Wednesday, July 31, 2013

These Shur Were The Best They Made

We pencil guys – particularly we pencil guys who have to take everything apart to see how these things work – just love the Shur-Rite.  Most of the time they are pretty ordinary looking metal pencils, until you pull them apart to see just how ingenious they are:

Early examples are marked “Pat. Applied For,” which is a reference to Julius Swanberg’s original patent application of November 10, 1919, which was issued on June 14, 1921 as number 1,381,517 and assigned to “Fabart Instrument Company, a Corporation of Illinois”:

Later examples usually have the 1921 patent date along with “others pending,” which must be a reference to Swanberg’s patent for an improved version, which he applied for on June 2, 1921 and which was finally issued on January 25, 1925 as number 1,524,062:

This patent was also assigned to Fabart, but I’ve never found a Shur-Rite with the 1925 patent date on it, suggesting that these went out of production by the time it was finally issued.

Recently, I’ve picked up a couple of Shur-Rites that are definitely a cut above what you usually find:

The lower one came from an online auction and, unlike the typical gold-filled or silver plated examples, this one is marked sterling and has the 1921 patent date.  The pattern on this one is really interesting:

The other one, while it’s gold-filled, is the nicest one of these I’ve ever seen.  It came to me by way of Keith Prosser, a Canadian collector at the Chicago Show.  While the composition of the barrel may be ordinary, the pattern is anything but.   There’s hand-hammered detailing in between the panels:

and the pattern is one of the more intricate I’ve seen on any pencil:

Note also the patent date of November 10, 1919, which I’ve never seen before.  Since I bought it from a Canadian, I checked to see if that date made sense north of the border, but the Canadian patent for the Shur-Rite (number 215,361) was issued on January 24, 1922.

I can’t find any patent issued for these on November 10, 1919, and since that was the very day Julius Swanberg applied for his 1921 patent, I’m thinking either there was a mistake on the imprint or the producers of the Shur-Rite were getting impatient and decided for whatever reason that a patent date sounded better than just “Pat. Applied For.”

Shur-Rite pencils were marketed by the Sandfelder Corporation, which had offices in Chicago and Attleboro, Massachusetts.  My source for this information is a 1922 advertisement in the Saturday Evening Post – unfortunately, the Google Books scan has the advertisement partially obscured due to an indelicate page turn.  Whether Sandfelder made the pencils or had them made by Fabart I don’t know, but I do know that Sandfelder claimed complete ownership of the brand.  In fact, their defense of the name led them to a conflict with another well-known character . . . one that I’ve been meaning to write about for some time!

Tune in tomorrow for that story . . .

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Baby Bear Finally Stops By

A few years ago I found this one at a pen show.  It’s been so long I don’t even remember which one:

What attracted me to it was that it has an enameled and faceted barrel – a combination I hadn’t seen before – and the condition of the enamel is about a 9 out of 10, with just a little chipping next to the clip:

Best of all, since it was missing the cap I got it for next to nothing.  What a deal, I was thinking to myself.  I’ve got tons of these at home,, and I’ll just switch the cap from a common round example.  Right?

Wrong.  I switched I switched and I switched, over and over again with every stinkin’ Eversharp pencil I had from that decade, and nothing fit.  “This one is just a little too big,” said the papa bear . . . “This one is a little too small,” said the mama bear.   And as I waited patiently for baby bear to pop around the corner and say “but this one is juuuuust right” . . .

nothing but the sound of crickets chirping.   After a frustrating hour or so I noticed what I figured must be the problem:

That’s every other pencil I had on hand on the right, shown with the top removed – note the crescent-shaped openings, which are where spare leads are stored on typical pre-1924 Eversharp pencils.  The example I was trying to fit the cap onto is just a little bigger, and is simply open underneath.   With the mechanisms removed, the differences are more obvious:

The example on the top, which came out of my octagonal pencil, is a post-1924 Eversharp mechanism.  All of the other utility pencils I had were made with pre-1924 mechanisms like the one shown at the bottom.

