Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Placing the Medford

The Medford was another of the Rexall Drug Company’s store brands.  The brand appears on page 99 of The Catalogue:

I didn’t have enough evidence when I wrote the book to say that these were made by the Eagle Pencil Company, although I've always suspected it.  In the last year a couple of things I’ve found have helped me pin this one down. The one in this picture with the metal cap came from a friend of mine, who stopped by the office with a baggie full of pencils he thought I might like:

And remember the Epenco "Gleam" pencils?  These were in one of my first posts here (http://leadheadpencils.blogspot.com/2011/11/eagle-update.html):

Check out this set, which turned up in an online auction a few months ago:

I don’t think the evidence gets much stronger.

Monday, September 29, 2014

McColm Stops the Presses

As October, 2013 drew to a close, I was starting to feel the weight of the world begin to lift – or at least the weight of the first volume of my patent book. I had examined thousands of patents one by one, carefully documenting each as I went in a spreadsheet. For several weeks my day job had been just the middle part of my day, my break in between the early morning and late night sessions of tedious database building and editing. Many days I spent more time working on the book than I did at the office – and I was spending full days at the office.

But with the most difficult and mind-numbing part of the process done, I was having fun writing the short stories which accompany the illustrations in the book. Light was beginning to show at the end of the tunnel, and Janet was relieved as I assured her the book would be done before the Ohio Pen Show in November (little did she or I know that work on Volume 2 would start after the new year).

It was during that time that Matt McColm sent me an email of a pencil he’d found in a coffee can full of Coors bottle openers (since Matt’s from Denver, that’s not much of a surprise – the Coors part anyway):

The Coors part might not have been a surprise, but you have to wonder what made an antique dealer think that’s where something like this belonged. "Hmm, here’s a pencil . . .looks really old, possibly gold, works good . . . beautiful mother of pearl . . . ah, I’ve got the perfect place for that in my display, in that coffee can over there with all those rusty old mid-century bottle openers." Really?? I like to think things like this look just a little more special than that, even to the untrained eye!

I shouldn’t complain. Matt knew something like this was right up my alley and the method to this particular dealer’s madness made it that much cheaper for him to snap it up for me. And with the draft of my book about done, I thought I’d show off a little bit and asked him if it had a patent date. It did:

"Fairchild / PL Pat. Mar.8.81." I flipped to the first section of the book, in which patents are organized by date, and thumbed to March of 1881, and . . . nothing. I didn’t have even a single patent listed for March 8, 1881. The light I had seen at the end of the tunnel suddenly looked so much farther away. How did I miss this one? And if I missed this one, how many others did I also miss? 

Back to the patent databases I went. I brought up all the patents issued on March 8, 1881, and there were 282 of them. I scanned through for any issued in patent classification 401: there was one, but it was for a mucilage bottle stopper, not anything writing instrument-related. I checked the other categories in which I’d turned up writing instrument patents, and there was nothing there, either.

Maybe Fairchild imprinted the wrong date, I told myself. Maybe it’s a foreign patent, or maybe the "PL" at the beginning of the imprint was a clue to tell me to look somewhere else.

I knew the right answer. "Maybe" wasn’t good enough. It was unacceptable that I’d written a book designed to assist collectors with identifying their artifacts, and here’s an artifact with a date I can’t explain. There wasn’t any substitute for doing things the old fashioned way: heck, there’s only 282 of them, I thought, and I’ve had to resort to this before (see "Eagle Week Part 1: Stop Gauge Pencils" at http://leadheadpencils.blogspot.com/2012/02/eagle-week-part-1-stop-gauge-pencils.html).

Well, not quite. Unlike the nasty "Walpuski affair," during which Charles Walpuski’s patent of June 26, 1877 turned out to be the very last patent indexed on that date, this mysterious March 8, 1881 patent turned up more quickly. It was number 26 on the index, but this time I tried a simple Google Patents search for "March 8 1881 pencil" and patent number 238,735 was the first one on the list:

Lewis P. Warth of New York applied for this patent on January 13, 1881 for a method of attaching pearl slabs to pencil cases (hence the "PL" at the beginning of the imprint, analogous to Ephraim S. Johnson’s "Pearl Patent Dec 5 1871" inscription found on so many Victorian pencils). Warth’s patent was assigned to Frederick J. Kaldenberg, also of New York.

