Friday, August 30, 2013

Two's a Coincidence . . . Or Is It?

Frank Hoban had two of these at the DC show a few weeks ago, and I bought both of them:

What a great imprint these have: “Belmont Handy-Pencil”:

There were a couple of reasons these were a must-have item for me, even though the price was a little steeper than I usually pay for things from Frank: first, these are really cool and I’ve never seen them before.  But second, in the dim recesses of my mind, buried under the piles of useless information that clutter up my subconscious, I remembered that somewhere I had seen someone post a picture of one of these next to a corresponding patent drawing – at some time.

If I had remembered what that patent was, that would have been must-have reason number three . . . but I couldn’t, and since I couldn’t remember the somewhere, the someone or the some time, I had a heckuva time finding it again, and without a patent number or date on the pencil itself I couldn’t sneak in the back door to find it, either.  I even enlisted the help of a few in the peanut gallery, but none could remember what I was remembering.

So my Belmont Handy-Pencil, which I photographed the morning after I got back from the DC show and which I’ve been just itching to write about ever since, was slipping into the gee-I’ll-write-about-that-one-whenever-I-find-that-thing-I’m-looking-for pile.  And, as happens all to often with me, the minute I gave up and quit looking for that last detail . . . I found it.

The answer popped up when I was browsing through George Kovalenko’s book, looking for something else (I was trying to find a patent for the pencil version of Diamond Point’s nested pen after I looked up the patent for the pen).  I saw a listing for David L. Davis’ design patent number 81,529, which he applied for on January 9, 1930 and which was issued on July 8, 1930:

That was the drawing I had remembered seeing, and with that information in hand, I was able to track down that posting online about this pencil.  Except it wasn’t about this pencil . . . not exactly, anyway.

The posting was by the late Dennis Bowden on Fountain Pen Board, back in November, 2010.   Dennis was musing about what Walter A. Sheaffer thought about David Davis assigning this patent to someone other than Sheaffer, since Davis had previously assigned design patents to Sheaffer.

It wasn’t that Davis assigned his patent to someone else that was so interesting, but about who that someone else was: the Michael-George Company, owned by former Sheaffer salesman-turned-bitter business rival George Kraker.

And now, for the punch line: the pencil Dennis showed off in his post was nearly identical to mine, with the same cream and black lower section and red upper section.  However, his was imprinted “Redbird / Michael-George Co. / Libertyville, Il.”

Identical pencils, one marked Belmont and one marked Michael-George.  Sound familiar?

That’s the picture of an Eagle, a Belmont, and a “Dixie / Michael-George Co.” from an article I posted here on August 20 (“Quite a Bit North of the Mason-Dixon Line,” at  In that article, I concluded that the Eagle Pencil Company made my Dixie, and I still believe that’s correct – evidence is clear that Eagle made some Belmont products, and that distinctive Eagle plastic ties these three pencils together nicely.

But what about the Handy-Pencil?   It has the oversized “B” and “T” at the beginning and end of “Belmont,” a design cue used by Kraker on Pencraft and Yankee imprints (all the letters in “Dixie” on my example are the same size).   And while Eagle did have a penchant for making weird stuff, the design patent for the Handy-Pencil belonged to Michael-George, not to Eagle.

I have a theory, but I'd like to hear what a few others have to say about this first.  

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Come Together

At the DC show a few weeks ago, this set caught my eye on Jean Buchser’s table.  The price was fair, but since the price included one of those pesky pens I don’t collect, I asked if I could borrow it for a few photographs:

The clip on the pen reads “The Union Pen,” while the matching pencil is marked “Unity” crowned by the letter U in a wreath:

I’d seen both of these items, but never together, so I’d never connected the two in my mind -- but it makes perfect sense that the two would have been matched as a set.  Any doubts concerning whether the two were mated together is resolved by the matching price bands:

Gulp! $7 was the hefty price of a Parker Big Red when new, and $3 for that pencil? No wonder you don’t see these very often – they couldn’t have sold too many at that price!  And speaking of price, ninety years later I was again mulling over the price of it.  Jean wanted a bit more than I wanted to pay, but I just loved the color and those wadded-up instructions were just begging to be flattened out and read . . . I made Jean an offer, he declined, he countered, I declined . . . after a couple hours of wandering past each other’s tables and casually lobbing offers and counters at each other, a couple hours later we found a happy middle ground and the set came home with me.

