Ross F. George and W. H. Gordon were the inventors of the Speedball pens. According to the Official Gazette of the United States Patent Office, Volume 223, their lettering pen design received patent number 1,172,785 on February 22, 1916.
Of the two, George has received the most attention. Their names appeared together, as “Gordon & George”, in advertisements and in early editions of the Speed Ball Text Book. Starting with the 1929 eleventh edition of the text book, Gordon’s name no longer appeared on the cover. He died in 1920.
There is an excellent biography of George at HistoryLink.org. Designer Art Chantry has an essay on George. Luc Devroye has a list of fonts based on George’s lettering. Letterform Archive recently announced the Ross F. George Archive. George passed away in 1959.
Here is what I found on Gordon.
William Hugh Gordon was born in Canada between the mid-1860s and 1870 according to census records. He emigrated to the United States in the early 1870s. In the 1880 U.S. Federal Census, twelve-year-old Gordon resided in Colorado Springs, Colorado, with his mother, “Christena”, and older sister, “Margery”. The status of his father is not known. Gordon’s parents were natives of Scotland.
|William H. Gordon is on line 37.|
Information regarding Gordon’s education and art training has not been found. The Seattle Times (Washington), August 27, 1920, said Gordon was an instructor in penmanship at the University of Colorado.
Gordon may have been familiar with Professor G.A. Gaskell’s books The Penman’s Hand-Book for Penmen and Students (1883) or Gaskell’s Guide to Writing, Pen-Flourishing, Lettering, Business Letter-Writing, Etc. (1884); or Daniel T. Ames’s book, Ames’ Alphabets: Adapted to the Use of Architects, Engineers, Artists, Sign Painters, Draughtsmen, Etc. (1884).
The work of these master penman may have inspired Gordon: John D. Williams, Platt R. Spencer, Alvin R. Dunton, William E. Dennis, F.W. Tamblyn, C. P. Zaner, Lloyd M. Kelchner, E. W. Bloser, Louis Madarasz, and Austin N. Palmer.
At some point, Gordon moved from Colorado Springs.
The 1900 census recorded Gordon in Chicago, Illinois. It had his birth year as 1870 and occupation as artist. On the line above him was his mother whose first name was written over. They emigrated in 1875. The information in this census is very close to that in the 1880 census. Gordon’s sister, Margaret, was married to Donald McKay, a bookkeeper. They resided in Lasalle, Illinois, which is about a hundred miles (161 kilometers) west of Chicago. The Seattle Times reported her name as “Mrs. Douglas McKay”.
|Hugh Gordon is on line 23.|
In Chicago, Gordon could have studied art at either the Art Institute or Chicago Academy of Fine Arts. Another possibility was Frank Holmes’ School of Illustration which was founded in 1899. One of the instructors was Frederick W. Goudy who taught lettering. At this time, there is no evidence that Gordon studied art in Chicago. His next move was to the West Coast.
Gordon was a Los Angeles, California resident in the 1910 census. His address was 414 North Hill Street. The census said he emigrated in 1873 and was a naturalized citizen. Gordon’s occupation was sign writer. Sometime earlier he had married and divorced. Gordon’s parents were English-speaking Canadians. Later, Gordon was drawn to the Pacific Northwest.
|William H. Gordon is on line 42.|
Gordon moved to Seattle, Washington. The Seattle Times, January 18, 1976, profiled sign painter Arthur Lingenbrink (1893–1987) and said:
…Arthur Lingenbrink began his career as an apprentice to William Haigh [sic] Gordon in 1912 at a salary of $3 a week. He spent four years mastering the brush and pen and later instructed his brother.
|Speedball Text Book, 10th Edition; in the text, Lingenbrink was misspelled as Linkenbrink.|
Ross Frederick George is said to have been one of Gordon’s students. Together, they designed a lettering pen. The following line was hand-lettered on page 36 of the book, Presenting the Speedball-Pen with alphabets, drawings and designs produced with this “wizard of lettercraft”.
“Speed-Ball” refers to the “Name” of the Pen—there is no “Ball” point, it is unlike any tool offered for sale any where— Contrived and perfected by Hugh Gordon and Ross F. George, June 15– 1913, to Sept. 1, 1914.
That text was revised in the Speedball Text Book
, 10th Edition*, 1927.
