Saturday, January 31, 2015

More About the Last Hurrah

A lot of what John Holland put out towards the end was really, really terrible. Like Eversharp, Holland kept going long after the company should have quit. There was one relative bright spot as the company slipped into history, though: the company put out some neat calendar pencils that I’ve written about here a couple of times (check out and

I’ve got just a couple more sentences to add to this last chapter of the Holland story:

The upper one was the last thing I bought at the Philadelphia show this year. I never knew these things came in ringtops! Unfortunately, the imprint on this one isn’t as clear as I’d like, but you can make it out with a little help from a china marker:

The other example isn’t marked at all. Sure, I know you could put anything in that box and say it’s a Holland, but in this case I’m sure that it is. The calendar element, even though it has been moved to the top, is the same distinctive sort of metal ring as the others, and I have seen Holland use that tapered black cap on top:

The circumstances in which it turned up – an online auction by a seller who didn’t know much about pencils and didn’t ordinarily deal in them – also weigh against a mismatch. Oh, and did I mention it came with an instruction sheet?

Helpful operation tips there, Captain Obvious.

Friday, January 30, 2015

After Rex

(Note: this is the second installment in a series about the John Holland Gold Pen Company.)

During the mid-1920s, The John Holland Gold Pen Company offered pencils which were made by the Rex Manufacturing Company of Providence, Rhode Island. Sometime prior to 1930 or 1931, Holland quit buying from Rex and began to offer pencils of the company’s own unique design. Even though these were more cheaply made, they nevertheless had a distinctive look that makes them very easy to spot in a lineup.

I found a couple Holland sets at the Ohio Show this year – you heard right, the Leadhead picked up a couple nibby things to go along with the pencils! Here’s the earlier of the two:

The box looks to be earlier than the set itself. Maybe Holland was going for the retro look – this is more Victorian than deco – but if history is any guide, my bet is that Holland was using up older boxes:

Here’s the set itself:

These have a nice, solid feel to them, unlike what you would typically associate with later John Holland stuff. On the barrels is a nice imprint:

I ran into Jack Leone, veteran John Holland collector, at the show shortly after I bought my two sets. Jack said he’d never seen the box in which this second set is housed:

Unfortunately, the stamping of the company’s name didn’t hold up very well on the silver foil:

This set is made from a cheaper plastic commonly found on lower quality, "third tier" writing instruments:

Even so, Holland did add its own distinctive flair to them. Note the intricate center band, and the ribbed upper band above the clip on the pencil is a nice touch:

Apparently whoever was applying the imprints to the barrels on these didn’t compensate for cheaper, softer plastic. These imprints are deep!

Thursday, January 29, 2015

A Few Hollands of Note

The John Holland Gold Pen Company of Cincinnati, Ohio is a favorite of mine, and not just because it hails from my home state. During the company’s heyday in the latter half of the Nineteenth Century, Holland produced some of the finest and most interesting products out there, including several fascinating pencil designs.

Even though the company was well past its prime in the 1920s, John Holland having passed away and leaving the company to be mismanaged into oblivion by his children, there were a few twilight moments worth mentioning. Here are two of them:

These are in the Rex patent family of pencils (see The jade example is the type you normally see, with all the markings on the cap:

Those are the "four horsemen" patents I refer to so often. All of the examples along these lines that I have seen, nearly all of the ones I’ve seen have been in jade.

As for the orange one, that matching colored topper isn’t an eraser – it’s a celluloid disk permanently attached to the cap and in the Rex patent family, this feature is unique to John Holland. It took me years to come up with just one of these, perhaps in part because a friend of mine scooped up so many of the others:

Rex apparently made a custom batch of colors for Holland, or Holland bought the mechanisms and supplied their own barrels using materials on hand - I’ve not seen white or that fantastic robin’s egg blue on any other Rex. Note that a couple of these have shorter, one piece nose sections – those are the earliest ones, probably made around 1924. Mine is only slightly later:

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

One Last Bit to Add

Solving the Selfeed puzzle was one of my proudest moments. Not only was the long-lost history of who made these pencils finally brought to light, but the convoluted path leading to that history was a story in itself (the article was published at

There was just one last little nagging issue that I couldn’t shake. Here’s the pencil that kick-started that story:

I couldn’t help thinking that there might be a piece missing from the top, and those suspicions were confirmed when this one showed up in an online auction:

This one almost looks like the halves of two pencils glued together, but I could tell from that top that this one might have an eraser cap that had been lost on the black example I found. When it arrived, I pulled off the cap to discover that what was underneath it was the same as the exposed portion of my black example:

As far as what was going on at the front end, on close examination I discovered that the wide brass band was added to reinforce a badly cracked barrel. Apparently someone thought it would look better to remove all of the chrome plating on the tip so that this band would match the nose:

No worries, as far as I was concerned. I was paying for an eraser cap and the knowledge that these were also made in woodgrain plastic.