I’m fully aware that at any time over the last ninety years, anyone could have stuck unrelated paperwork in with this set.  But in this case, what I found when I carefully straightened out what was left of this paperwork made sense:

Diamond Point was known for making writing instruments out of unusual plastics not found on other pens and pencils, and this Union Pen/Unity set is made from a plastic that certainly mimics the mottled patterns seen on Diamond Points of the 1920s.  I’d be willing to accept that this set was made by Diamond Point.

Which brings me back around to an unidentified pencil I blogged about here back on February 12, 2012 (“Have you seen me?” at  Side-by-side with the Unity pencil, it looks pretty close:

Close, but maybe not close enough.  The clips are slightly different, even though the overall construction is the same and the same mottled pattern appear on both plastics.

And I still have no idea what that logo is supposed to be.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013


Joe Nemecek sent me an email directing me to this one in an online auction and told me that I needed to get one of these, and he promised me that it wouldn’t cost me very much:

By the time I got around to reading his email, the auction had closed, and no one had even made the measly opening bid of $2.99.  I had to agree that the pencil was pretty neat, so I emailed the seller to see if he planned to relist the item.  He did – and I immediately placed a twenty-dollar bid on the thing.

When the auction finally closed a few days later, I was the winner – for my opening bid of $2.99 plus reasonable shipping.  Joe was right: for whatever reason, these don’t seem to attract much attention from collectors.   Why is beyond me, because there’s so much to like here:

This is the American Pencil Co. No. 825.  It doesn’t appear in the American Pencil Co. catalogs I’ve seen, but according to Joe they turn up fairly often.   I don’t know whether that handle is supposed to be a letter opener or whether the whole pencil is supposed to be a knife figural - the pencil being mightier than the sword and all.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Eversharp's Symphonies

The Eversharp Symphony is discussed on page 77 of The Catalogue, and it is usually found in three flavors:

From the top, these were the Symphony (with the thin gold “wedding band”), the Symphony Deluxe (with a wide gold band) and the Golden Symphony (with an all gold-filled cap).  These were introduced in 1948, after Eversharp’s catastrophic attempt to introduce a ballpoint pen nearly bankrupted the company.  While the pencils are very nice, they are essentially the same as the Skylines, the Coronets and the Dorics that came before them, dressed up a bit on the outside by industrial designer Raymond Loewy to make them look new and exciting.

Well, these are almost the ones designed by Raymond Loewy.  More on that in a minute.

I haven’t had much new to say about the Symphony since The Catalogue went to press.  When I finally did find a regular green Symphony to finish that set, I didn’t think it was newsworthy enough to warrant an article here because I knew they were out there and the only thing different about the pencil was the color of the lower barrel:

At the DC show, I ran across a blue Symphony Deluxe and decided to pick it up – I knew I had one, but I thought that the blue Deluxe at home wasn’t in the best condition, if memory served.  Unfortunately, memory did not serve, and I now had two perfectly good blue Symphony Deluxes (the one looks black in this picture, but it’s actually a darker shade of blue):

But when I looked at the two more closely, I noticed something:

The imprint on the clip is different, positioned lower on one example and with different lettering.  Also, while the buttons on Eversharp repeating pencils from 1937 on were interchangeable, it’s worth noting that while the example with the imprint higher up on the clip has 5 bands, the one with the lower imprint has only three.  Symphony pencils are much harder to come by than most other Eversharp repeaters, so it’s more likely that the button you see is the one that it came with.

Just for grins, I lined up all of my Deluxe models, and whaddaya know:

Three have the higher imprint, two of which have 5-band buttons (we’ll get to that burgundy one in a minute), and two have the lower imprint – one with three bands and the other with four.

As for the ribbed cap on that burgundy example, it would be easy to look at it and say that’s just the wrong button on that pencil, taken from one of the later press-clip Skylines.  But not so:

Since I haven’t seen this button on anything else, I can’t imagine what else it might go to.

As for the Golden Symphony, it wasn’t until the Chicago Show this May that I’d found any other examples:

All three of these (the black example, complete with its price sticker, definitely upgraded what I had) were in a large group of mint condition later Eversharp pencils that Don Lavin had in the show’s pen auction.  I won one of the two groups – these three, unfortunately, were in the other group, and since they were the only three in the bunch I was chasing, I didn’t win that group.  Fortunately for me, the winner of that other group, An Tran, was kind enough to part with just these three.

