Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Optional Mr. Mooney

Conklin was a major player in the American writing instruments industry, leading many writers to say that the industry wasn’t dominated by the "Big Four" of Parker, Waterman, Sheaffer and Wahl Eversharp, but by the "Big Five." Before Sheaffer’s lever filler pen took the market by storm in the early teens, Conklin’s "Crescent Filler" pen was the most practical self-filling design.  That's what put and kept it in the "Big Five" fraternity – and not in the number 5 position, either!

But if we as historians were to assemble a list of Conklin’s top two innovations, the second one (right after the crescent filler) would have to be the "Mooney Clip," for which Frank H. Mooney applied for a patent on May 7, 1917, and which was issued as patent number 1,267,575 on May 28, 1918:

This distinctive clip makes it easy to spot a Conklin a mile away, and it was used, with a few cosmetic modifications, on nearly all of Conklin’s pens and pencils from its introduction until the company left Toledo at the end of the 1930s

Nearly all, that is. Except for those weird side clip examples from yesterday. And also, I learned at the Philadelphia Show, except for this one.  It turned up on Don Haupt's table:

While that great clip is what attracted me to look more closely at this one, it surprised me that this is a Conklin pencil.

My first thought was that maybe this pencil predates the introduction of the Mooney clip, but after I thought about it I knew that couldn’t be right . . . Conklin’s earliest pencils were designed by Harry Fairchild, who received a patent for his design on July 6, 1920. The original Fairchild pencils are distinguished by a six-chambered lead magazine. In 1921, C.N. Johnson applied for a patent for an improved design, with a three-spoke lead magazine.

Every early metal Conklin pencil I’ve seen, with the exception of this one, has the July 6, 1920 patent date on it, whether it has the six-spoke or later three-spoke lead magazine. That’s because the patent for Johnson’s improved design wasn’t issued until 1924, after Conklin had moved on to hard rubber and celluloid with the Endura series.

This example has the later three-spoke magazine. So by all rights, this one should have a Mooney clip, right?

I was puzzled, so I turned to the online library at the Pen Collectors of America (PCA) which, if you haven’t joined already, you should. It didn’t take me long to find my answer.

There are no pencils shown in Conklin’s 1921 catalog, which may explain why all the pencils I have found are imprinted with the 1920 patent date and none are imprinted "Pat. Pend." For 1922, however, Conklin advertised pen and pencil sets and also an impressive array of metal pencils for sale individually. Here’s page 5:

It’s too bad that one of the pictures has been cut out, but the one next to it appears to have this same clip. The pencil also appears in the 1923 and 1924 catalogs, but the 1924 catalog is the only one to show the pencil from the front:

The 1922 catalog advertises five styles of pencils. From the most expensive, they ranged from 14k green gold filled, gold filled, sterling and silver plate, all of which were equipped with the Mooney clip. At the bottom of the heap were the silver plate pencils without the Mooney clip, which at $1.00 cost fifty cents less than the silver plated models with the Mooney clip. This was also true in the 1923 and 1924 catalogs.

Conklin customers must have overwhelmingly decided to spring for the extra fifty cents and get the nifty new Mooney clip. Like a Miata with automatic transmission, sure they were available if you wanted one – but who would?

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Anywhere Else, It Would Take a Sharp Eye

I was pretty rusty when I restarted this blog after a two-month break. It was the same as if I’d taken a couple months off from working out at the gym every day – things just felt a little stiff, and before I really got back into my groove the words just weren’t coming as easily as they did.

So on one of my first nights getting back into the swing of things, I found myself staring at the blank computer screen while Janet watched reruns of Drop Dead Diva. And I actually caught myself watching Drop Dead Diva. OK, I thought to myself. When I’d rather do that than do this, it’s time to take an honest break. So I opened up my browser and headed over to the online auctions to see what was going on.

I searched for "pencils" and set the results to "ending soonest," and with six minutes to go, there was a hard-to-find Gordon with a telephone dialer. What luck! I threw in a bid and watched the counter click down to zero and . . .more on that one later. How’s that for a teaser?