1924 was a major dividing line in the evolution of Eversharp metal pencils, as discussed on page 57 of The Catalogue.  In that year, the tip was elongated, the clip was reinforced with a center rib, and the mechanism was modified so that the spare leads were accessed from a slot in the side of a hollow upper mechanism, rather than inside the legs themselves.  Here’s the picture from page 57:

The patent for the second generation Eversharp mechanism was filed by John C. Wahl himself on September 26, 1923, although the patent wasn’t finally granted until September 24, 1929 as number 1,729,142:

While the tops are interchangeable between comparable pre- and post-1924 Eversharp pencils generally, not so in the case of the company’s utility pencil line!  And so, with no post-1924 utility pencils on hand to swap caps, the octagonal Eversharp I had been so excited to find slipped quietly into my no-mans land of projects to be completed – when or if replacement parts could be found.

It may have been out of sight, for a couple years, but it wasn’t far out of mind.  I was excited a few weeks ago when a group of pencils in an online auction included the example at the bottom in this picture:

Shown as it is next to one of my pre-1924 models, you can see the longer tip, the ribbed clip and a top piece that has two bands of ribbing rather than a wider knurled area.   I bid stupid money on the chance to redeem my octagonal pencil, and when it arrived I was thrilled to see I was right – this one has a post-1924 mechanism and the cap fit juuuuust right on my octagonal pencil.

But as there always seems to be, there’s a problem.  Yes, this donor pencil has an ordinary round barrel, but there was something special about it, too:

On the side of the upper barrel are the traces of the Goodyear logo.  I’ve shown an array of Eversharp “tire pencils” on page 71 of The Catalogue (frame 26) – Eversharp made advertising pencils for Goodyear, Goodrich and Firestone.   But all of the tire pencils I’ve seen were made in the mid- to late-1930s, making this one the earliest one I’ve ever seen.  Even with the poor condition of the painted logo, my donor pencil is important in its own right.

Oh well.  I guess they are just going to share a cap for now.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Good Thing I'm Crazy

Joe Nemecek thought I was out of my mind to chase this one:

Pretty rough, he thought. Yeah, he’s right, but it was the first time I’d seen an Eversharp checking pencil in black enamel. As an aside, I did finally track down a navy blue one a few months ago:

Note that some sometimes these second-generation checking pencils have the earlier flat clips, and sometimes they have the post-1924 clips:

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me back up a bit for a minute, because Eversharp checking pencils evolved on a different track than the other metal pencils Eversharp offered. As I wrote on page 59 of The Catalogue, Eversharp checking pencils came in two flavors.  The clipless 1921 model designated as the Eversharp 100 had a traditional Keeran mechanism with a larger plug welded onto the end of the pushrod to accommodate the larger lead.

After 1921, Eversharp redesignated checking pencils as the model 101, included a side clip and introduced a really unique and simple mechanism in which a slotted screw simply fit within an inner barrel, which when turned advanced the screw forward. Here’s the picture from page 75 showing the difference:

Now to get back to the black enameled example that just turned up, notice that it has the ribbed clip. Even in the 1928 Eversharp catalog, checking pencils are shown with the flat clip, so the ribbed clip would seem to date this one to 1928 or later.

But something other than the clip and the color caught my eye about this one –something that was evident only because this pencil is a little beat up. Notice what’s under that chipped enamel?

Aluminum. All of the other checking pencils I’ve seen were enameled over a brass barrel. And there was something else that looked a little funny about this one in the pictures I was looking at online:

The tip doesn’t match either the second generation (on the left) or first generation of Eversharp checking pencils. So I went back to the Eversharp catalogs in the PCA library to do a bit of comparison. The picture of a checking pencil in Eversharp catalogs from 1922 through 1928 shows a tip matching my yellow second generation pencil. Here’s the page from the 1928 catalog:

I don’t think the flat clip shown is artistic license – note that other side clip models shown on this page have the ribbed clip. Here’s a closeup of the clip and tip:

