bombed during the Second World War.


The Invention of the first mechanical pencil

S. Mordan & Co pencil listed SHJB stock

The mechanical pencil was invented after seeing many pencils made from long lead bound in wax or cased in metal or wood. These pencils required sharpening after use. Considering this, Hawkins and Mordan then developed a twist-screw mechanism to be used in their propelling pencils. Clever, right?! Between the 1820’s and 1870’s, Sampson Mordan & Co, obtained more than 160 patents for various mechanical pencils, such as the spring-loaded and twist-feed mechanical pencils.


These pencils were most commonly owned by middle and upper glass gentlemen, kept in their waistcoat pockets or worn with an Albert chain. They were available in many shapes and sizes, some with detailing of animals or gemstones. Like many items in these times, the decoration, shape and sizes acted as a display of wealth. They were also popular with architects and artists. So, owning one of these pencils in modern times is super rare and very cool!