Our story begins moments later, after that auction ended and I returned to my search results. Believe it or not, this was the very next auction listed, with only three minutes left:

The title of the auction was "Vintage Conklin Green/Black Marbled Mechanical Pencil." Now I’ll be the first to admit that there’s some unscrupulous online sellers who slap words like "Conklin" in front of any ordinary pencil because Conklin’s a good name and they might get more from it. Usually, when you send these guys the question of what the imprint reads exactly, you’ll get a response that starts off with "Its unmarked but it’s just like Conklins I’ve seen in books" and ends with "Be sure to check my other auctions because I’m listing other Conklins daily."

And leaves you feeling like you need to take a shower.

However, with only three minutes left, there wasn’t any time for that banter. I was either going to pull the trigger or miss out. Obviously I pulled the trigger – but I wasn’t worried. I knew it was in fact exactly what the seller said it was:

I’ve grouped these in with "Other Conklins 1924-1928" on page 34 of The Catalogue; the other two I’ve found are on the right in frame 8. Here are the three together:

It’s a shame about the clip on that bottom example, but one of these days I’ll find a clip for it. In addition to these colors, there’s a  black one – Joe Nemecek called dibs on that one a little while ago and took it home. Joe's also got one in bronze and black.  These look a lot more like something that National or Ritepoint might have made, mostly because these lack Conklin’s distinctive clip, referred to as the "Mooney clip" after the name of its inventor.

To my knowledge, Conklin (of Toledo) did not outsource production of any of its pencils, marching to the beat of its own drum until the company was sold to Starr and moved to Chicago at the close of the 1930s. Other than the vague similarity of the green hard rubber example to the color found on some Enduras of the same vintage, there’s really nothing that makes these stand out as being made by Conklin.

Nothing, that is, unless a sharp online seller thinks to put "Conklin" in the title of his auction . . . and you believe him!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013


When I saw this one pop up in an online auction, I got really excited. So excited, in fact, that I called dibs. Even so excited that I called dibs when, by right, I shouldn’t have, because Joe Nemecek actively collects Parker Vest Pocket pencils and I don’t.

What was so special about this one?

This pencil’s in lavender moire! A Parker vest pocket in an unusual color is exciting enough - like Lee Anderson’s brown marbled one – but there are other marbled colors. If there’s any other Parker Vest Pockets out there in the pastel moire family of colors, let me know because we’ve never heard of one!

So I dibbed and put in a healthy bid, but then it sunk in that by all rights, it should be Joe bidding on this one and not me. So I call Joe and tried to undib. He wouldn’t hear of it.

Yes, he loved the color and had never seen anther like it. And there was no problem with the condition of this one, either:

But this pencil had something that Joe just didn’t like and, except on very rare occasions, he can’t live with. This pencil is personalized:

"Grand Commandery / Oklahoma 1931." I don’t mind personalization as much as Joe, particularly (as is the case here) when there’s a date included in any inscription. Besides, I couldn’t ever recall seeing a Parker Vest Pocket with any inscription on it, except maybe the occasional name or initials. But when it came right down to it, that was enough for Joe to decide I should chase after it rather than him.

However, Joe’s instructions to me were clear. First, I’d better win it. Second, and more importantly, he told me I’d better up my bid. I did both of those things, and only because I listened to Joe’s advice and bumped up my bid did I succeed, holding off a few last-minute snipes to bring it home.

Since then, I’ve done some research to find out what the inscription is all about. The Grand Commandery is the state organization that supervises local Knights Templar Comanderies, one of the higher orders within Freemasonry. I’m not sure what significance the color purple possesses to the Knights Templar ,if any. But I do believe that for whatever reason, the Oklahoma Grand Commandery had this pencil specially made in this color by Parker.

Joe’s slowly starting to change his tune a little bit now when it comes to personalizations on pencils. If anything would do it, it would be a special order Parker with a Masonic inscription!