I breathed a little easier, since this patent didn’t reveal glaring holes in my methodology. Warth’s patent was indexed under current U.S. patent classification 138 ("pipes and tubular conduits"), subcategory 141 ("distinct layers, bonded together"). Theoretically, if some wealthy Victorian gentleman wanted all his plumbing laminated with pearl slabs, this is the patent date you might find imprinted somewhere under his sink. Johnson’s Pearl Patent of December 5, 1871 was in classification 138/140 (distinct layers, but not with the "bonded together" part), so that’s why my check in that category didn’t turn it up, either.

The moral of the story is that the books and databases can only take the researcher so far. No matter how booksmart I had become on the subject, it took an actual artifact to lead me to this one. It’s entirely probable there are other patents out there like this one, which conventional research will never find absent any evidence that some goofy process of enameling or method of assembling bits of brass whilst standing on one’s head were ever applied to the art of making writing instruments. These are still out there waiting to be rediscovered, unceremoniously dumped in coffee cans full of junk in some antique store.

But not this one. Thanks to Matt McColm’s fortuitous foray into a can full of bottle openers, the "McColm Memorial Patent" is now found in my book on page 32!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Naming a No-Name

This one showed up in an online auction awhile back.

Ordinarily I’m not interested in a pencil unless it’s marked with a name, but perpetual calendars are a pretty cool feature and besides the fact that it’s a great looking pencil, even though it isn’t marked I can tell you with absolute certainty who made this one:

Here’s our mystery pencil flanked by a pair of Dur-O-Lite pencils from the mid-1920s. They have identical nose cones and the tops are nearly identical. The top example shows that Dur-O-Lite used the same plastic, and the bottom one illustrates that the company used the same clip.

The perpetual calendar example has a little nicer metal work just beneath the cap. I’m surprised Dur-O-Lite didn’t mark this one; the only reason I can imagine why it wasn’t is that the calendar feature was right where the company’s imprint normally goes.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Not Quite Right

I know that I must have circled by this one three or four times at the Ohio Show last year:

It’s a Sheaffer "Titan" from the late 1920s, but there was something about it that just didn’t look quite right to me. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t anything about the pencil itself: it works perfectly and it’s in excellent condition, and I really like that classy black barrel. I just have never gotten around to organizing my Sheaffer flattops, so I don’t normally buy them at shows because unless I haul the ones I’ve got to the shows, I’m not certain whether or not what I’m looking at is a duplicate.

But there was just something about this one that kept drawing me back. After about the fourth time I picked it up, I decided that even if I did have one at home, I liked it well enough that I wouldn’t even mind having two.

Back at the house, I did find that I had another black Sheaffer Titan, and when I put them side by side, it became clear what it was that just looked a little strange about this new one:

Maybe I’ll call the new one a "Titanette?"

Friday, September 26, 2014

The Pencil That Launched (More Than) a Thousand Patent Searches

It’s happened to all of us at some point. You’re in the garage looking for a particular screwdriver, and it’s nowhere to be found. You become increasingly frustrated as you scrounge around in the mess. You start straightening things up a bit as you hunt around in the hopes that next time it won’t be so hard to find things. One thing leads to another, and next thing you know, you look up and the whole garage is organized. Maybe you found your screwdriver, maybe not. Maybe you cut the process short by giving up and sulking off to the hardware store to buy another screwdriver.

This sort of thing happened to me in a big way about a year ago, although it wasn’t with a screwdriver, the figurative garage was far more enormous and quietly closing the garage door and slipping off for a cheap replacement simply wasn’t an option.

I’m referring to that shambles of a garage known as the United States Patent databases. I had wandered in there in search of a pre-1911 patent for a particular pencil that I had been meaning to write about for some time, and I thought I had everything I needed to find it – to carry on the metaphor, I knew exactly where that damned screwdriver was supposed to be.

It wasn’t there. I tried everything, and I simply couldn’t find it. In fact, even though I was sure it was an American patent, I couldn’t even find anything issued on that date.

