Monday, September 30, 2013

Like a Ninja

Collectors of pens and pencils all know the excitement of finding truly quality pieces at general antique shows.  Usually, when a dealer says “yes, I have some pencils,” what they offer up might be a couple rusty Scriptos or a bag of wooden golf pencils – all of which must have tasted delicious to whoever was chewing on them.

Last Saturday at the Springfield (Ohio) Extravaganza, imagine my surprise to find a dealer with a Conklin Nozac pen, an Eversharp Skyline pen in silver moire and a few other goodies at his outdoor booth.  The pens were in great shape, but the dealer knew what he had and wanted what I would consider to be the high end of reasonable (as my friend Rob Bader likes to say, “That is a fair price -- I’m looking for an unfair price”).

We went back and forth for a few minutes – he didn’t want to take much less because he’d just put them out, I didn’t want to pay so much . . . hem, haw, hem, haw . . . finally, I started looking around the rest of his booth to find a couple other things to throw in that might make a deal make some sense.  With the addition of three other bits of what he considered junk, we struck a deal.

No, I’m not posting pictures here of the Skyline or the Nozac, for two reasons.  First, they are pens.  Second, you’ve seen those before.  The real headline of the deal turned out to be one of the bits of junk I persuaded the guy to include in the deal:

What attracted me to this one was that goofy dip pen nib, which obviously has absolutely nothing to do with the holder it’s been stuck in.  I’ve got a disorganized mess of dip pen nibs I’ll go through someday, but I was confident that among them I didn’t have a “Jordonian No. 6 Oblique Pen”:

I know, I know . . . it’s a pen, so I shouldn’t be posting pictures of this, either.  But I had to show you this one (ok, I wanted to show you this one) because it explains why I hadn’t paid much attention to the “holder” into which it was wedged.

This one went into my pocket along with all the other treasures I was finding that day.  After we got home, I started sorting through all the neat stuff I’d found and when I came to this one, as I was pulling the nib out to clean it up, I noticed something:

That crescent-shaped slot is where the dip pen nib is inserted, but I hadn’t noticed that round hole in the middle.  Usually, that’s an indication that this isn’t just a dip pen holder, but a pen and pencil combination.   After fiddling around with it a bit, I found that turning the wooden upper portion of the holder advanced a pencil mechanism:

It’s missing the nozzle.  Hopefully, I’ll be able to find one someday, because the tiny imprint on the side reveals that this one would be worth investing a bit of money in to restore:

“Hicks Pat Sept 13 1864.”  It’s not every day you find a pencil made by William S. Hicks sneaking into your collection!

Finding the patent proved easy, even with the patent search engines acting up these days.  During the Civil War there weren’t nearly as many patents issued, and on September 13, 1864 there were only 137 of them.  One of them was number 44,261, issued to Richard Ryne and assigned, of course, to William S. Hicks:

Ryne's name associated with Hicks was no surprise -- he also patented the Hicks reversible pen and pencil combo I wrote about here just last week.   A read of Ryne’s patent reveals that Ryne was trying to solve the problem of making a full-sized writing instrument that wasn’t so topheavy – that’s why rather than having an all metal barrel, Ryne devised a way to affix a wooden upper barrel to lighten the load up top.

Ryne’s design makes this pen/pencil combo look more like an ordinary dip pen, like so many others made during the nineteenth century.   In fact, it blends in so well with the nameless crowd that I nearly let it slip through my fingers and into the no-man’s land that is my junker box.  