And I’ve set my mind at ease on this one – for now.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Two Out of Four Horsemen Ain't Bad

This one surprised me when it showed up in an online auction:

Looks kind of like an Eversharp with that two-piece nose, doesn’t it? But that top just doesn’t look like an Eversharp, and on closer examination, there’s two neat surprises here:

Edison Pen Company. Huh. The last time I visited Edison was in connection with its trademark for pencils under the name "Ever-Ready" – as of 1922 (

This one might fit perfectly into the convoluted story of the name "Ever-Ready," which appears to have been passed around like a football, first used by Edison and then later appropriated by the American News Corporation (A.N.C.). I concluded that sometime after 1932 David Kahn, Inc. (makers of the "Wearever" and countless others) started manufacturing Ever-Ready pencils using the same logo previously used by Edison – either on its own account or for A.N.C.

This pencils is obviously post-1926, since there’s a patent date from that year stamped on the cap. It’s possible that Edison simultanously made pencils under the names Edison and Ever-Ready. I think, however, that Edison came out on the losing end of a trademark scuffle with the much more well-financed American News Corporation and were forced to quit using the name.

Speaking of those patent dates . . . the ones stamped on the cap of the Edison should look familiar:

Those are two of the "four horsemen" patents found on pencils made by the Rex Manufacturing Company. The August 4, 1925 patent was for a clip assembly, as was one of the January 6, 1926 patents (see for the full rundown on these). That’s right:

Rex made a ringtop. This is the only one I’ve ever seen.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Small World

Over this last weekend, Saturday morning started as usual with a cup of coffee and a quick check of the online auctions, where I placed bids on two pencils that were closing later on in the day. Then I was off to the Ohio State Fairgrounds for January’s Don Scott Antique Show..

The January show is usually a pretty sedate affair, with the frenzy of the huge November and December shows behind and drab weather. A lot of what you see is the same stuff that was there in the previous two months – actually, it’s mostly the stuff that didn’t sell. Still, I enjoy going – it’s something to do, and I still find a few neat things.

This time, I got something a whole lot better.

It started when I was delighted to see a couple Victorians in a showcase:

When I asked for a closer look, the guy pulled the black hard rubber one out to show me first. With a loupe, I took a good look at the imprint:

"Kurtz & Monaghan NY" reading one way, and "Goodyear’s Pat. May 6 ‘51" reading the other. Kurtz & Monaghan was the partnership which was succeeded by a much more well known one, Edward Todd & Co., in 1871. I was really interested in this piece for two reasons. The relatively mundane reason was that I thought it would look really nice next to another Kurtz & Monaghan I had picked up a few months earlier, in red hard rubber: Spoiler alert: it does look good:

But what struck me even more was the coincidence of finding two Kurtz & Monaghan pencils, which don’t come along very often, in the same day.

That’s right. Two. The other was the one I bid on over coffee just a couple hours earlier. Now what are the odds of that?

On close examination,, this Kurtz had issues - it looks great opened up as it is here, but it won’t close all the way. No worries, I thought. This one would display well, and if the price is reasonable, I wouldn’t mind having two - assuming I win the one online, I thought, I’ll have a good one for the collection and a nice display example for whichever of my pencil buddies might like it.

Then the guy shows me the other one:

It’s a really interesting piece I had only seen once before – part dropper, part leadholder. Push the button and the leadholder drops down into place:

Under magnification, I saw the "ALCO" hallmark in an oval, which indicates this one is an Aikin Lambert:

I put down my loupe and looked at this guy squarely in the eye. The only other one of these I’d ever seen before was – you guessed it, just a few hours earlier, when I placed my only other early morning online bid.

"Are these listed on ebay?" I asked pointedly. He stammered around a bit, said he had been listing some stuff lately, but he claimed he didn’t think these were online. He asked what I would be willing to offer. I told him. He said he needed to call and "check" to see if he had listed them. Come back in a little while, he said.

As I was walking away, I decided to check my ebay account on my smart phone. There, closing in a little more than an hour, was the Aikin Lambert – complete with the same initials engraved on it. And there was the Kurtz & Monaghan, described as being in great condition with no mention of any problems. "The pictures are the best description," the listing said. My bid on the Kurtz was much higher than an example in this condition should bring.

This guy only had 20 or so active listings, five of which were pencils. Nobody needed to "check" to see what they were auctioning. He knew exactly what he was doing: stalling until the auction ended to see what the high bid would be, fishing for live offers at the antique show in the meantime. If he got a better offer than the high bid on ebay, the winner would receive a request to cancel the auction because their item would conveniently have become "lost."

I got mad.

I turned around and went right back. I had the opportunity to say to this guy what every one of us who has been jerked around by a lousy seller like this one and, on behalf of all of us, I said it:

"You are from Cincinnati, Ohio and your ebay username is [ ]. My name is Jon Veley and I have not only seen these items online, I am your high bidder. If I win the Kurtz at the price I’ve bid, you’re getting it back because you haven’t disclosed the problems with it."

His face went white. He asked me what I would offer for them.

I told him. It was half what I’d bid online.

He took it.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

I Keep Meaning To Do This

On page 116 of The Catalogue, you’ll find a picture of some interesting Parker pencils which I refer to as "Parker’s Weird Utility Pencil."

