Wonder Pens Friends: Nigel & the Excelsior Diary of 1916

A brief refresher on Wonder Pens history: a few years ago, we opened a bricks and mortar shop at 906 Dundas West. I was there full time for about a year and a half until we had the baby – then Jon took over most of the shop stuff, and I was a bit more sporadic, mostly staying at home with the baby.

Just this past year, we moved into our new space here at 250 Carlaw, where Jon is still usually the guy in charge, and I’m mostly just stocking shelves and sweeping the floors while the baby is napping.

Oh, the days of boxes stacked up in the front window...

Oh, 906 Dundas West, the days of boxes stacked up in the front window…

This is to explain that way back in Wonder Pens early days, I used to see and know all of our customers. I would talk to Jon about them and say oh yes, Philip came by and picked up that thing we special ordered, and told me this funny story about his car stuck in the snow, etc. I would know this customer’s nib size, and that this customer had previously purchased this but was now looking for that.

After Jon started taking over, he started coming home to tell me these stories about “our” customers. I started moaning that I was missing all the customers coming by.

At first, the customers would start with:

“Who are you and where is Liz?” and then it turned into..

“Hey, Jon, say hi to Liz for me” and then it turned into…

“Hey, Jon, you’re awesome!”

and they would forget all about me.

Jon would tell me about these new customers I’ve never seen before, and I would say, “Who is that?” and he would say, “Oh, you wouldn’t know…”

One of the many customers we have been competing over is Nigel, mainly because Nigel used to come quite a bit when I was around, but now comes when Jon is around. I like talking to Nigel because he knows a lot about the city of Toronto and urban planning stuff, and I’m secretly hoping one day he’s going to give me the inside scoop on where the next best deal in Toronto real estate is.

Here are three things that drives me crazy about Nigel, but also make him one of our quintessential Wonder Pens Friends:

  1. I have sold him many, many beautiful and not exactly inexpensive pens, including a few Edison fountain pens that he claims he loves. The other day, though, he came by, and he very casually says,
    “You know, my favourite pen that I’ve ever bought from here is the Pilot Metropolitan. It’s so convenient to take notes with in meetings. The cap just snaps on and off…”I have discovered that actually, after having sold him so many pens, his favourite pen is not only the Pilot Metropolitan, but that I was not even the one to sell it to him – it was Jon.
  2. Nigel is apparently some sort of camera nut, and I’m mostly a point-and-shoot nut. Jon bought me this camera so I could take “better” photos, but completely lacking any knowledge on the manual settings, I use the “auto” setting all the time.Before we moved from 906 Dundas West, I had to take a picture of Nigel. While he was trying to give me direction so as to get an appropriate amount of the ink wall into the shot, I was saying “yeah, yeah, yeah, I’ve got this. I know what I’m doing, Nigel.”Resulting picture:
Nigel

Nigel, plus overhanging lamp, plus shade from overhanging lamp.

3. Jon came back to the apartment one day and said, “Nigel dropped off something for you. It’s some notebook or something.” From somewhere, Nigel had unearthed this beautiful, vintage notebook. A notebook! Old! Already filled up with secrets from the past! My kryptonite.

I opened it up, and it’s an agenda from 1916! Called the Excelsior Diary, my superficial googling has revealed that these Almanac-type books were mostly kept by men, and sized appropriately to be slipped into a pocket. I guess this is one of those habits a bit lost these days.

Almost all of the days are filled in by some faithful recorder of the past, mostly with details of the weather and daily events.

The best parts, though, are the informational pages at the front of the book (even in 1916, agendas included all sorts of information to help you get through life). There’s a monthly calendar with daily moon phases and sunrise times, rules for computing interest and a table to help you calculate your income on stocks, a list of American Presidents with their birthdates and native states, and a table of currency exchange, among many others (obviously before the days of smartphones).

But here are some of my favourites:

Table of Poisons & Antidotes – this is a crazy table of potential poisonous ingestions including: ‘Acid, Carbolic’ and ‘Acid, Hydrocyanic’, and also Arsenic, Copper Sulph, ‘Illuminating Gas’, and all sorts of things I’ve never heard of, like Digitalis, Hyoscyamus, Aconite…

First. – Send for a physician. Second. – Induce vomiting by tickling throat with feather or finger.

Another great one: Help In Case of Accidents.

Including recommendations in case of drowning, various types of fire (in one’s clothing, in a building, from kerosene, burns & scalds, etc.), suffocation from the previously mentioned illuminating gas.

Fire in a Building: Cover head with wooden wrap, wet if possible. Cut holes for the eyes. Don’t get excited.

Living in these dangerous times is offset by the price of postage.

Imagine these postage rates! These are in USD, but even with exchange into CAD, I’m pretty sure these would still be a steal 😉

Jon maintained he only vaguely liked the notebook, but I could tell he was secretly impressed.

According to Jon:

“I don’t know why he gave you the notebook, I’m the one who sold him the Metropolitan.”

6 thoughts on “Wonder Pens Friends: Nigel & the Excelsior Diary of 1916

  1. Susan W.

    I totally enjoyed reading this and I think I’m a little bit jealous of you that you own such a wonderful treasure in that little notebook. 😉

    Reply
    1. Liz Post author

      I’m so happy that Nigel was kind enough to pass it onto me!! It was thrilling to open it up and think about these pages 100 years ago 🙂

      Reply
  2. Jessica W (@jwrekso)

    aah, the wise advises from the old time manuals. I remembered when my prof showed me a copy of the first edition of Merck index (from 1889) where the cure for everything was either morphine, cocaine, or hydrochloride!

    The fire in the building advice cracked me up! “Don’t get excited.”

    Reply
    1. Liz Post author

      Hahah! I love reading old manuals and things. And yes, I guess if you’ve got the time to pull out your planner to get some advice while the building’s on fire 😉

      Reply
  3. Fernanda

    I laughed out loud of that last sentence.
    Oh Liz, I really love your writing. It’s so cozy to read what you write, always makes me feel inspired and really calm. I think you translate a simplicity that is delightful.
    Hope I get to see Canada someday and meet your beautiful shop 🙂

    Reply
    1. Liz Post author

      Thanks so much for reading and following along! I love writing the blog and sharing a bit of our shop and life here, but you are too kind 🙂
      It would be so wonderful if you were able to visit our small shop one day! 🙂

      Reply

Say hello!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s