There’s no more sneakin’ around for this one now – it’s got a good home, next to my other Hicks pencils, awaiting a nozzle and a Hicks dip pen nib.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Truth in Advertising

When this one popped up in an online auction, I thought the seller was confused and posted the wrong pictures with the pencil:

That’s a Cross, I thought to myself.  But yet there was something a little weird about it; I wondered why the top was silver instead of black.  Here’s the online find shown next to a typical Cross Century ballpoint:

But when this one arrived in the mail, I was pleasantly surprised that yes, in fact, the seller had described it accurately.  This one is no Cross:

It’s an Esterbrook.  There’s no question in my mind that it was made by Cross for Esterbrook, probably in the late 1940s or early 1950s.  With such a long run for the Cross Century, you might wonder how I know that – the answer is found on the advertising medallion mounted at the top of the clip.  The medallion was the reason I would have bought this one no matter who made it:

“Oldsmobile Service Guild.”  I’ve always been an Oldsmobile fan, and when I’m not playing with pencils, I’m messing around with the ‘66 Cutlass I’ve been working on for the last year.  This logo, with the cartoon-like rocket, was first used by Oldsmobile when the company first introduced its line of “Rocket” engines in the late 1940s.

The auto theme on this Esterbrook also explains why I chose to show it compared to a Cross ballpoint, rather than a pencil.  I just love the medallion on that one, which earned it a place as one of only a handful of ballpoints in my collection:

Quite the action pose for the Michelin Man!  What’s more, the Cross has an interesting imprint at the top you don’t usually see:

“10K Gold Filled USA / Electroplated Emblem.”  Now that’s truth in advertising!

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Better Than The Real Deal

The Springfield Antique Show in Springfield, Ohio is a monthly affair, and most of the time, it’s a lot like most other antique shows.  But a couple times a year, the show takes a big dose of steroids and turns into a monstrous, 2,000-plus dealer, indoor/outdoor, four-day affair called the “Extravaganza.”  It’s impossible to see everything in one day, so Janet and I have taken to getting a room over in Springfield and spending Saturday and Sunday browsing at a more leisurely pace.   Janet swears it’s all me stressing about whether we get to see everything, but secretly, I believe she can’t help but wonder what she might have missed, too.

We try to do all of the outdoor stuff first, because we never know when the Ohio weather will stop cooperating and besides, the indoor dealers are there every month – it’s the outdoor vendors you’ll typically see only on Extravaganza weekends.

Sunday morning, while we were browsing around outside, a big breakfast and a few belts of coffee caught up with us, so we ventured inside one of the main buildings to answer nature’s call.  Of course, it’s nearly impossible to walk down an aisle full of antiques without stopping to look at anything, and of course, the first vendor inside the door was someone I see every month and buy something from every month.

Usually it’s nothing spectacular she has for me – maybe a couple cheaper pencils in colors I don’t have or a few dip pen nibs that look just interesting enough to shell out a buck or two.  This time, I saw a great box marked “Zaner-Bloser” on the side, about half full of erasers, lead and ballpoint refills.  Since Zaner Bloser is a Columbus, Ohio company, I couldn’t resist.

But there was a problem.  The dealer wanted $12.00 firm for the box, I’d spent all my small bills and the dealer couldn’t break a fifty.  She said she’d hold it for me while I went to break a larger bill.  Just as I was about to leave her booth, I noticed this laying nonchalantly out in front, separate and apart from where she usually keeps her pen and pencil stuff:

When I first laid eyes on it, I thought I was looking at another example of an F.T. Pearce leadholder, which have snake clips sort of like this (see “It’s Not File Transfer Protocol” on January 11, 2012 at

The Pearce clip, which is also sometimes found on comparable pencils made by A.T. Cross (there was some relationship between the two companies, both of which were located in Providence, Rhode Island), was patented by George T. Byers on January 6, 1914 as Design Patent Number 45,102:

But then I looked a bit closer, and I saw that the clip on my new find was no snake:

The head resembles more of a dragon or sea serpent, and the clip is much more detailed and elaborate even than what you’ll find on a Pearce.  Here they are compared:

On the reverse side, notice the delicate fins down the creature’s spine and the finely detailed tail, neither of which is present in Byers’ design:

Yes, the clip can be removed, but underneath it, the metal of the barrel is brighter, suggesting that if it hasn’t been there since it was made, at least it has been there for a very, very long time.  I also believe the clip is original to the time period, since on the underside of the head, there is wear consistent with decades of slipping in and out of a shirt pocket.  I haven’t been able to find any modern clips that match it, either.

