Saturday, July 4, 2015

One Last (?) Addition to the Fold

I’ve got a soft spot for these:

It’s tough to know how to label these – some are marked “Peace” with stars on them and were made in Japan after the close of the Second World War, which is what gave me the idea to post this on July 4.  I posted another example, made in Germany to commemorate the 1936 Olympics.  Other than the ones that are marked Germany, Japan or B&B, there’s no way even to narrow these down to any particular country.

Internally, I’ve filed all of the pictures under “Brown & Bigelow” since I found one marked “B&B Pat. Pend.” – that may not be fair, since the 1936 Olympics predated the Brown and Bigelow application, but it’s as good a place as any. And that’s where these next two are going to be filed, as well:

The longer one just has a different pattern on it, and I’m using it here more for scale.  What’s interesting is that I’ve never seen a ringtop model before.

Friday, July 3, 2015

What About the Boogeyman?

Note: this is the third installment in a series of articles.  To start from the beginning, see

I know I’m bucking pen lore when I talk about the Rex Manufacturing Company in connection with names like Blue Ribbon, Webster, Gold Bond . . . all of which are traditionally associated with C.E. Barrett and National Pen Products of Chicago.   Late last year I posted a couple of articles on National, exploring the history of the company and presenting evidence that National Pen Products was actually a Montgomery Ward subsidiary set up in late 1922 for the purpose of supplying writing instruments to Ward.

The articles can be found at and

Why would Montgomery Ward feel the need to do that?  The answer is simple: nobody wanted to be too close to Clarence E. Barrett at the time National Pen Products was formed.  In 1914, Walter Sheaffer named Barrett as the lead defendant in his landmark case against his former business associates George Kraker and Harvey Craig, alleging that Barrett had supplied parts to Kraker which infringed Sheaffer’s patent.  The case was finally decided in Sheaffer’s favor in 1918, and Barrett was lucky to survive in the business - Kraker and Craig did not.

Even if Clarence E. Barrett was a master salesman and a nice guy with whom you might want to do business, after what happened to those who bought parts from him in the Kraker fiasco, who in their right mind would want to risk buying anything from him just four years later, in 1922?

After I published my last posts about National, I stumbled across an additional detail that suggests that Montgomery Ward was interested in buying from Barrett, but only so long as there was enough space between them to ensure that Montgomery Ward wouldn’t become entangled in any future problems Barrett might encounter.   As I mentioned in the previous article, the incorporators of National Pen Products were Montgomery Ward manager E.P. Marum, a 23-year-old World War I veteran named Ralph M. Prouty, and “Bernice C. O’Neill.”  As to Bernice, I could find nothing other than her name in the announcement I found in The American Stationer.

That was because The American Stationer misspelled her name.

As I was continuing to research Barrett’s role in the world of writing instruments, I stumbled across his listing in the 1940 United States Census.  Living in his house were his wife Miriam, a daughter, and a sister in law: Berenice O’Neill, who was listed as 33 years old.

If she was 33 in 1940, she would only have been 15 years old in 1922.  I don’t think the age is right; I believe she was actually 38.  I tunneled a little deeper, and a Berenice C. O’Neill is listed in the 1920 Census – that’s her maiden name, not her married name, and she was 19 at the time.   There’s no sister named Miriam listed in the census, but by then, Miriam was married to Clarence and wouldn’t have been a member of that household.  Miriam’s maiden name was – you guessed it -- O’Neill.

Although the details are a little fuzzy, this can’t be a coincidence.  Berenice O’Neill was  Clarence E. Barrett’s sister in law, suggesting that National Pen Products was a partnership between Montgomery Ward and the capable but recently disgraced Clarence E. Barrett.

Montgomery Ward wasn’t taking any chances with National, which supplied only pencils that were already patented and manufactured – by the Rex Manufacturing Company.  Webster, Blue Ribbon – and yes, Virginia, even the venerable Lincoln Pen had a companion pencil which hailed from Providence:

This ringtop surfaced in an online auction, and there’s no mistaking its pedigree:

McNary’s 1924 patent date is stamped on the barrel.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Two Cans of Worms

Note: this is the third installment in a series of articles.  To start from the beginning, see

One of the distinctive features common to these metal Rex pencils, be they Rexholds, E-Z Rites or Criterions, is the clip mounting.  They pierce through the barrel on either side at the tang:

This entire family of pencils was introduced in the early 1920s, just as market tastes were beginning to move away from metal pencils and towards larger pencils in flashy colored plastics.  It’s not surprising that the E-Z Rite can also be found in oversized plastic models:

Until I found the brown one with an E-Z Rite clip, I wasn’t so sure that the yellow one was another example of the brand – it’s marked only on that ringtop cap, and it’s a little unusual to see both a ringtop and a sideclip.