The problem, as it turned out, had nothing to do with the patent itself or with the feeble skills of one hapless researcher: the patent databases were malfunctioning on that particular day, so no matter what search I ran, there were no results to be found. Although the databases were back up and running a day or so later, the experience started me thinking: what if all the tools I currently use were suddenly no longer available?

The question gained greater urgency a week or so later, when the United States government shut down over a fiscal squabble, and the USPTO posted an ominous message on its website. Despite the shutdown, they said, their website would remain available – for the time being.

That’s why, for the next six weeks, I took a break from Leadhead’s and compiled a database of every writing instrument patent I could find prior to 1911 – not just for pencils, but for pens, penholders, stylographs – anything that lays down a line on a sheet of paper. Call it pessimism that our government might not be able to reopen. Call it determination never to lose another freakin’ screwdriver. Janet called it the mess that occupied the kitchen table for weeks, but when it was finished, I called it American Writing Instrument Patents 1799-1910.

And I am pleased to report, in the process I did find my proverbial screwdriver. Here’s the pencil that started the project:

The first thing that struck me when I saw this one in an online auction was the color, which is a little different from your usual nineteenth century Eagle Automatic (they normally came in black). By the way, I found a really wild Eagle Automatic, and this is a great opportunity to show that one too, for comparison:

But note that the top and bottom treatments are a bit different and, as the seller had described, the new one is a little bigger than what I was expecting. When it arrived at my doorstep, I was pleased that the seller had also correctly described the other details that interested me: the imprints were unlike anything I had seen before. At the top end:

"Eagle Pencil Co. / New York." And better still, at the nose:

"Eagle ‘Enigma’ / Pat. Dec. 11th 88 / No. 84." The name was apt – shaking it produced quite a bit of rattling, but there wasn’t any lead coming out. In the absence of an instruction manual, finding the patent was more than a historical curiosity I wanted to add to this article – it was a necessity if I was going to figure out how the Enigma works!

In hindsight, with the databases up and running properly, patent number 394,401 wasn’t any harder to find than any of the others. In fact, a Google search for "December 11 1888 pencil" turns it up right away (I think at the time I was so thoroughly panicked by the thought of the American patent databases closing that I forgot to try a Google search).

Nevertheless, when I finally did find it, two things struck me as unusual about this patent: first, it wasn’t issued to either of Eagle’s go-to pencil inventors, Claes Boman or Joseph Hoffman: this one was issued to Gustaf Sandel of New York on an application he filed on October 2, 1888.

Second, the patent is for a nineteenth-century version of the Pilot "Shaker," which advances the lead a little each time the pencil is shaken up and down. The internal workings of this are so complicated that Sandel needed three pages of drawings to show how it works:

With Sandel’s instructions in hand, I was able to get the "Enigma" working, albeit feebly. A century and a quarter of wear, combined with the accompanying buildup of gunk inside, have not been kind to the delicate gears and ratchets inside.

As for Sandel, this is the first time I’ve run across a pencil that was patented by him. He received five patents between 1886 and 1894, all of which were assigned to the Eagle Pencil Company. Even though a career of five patents pales in comparison to the dozens that were issued to Boman and Hoffman, that’s still quite an accomplishment from a man I had never heard of before writing this article.

He’s sort of the engima of a man behind the enigma of a pencil.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Things I Need to Know

When I first started practicing law, I got my start examining real estate titles at the Recorder’s Office here in Licking County, Ohio. No fair snickering like a bunch of sixth-graders at the name out there: my home county is named for the salt licks that once dotted the landscape.

My job as a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed associate involved (to show that I’m older than I look) pulling huge leatherbound volumes of documents from the shelves, bringing them back to a stand and opening them up to review the documents that had been filed. These books were dusty, enormous and heavy, so those who did not possess or acquire an aptitude for remembering numbers would make many more trips back to the shelves and carry around a lot more of these big books than necessary.

The lesson I learned from the experience and still carry with me today is the ability to commit six-digit numbers (say, "204696" for Volume 204, page 696) to memory very easily – in my case, even easier than I can remember a person’s name. Seven digit numbers, such as patent number 2,028,855, also stick, especially if I’ve spent some time studying that patent. I remember them like phone numbers, playing them out on a keypad in my head and remembering the shapes they trace as I do.