“Speed-Ball” refers to the “Speed” of the pen (and not to the shape of the tip—there is no “ball” on its point)
Gordon and Ross applied for a patent on October 22, 1914.
It was nic-named “Speedball” because it is the fastest and easiest handled drawing and lettering pen ever made.
“It cuts working time in 1/2 and labor in 2”
Contrived and perfected by Ross F. George and Wm Hugh Gordon in 1912
In 1914 George began advertising in the trade magazine, Merchants Record and Show Window, which, in turn, reported the work by George and Gordon.
Merchants Record and Show Window
Western card writers have won a well deserved reputation for exceptionally clever work with both brush and pen. This enviable reputation is verified by some specimen alphabets and cards that are being sent out by Ross F. George, 300 Boston Block, Seattle, Washington. Mr. George is a remarkably clever show card man and his work is original, highly artistic and practical. Old time card writers pronounce his lettering to be the equal of any that has been put before the public.
It is suggested that show card men, both beginners and professionals, write to Mr. George at the above address for the generous advertising matter he is sending out. There are very few who will not be able to pick up a lot of money making information from the matter he is sending out.
Merchants Record and Show Window
In our last issue there appeared a little notice concerning the show card alphabets that are being distributed by Ross F. George of Seattle. In that notice the impression was given that all of these alphabets were the work of Mr. George, whereas the lettering was done by Gordon, “The Show Card Man.” The show card work done on the Pacific Coast is generally conceded to be the best in the United States and Mr. Gordon has the reputation of being one of the best on the Coast, of being the originator of some really clever and unique stunts, practical alphabets (with the struggle left out), etc. A snappy little catalogue will be off the press October 10 and will illustrate an excellent line of card writers' supplies.
Merchants Record and Show Window
The Speed-Ball lettering pen that is being distributed by Ross F. George, 300 Boston Block, Seattle, Wash., is attaining a remarkable popularity among show card writers. The unusual part is that it meets the approval of the beginner as well as the most experienced card writer. The remarkable ease with which it can be manipulated makes it fast enough to suit any one. Here is what C. Walter Johnson of Jackson, Miss., says about the Speed-Ball:
“For the past two weeks I have been experimenting with the ‘Speed-Ball Pen,’ the latest from the Pacific Coast, and the results I have obtained were far beyond my expectations. I have tried them all, but none compare with this pen for speed and ease of operation.”
The C. Howard Hunt Manufacturing Company, in New Jersey, produced the lettering pens. The next two advertisements alerted retailers to a delivery delay.
To promote the pens, Gordon and George published, in 1915, an instructional book, Presenting the Speedball-Pen with alphabets, drawings and designs produced with this “wizard of lettercraft”.
Their book had an entry in the Catalogue of Copyright Entries, Part 1, Books, Group 1, New Series, Volume 12, Number 94, September 1915.
|Signed by Gordon in bottom left corner. Gordon signed the samples on pages 8 and 13.|
|Page 33 detail: two WHG monograms|
|Hand-lettered text said Gordon and George began work on the pen design June 15, 1913.|
Gordon & George, Seattle.
Gordon and George continued advertising in trade publications. Occasionally the publications reported the Speedball pens or featured Gordon’s work.
Presenting the speed-ball pen, with alphabets, drawings and designs produced with this—“wizard of lettercraft.” Seattle, Wn., Gordon & George, ©1915.
cover-title, 40 p. ills. 17 x 23cm. $0.50
© June 30, 1915; 2c. Aug. 2, 1915; aff. Aug. 30, 1915; A 411292; Wm. H Gordon and Ross F. George, Seattle. (15-17960) 4505
Gordon & George. Presenting the speed-ball pen. 4505.
|Dry Goods Reporter, July 24, 1915|
The next two advertisements acknowledged manufacturing problems with the initial production of lettering pens.
|Dry Goods Reporter, September 25, 1915|
|Merchants Record and Show Window, February 1916|
|Modern Painter, December 1916|
A 1916 issue of Signs of the Times had an article by Gordon about photosensitive emulsion for screen printing.
|Modern Painter, June 1917|
|Modern Painter, June 1917|
|Lettering for Commercial Purposes, page 163:|
poster detail; Gordon signed with his initials
Business section of the 1919 Seattle,
Washington city directory. Gordon was
not listed in the residential section.