In addition to the clip, the pencil has another interesting detail in the machine work on the barrel.  One half of the barrel is machined with a checkerboard pattern, while the other side is different altogether.  I've seen a lot of pencils with different machining from the top part of the pencil to the bottom, but I don't think I've ever seen one that's different from front to back:

So who made this piece of art?  The only engraving on the barrel was the word “Sterling,” which wouldn’t have deterred me from buying the pencil with that killer clip.  However, this is a leadholder, which means the top screws up a little bit to release the lead and screws down a little to clamp down around it.   I recalled that many pencils of this style, such as those made by Heath, had the manufacturers imprint on the inner barrel, so that it’s only visible when the top is unscrewed.  I unscrewed the pencil, and there it was:

“Salz Bros. Mfg. NY.”  No longer did I have any worries about breaking a larger bill to buy the Zaner Bloser stuff – I used a bigger bill or two and threw this one into the deal.

It makes sense.   Ignatz Salz, like David Kahn and his Wearevers, has a reputation of being a lower-quality manufacture turning out writing instruments made to look (sometimes a little too closely) like higher-quality manufacturers made by first tier companies.  This is vintage Ignatz Salz, turning out a sterling leadholder that resembles a Heath and adorning it with a clip that certainly calls Pearce and Cross to mind.  In my opinion, the Salz name on this pencil is additional evidence that the clip is original and is original to this pencil.

And in this case, Ignatz outdid himself, turning out something that was better than the real thing!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Probably Mabie . . . Maybe

Sometimes I’ll buy a pencil I know absolutely nothing about, just because I’ve never heard of the name before and I’d like to learn a little more about it.  Such was the case with this one, which turned up at the DC show.  I don’t remember from whom I got this one:

This is a middle joint pencil.  Twisting the back half advances the lead mechanism:

I just love that great Jules Verne look:

In tiny letters on the side of the upper barrel, there is an inscription barely visible with the naked eye:

“R M & Co.”  When I started researching this one, all that was coming up were other pencils (and a few dip pen/pencil combos) which were observed as having the same imprint – and no clues or guesses as what it might be.

My first thought was that it looked a lot like the pencil pictured in John Mabie’s 1854 patent drawings:

This pencil shares the same streamlined, fluted barrel, and it also shares Mabie’s patented middle-joint design.  But if the “M” stands for Mabie, who with the name beginning with “R” would John Mabie have become partners with?  And another thing: Mabie’s name always came first in any partnership he was in (before there was Mabie, Todd & Co., there was Mabie, Knapp & Johnston, Mabie, Smith & Co., Mabie, Todd & Bard, among others); so to whom would John Mabie have been second on the letterhead?

I’ve got a guess.  According to David Moak’s book, Mabie in America, John Mabie first entered the writing instruments business in 1843, when he began working for John H. Rauch (the company was organized as “Rauch & Co.” in 1845).  According to Mabie’s obituary, Mabie worked his way up in Rauch’s shop,  “became a foreman for and then a partner of John A. [sic] Rauch, in the same business, in Cortlandt Street.”
In 1851, Moak reports, John Mabie “retired” from his partnership with Rauch at the ripe old age of 32 and bought a farm in the county.  Moak suggests that this wasn’t really a “retirement,” and I agree that the evidence suggests that Mabie was getting out of Dodge for awhile and laid low while he considered his future business opportunities.  Whatever happened during that time, Mabie came out of retirement in 1853, when he returned to the business with the establishment of  Mabie, Knapp & Johnston, the first of a series of short-lived partnerships culminating in 1860 with the establishment of Mabie, Todd & Co.

Out of all the different partnerships in which Mabie was involved, I haven’t found any trace of one called Rauch, Mabie & Co., but if Mabie became Rauch’s partner as Mabie’s obituary states, there’s no reason it wouldn’t have gone by that name.  Even this 1895 account in The American Stationer lacks any mention of such a partnership (at the time, Mabie Todd was going by the name of Mabie, Todd & Bard):

Note the glaring gap between 1851 and 1853?   When I look for clues for what might have happened during that time I find that Rauch patented a pen and pencil combination in January, 1852 – there’s no middle joint here, and while the case is fluted, it lacks the same streamlined profile found in Mabie’s 1854 patent drawings:

Yet the "R.M. & Co" pencil shares exactly the profile and mechanism shown in Mabie’s later 1854 patent drawings, which Mabie must have been working on during his “retirement.”  What this sparse evidence suggests that John Mabie may have been associated with Rauch later than 1851, but for whatever reason Mabie chose to edit that chapter out of his autobiographical accounts – and therefore out of history.

