1856 - 1869 - Experts in Calligraphy since 1856 when D. Leonardt & Co established
Through its association with D. Leonardt & Co, as far back as 1856 Manuscript Pen Company Ltd has been connected with the pen trade and in the forefront of pen nib manufacture and design.
D. Leonardt & Co. was originally founded in Frederick Street, Birmingham by Diedrich Leonardt in 1856, in the area now known as the Jewellery Quarter. The demand for steel pens grew as the result of an increasing need for educational writing materials. Birmingham was in an excellent position to produce these as the area had good resources of iron and steel and a workforce experienced in handling high volumes of small products.
Due to continued demand for pens and pen holders and diversification of the business into other areas such as wholesale stationery items, D. Leonardt & Co. expanded first in 1863 to Legge Lane and then in 1867 into further premises on George St, Parade and Charles Henry St.
Around this time Birmingham’s Pen Trade as a whole was booming and employing over 3000 people, most of which were women and girls working as hand-press operators, whilst an increasing number of men were taking up skilled positions as toolmakers, toolsetters and finishing process operators.
1869 saw the introduction of the ‘inventive genius’ Hezekiah Hewitt as a partner in to the company and Charles Leonardt came to Birmingham to join his father’s business.
1870 - Charles family started in pen trade - T. Hessin & Co established
The Charles family’s long history in the pen trade dates back to 1870 with the establishment of T. Hessin & Co by Andrew Charles. Based at the Magnetic Pen Works, 16 Wheeleys Lane, Birmingham, the company specialised in the manufacture of the lower cost range of pens into the market place.
In 1890 the company purchased the pen works of S. B Whitfield at the Lion Works, 68 Broad St. Birmingham.
1871 - 1886 - D.Leonardt & Co - Overseas markets, the Automatic Wonder Pen and the Eureka pen
D. Leonardt & Co was able to survive the depression through overseas trade expansion and attendance at international exhibitions. In response to their competitors D. Leonardt & Co. introduced their Automatic Wonder Pen, a type of Fountain Pen to the market
After the death of founder Diedrich Leonardt in 1881 the company restructured and merged with Hewitt & Co. Based at the Universal Pen Works, 100 Charlotte Street, Charles Leonardt, Hezekiah Hewitt and Alvis Leonardt established exports in both South America and Eastern Europe. D. Leonardt & Co. was honoured with the appointment as penmakers to the Kings of Italy, Spain and Portugal. The D. Leonardt & Co rare trademark, which incorporates a crown, is a direct result of this appointment.
In 1883 Hezekiah Hewitt patented the Ball-pointed Pen, commonly known as the “Eureka” Pen. This introduced a hemispherical shape underneath the pen point, decreasing friction and increasing durability. Throughout the 1880’s the company experienced exponential growth with an output of over 200 million pens per year and continued to build strong trade links, exporting out across Europe, South America, Australia and the United States
1889 - 1930s - T. Hessin & Co
Thomas Hessin Charles, son of Andrew Charles, joined the family business T. Hessin & Co.
T. Hessin & Co acquired the established pen companies M. Turnor & Co. and G. Smith & Co.
In 1930 Arthur (A.A.S.) Charles joined the business, now owned by his Father, Thomas Charles. The Company continued trading up to the start of World War II, when it became dormant. The Company is still registered but has not traded since WW II.
It is owned by Highley Pens Ltd, the owner of Manuscript Pen Company Ltd, which owns the D. Leonardt & Co brand name and distinctive crown trademark for pens.
1846 - 1949 - Introduction of Fountain Pens & Ball Pens.
After WWII the industry experienced difficulties with increased competition from the introduction of modern cheap fountain pens and ball pens into the market.
Establishment of the Highley Pen Company
In 1947, on his return from the war, Arthur Charles first worked for pen manufacturers, John Mitchell, for a short period before going on to establish the Highley Pen Company in a disused fire station in the small village of Highley, Nr. Bridgnorth, Shropshire.
In 1949 the Highley Pen Company merged with D. Leonardt & Co. The newly formed company, D. Leonardt & Co (Highley Pens) Ltd was under the control of Arthur Charles. The surviving members of the Leonardt family ceased to have any involvement in the business in the early 1950s.