Monday, January 28, 2013

More than just "reddish brown"

Stephen Nagy is a character who, like me, lives around central Ohio. The only show he does that I know of is the Ohio Show, and he’s always got interesting stuff on his table. This year, he had this somewhat tired-looking box of goodies:

The box is well used and has the word "Russet" written inside the lid. One slot was empty, but each of the others was filled with writing instruments and accessories which are all clearly made by the Eagle Pencil Company, although some are unmarked. There’s an enamel-over-brass drop knife, together with a harder to find red Eagle Spear, the latter of which is complete with the early Spears’ 1908 patent date:

There’s an eyedropper pen, also in red enamel over brass but with a red hard rubber feed, and another enameled dip pen and pencil combination. Rounding out this set was a glass eyedropper for filling the pen and a small tin of spare Eagle dip pen nibs. The red capped tin is a box of Eversharp leads that don’t fit anything in the group, but hey, that bonus is better than a sharp stick in the eye:

So what would have filled that empty slot? I knew exactly what went there, and that’s why the minute I laid eyes on this set I knew I had to have it, chipped enamel and all. It was my chance to salvage a goof I made years ago.

Back when I was pretty new at this, I bid on this thing at an online auction because I thought it was a pencil with a cap:

To my credit, that’s how the online seller advertised it. But of course, this isn’t a pencil at all. It’s a stylographic pen made by Eagle – still pretty neat, but not exactly what this pencil hound was scrounging around for at the time. But did you notice the name?

The "Russet" No. 27. Now, several years later and with the help of Stephen Nagy, I finally can say:

Yeah. I meant to do that.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Here's Where This May Have Come From

Sometimes the way you find things teaches you as much as the things themselves. Today’s story involves this Sheaffer Fineline set, which I found in an antique mall over in Columbus, priced waaay to high for what it is:

This particular dealer had just a few pens and pencils, some priced too high and a couple things priced really low, with no rhyme nor reason as to the age of the items sold, the manufacturer or the quality. So even though I don’t have any paperwork to prove it, this particular seller knew so little about what they were selling that I believe this was a set as it came into his or her possession.

What had this set calling to me from several feet away – and what now has that particular dealer thinking this set was actually worth what I paid for it – was the difference in the color between the cap on the pencil and the cap on the pen:

Note that the pen is as mint as it can possibly be, with even the little paper price wafer still present under the clip. Yet while the pen cap has turned darker and shows signs of corrosion, the pencil cap is still bright and very attractive:

Note also that while the cap on the pen is marked "Fineline," the pencil clip is marked "Sheaffers."

I would expect the pencil cap to match the pen cap more closely, with the same quality of plating and the "Fineline" name on the clip, because pencils that look like this pen are a common sight. Here’s a picture of them, as shown on page 144 of The Catalogue:

All of these have that cheap electroplated cap, and all say "Fineline" on the clip. Every so often you’ll find one with the Fineline Division logo on the back of the cap, but more often than not the only marking is the word "Fineline" on the clip.

However, mostly because I found this pen and pencil together, from a seller who wouldn’t appear to know anything about them, I conclude that at some point, Sheaffer made just a few Fineline sets with pencils bearing nicer gold filled caps and "Sheaffers" on the clip.

And this conclusion clarifies something I wrote about here back on July 9, 2012, in "Sheaffer Guys Showing Off In Raleigh" (see In that article, I profiled a pencil Dan Reppert brought to show to me with a cap identical to the one on this pencil:

At the time, I’d concluded that Dan's pencil probably wasn’t a frankenpencil, mostly because if the cap didn’t belong with that pencil, I couldn’t imagine what else it would have gone with.  Could it have come from a lowly Fineline set?  When I took an ordinary beadband Sheaffer pencil and tried switching the caps with the one on my new find:

A perfect fit.  This is identical to the one Dan showed me.

I called Dan to ask him to review my draft of this article and asked him what he thought. After he looked at the pictures, Dan agreed with me that the set I found is probably as it was shipped from the factory – we both know that’s mostly speculation, based on the mint condition of the set and the circumstances in which it was I found. But Dan also added a few more details that make this story even more interesting.

First, he said that Sheaffer was very protective of what products bore the Sheaffer name rather than the lower-priced "Fineline" name. That poses an interesting question: would Sheaffer allow its Fineline Division to put a higher-quality plated cap marked "Sheaffer" on a pencil to accompany a lower quality Fineline pen as a set?