It’s fun to think about the human side to business relationships.  Did Mabie and Rauch have a falling out over the terms of Rauch Mabie & Company’s use of Mabie’s new design?  Was Mabie’s old business partner helping Mabie out with establishing Mabie’s fledgling company, lending Mabie the use of Rauch & Company’s equipment to start making the new Mabie pencils on the condition that Mabie stamp them with both their initials?  Or was Mabie really in “retirement” on doctors’ orders as he said, spending his idle time in the country cooking up drawings for new designs and shipping them back to Rauch for production under both their names?

Or have I got this all wrong?  Was there another “R” out there altogether?

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Maybe Not Mabie?

John Mabie’s patent of October 3, 1854 was stamped prominently on many of Mabie’s early writing instruments  – even ones to which Mabie’s patent didn’t apply, like this one:

This one, along with another pencil, came from an unwise gamble in an online auction.  From the terrible pictures the seller had posted, all I could tell was that the barrels were black and that there appeared to be a little bit of writing on them.   I was pleasantly surprised when they arrived to find that there were no cracks in either of them, both were in perfect working order, and the imprints were clear enough to respond favorably to highlighting:

But there’s something very curious about this Mabie Todd:

“Pat. Dec. 24 1867 Mabie, Todd & Co.”  I wouldn’t have been at all surprised to see Mabie’s 1854 patent date on the barrel of this pencil – even though it doesn’t have either the middle joint pencil advance or the dip pen slider shown in Mabie’s drawings.  But as David Moak noted in Mabie in America, John Mabie’s one and only patent was the one he received on October 3, 1854  – is it possible that this was a second one?

Nope.  The only writing instrument-related patent issued on December 24, 1867 was this one:

Richard H. Ryne of New York received patent number 72,684 on that date.  The second most interesting thing about this patent is that like Mabie’s 1854 patent, it has absolutely nothing to do with the pencil on which it is stamped.  Ryne’s drawings show a reversible dip pen/retractable pencil unit which is simply friction fit into a tube.  I tugged as hard as my conscience would permit on the fragile end of this pencil, and I am convinced that it is not meant to be removed.

But to me, that’s only the second most interesting thing about this patent.  The most interesting thing is to whom Ryne’s patent was assigned:

William S. Hicks.  Hicks was another high-quality New York manufacturer who made writing instruments for Tiffany as well as Edward Todd, in addition to those made on his firm’s own account.   According to Moak’s book, Edward Todd left Mabie Todd & Co. in 1868 (although another member of the Todd family, Edward’s older brother Henry, remained with the firm – allowing Mabie Todd & Co. to continue to operate under the same name).   Moak stops short of saying that Hicks made writing instruments for Edward Todd – but this pencil proves conclusively that there was some business relationship between Hicks and at least one member of the Todd clan.

The December 24, 1867 patent date did ring a distant bell when I first saw it, and after I looked up the patent and recalled that Hicks was the assignee, I remembered why it looked familiar.  This one came from another online auction some time ago:

The tip on this one slides easily out of the barrel:

Believe it or not, that freakishly long tip actually does retract all the way inside.  I didn’t know until after I looked up the patent that the end accommodates a dip pen nib.  Anyone have a Hicks nib to spare?

