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George Dewey pen wipe is an example of the outmoded tool
By Morton A. Hirschberg

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — George Dewey was known as “The Hero of Manila Bay.” In truth, he was more than that.

He was born into a prominent Vermont Family. In 1854 he entered The U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis Md. He was smart and crafty with a short temper. He had many scuffles at the Academy and always came out on top. He graduated in 1858.

During the U. S. Civil war he fought on David Farragut’s Flagship. When a shell landed nearby Dewey ducked. Farragut told him he had to get used to it. When another shell landed nearby Farragut ducked. There was no further discussion on that subject.

During the Spanish-American War, Dewey was on the Flagship Olympia Captained by Charles Vernon Gridley. It was on May 1, 1898 that he gave his famous command, “You may fire when you are ready Gridley.” The Spanish fleet was destroyed that day with no combatant loss to Dewey’s men.

Dewey, with the help of Theodore Roosevelt, served in many important positions. Dewey was promoted to the rank of Admiral of the Navy by Congress, the highest rank ever attained in the Navy.

In 1900 he was a short-lived candidate for President. Because of personal problems he withdrew. He continued serving in the U.S. Navy until his death in 1917.

A variety of collectibles are made from historic figures such as Dewey. A cast iron pen wipe of Dewey has become such a collectible.

Here is what Ralph and Terry Kovel had to say about pen wipes, “Long before the ballpoint pen and the fountain pen, letters were written by dip pens or nib pens. Early pens were simple. They were just a holder and a point. There was no ink reservoir.

“The steel pen was developed in 1803 in Birmingham, England. Soon, more than half of the pens in the world came from this city. Each pen held a point that was dipped into an inkwell for use. But these dip pens dripped, so pen wipes were necessary. The wipe was made of a ’sandwich’ of fabric stitched together so the point could be wiped quickly on both sides.

“Many shapes and holders were made for pen wipes. Unusual ones are sought by collectors of both folk art and pens. Many pen wipes are hand-stitched layers of cloth cut into a circle. The creative housewife added a top piece that was often a stitched fabric animal or bird. Look carefully at fabric items at flea markets. You might find an unusual and valuable pen wipe.”

Many people are old enough to remember dip pens. Those who are left-handed usually had a gob of ink on their papers and hands.

Blotters, which for the most part replaced pen wipes, were used to soak up extra ink. They would also soak up most of the ink on dip pens. Ballpoint pens solved it all.

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