The pen Museum is a museum in Birmingham, United Kingdom dedicated to educating visitors about the history of Birmingham’s steel pen trade. The only museum in the United Kingdom devoted to the history of the pen making industry, the Pen Museum explains how Birmingham became the center of the world pen trade.
Based in a former pen factory in the heart of Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter, the Pen Museum tells the story of how modern pens evolved. The museum celebrates the Birmingham pen trade during the 19th Century and the lives of the manufacturers and workers whose expertise placed the city at the centre of this worldwide trade.
In the 19th century, around 100 companies distributed steel pens in Birmingham. The pen nibs produced were distributed worldwide, until the trade was overtaken by fountain pens and the ballpoint pen. The museum looks into the lives of the employers and workers involved in the business, as well as providing information on the pen companies. It also has information on how steel pen nibs were made and has pen nibs on display. Beyond the steel pen, the museum also aims to educate on other forms of writing equipment and on writing in general.
The museum is run by the Birmingham Pen Trade Heritage Association a registered charity located in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter, at the Argent Centre. The Argent Centre itself used to house a pen factory and is a Grade II* listed building. The museum was opened in April 2001, and in June 2002 the adjoining Philp Poole Room gallery opened. The new exhibition and shop area with new entrance to the Museum opened in November 2016.
Pen Museum main exhibition is visiting the ‘Pen Room’, which aims to recreate a traditional pen factory. Have a go at some of the manufacturing processes involved in producing steel pen nibs and learn about the tough lives of the female pen workers as they churned out thousands of pieces per day. The Museum continues with the Philip Poole Room which includes further displays including the temporary exhibition area.
Information at the museum is given through displays and tours by volunteer guides, as well as through demonstrations and ‘hands on’ activities, such as writing with different kinds of pen, early typewriters and Braille machines, and making a pen nib using original factory presses. Entry to the museum is by admission, additional donations are appreciated.
The Museum also hosts workshops for family and community groups on various themes, talks on pen trade history and provides for research into genealogy. The Museum has a shop which sells books, pens and writing-related gifts and souveniers.
Learn about the many pen companies of Birmingham and the history of the trade from a quill to steel nib, to fountain pen.
Make your own nib using traditional machinery, and experience the tough working conditions of the steel pen workers.
Try your handwriting with feather quills, reed pens, and steel pens.
The Museum is dedicated to keeping Birmingham’s industrial legacy alive through displays, activities, classes, and talks.
Children (and adults) can immerse themselves in the museum’s ‘clocking-in’ trail, a Victorian schoolroom, and more.
Gift shop offers an extensive range of specialist calligraphy equipment suitable for beginners and experts. We have something for everyone with a wide selection of books, gift sets and souvenirs
The pen Museum is the most comprehensive collection of its kind in the country. Amongst our collections, we have examples of nibs from all of the local pen manufacturers, as well as specialty items such as musical stave nibs. The museum also houses a range of objects associated with the pen trade and the history of writing, including inkwells, escritoires and period retail packaging from all over the world.
Opened in 2001 by the Birmingham Pen Trade Heritage Association, the Pen Museum is a volunteer-led Museum an Arts Council accredited Museum and recipients of the Queens Award for Voluntary Service.
The Birmingham pen trade evolved in the Birmingham Jewellery Quarter and its surrounding area in the 19th century; for many years, the city was the centre of the world’s pen trade.
In Newhall Street, John Mitchell manufactured pens; he pioneered mass production of steel pens (prior to this, the quill pen was the most common form of writing instrument). Mitchells are credited as being the first manufacturers to use machines to cut pen nibs, greatly speeding up the process. John’s brother William later set up his own pen-making business in St Paul’s square.
Baker and Finnemore operated in James Street, near St Paul’s Square; C. Brandauer & Co Ltd. (founded as Ash & Petit) traded at 70 Navigation Street; Joseph Gillott & Sons Ltd. made pen nibs in Bread Street (now Cornwall Street) for companies such as Perry & Co.; Hinks, Wells & Co. traded in Buckingham Street; George W. Hughes traded in St Paul’s Square; Leonardt & Catwinkle (then D. Leonardt & Co.) traded in George and Charlotte Streets, and M. Myers & Son. were based at 8 Newhall Street.
In 1828 Josiah Mason improved a cheap, efficient slip-in nib which could be added to a pen holder. This was based on existing models.
By the 1850s, Birmingham existed as a world centre for steel pen and steel nib manufacture; more than half the steel-nib pens manufactured in the world were made in Birmingham. Thousands of skilled craftsmen and -women were employed in the industry. Many new manufacturing techniques were perfected in Birmingham, enabling the city’s factories to mass-produce their pens cheaply and efficiently. These were sold worldwide to many who previously could not afford to write, thus encouraging the development of education and literacy.
Richard Esterbrook manufactured quill pens in Cornwall. During the 19th century, Esterbrook saw a gap in the American market for steel-nib pens. He approached five craftsmen who worked for John Mitchell in Navigation Street, with a view to setting up business in Camden, New Jersey, USA. Esterbrook later went on to become one of the largest steel-pen manufacturers in the world. He returned to Birmingham for help when in 1928 the British Government placed restrictions on US imports. John Mitchell’s factory was used to produce Esterbrook pens within the UK (Mitchells were then operating in Moland Street). In 1930 Esterbrook introduced a fountain pen in Britain which had a nib made of osmiridium, which eventually replaced large-scale production of steel-tipped pens.
During World War II, pen manufacture in the city was somewhat disturbed. Mitchell’s factory on Moland Street was struck by an incendiary bomb; the premises were partially rebuilt during the war with government aid, on condition that a government stationery office and ammunition assay office could reside there. Esterbrook were still manufacturing pens in Birmingham until 1973.
During the first half of the 20th century Swan Pens opened a large gold pen-making factory in the city, taking advantage of the skilled gold workers of the jewellery quarter, and at the same time Osmiroid International had a large production plant in the city.
The Birmingham Pen Trade Heritage Association:
The Birmingham Pen Trade Heritage Association was established in 1996 and registered as a charity (No. 1064945) in 1997. The Association works to ensure that Birmingham’s role in the importance of the pen trade is explored, appreciated and celebrated worldwide.
The Birmingham Pen Trade Heritage Association is a registered charity located in the independent museum known as The Pen Museum in Birmingham, England. The charity is based within the museum, and the museum is run entirely by volunteers. The charity began in 1996 as an informal gathering of people with an interest in pen history within Birmingham, and became a registered charity in 1997.
Most of the volunteers at The Pen Museum are also members of the Birmingham Pen Trade Heritage Association. The charity’s members also include those who have visited or regularly visit the museum, those with an interest in history, pen collectors and those who worked in the trade. Details of Association Membership scheme can be obtained by contacting or visiting the museum in the first instance.