McNary’s patented innards have been abandoned for this series.  These are what I refer to as “Welsh style” pencils, with that large conical, press-fit screw drive mechanism most commonly associated with pencils along these lines made by the Welsh Manufacturing Company (which, like Rex, was located in Providence, Rhode Island).  However, a close examination of the clip mounting reveals that the side mounted clip design has been carried forward from the E-Z Rite’s all-metal ancestors in the most elegant way: the easiest way to adapt a metal pencil clip to a plastic pencil is to simply make a shorter metal barrel portion to which it is attached.

Pause here for a second and consider the following: if these plastic E-Z Rites were made by Rex, does that mean that so many other cheaply made pencils with that same clip assembly were also made by the company, such as the “Townsend”:

And this example of the “Ritzie”?

And think about how many other brands also use a similar mounting: Morrison, Marathon, Spors . . . that is the first can of worms this line of research opens.  Did Rex make all of these?  Did the company just supply the distinctive clip assemblies?  Did Welsh either copy or license the design?  Or, was the design widely licensed or copied by other manufacturers?  I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know.

There’s a second can of worms here.  It involves the Criterion:

The pen and pencil shown in yesterday’s post exhibit the usual plain, side mounted clips.  But Criterion pens are also found with another type of clip, sometimes found on the metal pens and also on large, plastic flattop pens like the one Nathaniel Cerf has pictured over at (yes, this one is for sale!):

I’m sure there’s matching pencils are out there, but I haven’t found one . . . yet.  Note that these clips, like the E-Z Rite, mount on the sides, but these have a “belt” that wraps around the clip.  Was this a logical next step in the evolution of the Rexhold clip, a more well-suited application of the same idea for use with all-plastic barrels, without the need for the supporting metal band?

And if it was, what does it say about these?

From left, these are marked “Ever Last”:



and “Thompson”:

All the pencils with this clip that I’ve found so far have all been mechanically identical, and they all have a very Rexy look, although the tips are a bit longer and they don’t come apart like a Rex pencil.  Rifling through my own patent book in the “clips” section, I’m not finding either the E-Z Rite or Criterion clips, leaving open the possibility that an unpatented innovation could have been made by anyone.

Yet there is a consistency here that’s got me pausing for thought.

Note:  The story continues at

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

How I Know

Note: this is the second installment in a series of articles which started yesterday.  To start from the beginning, see

The E-Z Rite / S&K set that I showed you yesterday wasn’t the first time I bought a set thinking I might have found that last piece of the puzzle.  Several months ago a similar set turned up in an online auction:

I’m showing it here exactly as it was posed in the pictures online, with “Criterion” in the lid, a pencil that looked just like an Eclipse “Never Dull” and just enough of the paperwork showing to provide the tantalizing words “made by us” on a certificate that looked almost exactly like what you’d find on something made by Rex.

Alas, there were no markings on either the pen or the pencil.  None.  Nada.  As much as this pencil looked exactly like what I was looking for, there wasn’t any evidence conclusive enough for me to even say these were in the right box.  And the paperwork?  Talk about infuriating:

It’s a guarantee, entitling the bearer to return for repair any pen or pencil “made by us,” but there’s no indication who “us” was.  If that bugs me ninety years later, imagine how much it bugged a customer with a repair issue when this set was new!

Am I sure, given that the set bears no markings, that this is even a Criterion set?  Yes, given the number of boxed sets that are out there.  Am I sure this certificate goes with this set?  Yes, given the number of other boxed sets like this that have that same paperwork.

And am I sure this set was made by the Rex Manufacturing Company?  I am now.  Compare the certificate from this Criterion set with the E-Z Rite certificate from yesterday’s post:

Exactly the same language.  Only the words “marked Rex” and “marked E-Z Rite” are added.  The generic certificate found with my Criterion set is probably what was intended to accompany Rex-made sets made to order for retailers, including the S&K set from yesterday’s article.  What a happy accident it was that they threw the wrong certificate in the box!