1950s & 1960s - Pen Nibs for Platignum and Pen Clips
D. Leonardt & Co (Highley Pens) Ltd diversified into the manufacture of pen clips and fountain pen nibs, especially for Platignum, a manufacturer of calligraphy and schools products, who to safeguard production acquired a 30% holding in the Company. In the late 1960s it diversified further into electronic pressings and pressings for leather goods
1970s & 1980s - Pen Nib and Pen Clip automation
The Company introduced automated tooling for the manufacture of pen nibs and clips. It developed automatic tooling to produce “butterfly” nibs (nibs made with a formed point commonly used by European pen makers for use in schools). The Company produced approx. 150 million nibs and clips per annum.
Nick Stockbridge, the present Chairman and Managing Director of Highley Pens Ltd and Manuscript Pen Company Ltd, married Malissa, daughter of Arthur Charles, in 1973 and joined D. Leonardt & Co (Highley Pens) Ltd in 1976, becoming joint Managing Director in 1978.
Malissa Stockbridge, present Director and Company Secretary of Highley Pens Ltd and Manuscript Pen Company Ltd, joined D. Leonardt & Co (Highley Pens) Ltd in 1977.
In 1986 the Company repurchased the shares held by Platignum Ltd.
In 1987 D. Leonardt & Co (Highley Pens) Ltd purchased from Hiro in Austria the tooling to make the wide range of Hiro dip pens. These nibs were rebranded Hiro-Leonardt, although the Hiro part of the name has since been dropped.
1930 - 1980 - History of the Steel Pen Trade - 1930 to 1980
In 1984, Arthur Charles published a history of “The Steel Pen Trade 1930 – 80” giving details of the Birmingham based pen makers of that period and the manufacturing processes involved. Apart from D. Leonardt & Co almost all the Companies concerned now no longer exist or have moved away from nib manufacture.
1989 - 1990 - Manuscript Pen Company Ltd established and Highley Pens Group restructured
With the takeover/demise of an increasing number of European pen makers, including Platignum and Osmiroid, Manuscript Pen Company Ltd was born out of a desire to serve a gap in the market for packaged calligraphy products and fountain pens for schools. The initial range was based on fountain pens and extended to Manuscript’s Chronicle dip nib products, which contained all D. Leonardt & Co nibs. Manuscript also developed a range of technical calligraphy, Term time stationery for school children and Nostalgia gift sets.
In 1990 Highley Pens Ltd was established as a holding company for the group with Arthur Charles as Chairman and Nick Stockbridge as Managing Director. D. Leonardt & Co (Highley Pens) Ltd reverted to its original name of D. Leonardt & Co Ltd. Nick Stockbridge took over as Chairman and Managing Director of D. Leonardt & Co Ltd and Manuscript Pen Company Ltd
2004 - Stuart Houghton giftware acquired
Manuscript acquired the products of Stuart Houghton, a manufacturer of giftware including Calligraphy Gifts and Wax & Seal products.
2006 - 2012 - Manuscript Pen Company Ltd took over nib manufacture and associated D. Leonardt & Co brand
In 2006 Highley Pens Ltd rearranged the businesses of D. Leonardt & Co and Manuscript. Manuscript took over production of pen nibs and the rights to the D. Leonardt & Co name and crown trademark for pen nibs.
The rest of the business, which over the previous 20 to 30 years had expanded into other small metal pressings and metal finishing processes, was sold to a new company named “Leonardt Ltd” formed by the non-family directors of D. Leonardt & Co Ltd. Manuscript continues to work closely with Leonardt Ltd, sub-contracting to them nearly all finishing processes including polishing, nickel plating, gold plating and bronzing.
60 years production in Highley
In 2007 Manuscript / D Leonardt & Co celebrated 60 years of continuous nib production in Highley.
Charles Stockbridge in Manuscript
In 2009 Charles, the son of Nick and Malissa Stockbridge and grandson of Arthur Charles, joined Manuscript. He is the fifth generation of the family to be involved with the manufacture of pen nibs in the West Midlands.
In 2010 Charles Stockbridge was appointed Commercial Director for Manuscript, becoming Deputy Managing Director in 2012.
Now over 150 years since D. Leonardt & Co was first established, Manuscript continues to combine the traditional elements of writing with new and exciting craft products. A design focused company, Manuscript has continued to package and market a wide range of calligraphy products selling to Stationers, Art & Craft and Gift retailers worldwide
2013 - Ecommerce launch
With the general reduction in the range of products offered by retailers, Manuscript launches new ecommerce site, making available its wide range of products for the first time directly to the end user