And there on the side of the barrel is the imprint you’d expect to see:

So to circle back around to the pencil that started this article, why would Hicks’ 1867 patent appear on a completely unrelated Mabie Todd pencil?  I think for the same reason Mabie put his equally unrelated 1854 patent on them:  as a deterrent to copycats.  Patents at the time were good for 17 years, so by the time Hicks’ patent was issued, Mabie’s patent  – for whatever little good it did – was imminently due to become completely useless on October 3, 1871.  Mabie must have made some arrangement with Hicks to stamp a newer date on his pencils as his patent was due to expire.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Maybe Mabie

About a year ago, I received an email from David Moak, author of Mabie in America: Writing Instruments from 1843 to 1941.  He was thinking about selling his collection of Mabie Todd pencils, he said, and he wanted to know if I was interested.

Sure I was, I told him.  At the time I had just two Victorian-era Mabie Todd pencils (see “Marie’s Patent” on December 2, 2011 –, and an opportunity to acquire the definitive Mabie Todd collection – not to mention the collection from the book on the subject – doesn’t come along every day.  We went back and forth for awhile, because I couldn’t afford everything David had.  In the end, while I decided to pass on most of the solid gold stuff in favor of the items I thought were more historically significant, we struck a deal on almost all the rest of it.   The collection arrived at my office on the first day of the 2012 Ohio Pen Show, and it made for a nice display:

One of these days, I tell myself, I need to do a blog article or two about these.  I haven’t yet only because I like writing about things that haven’t been written about before, and in the case of David’s Mabie Todd collection, not only is David’s book out there, but you can still see all of these pencils online at David’s Mabie Todd website (    I can’t help feeling like these have been done before.

In the last couple months, though, I’ve stumbled across a few curiosities that aren’t in David’s book and haven’t been done before.  The first is this one, which someone brought to the DC show in the hopes of selling:

This is a large, heavy piece, still in its original felt-lined box.  The gold slider ring indicates that this one is a pen and pencil combo, with both a pencil and a dip pen nib.  The pencil is advanced by twisting the back half:

I’m not going to show you the dip pen nib.  Suffice to say it isn’t the right one (no, I was sure to a moral certainty from the moment I first laid eyes upon it that this is no Esterbrook – oh, the indignity of it).  One of the interesting things about this piece is that wide jeweler’s band around the rear of the instrument – it appears to be at least 10 karat solid gold, and while many collectors disapprove of personalization on their pens and pencils, this one is hard to pooh-pooh:

“From the / 1st Universalist / Church Choir / and P. School / to Gustave / Dannreuther / Apr. 22nd / 1866.”   It’s rare to find engraving that so clearly and specifically conjures an event nearly a century and a half later, which is what attracted me at first.  But for those who still shudder at the thought of a pencil being defiled with this message, reserve your judgment for just a moment longer – Gustave Dannreuther was someone special.

According to Dannreuther’s biography on Wikipedia, he was born in Cincinnati, Ohio on July 21, 1853, and in 1871 he left Cincinnati to study the violin in Europe.  When he returned, he joined the Boston Symphony, and in 1884 he formed the Dannreuther String Quartet, which played before large audiences in Boston and New York.  Here is a picture of him, on the left, in this image from Wikipedia:

In April, 1866 – just a year after the end of the American Civil War – Dannreuther would have been almost 13 years old.  On a hunch, I checked to see if there was a “1st Universalist Church” in Cincinnati that had a preparatory school (the “P. School” engraved on my pencil), and I found this entry, under “Colleges” in the 1850 edition of Williams' Cincinnati Almanac, Business Guide and Annual Advertiser:

The school at the 1st Unversalist Church in Cincinnati, Ohio, was on Walnut Street in between 3rd and 4th Street.  Gustave Dannreuther’s musical ability must have been really spectacular, for the church choir to give him such a substantial gift at the age of twelve years old, and it is amazing to think that the hands that received, held, cherished and used this writing instrument may have carried it off to Europe with him to mark notes on his music at the dawn of his long and distinguished career.

Perhaps this was in his vest pocket while he performed with the Boston Symphony, and by the time he was preparing for performances with the Dannreuther Quartet it might have been one of his prized possessions, a fond memory of his days as a youth in the backwoods of Cincinnati.  Holding something like this reminds me with crystal clarity that I’m not the owner of this piece, but merely its custodian for a short while.  Objects like this aren't just trinkets or souvenirs of historical events – they are history.