There was something else about the Criterion which I’ve suspected, but I thought it was a little too speculative to post about until now.  Now that all this is coming together, I think I’ll speculate tomorrow.

jNote: The story continues at

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Nailed It . . . Pretty Much

Almost two years ago, I posted an article here (“Establishing a Connection” on August 19, 2013, in which I was looking at the early metal Eclipse “Never Dull” pencils, comparing them to a pencil marked “Rexhold” and other similar pencils, many of which bore a patent date of February 19, 1924.  That date was for Lawrence McNary’s patent, the first of a series of patents assigned to the Rex Manufacturing Company.   I theorized, based on many similarities between them, that Rex made Eclipse’s early metal pencils.

If only, I said at the time, I could conclusively establish that “Rexhold” referred to the Rex Manufacturing Comapny.  That “if only” was resolved when I stumbled across a notation in a 1922 trademark directory establishing without a doubt that in fact was true (see, posted on May 11, 2015).

There was one last “if only”in that 2013 post: a metal pencil marked “E-Z Rite.” That pencil bore several fingerprints consistent with this theory – three out of four similarities, in fact: the clips, keyed caps, crimped tops were identical.  The only difference was a slight variation in the barrel pattern, slight enough to cause me to pull back a bit.  Wouldn’t it be nice to establish without question that the E-Z Rite was made by Rex and eliminate any lingering doubts?

Earlier this month, Daniel Kirchheimer tipped me off that this set was listed in an online auction:

The set is fairly nondescript, and it wasn’t even listed as an E-Z Rite set.  But look at what came with it!

There it is . . . the last nail in the coffin.  The E-Z Rite was made by the Rex Manufacturing Company.  Rexhold was a Rex trademark.  The Eclipse “Never Dull” is practically identical to both.  There’s no question.  Rex made Eclipse’s first pencils.

But wait . . . there’s more.  Here’s a closer look at the set:

I was hoping, given that the certificate indicates that the company made pens marked “Rex,” that the pen would bear that name somewhere, but no – the only marking is “14k Gold Filled” on the barrel:

The instructions for the pen are no more helpful:

In fact, the pencil instructions are similarly generic:

But the pencil yielded a surprise:

It isn’t an E-Z Rite.  It’s an “S&K.”  Now I was thoroughly stumped, and I started pouring through everything I could find in the hopes that I could turn up known pen companies starting with S and K . . . the closest I could find were Settles and Kritikson, both of whom were associated with the Security check protector pens, but all the evidence I could find indicated that it was first Settles and then Kritikson – no indication that the two were ever operating together in partnership.  Yet I found one curious tie between them: Settles produced the “Supremacy” line of writing instruments, and pencils I have marked Supremacy were made by Rex.  Maybe?

As of now, that remains a wild theory.  As Daniel Kirchheimer and I batted this around, he thought a more likely possibility was Skinner & Kennedy, a stationer’s house in St. Louis, Missouri which was operating during the 1920s.  I have to agree that a Skinner & Kennedy house brand seems more likely, but neither of us has found anything concrete to indicate they offered a house brand of writing instruments.

And what of the E-Z Rite paperwork that came with this set?  Even though it conclusively solves the Eclipse/Rexhold/E-Z Rite question, it’s a little anti-climactic that the pencil isn’t an E-Z Rite and the pen isn’t marked Rex.  Even so, I’m convinced that this paperwork is what came with this set from the Rex factory . . . although it was a factory goof.

How do I know this?  I’ll show you tomorrow.

Note:  this story continues at

Monday, June 29, 2015

Easy as 1-2-3? I don't think so.

Jon Rosenbaum passed away recently.  Many will remember his friendly, smiling face and unassuming demeanor, as he sat at his table behind a sign that said in bold letters simply, “I Buy Old Pens.”  Funny how a sign like that sticks in your mind amongst a sea of enthusiasts at a pen show, 100 percent of whom . . . buy old pens.    Most important, what I will remember about Jon is that he was a heluva nice guy.  Second, I’ll now remember him for something I didn’t know about him while he was alive.

Jon was a pencil collector.

I had admired pencils on Jon’s table before at shows and bought a few of them, but I did not know they were a passion for him until I was contacted by one of his friends, who Jon’s family asked to help liquidate his collection (name withheld until I get an OK to include it here).   Would I be interested?  Of course I would.  And along came four pictures of cases of pencils, each of which had monstrously nice things.  The problem was that I had many of them.