Second, Dan reports that the Fineline factory was a distinct manufacturing facility located in Mount Pleasant, Iowa, some forty miles northwest of Fort Madison. So if Fineline didn’t make these caps, how did the cap, pencil and pen get together? Would Sheaffer have made pencil caps in Fort Madison – identical to the Fineline caps except for the plating and the clip – and ship them 40 miles to be put on pencils to match Fineline pens?

So the who (Sheaffer or Fineline), where (Fort Madison or Mount Pleasant) why and how remain unanswered as to this one. The what is about the only thing we’ve got a bit of a handle on, and that is summed up best in the word Dan used when I spoke with him:


Saturday, January 26, 2013

Elppir Is Ripple Spelled Backwards

Rob Morrison dropped by my table at the Ohio Show with a few Watermans to show off:

These are the first generation of Waterman pencil in what the company called it’s "Ripple" pattern. What Rob wanted me to see is that sometimes the ripples "rip" in one direction, and sometimes they go the other way:

Rob also had the matching fountain pen to the pencil with the gold band at the top, and on this one, the currents are even more confusing:

Until you remember that when the cap is posted at the top of the pen, the ripples will run in the same direction. But even then, the ripples on the pen are the opposite of what is found on the "matching" pencil.

When I compared these pictures to what I had at home, I don’t see any rhyme or reason to why the rubber ripples up or ripples down. I did notice that all of the later ones (marked "Ripple")run in the same direction.

But then again, that’s just among the small number of them in my collection.  Others in my collection run either way.  Was there any rhyme or reason to which way the ripples rippled?  None that I can tell.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Good Thing Both Of These Were In The Same Condition

Joe didn’t know how badly he needed one of these. He’s a tough guy to surprise.

Today's story begins at the Ohio Show, when Francis Bulbulian flags me down as I’m walking past his table and says he’s got something really special to show me. When he pulled this one out, he explained that while he didn’t know what it was, there was just something about it that looked . . . interesting. I had to agree:

The pencil isn’t marked sterling, and there’s a bit of corrosion on the barrel. It’s freakishly thin and long, with an interesting clip assembly:

I had to borrow a loupe to look at it, because I’m always losing those darn things. I probably own twenty of them, scattered around my house or left behind on dealers’ tables at shows. Recently, I finally found one on a keychain that I could wear on a finger like a ring, kind of like a kid with mitten clips. At the Philly Show, on more than one occasion I was looking everywhere for it and someone had to remind me it was hanging from my finger ... what can I say? I’ve got tunnel vision. But I’m getting off track here . . .

With borrowed loupe in hand, I brought the top into focus and read what was imprinted there. The people standing around me could probably hear the last tumbler click into place in my brain, opening up a rusty combination lock behind which was a distant memory of something I’d seen that didn’t quite make any sense to me at the time. NOW it did:

"Pat. A.M.W. Newark NJ." A.M.W. stands for Art Metal Works, the makers of . . . drum roll . . . the Ronson Penciliter.

Last March, I posted a series of articles here about A.M.W. lighter pencils, including the Penciliter series. The first article in the series, posted on March 12, discussed the earliest Art Metal Works combination lighter and pencil I knew of, which was called the "Lite-O-Rite." A.M.W. had a real penchant for imprinting every patent that would fit onto their pencils, and the earliest patent number imprinted on my Lite-O-Rite didn’t appear to belong there. It just didn’t look like or function anything like the Lite-O-Rite:

But the pencil Francis was showing me was a dead ringer!

These pencils were probably the most dangerous lighter pencils ever devised. Underneath the cap is a wick surrounding a flint, soaking in a reservoir of lighter fluid. To light the pencil, you remove the cap and strike what’s essentially a tiny Molotov cocktail on the flint set in the top of the clip . . . being careful not to tip over the pencil and spill any excess lighter fluid that may be inside the barrel of the pencil.

Oh, this thing was a bad, bad idea! I’d imagine these would have to be rare just because most of them either caught fire or blew up!

Francis had two of these, and both had wicks that appeared never to have been lit – probably the only reason they survived. Both still produced a spark (although I sniffed each very carefully to be sure we were clear before I tried). I asked Francis if Joe had seen them, and his response surprised me: Joe saw them, wasn’t excited and passed. So I bought both of them and told Francis I’d explain to Joe why he needed to have it.