Whether my years of lugging big books around beat it into me, or whether some innate ability made me well-suited for my profession, it is a gift that frequently becomes a curse. While most people would stumble across yesterday’s Hicks repeating pencil and just be thrilled with it for what it is, I couldn’t focus completely on that, because there was a thought playing on a loop in my head:

2,028,855. 202-8855? 2 . . . 0 . . . 2 . . . I’ve seen that number somewhere before.

It’s an easy number to remember if you think about it – on a phone, all the numbers are in the middle row. The good news is that I am not (completely) crazy; I had seen this number, and at long last I’ve finally figured out where. The bad news is that where I saw it raises a whole slew of new questions and doesn’t provide any answers.

Here’s the picture from frame 10 in the Conklin section of The Catalogue of American Mechanical Pencils, at page 34:

These are what collectors refer to as "Chicago Conklins," produced by the company in its last few years, after the Starr Pen Company bought the brand, relocated what remained of the proud company to Chicago, and churned out increasingly terrible products under its banner. As I noted in The Catalogue, the pencil on the right in this picture is unlike anything else Conklin made. Here are some better pictures of that pencil:

Hmm. Same patent number. At the time I wrote The Catalogue, I thought there might have been some parts missing, since the nose can be unscrewed but nothing happens. Now that I understand the design better, I know that this is in fact Conklin’s one and only attempt at producing a cap-actuated repeating pencil – unfortunately, since the company used such cheap plastic, the barrel has constricted around the mechanism and has permanently frozen it in place.

We’ve gone from the sublime to the ridiculous here, from the classiest and most unusual Hicks in my collection to the one of the ugliest and definitely the most unusual of Conklins. None of Arthur Winter’s patents were assigned to anyone, so the simplest answer is that Winter licensed his design to at least two separate companies. But the possibility that there might be some connection between these two licensees is an intriguing one.

Not only is my Winter-patent Conklin the only cap-actuated Conklin pencil I know of, it is the only example of which I’m aware of any attempt at new product development by Conklin in the mechanical pencil department after the move to Chicago.

Why this design? Why at all?

I’m going to throw out there the one and only idea I have that may be a clue. As I mentioned yesterday, my Hicks repeater has the initials "HBS" on the back. Could the "S" be for "Starr?" My research indicates that the Starr Pen Company was taken over by Joseph Starr and his brothers William, Samuel and Jack, in 1942 when they inherited the company from their mother and father, but I’ve never been able to discover mom and dad’s names.

Could it be that Mom or Dad’s initials were HBS? Could they have been so impressed with their Hicks pencil that they were moved to attempt to produce their own version before the company was passed on to their sons? Or could one of the Starr brothers have had a wife with these initials who might have said to one of them, "Why can’t you make one this nice?"

It’s a longshot, and maybe a crazy theory. But what the heck – it wouldn’t be my first. Something must have moved the Starr Company to engage in this one-time experiment to build a better Conklin pencil, at a time when the Conklin name was otherwise for the Starr brothers just a cash cow running out of milk.

I’ve reached a dead end on this one. Can anyone find the names of the other members in the Starr clan?

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Tying a Couple Things Together . . . Sort Of

The nicest pencil I found at the Philadelphia Pen Show last January was this one, which was on Menash Murad’s table:

That turned-up ball clip is a dead giveaway that this one falls within the Hicks/Edward Todd family, but this one had an interesting twist. Well actually, maybe it’s more accurate to say that it’s interesting that there’s no twist at all about this one:

It’s a push-button repeater! The imprint confirmed my suspicions concerning who made it:

That "H" with a W above the crossbar and an S below it is a hallmark for W.S. Hicks, and as a bonus, there’s a patent number: 2,028,855, which was for a patent applied for by Arthur Winter of Weehawken, New Jersey on September 12, 1934, and granted on January 28, 1936:

I had never seen a Hicks repeating pencil before. This one is flawless without the slightest hint of any brassing or dents, and it works just great. About the only rock one could throw at it are the initials "HBS" engraved in the indicia, but in my view that’s neither cause for surprise or alarm: the nicer a pencil is, the more likely it is that the owner would have taken the time to personalize it with his or her initials.

