Henry Folger’s Brigg Umbrella with Concealed Pencil

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The Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC contains not only Shakespearean treasures of every sort and size but various items belonging to its founders. Henry Folger ordered two racing umbrellas from the company founded in London in 1836 by Thomas Brigg as “Brigg and Sons.” The Folgers would have custom-ordered the umbrellas in London. The company has now become Swaine Adeney Brigg (purveyors to the Prince of Wales) and is currently located in the Picadilly Arcade.

Swaine Adeney Brigg umbrella handle with concealed pencil for sale today

Henry Folger’s crook-style black racing umbrella measures 36 inches. The initials “H C F Jr.” are monogrammed on a one-inch-high gold collar ring affixed under the handle. On the gold collar ring appears an engraved hallmark inscription, “C.D.,” followed by a diamond figure, a square figure, and two round figures, and to the far right the name “Brigg.”

Between the collar ring and the top of the curved handle is a gold-capped brown pencil that fits into the crook of the handle. The lead pencil shows signs of having been sharpened with a penknife, but no lead protrudes. A gold cap pivots for easy extraction and replacement so as to be flush with the handle. The pencil measures 3.5 inches, with the hole measuring more than 4 inches deep. The pencil fits tightly into a gold pencil casing on which is inscribed the identical hallmark as on the collar ring. When the umbrella is opened, one can read a large label above the ribs, “QUALITY UMB. SHOP WASH DC.”

Emily Folger’s straight-style black umbrella measures 35 inches. The top of the umbrella handle is carved with a leaf motif and labeled at its base, “STERLING SILVER.” When the umbrella is opened, one can read a large label above the ribs, “QUALITY UMB. SHOP WASH DC.”

Henry and Emily Folger’s black century-old umbrellas made by Brigg and Sons, London

The “Jr” in the gold-monogrammed initials indicates that the umbrella was ordered while Henry Clay Folger Sr. was still alive. On the latter’s death in 1914, his son stopped writing “Jr” after his name. The umbrella is therefore over a century old. Presumably the Folger Library sent the umbrellas to be repaired in the 1950s or 1960s. The present canopy is nylon. Louis B. Wright, third director of the Folger Shakespeare Library (1948–1968) kept the umbrellas behind a door, first in his office at the library (looking out on the U. S. Capitol) and later at his Washington DC home.

These functional household objects enhanced with gold and silver decoration might well have been birthday or Christmas gifts between Emily and Henry. It would have taken from one hour to three days to make such umbrellas. They featured double-rib frame with intricate lattice work, tempered steel, exotic wood such as whangee, a bamboo-like wood from Japan, malacca from Malaysia, or chestnut, brass and nylon, silk ivory or bone, snakeskin handle, nose and band, 14-carat gold hallmarked cap.

Normally, one might use the concealed pencil in the racing umbrella to follow a filly’s time around the track at Ascot. However, antiquarian book collectors with zero interest in horse racing might use the pencil to jot down the title of a book they were tracking, or the name of a bookseller to contact. It is highly likely that in the winter of 1918, when the Folgers were delayed in their train connections at Union Station during inclement weather, they opened these very umbrellas. Sheltered from the rain, they walked with determined gait up to East Capitol Street, on a mission to identify a site on which to build a library for their Shakespeare collection. The notes Henry made on his map of Capitol Hill attached to his February 18, 1918 letter to real estate agent A. A. McCreary were indeed written in pencil.

Photoshopped dual photo of Henry and Emily Folger c1930

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Author:Stephen Grant

Stephen H. Grant, EdD is an independent scholar living in Arlington, VA who is a published biographer and deltiologist (person who analyzes picture postcards). His three postcard books are: Images de Guinée, Former Points of View: Postcards and Literary Passages from Pre-Independence Indonesia, and the bilingual Postales Salvadorenas del Ayer/Early Salvadoran Postcards. His two biographies are: Peter Strickland: New London Shipmaster, Boston Merchant, First Consul to Senegal and Collecting Shakespeare: The Story of Henry and Emily Folger. www.stephenhgrant.com

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