Monday, May 29, 2017

Another DeWitt-LaFrance Connection

Joe Nemecek jokes with me that by the time I'm done researching pencils, I will have concluded that DeWitt-LaFrance and the Rex Manufacturing Company made everything.

I did take one small step in that direction earlier this month.

Late on Sunday at the Chicago Show this year, an acquaintance of mine brought around a case of things he had for sale – mostly pens, but one was accompanied by a pencil and all I could say was “I’d like to have that.”


Those clips practically jump out at me whenever I see one, as long as I’ve been a devotee of DeWitt-LaFrance, the Cambridge, Massachusetts firm whose founder, David LaFrance, was the inventor of the Sheaffer Sharp Point pencil before he joined forces with William DeWitt and went on to manufacture the Superite and a host of other brands before the company was sold to Carter’s Ink Company in 1925.  That’s why the Carter’s line continued that distinctive clip:


A nice, clean DeWitt-LaFrance set is always something I’ll snap up when they are reasonable . . . but when I took a closer look at this, “reasonable” quickly became relative to the context:


The Eisenstadt Manufacturing Company was a jewelry firm in St. Louis, most famous for the company’s hard rubber pens with a “backwards” lever – the end of the lever faced the point of the pen rather than the end of the barrel.  Not so with this set: the pen is a dead ringer for a Superite, right down to the nib:



Yep.  That’s S for Superite.  

I have only found one other Eisenstadt-marked pencil.  I posted about it here more than five years ago, when this blog was only a few weeks old.  That example was a member of the Rex Manufacturing Company family of pencils:



After I posted about that first article on fountainpennetwork.com, one commenter added “Some late Eisenstadts no longer sported this clip (using a Dewitt-LaFrance clip instead). Most of the pens seem to have been manufactured in the mid 1920s. The pencils may perhaps provide additional clues as to chronology.”

Indeed they do.  My DeWitt-LaFrance made Eisenstadt pencil is marked patented on both on the clip and the barrel, which indicates that the pencils were made after November, 1922 (when the latter of the two patents, for the pencil itself, was issued) and before the company was sold to Carter’s Ink Company in 1925.  My Rex-made example has all four of the Rex patent dates on it, which means it was made in 1926 or later.

So, Eisenstadt pens and pencils with DeWitt-LaFrance clips were made before the hard rubber pens with sweeping clips and backwards levers (the lever itself being patented in 1924).

About a year ago, Silviu Pincu wrote and posted the most detailed history I’ve seen of the Eisenstadt Manufacturing Company (his article can be found at https://issuu.com/silviupincu/docs/eisenstadt), and the story the pencils tell squares perfectly with the evidence Silviu published: he found no evidence of any advertising for Eisenstadt pens before 1924, and when the advertisements do appear, they are for the black hard rubber pens (with a suggestion that Sheaffer might have had something to do with the manufacture of the pens).

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