The page from the 1929 catalog showing these, also at the PCA’s online library isn’t as high quality:

But even from this scan, you can see that for 1929, checking pencils are shown with ribbed clips and – whaddaya know – that same tip found on my black enameled example:

These differences alone were enough for me to chase after this tired little pencil, chips to the enamel and all. When it arrived, I was pleased to find that while the paint was chipped, there are no dents in the metal – and there were a few more surprises. The first came when I posed the new one between first and second generation checking pencils:

Look at how much shorter that is! Also, the crown is a little shorter than the typical second generation checking pencil:

And then there’s the imprint. While the second generation checking pencils were stamped "Wahl Eversharp / Made in U.S.A. Pat. Pend.":

This one is stamped simply "Wahl Eversharp / Made in Chicago U.S.A.":

So what mechanism do you suppose is inside this one? Is it the first generation mechanism or the second?

Neither. Eversharp simply adapted its regular post-1924 Eversharp mechanism, fitting it with a larger pushrod instead of crudely welding a plug onto the end of a standard pushrod. It’s what Eversharp probably should have done in the first place!

Friday, July 26, 2013

Rex Repaired

This article has been a long, long time coming.

Every time I circle back around to talk about the Rex Manufacturing Company, I’m reminded how all of that research started with this pencil:

The pencil – or rather what was left of it – was proudly featured on page 125 of The Catalogue. Unfortunately, while it has served valiantly as a great conversation piece, it has not been able to serve as well as a pencil:

In all the years I’ve had this little guy, I haven’t tried to repair it for one simple reason: I’m a stickler for originality and correctness, and I won’t do anything to restore a pencil unless I’m absolutely certain I am bringing it back to its original condition.

This Rex pencil is obviously different from its later progeny.  Here it is, shown next to the Gold Medal I was discussing just the other day (“Rex Redux” on July 23, 2013), with the earlier single piece tip and only the McNary 1924 patent date imprinted on it.

Of course the difference in the ferrule is obvious, but take a closer look at the other end:

Note that the ring to which the clip is mounted is much more rounded on the lower edge, and instead of a cap that butts up against that ring, the Gold Medal has a cap that stops short, with a secondary cap piece secured above it.

Things began to come together when I found the Rex pencil with the advertisement for the Triad Manufacturing Company on it:

There’s that same pronounced rounded trim ring, but the Triad advertiser has a gold filled tip that looks to be correct.  My Triad is also missing the cap, which in this case doesn’t make much difference, since these had a special figural cap shaped like a Triad Radio Tube that wouldn’t have been the right cap for my jade green Rex, anyway.

Which brings me to last night, when I was down in the “museum” trolling around in a drawer full of pencils looking (as usual) for something entirely different, when I stumbled across an unmarked pencil I found at the Chicago Pen Show last May, on Terry Mawhorter’s table.   The only reason I picked it up was for the parts, since it’s always nice to have a few donors on hand for when I find a damaged Rex pencil with a neat name on the clip.  When I got home, I absentmindedly put it away and forgot about it.  But now a few months later, for whatever reason I was looking at it in a whole different light:

It sure looks like it all belongs together, but that cap just doesn’t look like the later Rex progeny:

Or does it?  Remember the “Gold Bond,” one of the Montgomery Ward store brands manufactured initially by National Pen Products?  There’s two distinct varieties, illustrated on page 81 of The Catalogue:

I’d identified the five on the left in this photo as being Rex patent pencils, but when it came to the three on the right, all I said was that they were “in the style of” the Diamond Medal Diplomat series, which National made for Sears, Roebuck & Co.

But when one of these Gold Bonds is placed alongside the Triad advertiser and my Chicago find, I think it’s clear that these bell-top pencil are perfectly correct on an earlier Rex patent pencil:

And when I tried to switch the parts from my donor pencil onto the jade Rex:

They fit.  Perfectly.  And I am now sure to a moral certainty that this Rex is restored to its original condition.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

A Very Accommodating Listo

I ran across this one at the Philadelphia Pen Show last January:

I really liked that at the opposing ends of this double-ended pencil, there are little bands to help you keep track of which end has which color lead:

The name on the clip is also interesting.  “Listo” is a company best known for its grease pencils, which were a frequent sight in places like butcher shops, where pencils that can write on anythiing – even wax paper – are always in high demand.