But there was one pencil in there . . . one that I honed in on immediately, fuzzy picture notwithstanding.  When I called him back, I told him if I only bought one of Jon’s pencils, it would be that one.  We agreed to get together at this year’s Chicago Show, and of course, I bought more than just that one – more on the other ones later.  Today I’ll tell you about the one:

Single-banded Sheaffer Balance pencils are the norm.  Double-banded examples, like the ones I’ve shown here, are an occasion for whoopin and hollerin.  These ultra-rare triple banded examples?  I’ve only seen one other pencil, in ebonized pearl.  That makes these about the most rare of the Sheaffer pencils – even more rare than the ebonized pearl golf pencil (I know where four of those are).

And yet, when I showed it proudly to a friend right after I acquired it, he wondered why Sheaffer made a one-piece band with black painted rings, just like so many of the lower-quality pencils that flooded the market during the 1940s and later.  Once piece?  No, it’s three, I said, and we went back and forth over the issue, looking as closely as we could in a dark ballroom with a loupe.   Now, under more controlled lighting and with a good lens, it’s clear that we were both right.  Yes, it’s clearly three bands – you can see the bits of red and grey in between them:

And yes, the spaces between them were once painted black.

Monday, May 11, 2015

A Definitive Answer and a More Distinct Possibility

It never hurts to read the same thing twice.

Deep in the Pen Collectors of America’s online library . . . at the end, in the “Other documents” section, is a small, unobtrusive excerpt from a larger book of trademarks titled “Trade-Marks of the Jewelry and Kindred Trades,” dated 1922.  I’ve published excerpts of it here several times – when I tracked down the Perfect Point, Acme, Ever-Ready and Keen Point marks, for example.

Yesterday, someone pointed out that same book in an online forum, which caused me to browse through it.  Maybe a few weeks off working on other projects cleared my head a bit, but I saw something I didn’t remember seeing before.  This book conclusively answered a question I raised here some time ago.

Remember the “Rexhold,” which was a spitting image of an Eclipse “Never Dull,” right down to the clip and barrel pattern?

The article in which this pencil appeared was called “Never a Dull Moment” and was published almost two years ago ( At the time, I wrote, “Believe me, as a Rex Manufacturing Company devotee, I’ve thought about whether there might be a connection. But other than the word "Rex" used in the name, I don’t have anything else to establish a connection.”

Now, thanks to a quick browse through something I thought I had already read, I can now say with confidence that my suspicions were correct:

Yes, Virginia.  The Rex Manufacturing Company made the “Rex-hold,” and between this document and the existence of Eclipse lookalikes marked only with Lawrence T. McNary’s February 19, 1924 patent date, I think it is now established beyond any reasonable doubt that Rex also made Eclipse’s “Never Dull” pencils.

That’s the conclusive answer part.  At this point you might be wondering why I didn’t simply read this book two years ago and tell you this at the time.  Here’s the thing . . . I think I did – and I didn’t find it, with good reason.

That’s the “more distinct possibility part” of this story.

If I wasn’t sleeping at the switch when I wrote that article, and if I went back to that 1922 book to check, I’m sure I would have turned to the page with the Rs on it, found nothing, and moved on.  Notice anything about that excerpt from the book?  Rex and Rex-hold aren’t listed under “R.”  They are listed under “W,” and not just any “W” . . .  did you see what comes next?

A “Webster Pen Company” of New York.  Well isn’t that interesting, after I was so excited to find Webster sets with “Rex Manufacturing Company” notations on their paperwork in two articles (see and

The fact that Rex and the only trademark associated with it (Rex-hold) were listed out of order, alongside Webster, suggests that there was much more going on between the two than simply a supplier/customer relationship.  Yet the Webster listed in this 1922 directory states that this Webster is from New York, and the notation “no recent record” suggests that the company might have become inactive by 1922.

Yet by 1924, when set number 4,555 was made in my last article on the subject of Webster, the company was reborn, and located according to the paperwork which accompanied it, in Providence.

Lawrence McNary applied for his patent on October 11, 1921.  Obviously, something had happened by the time this book was published in 1922 for its authors to associate Rex so closely with the Webster name that Rex’s information was published, out of order, alongside it.  Perhaps the fledgling writing instruments division of Rex was looking for a pen to go with their pencil, finding it easier to purchase an existing operation than to form their own.  Perhaps a Webster Pen Company, on its last legs by 1922, was acquired by Rex or by some of its principals.

I know . . . perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.  But a little bit more likely now, I should think.