If you’re marveling at how much this looks like an Eversharp Coronet pencil (or more properly speaking in Eversharpese, an Eversharp "All-Metal Pencil"), you aren’t alone . . . but remember that Eversharp never had a patent on its repeater mechanism, which it essentially lifted from Samuel Kanner and the Gilfred Corporation (see "My Find of the Year" at http://leadheadpencils.blogspot.com/2011/12/my-find-of-year.html for the full story about that). Even though Eversharp later took the position that its repeating pencil design was in the public domain, you’ve got to wonder whether Eversharp ever threatened Hicks for "stealing" Eversharp’s design!

Now I could stop this story right here and you’d leave with that satisfied feeling, like you would at the end of a sitcom that wraps up a story neatly with a bow at the end of half an hour. Unfortunately, I can’t do that. See, at the time I bought this pencil, there was this nagging question rattling around in the back of my brain, and now that I’ve poked around a bit, the nagging hasn’t improved; in fact, it keeps escalating to the point where I no longer want to know the answer, I need to know.

That part of this story comes tomorrow...

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Ladies and Gentlemen: Check Your Junk Boxes!

By the time you reach the end of this article, you’ll probably find yourself pawing through your junker box looking for something like this:

I found this one in an antique store on my way to the Michigan Pen Show a year ago. The price tag was a little heftier than I would have liked, but alongside that bad news was some potentially good news: even though the pencil is completely unmarked, the price tag attached to this one identified it as a Conklin. And I suspected that might have been right.

I had another example like this one years ago, and what had me suspecting these might be made by Conklin was its deep blue and bronze celluloid, a color collectors refer to as "Imperial blue" and fairly unique to Conklin. The pencil disappeared from my table in Washington DC – one of the few times I’ve been shoplifted at a show. But I’m not bitter ... mostly not, anyway.

Back to the current example, this one is found in bronze and black, another color combination well-known to Conklin collectors (although not as exclusive to the brand as Imperial blue). Here it is next to a Conklin Endura Symetrik pencil:

Endura Symetrik is Conklinese for "Endura with a rounded cap," and this one dates to 1930 or so, just after Sheaffer introduced its streamlined Balance line in 1929 and most other manufacturers (Conklin included) were looking for ways to make their flattop product lines less . . . square. Note that the color is identical, and the tips are pretty close, but not identical:

I’d mentioned that I picked up this golf pencil on my way to the Michigan Pen Show. When I arrived there, I noticed that Andy Rothman had a few Conklin "Ensemble" fountain pen/pencil combos on his table, so with his permission I compared what I had to the front end of his Ensemble:

Now that looks like an exact match. In fact, I swapped the front end from Andy’s Ensemble with the end of my pencil, and my pencil threads on like it was meant to be there:

I thought to myself, after I snapped these pictures a year ago, that it was going to be a very long time before I would get around to publishing this article. The physical evidence is pretty good, but I wanted to find something definitive – an advertisement or something – that would conclusively answer my question and would let me take "I think" out from in front of "it’s a Conklin."

Enter Alfonso Mur, who brought me the answer as if on cue. Alfonso recently published The Conklin Legacy, a hefty, 325-page volume full of pictures and illustrations. There, on page 177, was a page taken from Conklin’s 1930-1931 catalog illustrating the Conklin "Entente" set:

Look at that: it was available in pearl and black or "black and gold."

Monday, September 22, 2014

Occam Needs a Shave

One of the best parts of corresponding with my fellow enthusiasts is adding to my vocabulary, as was the case a while ago, when during an email chat with Roger Wooten he indicated that I was using "Occam’s Razor."

One of the best parts of corresponding with my fellow enthusiasts by email, rather than face-to-face, was that Roger could not see the blank expression on the face of a man who had absolutely no idea what Occam’s Razor was. I’m so much cooler online, as the song goes.

So I gave Roger the binary equivalent of a sage nod while simultaneously I researched this mysterious razor – and found that it was in fact a tool I had been carrying with me for years yet never knew what it was called. Occam’s Razor isn’t a physical tool, but an analytical one attributed to the medieval philosopher William of Occam that one should make only those assumptions that are necessary. Boiled down, Occam’s "razor" slices away unnecessary assumptions and leaves the simplest answer to a problem.