Somewhere along the line, I learned that Parker called these the Parker 100 - not to be confused with the company’s recent recycling of that number about 10 years ago. I meant to mention that here, and I was so convinced I had done so that when it came up in an online discussion a couple years ago, I tore my hair out trying to find where I’d written about it.

I didn’t.

A year later, when I ran across an example marked with "The American Pencil Collector’s Society," I took a picture of it to update my non-existent article, it took me awhile to find out, once again, that I never wrote it.

I’ve since lost the pictures and misplaced the pencil.

So this time I’m finally going to get it right. Yes, it was called the Parker 100 - and thanks to Michael Little, here’s all the proof you need of that:

Saturday, January 24, 2015

I Thought I Knew

When I ran across this one at the DC show, I couldn’t remember whether I had one like it:

The hallmark at the top was one I recognized, and which I had written about here before:

That’s the hallmark for Byers and Hayes hallmark. I really liked the pattern:

I just couldn’t remember whether the examples I had were like this one. In the end, the price was reasonable so I thought I’d bring this one back to compare it, and I’m glad I did:

No, I didn’t have that pattern. Nor did I have a Byers and Hayes embodied in a magic pencil.. Byers and Hayes was formed in 1916 (there’s a rundown on the company’s history in the first article I wrote about this at Although we tend to think of magic pencils as being "Victorians," they remained popular for decades. "Victorian, Edwardian and Georgian" might be more accurate when it comes to these.

Friday, January 23, 2015

A Very Convincing Disguise

The first thing I found at the DC show last August is the kind of thing I don’t usually buy:

It’s not marked, and it’s clearly not American – two strikes and usually that’s an out in my book. On the plus side, though, it’s a really interesting pencil to look at . . . and I’ve already written about them before:

Here it is accompanied by a Brown and Bigelow "Pat. Pend." pencil and a Japanese "Peace" pencil. The article I posted a couple years ago ( – established that it was Brown and Bigelow’s design patent, number 105,622, which found a use in post-War occupied Japan, making metal pencils as a part of rebuilding the Japanese economy.

You might well be thinking this is a stretch. The clip is different, the shape of the barrel is different, and the barrel itself . . . well, that’s really different. How can we be sure this pencil is another adaptation of Brown & Bigelow’s design?

Because I never met a pencil I didn’t try to take apart. The mechanism is clearly, indisputably a Brown and Bigelow copy. That doesn’t trivialize in the least the significance of the new find in its own right – I would have bought it anyway, two strikes and all, for a couple other things about it. First, there’s some great enamel work on the back side of the barrel, in perfect condition:

But most impressive of all is the barrel itself. That scrollwork isn’t just a design:

Everywhere you see what appears to be black is actually cut out. This isn’t properly called filligree, which is open metalwork made from twisted wire. It couldn’t be – twisted and soldered wire wouldn’t be strong enough to serve as the barrel of a pencil without some material underneath to support it. If this barrel was cast, it was the most intricate mold I can imagine. If it was cut out – just think how much time and attention it would have required to turn just one of these out.

I think "adaptation" is more accurate than "copy."

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Before Sheaffer Put on the Togs

This one turned up at the Chicago Show last May:

If it doesn’t look like much, that’s because like so many other weird Sheaffer variants, it looks just enough like what you’d normally expect to see. I picked this one up because I just liked the look of it, even though I was sure I had several just like it at home. Then I put it down. Twenty minutes later, I was back. "He wants it. He wants it not. He wants it. He wants it not."

Then it clicked what wasn’t quite right about this one. Here it is, posed next to what you would normally expect to see:

"He wants it." The smaller of the two is a "normal" Sheaffer working togs pencil – almost so, anyway, since it’s kind of unusual to see the entire lower barrel ribbed like that. Other than the slightly larger stature and much larger tip, these two look very similar, but these doppelgangers share no common ancestry. The larger one is a nose-drive pencil: that’s why the tip is so much larger (it would be tough to get a grip on the small tips on rear drive working togs pencils).

Notice also that the larger one has a one-piece barrel. While the regular working togs pencils have an imprint near the middle joint, either on the top side or the bottom:

This one has a plain "Sheaffers / Made in USA" imprint near the top:

I didn’t have to wonder long about this strange bird. As it turns out, even though this is the first one of these I’ve ever seen, they were well documented in Sheaffer’s catalogs, beginning in 1936:

Although this was on the "pencils to match" page, this doesn’t match anything. Sheaffer gave it the catalog designations "LL," which probably stood for longer lead - these were designed for 4-inch leads. The 1937 catalog shows the same pencil, again only in black.

For 1938, Sheaffer decided to go in a different direction. The familiar working togs middle-joint pencils make their first appearance, designed for new "Fineline" thin leads developed by the Joseph Dixon Crucible Company for Sheaffer:

Interestingly, the pictures show the straight tips associated with normal 1.1 mm leads, not the "fineline" 0.9 mm thinner variety – either artistic license was at work, or these were introduced in a larger lead version prior to the publication of the 1938 catalog.

The larger nose-drive utility pencils make their final catalog appearance at the bottom of the following page in the 1938 catalog:

And for its swan song, the $1.00 "LL" utility pencil was accompanied by an "MM" version . . . in gray pearl.

I have got to find one of those!