When I started writing this article, Gustave Dannreuther’s story was the afterthought to the story I thought I was going to write -- running a Google search on the name was just the last a loose end I thought I’d be tying off.  The story I thought I was writing, before history upstaged me, was about how I know that this pen/pencil combo, with its crappy Esterbrook nib, is actually made by Mabie Todd & Co.    The answer is revealed – just a little bit of it, anyway – in the above picture showing a closeup of the inscription, where you can see just a bit of an imprint in the rubber, peeking out from under that wide gold band.

On one side of the barrel, the number 51 is seen right next to the band.  There’s no doubt in my mind that the 51 is the last two digits in a patent date: May 6, 1851, to be exact.  In fact, I’d bet you a thousand dollars that the rest of the imprint reads “Goodyear’s Pat. May 6 ‘51,” but the only problem is that you’d never convince me to remove that band.   The reference is to Nelson Goodyear’s patent for the hard rubber material used in the barrel (or as Goodyear called it, “India Rubber.”   I wrote a full article on Goodyear’s  patent on September 11, 2012 (“A Close Call,” at, and that imprint appears on many different hard rubber pencils from the middle of the nineteenth century – most prevalently, however, on those made by Mabie Todd & Co.

But the clincher is the number found on the other side of the barrel:

What looks like a letter I, followed by “3,1854.”  It’s not an I, but a well-worn T.  Double or nothing, I’d bet what you’ll find is “MABIE’S PATENT OCT. 3, 1854.”  (See “Marie’s Patent” on December 2, 2011 –

According to David Moak’s book, even though Mabie Todd & Co. manufactured countless varieties of writing instruments, John Mabie had only one patent to his name: the October 3, 1854 patent for a pen and pencil combination.  He stamped the date on almost everything – even pencils that didn’t have the nib slider on them or the middle joint pencil advance.

But that wasn’t the only patent date John Mabie stamped on his pencils . . .  

Friday, September 20, 2013

I'm Sure That's What They Were "Shooting" For

Here’s a couple of pencils, both of which came from the DC show.  Well, sort of.

The red pencil (painted over brass) came from Frank Hoban, whose table was just a few doors down from mine at the show.  The moment I saw it, I knew I had to buy it – I was expecting a second one to arrive within just a couple hours, and I wanted to photograph the two together.  Later that day, Sue Hershey arrived at my table, and sure enough she had the green one in tow.  Sue had sent me a picture of it some months earlier, and she said she was bringing along a bag of goodies to the DC show for me to look at.  I had hoped (a) this would be one of them and (b) I’d get to bring it home with me.  Yes to both!

Neither of these is a particularly expensive pencil, but what had me fired up about Sue’s pencil – and had my radar in tune by the time I found the one on Frank’s table – was the name on the clips:

“Pierce,” with an arrow running through it.   You probably don’t need to be a car buff to know where this one is going.   In 1872, George N. Pierce of Buffalo, New York bought out his other partners in Heinz, Pierce and Munschauer, a metal specialties company, and renamed the outfit the George N. Pierce Co.  By 1896, Pierce was becoming preoccupied with things that go, introducing a bicycle that year.  The company began dabbling in automobiles and, in 1903, the company introduced the Arrow, a name that was so cool that the company name was changed to Pierce Arrow:

Pierce Arrows are instantly recognizable by their distinctive streamlined headlights,which the company started using fairly early on.  The logo frequently used by the company was just like you see on these pencils, with an Arrow skewering the word “Pierce.”  Here it is in a 1904 advertisement:

and one dealer even had the logo proudly emblazoned atop his four-story Pierce Arrow service facility:

Pierce-Arrow is best remembered for its luxury cars, including the ones supplied to William Howard Taft as the first presidential motorcars.   However, the company’s bread and butter were work trucks – construction vehicles, buses and cargo vehicles.  The company spun off its bicycle division in 1909 as the Pierce Cycle Company, with Percy Pierce (George’s son) as its president. Pierce Cycle introduced a distinctive inline four-cylinder motorcycle but, like so many other motorcycle companies in the first part of the last century, the company didn’t last long and Pierce Cycle folded in 1914.