That means I know exactly what Occam would think of this one:

I like to think Occam might have gulped and said "Wow, that’s a big honkin’ burgundy Vacumatic pencil," but I doubt he would have been so impressed. Nevertheless, big honkin’ and burgundy would be accurate, as this one measures 5 1/4 inches stem to stern and is a bit bigger around than one usually sees. It’s at the top end where Occam would take issue:

That "split arrow" clip (the vertical word "Parker" divides the arrows) and that clearish plastic jewel aren’t what you would normally expect to find on a Parker Vacumatic; however, they are exactly what you would find on a Parker 51. I’m hearing Occam warming up his strop and I know that the simple answer is that since the clip and jewel are interchangeable between the Vacumatic and the 51, someone has replaced a missing clip and jewel with the wrong parts.

However . . . lest we be too quick to cut and cut to the quick . . .

1. Note the patina; if it’s been replaced, it’s been replaced for a long, long time.

2. Note the date code:

That "0" surrounded by three dots at the end of the imprint signifies the first quarter of 1940 (Parker would start each year using a date stamp with three bumps around it, then remove a bump as each quarter passed so that a fourth quarter pencil would have no dots around the number). The Parker 51 was test marketed overseas in 1939 (the 51st year of Parker’s existence), then formally introduced here in the States during 1941.

3. Note the one unusual feature on the lower barrel, opposite the imprint:

"Demonstrator." Why the lower barrel is imprinted with this word is a mystery to me: there’s nothing cut away to show the inner workings of the pencil, nor is anything transparent. The only thing demonstrative about this pencil is that it works just like any other example.

So I’ve got to ignore my good friend Occam for a minute, and ask myself not what (a Vacumatic pencil with what appears to be a 51 clip and jewel) but what if. What if this was deliberately assembled this way in 1940, before the 51 was introduced here in the states?

There's a flaw here, that David Nishimura pointed out:  when the 51 was first introduced, the jewels on the 51s were aluminum rather than this cloudy plastic variety, and he suggests that the clip appears from the patina to be a wartime clip, produced a few years after 1940 -- assuming that there were no plastic jewels or clips like this in 1940, then the theory that it was built this way from the outset isn't consistent with this possibility.  That is an assumption, however, that the clip and jewel did not exist at all in 1940, not only that they were not used on the 51 at the time.

What purpose would this configuration serve?   One thing is obvious: at a pen counter with dozens of Parker Vacumatics, it would be much easier to see which of the pencils is the "Demonstrator" with this clip and jewel. Maybe Parker fitted "Demonstrator" pencils this way for that reason – or an enterprising shopkeeper saved himeslf some time making the switch once the 51 was introduced in the States the year after this pencil was made. Maybe Parker was playing around with the idea of using the new 51 clips and jewels across its entire line.  Maybe as a demonstrator, this pencil was actually put together later than 1940.

There’s no room for these maybes in Occam’s world. Occam wouldn’t be looking for documentation to support any of these possibilities, and Occam wouldn’t have written this article.

Occam is no fun.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Oscar Tweeten Strikes Again

I’ll always have a soft spot for Oscar Tweeten’s bowling score pencils, since one of the first articles I wrote here was about them -- see http://leadheadpencils.blogspot.com/2011/11/tweeten.html

I was ecstatic at the Chicago Pen Show to find what appeared to be another example. Here it is, the shorter of the two:

Yet there was something a little bit different about this one - the top wasn’t knurled like the other Tweetens I’ve been able to find, but instead was smooth with vertical grooves:

With my loupe in hand, I examined the barrel more closely and found no markings at all. None on the barrel, anyway – there was a surprise on the clip:

"Taylor Made Pencil Co. / P.O. Box 2084 / South Bend, Ind." I found only one reference to this company, in a 1992 directory of trade names used. The directory indicated that the address was unknown, but that the name was used in connection with "Tweeten 630," the model name for Oscar Tweeten’s bowling pencil.   The absence of a patent number on this example suggests it was made after the patent rights expired; apparently later production of these pencils – or at least the clips – was outsourced, either to a subsidiary of the company or to a subscontractor.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Joe's Outstanding Eagle

When Joe Nemecek and I compare notes, I’ll send him a photo of the particular pencil I’ve got a question about. Since Joe’s got his pencils photographed in slotter boxes (his pictures are over at "Joe’s Pencil Pages," http://home.comcast.net/~joe120/site/?/photos/), when he replies to me the picture he sends to me will include the pencil he wants me to see, along with a few others.