A close look at the top buttons reveals something else a little bit curious:

Of the three, one is noticeably more “pointy.”   And speaking of pointy, it’s time for me to get to the real point of the story.

Industrial designer Raymond Loewy was hired by Eversharp to design the Symphony, and the first examples introduced in 1948 employed Loewy’s original design, which incorporated a few distinctive features Eversharp quickly abandoned.  Instead of a flat clip, the original clips had two facets, a more pointed top, and they didn’t say “Made in USA.”    The entire cap also had an unusual feature: the back portion of the cap was bigger than the front, and that two-layer look, viewed from the side, gave it the collector’s nickname “slipper cap.”   At the time The Catalogue went to press, I still had no idea what an original Loewy-design Symphony pencil would look like (I’ve since found Jim Mamoulides’ excellent article over at, which pictures a few examples).  Thanks to Sue Hershey, who had this among the things she brought to show me at the DC show, I now have one of my own to show you:

Note how much more graceful Loewy’s original 1948 design was than the more boxy post-1948 example:

The differences are even more pronounced when viewed from the side:

But the real surprise for me is at the other end of the 1948 Loewy pencil, at top, next to the later example:

See how the mechanism protrudes from the tip?

My Loewy Symphony pencil uses the Lovejoy patent mechanism!  Charles Lovejoy patented this design in 1944, and it was first used on the Moore cap-actuated Mastercrafts and Fingertip pencils, then later licensed to Eversharp, and finally to Dur-O-Lite (see “Dawn of the Fingertip – and Beyond” on April 23, 2012, at

Monday, August 26, 2013

Back to the Drawing Board

It’s not all that unusual for me to learn that I’ve gotten something wrong here.  Most of the time, I’m throwing things out there in the hopes that someone out there will read what I’ve written and have the missing piece of the puzzle that says “nuh uh.”   I never mind.  This is all new stuff, and at the end of the day, I figure it was worth it if I learned something.

What is unusual is when I’m the one that finds that piece and I get to say “nuh uh” to myself (and therefore, to you).  This is one of those stories, and it begins with something that has nothing to do with pencils – or should I say, almost nothing.  The only thing today’s find has to do with pencils is the fact that I – a pencil collector – happen to collect other things, as well.  Those who have visited my pencil museum are often surprised to see what fills the display case under my lead displays:

That’s the back half of Truman the cat, my faithful companion at the museum, who had to swoop in for a closer look at my collection of vintage stapling machines the instant I opened the cabinet to take this picture.  I haven’t written a book about these things yet, but it’s on my bucket list.  A lot of ingenuity went into these things, and if it weren’t for the fact that they are so big and so heavy, I’d probably have quite a few more of them:

Since I’ve got a couple hundred of these machines, that means I’m always on the lookout for the staples that go in them, partly because they came in a bewildering array of sizes and I like to keep all of my staplers loaded, but partly also because there are times when those boxes tell me something more about the people that made the machines that used them.  Does that methodology sound familiar?

That’s why on Friday’s trading day at the DC show this year I was drawn to Betsy Eisner’s table.  In addition to the writing instruments you’d expect to see at a pen show, Betsy had a few vintage staplers, most notably some of the full-sized Aceliners, and a few boxes of staples that I’m sure most people breezed right by without a second thought.  One of those boxes jumped out at me and hit me right between the eyes:

Just a few weeks ago on July 8, I wrote an article here about an interesting pencil marked “Guild” that John Coleman shared with me (“One for the Fourth Edition,” at

John’s pencil, I concluded, was a Mabie Todd product – although most Mabie Todd pencils marked “Guild” have the word written in plain lettering on the clip:

The connection between Mabie Todd and Guild came from David Moak’s excellent book, “Mabie in America,” in which he’s pictured an example in sterling, complete with the box and paperwork which uses the same Olde English font found on John’s pencil.  David was kind enough to allow me to use his picture here:

That sure looked conclusive to me – “Guild,” in the same Olde English script, with “Manufactured by Mabie Todd & Co.” at the bottom of the instructions.    Based on this information, I’d written, “There is no question in my mind that John’s pencil is in fact a Mabie Todd.”

