The Write Stuff: Made in Chester

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Before there were computers, before typewriters and ballpoint pens and even fountain pens, there was the inkstand.

In the 1800s, the S. Silliman Company in Chester made itself known nationwide for its wooden inkstands and inkwells. Indeed, it is said that Abraham Lincoln had a Silliman inkwell in his Springfield, Illinois, law office, and in 1837 a Silliman inkwell was gifted to President Martin Van Buren.

The Chester Historical Society invited longtime collector Tom Marshall to talk about his knowledge of Silliman products in February 2017 at the Chester Meeting House.

A tape was made of the program. Please watch it here. Additionally, the Society's collection of Silliman artifacts is now a major feature of the Streams of Change exhibit at the Chester Museum.

One of the ten Marshall children who grew up on High Street in Chester during the 1960s and ‘70s, Tom says, “I became interested in early Chester industry while working at the Brush Mill restaurant (then the Chart House) from 1976 to 1990. The many pictures of early Chester mills and the still surviving mills of Chester piqued my interest. I found my first Silliman inkwell in the early ‘90s and have been on the hunt ever since. I still am amazed at the variety and different objects that the S. Silliman & Company manufactured in Chester.”

Chester Historical Society President Skip Hubbard adds, “I simply love the story of the Silliman pocket inkwell.  Patented a few years prior to the Civil War, it was carried by many soldiers, primarily on the Union side. A 'letter from home' had long been valued during prior conflicts; now the pocket inkwell facilitated 'letters to home.’  Those personal letters written during lulls in the field often contained emotions and descriptions no photo could convey.  And to think it all started with an idea in small-town Chester!”