Often, as was the case with the pencil I’m showing you today, there will be something else in the tray of pencils Joe is showing me that gets my attention. Once in a great while, as was the case with the pencil I’m showing you today, I’ll completely forget about whatever pencil we were talking about and the conversation shifts entirely to its neighbor. After appropriate oohs and aahs were exchanged, Joe brought this one with him to Raleigh and I got some shots of it all by its lonesome:

The pencil has what the company called its "vicehold" clip, which was the focus of one of my first articles here at the blog (see http://leadheadpencils.blogspot.com/2011/11/eagle-update.html):

There’s two things that really stood out about this one: that long, tapered top piece doesn’t resemble anything I’d seen before on one of these (normally these Vicehold clips were either mounted on the side of the barrel or set at the top, military-style).

But I’m overlooking the more obvious feature when I talk about the clip: the color. Holy cow! Look at that color!

Friday, September 19, 2014

My Philadelphia Distraction

When I traveled to the Philadelphia show last January with my friend John Hall, it was a long, cold drive from Columbus. Of course, any drive along the Pennsylvania Turnpike seems twice as long as it really is!

We decided to push through as far as we could on Thursday night after work, hoping that we would at least shave enough hours off of the trip that we could arrive at the hotel early enough on Friday to enjoy the sights and set up my book display. And push hard we did, all the way through to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, just a couple hours outside of Philly. By the time we reached the state’s capitol, we were DONE. D-O-N-E, get-me-the-hell-out-of-this-truck done, so we paid our three pints of blood at the toolbooth and wandered into town looking for something to eat.

Since I’d been hoping we’d make Harrisburg, I’d searched around a bit online to see what there was to do in town, and I’d found a place called Dockside Willie’s, on the west bank of the Susquehanna River. The view was more like looking out over the Susquehanna Glacier, with enormous chunks of ice accumulated along the banks, but I swear that first beer was in my top five best-tasting beers I ever had.

And as we waited for our food, weary from our travels and with hard earned-alcohol in hand, John and I did exactly what you’d expect a couple collectors on their way to a show would do: we checked out cell phones to see how our online auction bids were faring. I was delighted to see that I won the only auction I was hot and heavy after – and particularly delighted when it appeared that either no one else caught on to how unusual this pencil is, or just as likely that no one else was interested in another obscure Eversharp variant the way I am.

I’ll back up a bit first to give this one a bit of context. Here’s three full-sized Wahl Eversharp pencils from the mid-1920s:

The top example is the earliest of the three. When Wahl first began to dabble in barrel materials other than metal, the simplest way to add different materials was to replace the middle part with a straight tube, threaded onto ends machined using the company’s existing equipment. Eversharp catalogs available at the Pen Collectors of America’s online library are helpful in putting together a timeline: thin models the size of the company’s usual metal pencils were introduced in the 1924 catalog (the innards had to be shrunk a bit to accommodate the thicker walls of a hard rubber barrel); oversized models were catalogued beginning in 1925. 

There’s a bit of a gap in the documents available at the PCA, and I’d love to see the company’s regular 1926 and 1927 catalogs. All I know for certain is that by the time Wahl’s 1928 catalog was published, Wahl had developed machining to eliminate the large metal nose-cone and fashion attractive tapered barrels out of the new materials. The bottom example matched the pens in Wahl’s sleek new plastic line of pens, and all the examples I’ve ever seen have the tapered barrel and small tip to complement this slick new design.

All, of course, except the example that had me whoopin’ and hollerin’ over a beer in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania:

Was this a thrifty company-sanctioned use of leftover parts, a "lunchbox special" some employee had fun putting together on a break, or a previously undocumented transitional model?

That’s the part I love about this. I have absolutely no idea.