I knew it was a stretch to say John’s pencil was made by Mabie Todd, because it doesn't look anything like a Mabie Todd – for the record, David Moak disagreed with my conclusion.  But I knew it was extremely unlikely that Mabie Todd made . . . staples?  Yet along comes this staple box, and the logo is the same as the one found on John Coleman’s lead container:

Well, almost the same.  The staples box says “Guild Stationery Products,” rather than simply “Guild Products,” and unfortunately, all the fine print is illegible on both.  I became convinced that “Guild Products” was a producer, not a manufacturer, and while “Guild Products” produced my staples as well as both the pencils like John’s and David’s, I couldn’t believe that the good folks at Mabie Todd got a wild hair and branched out into the staples manufacturing business.  Maybe Guild wasn’t a Mabie Todd subbrand after all, I thought . . . maybe it was something else entirely.

And something else entirely proved to be the right answer.

The thread that unraveled the whole sweater came from some other words on my staples box that were legible: “Trade Mark Reg. U.S. Pat. Office.”  I searched “Guild Products,” and came up with nothing.  “Guild Stationery Products” also came up blank - but I knew that was probably because online trademark records are – pardon my French – piss poor.   So I searched just for the word “Guild” and got 1,667 results.  So convinced I was that the answer was there that I painstakingly went through them, one by one, looking for something that made sense.  When I got all the way down to numbers 1,664, 1,665 and 1,666 on the list (should’ve started at the end) I finally found what I was looking for:

Three separate trademarks were filed for the Olde English “Guild” logo, the last of which covered a laundry list of stationery products - no mechanical pencils, but fountain pens were on the list.  The date of first use claimed was February 17, 1922, and the registration was filed on February 24, 1922 by the Guild Products Corporation located at 722 Vine Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Since 1922 is the last year of The American Stationer that is available online, I thought that might be a good place to search for this “Guild Products Corporation.”  Within just a few moments, I hit paydirt.

Guild Products Corporation was front page news in the April 1, 1922 issue, in which it was announced that Guild had been established by a group of members of the National Association of Stationers and Manufacturers, Mid-Atlantic Retail Stationers’ Division.

Interestingly, as the headline indicates, “No Plans have been made to manufacture pencils.”  That quickly changed, and on page 11 of the July 1, 1922 issue of The American Stationer, it was announced that “There is being developed a standard line of Guild pencils . . ..”   From the outset, the establishment of Guild was apparently beset by controvery, as this excerpt from the article indicates:

I haven’t found the “erroneous” information (it wasn’t in the Canadian Bookseller and Stationer, which published nearly identical articles), but if there’s a source out there that accused the founders of “Guild” of blatant trade protectionism, price fixing, unfair competition and a host of other sordid business practices, I think they were probably on the right track.  The Guild’s true intentions became more clear in the five-page article which ran in the September 16, 1922 issue of The American Stationer:

According to the September 16 article, Guild was set up in direct response to “competition” from manufacturers who were marketing their products directly to consumers, rather than wholesaling their products through stationery stores at prices low enough for stationers to make a profit.  This “problem,” the president of Guild wrote, could only be solved in one of two ways:

Since it wasn’t feasible to convince manufacturers of things like fountain pens and pencils to keep stationers “safe” from the “evils” of cutting out the middleman, a few stationers created their own brand, signing contracts with various manufacturers to produce a whole range of products under the “Guild” name.  The American Stationer unashamedly backed the new enterprise, even printing this gushing full-page picture of the company’s officers (the same illustration likewise appeared in Bookseller and Stationer):

And in the middle, a clearer image of the company’s logo:

“Guild Products are manufactured according to Guild specifications and distributed by the Leading Stationers of America.  Under license from Guild Products Corporation Philadelphia, PA U.S.A.”   That’s what you’re supposed to be able to read on my staples box and John’s lead container label, and that fine print reveals the onerous side of the Guild plan:  Guild products wouldn’t be available to just anyone –

You had to be tapped by the Mid-Atlantic Retailer Stationers to receive a license to purchase and market Guild products.  Clearly, the purpose of the Guild Products Corporation was to starve independent stationers into joining their ranks and force manufacturers into submission by granting exclusive contracts to market wholesale products under the “Guild” name.