Once Joe heard my story, of course, he did have to have one. I asked him which one he wanted.

Without missing a beat, he answered: "The better one."

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Good Thing There Were Two Of These

Neither Joe Nemecek nor I know everything about pencils. In fact, even with our pencil knowledge combined, we don’t know everything. However, I will say that when neither Mike Little, Joe nor I have ever seen something . . .well, I guess that says something.

Mike brought two of these with him to Ohio, and both of them found their way into my pile during the swap-a-thon:

This would have been an easy one to miss, but that joint in the barrel told me what I might find on closer examination:

An Autopoint, with a clip Mike hadn’t seen before and neither had I. It looks a lot like the straight Autopoint clips, but this one takes a ninety degree bend over the top of the pencil:

It’s an interesting enough design that I thought there might be a design patent out there so, with George Kovalenko’s book in hand, I hit up the patent databases and found it in a matter of minutes:

Design patent number 131,281 was applied for by Hans A. Bauer on July 31, 1941. The application was still pending at the Patent and Trademark Office when the Japanese invaded Pearl Harbor and America entered the Second World War; it was granted on February 3, 1942, just two months later. I think the unfortuante timing of its introduction explains its rarity.

Mike actually had two of these, and I added both of them to my pile, suspecting the Joe Nemecek might want the other one. I even knew which one he would probably want, because one was unmarked and the other was personalized – something that Joe detests.

I might have agreed with Joe, were it not for the remainder of the inscription on the one I kept:

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

An Eclipse With a Twist - Or a Push

The Ohio Show was extraordinary. In one show, to find a Parker Zaner Bloser, a red and pearl Sheaffer Balance, and an Eversharp Skyline demonstrator? Things like that just don’t happen to me.

But before all that happened, on Friday morning as Mike Little and I drove over to the Crowne Plaza hotel for preshow trading, I had this little guy in my pocket. At the time, before I’d found all the other neat stuff that turned up at the show, I was sure that nothing I was going to find would measure up to this:

Mike had stayed at my place on Thursday night to trim a little bit off of his hotel bill while he was in town, and that night (and into Friday morning) we engaged in a swap-a-thon in which we made piles of things we liked from each others stashes, compared them, and decided in the end that we were both equally happy. He had a bigger pile than mine, in large part because this little jewel was in my pile.

It’s a large, early- to mid-1920s flattop made by Eclipse. It’s shown here polished so that you can see the detail, because as I had received it from Mike all of the trim was oxidized to nearly black. What would have been the original thin gold plating is gone now, leaving three distinct shades of brass underneath:

What’s really fascinating about this pencil is the way it works. All of the early Eclipse pencils I've seen before this are conventional twist pencils, with either a nose or rear drive. This one, however, is an early 1920s repeater:

"Eclipse Self-Feeding Pat. Pend." And underneath that glorious, large bell top is a very modern-looking repeater mechanism:

But where is this patent? I haven’t tracked one down that leads directly to Eclipse, but I do have a theory. Here’s the Eclipse shown next to an early "Presto" in red hard rubber, another find from the Ohio Show (at Jim Carpenito's table):

Notice that the two are nearly identical in their profile overall – the only differences are in the ornamental style. But even when it comes to the outward appearance, there are some strong similarities. Take the clips, for example, viewed from the side:

Samuel Kanner’s Presto was invented by Abraham Pollak sometime prior to November 24, 1924, when he applied for a patent for his pencil, which was granted on July 13, 1926 as number 1,592,502.  This is the patent that was at issue between Samuel Kanner’s Gilfred Corporation and Eversharp during their patent litigation over the repeating pencil (and which Gilfred ultimately lost – see "My Find of The Year" posted here on December 31, 2011 at Notice that the drawings show a cap that fits over the outside of the top of the pencil, rather than inside it – just like the Eclipse, but unlike the Presto. Also notice that the tip shown in the drawings is a one-piece nose, just like the Eclipse, while the Presto has a two-piece nose.

If an Eclipse repeater like this ever turns up with a patent number on it rather than "Pat. Pend.," I’d be surprised if the patent number wasn’t 1,592,502.