Mason, Josiah (DNB00)

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MASON, Sir JOSIAH (1795–1881), pen manufacturer and philanthropist, second son of Josiah Mason, carpet-weaver, by his wife Elizabeth Griffiths, was born in Mill Street, Kidderminster, on 23 Feb. 1795. At the age of eight he commenced selling cakes in the streets, and afterwards fruit and vegetables, which he carried from door to door on a donkey. In 1810 he taught himself shoemaking, and was afterwards a carpenter, a blacksmith, and a house-painter. In 1814 he became a carpet-weaver, and from 1817 to 1822 he acted as manager of the imitation gold jewellery works of his uncle, Richard Griffiths of Birmingham. In 1824 he became manager for Samuel Harrison, a split-ring maker, and in 1825 he purchased his master's business for 500l. He then invented a plan for making split key-rings by machinery, which proved to be profitable. John and William Mitchell and Joseph Gillott had already commenced making steel pens, when, in 1829, Mason tried his hand at pen-making, and putting himself into communication with James Perry, stationer, of Red Lion Square, London, became Perry's pen-maker for many years. These pens bore the name of the seller and not of the manufacturer. The first order of one hundred gross of pens was sent to London 20 Nov. 1830. About twelve workpeople were employed, and one hundred weight of steel was thought a large quantity to roll for a week's consumption. In 1874 one thousand persons were employed, the quantity of steel rolled every week exceeded three tons, and on an average a million and a half of pens were produced from each ton of steel. In 1844 the Brothers Elkington took out a patent for the use of cyanides of gold and silver in electro-plating, and, requiring capital to develop the business, were joined by Mason. The electro-plated spoons, forks, and other articles soon came into use, and their popularity was much increased after the Great Exhibition of 1851. Having made a large sum of money in this connection, Mason retired from the firm in 1856. But, with Elkington, he also established copper-smelting works at Pembrey, Carmarthenshire, and became a nickel smelter, importing the ore from New Caledonia. In December 1875 he sold his pen manufactory to a limited liability company. He died at Norwood House, Erdington, near Birmingham, on 16 June 1881. He married, 18 Aug. 1817, his cousin, Anne, daughter of Richard Griffiths of Birmingham. She died 24 Feb. 1870.

Mason gradually accumulated upwards of half a million of money, the greater part of which he spent on charitable objects. In 1858 he founded, in Erdington village, almshouses for thirty aged women and an orphanage for fifty girls. Between 1860 and 1868 he spent 60,000l. on the erection of a new orphanage at Erdington, and then, by a deed executed in August, he transferred the edifice, together with an endowment in land and buildings valued at 200,000l., to a body of seven trustees. This orphanage is capable of receiving three hundred girls, one hundred and fifty boys, and fifty infants. On 30 Nov. 1872 he was knighted by letters patent. His most important work, the Scientific College at Birmingham, which cost him 180,000l., was opened on 1 Oct. 1880, and in 1893 had 556 students. Mason placed the trustees of his college under the obligation to overhaul each department every seven years, with a view to maintaining the teachig at the highest level of scientific research. Medical classes have lately been added.

A portrait of Mason by H. J. Munns is in the board-room of the college which he founded at Birmingham, and a seated statue by F. J. Williamson is in front of the college.

[J. T. Bunce's Josiah Mason, a Biography, 1882; Fortunes made in Business, 1884, i. 129–183; Dent's Birmingham, 1880, sec. iii. pp. 524, 570, 591–3, 604, with views of the College and Orphanage; Edgbastonia, 1881, i. 48–9; Stationery Trades Journ. 28 Nov. 1890, pp. 604–5; Illustr. Lond. News, 1869, lv. 247–8; Illustr. Midland News, 1869, i. 8, with portrait; Calendar of Mason College, 1892, pp. 3–8.]

G. C. B.