Pierce Arrow, however, survived into the 1930s.  By the late 1930s, the Depression had all but eliminated demand for new work trucks, leaving the company as exclusively a luxury automobile manufacturer.  Since Studebaker had acquired a controlling interest in the firm, Pierce Arrow did not to introduce a lower-priced line (which would have competed with Studebakers) to make ends meet until times got better.  The proud company declared insolvency and shut its doors in 1938.

These Pierce pencils appear to date from the early 1920s (the red enameled example) and the mid- to late-1920s.  Initially, I thought a luxury brand like Pierce Arrow wouldn’t stand to have its name stamped on such low-quality pencils – higher quality writing instruments would have been more like it.  But then again, I had forgotten about the utility vehicles the company made.  These pencils might not have been at home in President Taft’s glove box, but that red one would fit right in on the dash of a Pierce Arrow fire truck.

Did Pierce Arrow get into the pencil manufacturing business?  I very much doubt it, even given the company’s origins as a metal specialties company.    Once Pierce Arrow became obsessed with things that go, I don’t think they ever looked back.  Did the company have pencils made with their logo on the clips?  Maybe.

But maybe, just like the UWANTAs and the UNXLDs, someone else just thought they’d rip off a cool name.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Art of the Metal Sheaffer

Normally, I don’t chase after early metal Sheaffer pencils.  With a couple hundred metal Eversharps laying about, I realize how stupid it sounds to say that most of them look alike to me, but it’s true – for whatever reason, a metal Sheaffer really has to stand out of the crowd to get my attention.

Twice at the DC show, metal Sheaffer pencils stood out of the crowd and really, really got my attention:

The sterling silver example is unusually long for a ringtop – that’s part of its charm to me.  And the pencil’s outstanding state of preservation is another attention-grabber.  But what struck me about this one even more is the quality of the engraving, which is more elaborate even than what you’ll find on a full jacketed sterling engraved Eversharp:

The gold filled example has a slightly greenish hue to it.  At first, I thought it might be green gold filled; however, the cap (which has the same coloring) indicates only that it is gold filled:

With this one, what got my attention was the clip.  Note that this one has the clip normally found on the Sheaffer Balance pencils introduced in 1929, as opposed to the earlier clips typically found on Sheaffer flattop pencils.  Here are the two styles of clips compared:

One of the first articles I wrote here at the blog concerned a similar find – a Sheaffer “Titan” flattop with a flat ball clip.  I’d commented then on how unlikely it was that the clips could have been swapped out, since it is so difficult to get inside the pencils to remove a clip.  That’s with the large flattops – it’s doubly difficult with the smaller metal pencils!

Sheaffer itself contributed to making its metal pencils passe after the mid-1920s, when Sheaffer introduced pens and pencils in brightly colored “radite” (Sheaffer’s name for celluloid).  But Sheaffer didn’t stop production of them overnight  Metal pencils are advertised in Sheaffer’s 1930 catalog, alongside both flattop and Balance pens and pencils.  However, the clips shown on the pencils in the 1930 catalog had the earlier, more bluntly rounded tops (this is from the Pen Collector’s of America’s website):

Metal pencils last appear in Sheaffer’s catalogs in 1935 – as a $1.00 utility pencil.

But by 1935, there’s no indication in the catalog that metal pencils were offered in any engine-turned patterns, or that they were available in anything other than Sheaffer’s “silni” (silver-nickel) finish.  And even in this drawing, the pencils are shown with what appear to be round balls and the more blunt-top clips.  The following year, Sheaffer introduced pens and pencils with the even more streamlined rigid radius clips, and the last metal pencils were phased out in favor of a new utility line, the plastic Fineline and “working togs” pencils that were the ancestors of the “pearlie” line.  

My pencil was probably made shortly before the sunset of the metal pencil as a luxury item.  I’d date my pencil to sometime between 1932 and 1934 – after the introduction of the more streamlined round ball clips, but before the company discontinued gold filled and patterned barrels.