Census enumerated in January 1920. Gordon’s address was 5526 Othello Street. His occupation was letterer. Gordon’s wife, Inger M., was a Texas native of Norwegian descent.
|William H Gordon is on line 4.|
Business section of the 1920 Seattle,
Washington city directory. George and
Gordon were at the same address. Gordon
was not listed in the residential section.
In the back of How to Paint Signs and Sho’ Cards were several pages of lettering books including Strong’s Art of Show Card Writing (New Edition) by Chas. J. and L.S. Strong and Wm. Hough [sic] Gordon.
Gordon passed away August 23, 1920. His death certificate, transcribed at Ancestry.com, did not have a birth date. It said he was 54 years old. The Seattle Times, August 27, 1920, reported Gordon’s death.
Shortest Will Is Filed for Author
For brevity the will filed this morning, of William H. Gordon, former instructor in penmanship in the University of Colorado, author of text books and originator of the free hand method of card writing, is unique in the Superior Court records. It reads:
8-23-20, 9:10 p.m.
“I leave everything I own to my sister, Mrs. Douglas McKay, 1323 Center St., Peru, Ill.”
Attorney Harry J. Kuen told Judge A.W. Frater that Mr Gordon died 20 minutes after the will had been executed and the signature had been witnessed by Dr. J.C. Synder, G.W. Hart and [illegible initial] M. Crawford. The lawyer said the value of the estate is problematical as there are uncomputed royalties from books and from a patent lettering pen that he said is being widely sold.
One-half of the community property will go by law to a widow living in this city.
News of Gordon’s will was picked up by the Summit County Journal (Colorado), September 11, 1920.
For brevity the will filed at Seattle, Wash., for William H. Gordon, former instructor in penmanship in the University of Colorado, author of text books and originator of the free-hand method of card writing, is unique in the superior court records there. It reads: “Leave everything I own to my sister, Mrs. Douglas McKay, 1323 Center street, Peru, Ill.”
Gordon was laid to rest in Evergreen Washelli Memorial Park. The Seattle Times, December 5, 1920, reported the Elks Seattle Lodge No. 92, B.P.O.E., memorial service for members who died that year. Gordon was one of the 45 deceased members.
Official Gazette of the United States Patent Office
Volume 283, February 8, 1921
Page 341: Speedball trademark
Lawrence J. Strong and Charles J. Strong’s The Art of Show Card Writing was published in 1922 by Frederick J. Drake & Company. Gordon and Speedball pens were featured on the following pages.
Page 39–43: The Possibilities of the Lettering Brush.—The late Wm. Hugh Gordon discusses the possibilities of the lettering brush and gives some valuable pointers which I believe will prove very valuable to all readers of this book.
Page 45–51: III: Pen Work
Page 52: Plate 4
Page 242: Speedball advertisement
In 1922 the McGraw-Hill Book Company published Lawrence E. Blair’s book, Principles and Practice of Show-card Writing, which had three quotes by Gordon and information about the Speedball pens.
Page 25: The Gordon and George Speedball pens, Figs. 20a and 20b, have a double reservoir fountain and tip-retainer over the extreme point of the shoe, preventing any excess flow of ink or color. The Speedball pen operates easily, and letters can be made rapidly with it. It produces a stroke of uniform width throughout when drawn in any direction. To draw letters made up of thick and thin strokes, as in Roman letters, the style A or square nibbed style is simply turned over on its back. The thick and thin strokes can then be easily formed.
Page 63: “From a common basic principle have been evolved four different styles…upon which are variously constructed all the letter styles…in common use.”
Page 99: “Pay more attention to effective arrangement. Therein lies one big reason why the average show-card man never gets further than the time clock and Saturday envelop.”
Page 209: “Realize that good lettering in proper arrangement is far more important than decorative stunts. Learn to letter first. Then learn the artistic. The average beginner makes his biggest mistake in attempting the decorative before being able to dot an “i” correctly.
*Speedball Text Book
Ross F. Gordon, Wm. Hugh Gordon
17th Edition, 1957
Ross F. George
Show Card Writing, Part 1
Show Card Writing, Part 2
Show Card Writing, Part 3
Typefaces vs. alphabets: The case of a parochial school in the Bronx
John Downer Speedballs
(Next post on Monday: Standard Oil Bulletin Artists, Part 3)