From Birmingham, with Luck


Victorian English Brass "Lucky Horseshoe" Paperclip with Wall-Hang Ring (LEO Design)


The brass paperclips, shown above, are designed in the form of a lucky horseshoe—and are embossed with a wish for "Good Luck."  They have a loop on  the back, allowing one to hang the packet of paper sheets on a nail on the wall.  They were made in 1870 in Birmingham, England, by M. Myers & Son.

Birmingham had a very important "Jewelry Quarter" since the Sixteenth Century.  It was here that much of England's jewelry was produced. With so many skilled workers in the area, other small metalworks manufacturers sprung-up: makers of buckles, blades, metal buttons and pen nibs.  Besides inexpensive labor, Birmingham also had the materials of production (iron ore and the coal to process it) and the means of transport to ship-out finished merchandise (initially canals, then railroads).

M. Myers & Son was best known for making metal "pen nibs"—the removable, replaceable writing tip of a fountain or dip pen.  When such metal writing nibs were first made—to replace feather quills—writing (and literacy) benefitted.  But making the nibs was a laborious, tedious and costly process.  In time, Industrialization came to the rescue: hand-press stamping machines allowed the sheet metal to be cut quickly and accurately.  The price of metal nibs fell (by some accounts) by 99%.  The new-found affordability of writing instruments had another positive knock-on effect on writing and literacy.  Additionally, up to 70% of the employees making pen nibs in Birmingham were women.

Some historians have estimated that, in the Nineteenth Century, 75% of the handwriting in then world was produced with a pen nib from Birmingham. At its peak, Birmingham had 8,000 workers making pen nibs in 24 hour factories.  8,000 workers made 1.5 billion pen nibs a year.  Alas, many of these people were poorly paid—and some of them were children.     

In 1938, the first commercially viable ballpoint pen was patented in England by Hungarian expat László Bíró.  This changed the entire pen industry—overnight.  Ballpoint pens were cheap, easy and reliable.  Before long, the fountain (or dip) pen industry was mostly gone.

The brass horseshoe paperclips, shown above, were made by the pen nib maker in Birmingham's Jewelry Quarter.  Click on the photo above to learn more about them.


Though our Greenwich Village store is now permanently closed, LEO Design is still alive and well!  Please visit our on-line store where we continue to sell Handsome Gifts (

We also can be found in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania at The Antique Center of Strabane (

Or call to arrange to visit our Pittsburgh showroom (by private appointment only).  917-446-4248