But you’ll notice that the clip on this one is an “accommodation clip,” which just clamps around the barrel and is secured only by friction.  The name “accommodation” comes from the fact that they were introduced in the nineteenth century, back in the days when pens and pencils generally were not made with side clips.  When clips were first introduced, several companies began producing different styles of clamp-on clips such as these, which were either sold separately or were offered by pen dealers as an “accommodation” to those who wanted clips on the writing instruments they bought.

Listos were generally clipless numbers, even long after permanently affixed clips had become the norm.  The clip seen here is identical to the “Holyoke B” line of accommodation clips offered b y the Van Valkenberg Company (in this case, named for the company’s headquarters in Holyoke, Massachusetts).  Here’s a picture of them from Van Valkenberg’s 1931 catalog, from the PCA’s online library:

So why would a guy as persnickety as myself believe that my double-ender is a Listo?  After all, I never knew that Listo made double-ender pencils, and couldn’t someone just as likely slipped a clip from an ordinary grease pencil and stuck it on here?

Sure, it’s possible, but I think this is the real deal – because I also found this one on the same dealer’s table:

There’s no swapping this clip over from something else!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Something I Wasn't Expecting

My expectations aren’t very high when I go to a general antique show, which is part of the fun. Once in a blue moon, I’ll find something really eye-popping, and without thousands of other eye-poppers around (like you’ll find at pen shows), those gems stand out like ten-foot-tall neon signs.

This is not about one of those finds.

No, what’s great about attending your run-of-the-mill antique show or flea market is that I tend to look more closely at mildly interesting things that might not even cause a blip on my radar at a pen show. Maybe I’m hungrier for something interesting to look at, or maybe with less to look at I’m just more focused, but whatever the cause, I pick up some interesting tidbits that way.

Take these two pencils, for example:

By the time I ran across these three-inch pencils at the Scott Antique Market sometime last year, I hadn’t seen any pencils for half an hour or so. There were half a dozen metal pencils on this particular table, ridiculously priced (it’s hard to resist saying "I’ll sell you as many of those as you want for half the price" sometimes!), but these two tiny pencils didn’t have price tags.

A friend of mine once formulated four universal rules by which he lived his life, the last of which was "It never hurts to ask." I’ve often found that bit of bar wisdom to be tremendously useful advice over the years, although his other three rules have not proved as helpful (in order, they were: 1. Look busy. 2. Deny everything. 3. "Date" hot chicks. Of course, he didn’t use the word "date").

But rule number four again came to my rescue this day. I asked, and for a measly couple bucks, these two pencils found their way into my pocket and into today’s article.

The pencils themselves are a common sight, simple nose-drive numbers that you’d breeze right past a dozen times without a second thought. These two are a little better than usual, with their bank advertising embossed on the barrels.

But upon closer examination – an examination I probably would not have done had I seen these at a pen show – I noticed something else that made me tilt my head to the side and say "huh."

"AXT." I never would have expected to learn that A.T. Cross made these ubiquitous pencils.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Rex Redux

When this one showed up in an online auction, I got so much more than I bargained for:

This one is imprinted "Rhoads & Company," a name with which I wasn’t the least bit familiar:

In addition to the great hard rubber barrel, the "Rhoads" has a cool ferrule (note the distinctive rib) as well as an equally distinctive cap that screws off:

Great style, different name – all this one would need is a patent date imprinted on it to possess the trifecta of bloggability, right? Yes! The seller indicated in his description that this one had a 1924 patent date. But when the pencil arrived and I examined it more closely, the patent date on this one didn’t tell me anything about "Rhoads & Company."