Stationers were not universally on board with the concept.  While The American Stationer was fully behind the new enterprise, Office Appliances was less enthusiastic.  In the September 1922 edition, Office Appliances published a lengthy editorial on the subject, presenting a well-balanced presentation of the advantages and disadvantages of creating a universal stationer in-house brand.  In that editorial, we get a glimpse of the turmoil behind the scenes:

Even though “Guild Members” weren’t required to limit themselves to carrying Guild products, they were “expected” to do their part to build up demand for Guild products, leaving me to wonder ninety years later what subtle (or not-so-subtle) penalties were levied against those who failed to meet “expectations.”  Office Appliances recognized other disadvantages to the Guild concept:

The Guild concept backfired, and badly.  On October 21, 1922, The American Stationer published the annual report of the General Manager for the National Association of Stationers and Manufacturers, in which the grumblings of independent stationers, feeling strongarmed into pushing “Guild” products, were curtly dismissed.  The manager reasoned that since Guild members were not actually forced to carry only Guild products, the Guild concept did not violate the principles of the National Association:

Guild faced opposition not only from its members, but also from the manufacturers it was designed to influence.  Guild organizers of the company assumed manufacturers of all sorts of products would beat down Guild’s doors to sign exclusive contracts to supply Guild products, rather than risk being frozen out of selling through all of their loyal and dedicated members.  But manufacturers apparently saw the move for what it was: an attempt to squeeze them out of their profits.  By November, it had to be acknowledged that the Guild’s offices were not filled with the sounds of ringing phones, but with the sounds of crickets chirping:

The American Stationer continued to valiantly tout the Guild throughout 1922, publishing an article celebrating Guild’s anniversary in the December 16, 1922 issue – but all the company could boast by that time was a product lineup consisting of rubber bands, paper clips, baskets and steno pads.  Although the trademark registration I found indicates that it was last renewed in 1983, there’s not much to be found after the tempest-in-a-teapot writeups of 1922.  There were a couple of reports that appeared in 1923 editions of The American Stationer, but all that is available are snippet views (fully viewable editions are not available after 1922).  I found a reference to a Guild catalog published in 1925, but the catalog was only 11 pages long, another indication that the idea never really caught on.  All that remains of Guild today are a few relics, including typewriter ribbon tins, boxes of staples and, of course, mechanical pencils and lead.

Which brings me back around to John Coleman’s Guild pencil.  Now that we know Mabie Todd was only making Guild pencils under contract for a separate company, there’s no reason to think that Mabie Todd made John’s very different-looking pencil.  My first guess in my July 8 article had been Conklin, the only other company I know of that made pencils stamped with an elaborate imprint directly over the clip.  Note also the same shaped bell, and a clip that’s almost a dead ringer:

Now that I’ve got an open field of possibilities to choose from, I think Conklin is in fact the right answer, and in the course of researching this article I stumbled across one last tidbit that may provide even more support for this.  In 1945, soon after the Conklin Pen Company had sold out to Starr and left Toledo, a group of four manufacturing firms in Toledo merged to form a new company, which made typewriter stands, scooters and other metal items.  They named the conglomeration “Toledo Guild Products.”

Coincidence?  Maybe.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Nice Threads!

Stuart Hawkinson stopped by my table with this one during the DC show.  He warned me that he was keeping this one before he showed it to me,  but he said he thought I might want to have a look at it.  You are correct, sir!

Doesn’t look much like a pencil, does it?  That is, until you unscrew the top and pull out what’s inside:

That top is double threaded, or rather, triple threaded (the entire assembly in turn can be unscrewed to reveal an eraser).  Then when the pencil portion is turned around and screwed into the top, the pencil takes on a pleasing proportion:

One of the first articles I wrote here involved a similar Pick Pocket Pencil (“What the heck is this?” on December 15, 2011 -  But the Pick, unlike Stuart’s pencil, is friction fit into place rather than double threaded.

Stuart’s example is no Pick.  When this article first published, I had thought it was probably made by National Pen Products, but just a day after the first publication, Jose (who goes by "Penmanila") posted pictures of a new find he had just scored over at The Fountain Pen Board:

It's a Diamond Point, and what's even better, it has a patent number on it:  Morris Kolber of Brooklyn, New York, filed a patent application for what would become the pen version on August 17, 1929, and patent number 1,780,527 was issued to him on November 4, 1930.  The patent was assigned to the New Diamond Point Pen Company.

I couldn't find a corresponding patent for the pencil version, which might explain why there's no imprint on Stuart's pencil.