It told me something a whole lot better:

That patent date of February 19, 1924 sounded familiar, but I didn’t make the connection until I cracked open the patent databases to see what it was:

Lawrence T. McNary applied for patent number 1,484,180 on October 11, 1921, but the patent was not granted until February 19, 1924. And if you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you’ve read about this patent before. McNary’s patent was assigned to the Rex Manufacturing Company.

I’ve written a lot about the "four horsemen" patents assigned to the Rex Manufacturing Company: patents issued on August 4, 1925, November 24, 1925, January 5, 1926 and another one on January 5, 1926. These four patents are found on a whole host of pencils (see "Prequel: Let’s Make That Birth, Death and Transfiguration" posted on March 20, 2013 at

From left, these are marked Blue Ribbon, Gold Bond, Gold Medal, Gold Medal, Corona, Webster, Supremacy, John Holland, Salz, Johnson and Eisenstadt.

I’d noted in that March 20 article that the third one from the left – that one marked Gold Medal that has the one-piece tip rather than the two-piece tip normally encountered – was marked only with McNary’s February 19, 1924 patent date. At page 120 of The Catalogue, in my discussion of the various Rex patents, I’d noted that this particular pencil didn’t look anything like the drawings from McNary’s 1924 patent.

But my "Rhoads & Company" pencil is the pencil McNary was drawing. Apparently these early Gold Medal pencils were produced while Rex was busy taking out the 1925 and 1926 patents, and it was thought best to stamp the Gold Medal with an actual patent date rather than "patent pending."

At this point I puff out my belly, don a fake beard and channel Billy Mays to the best of my ability – But wait. There’s more!

Here’s the "Supremacy" in that last picture shown next to a couple other pencils marked "Supremacy" in the picture taken from page 155 of The Catalogue:

I’d noted in the text that while the large Supremacy pencils were clearly Rex patent pencils, the small ringtop "is a completely different design."

And it is – it’s a completely different Rex design, in fact.

Hang in there. Just as all of this was coming home to roost in my head, another online seller was listing several Artcraft pencils for sale. John Hubbard, a fanatical devotee of the Artcraft brand (which hailed from his home town of Birmingham, Alabama), tipped me off about the listings, mostly to call dibs on a couple things I’ll discuss another time.

(As an aside, if you haven’t read John’s recent article in Pennant magazine, it’s available in the Pen Collectors of America’s online library. If you haven’t read it yet, it’s worth logging on and checking it out. If you aren’t a member yet, join and then log on and check it out.)

John emailed me to call dibs on one of those Artcraft lots, and much to my relief it wasn’t this one he was after:

Speaking of relief, ever seen a ferrule engraved like this??

What had me fired up about this one was that it is identical to the ringtop Supremacy – it’s another example of a 1924 McNary Rex patent:

Time for the punch line. If this Artcraft is a 1924 McNary, you might be wondering, wouldn’t there also be Artcraft pencils made under the later "four horseman" Rex patents? Here’s a photo John sent me some time ago of another Artcraft pencil from his collection:

Yes, Virginia.  Artcraft’s early pencils were Rex patent pencils.

There’s a few questions to which I still don’t know the answers. Was Rhoads & Company another long-lost, obscure brand of pencils, or is my pencil simply an advertising piece for an unrelated concern? Beats me, although if I had to guess, I’d say it’s an advertiser (the imprint is more typical of an advertisement than a producer).

Were the 1924 McNary patent pencils actually made by Rex, or were they also made by National Pen Products under license like the "four horsemen" patent pencils? I don’t know – yet – although I’m inclined to believe that if Rex actually made the later pencils marked "Rex" (see "Rex Manufacturing Company - Father of the Triad on March 21, 2013" at, they would have made the earlier 1924 patent pencils, as well.

Are there 1924 McNary patent pencils made which are marked Blue Ribbon, Gold Bond, Gold Medal, Corona, Webster, John Holland, Salz, Johnson or Eisenstadt, or yet others? I don’t know, but I’ll bet you a couple Klondike bars I’ll be looking for them!

And last but not least –

Why is there a flathead screw built into the side of my Artcraft?