Thursday, December 19, 2013

The Patent Book has arrived!

Thanks to a terrific pre-holiday effort by my friends at Greyden Press, I pulled into my driveway just a couple hours ago with a truckload full of copies of my new book, American Writing Instrument Patents 1799-1910:


We built this book to withstand years of everyday use, with a heavy-duty PVC coil binding and heavy stock paper.  I also designed it to be easy to use -- taking a cue from the legal books I frequently use, the book has tabs to make it a breeze navigating around the different sections:


The book is 348 pages long, and peppered throughout are reproductions of many interesting patent drawings:


The book opens with a short history of the development of the patent system in the United States, an article on what a "Writing Instrument" is (you'd be surprised how many inventions do everything a fountain pen or pencil does but aren't meant for "writing"), a glossary of terms and a guide to using the book.  Here's a couple pages from the history article:


The heart of the book, of course, is the tables of patent data.  For ease of reading, I set the typeface in 10-point Constantina.  This made for precious little space between the columns and narrow margins, but in the end, this proved the best way to pack a lot of information into the smallest possible space:


To break things up, I gave 75 of the most significant patents full-page treatment, with a reproduction of the full patent drawing page and a short summary explaining what makes it important, interesting or just plain goofy.  These are shown in chronological order, beginning with the earliest writing instrument patent for which a drawing survives (James Bogardus' pencil patent of 1833). Here's the page featuring Roy Conklin's first patent:


Of course, no book covering nineteenth-century pen patents would be complete without Lewis E. Waterman's patents:


But the book goes further -- explaining why the first patent Waterman applied for wasn't the first one to be granted! 

At the end of the book, there's an index to guide you through the illustrations.  George Parker's name came up quite a few times:


I'm officially launching the book at the Philadelphia Pen Show on the weekend of January 17, 2014.  If you are going to attend the show and want to avoid shipping charges, you can send me a Paypal for $39.99 and I'll have it there for you.  For those who won't be attending the show (or can't wait until then for a copy), you can order the book through my website, http://www.jonathanveley.com/books.  International buyers, please contact me first so we can get the shipping charges right.  

Monday, November 11, 2013

Coming soon . . .

Things have been pretty quiet here at the blog for awhile, but not without good reason.  No, there haven't been any bodily injuries or illnesses, and no, I haven't run out of things to talk about (to the contrary, I've got a lot of new stories bottled up inside just bustin' to get out).

Truth be told, I was researching the October 1 article when things went horribly wrong.  The patent databases just weren't cooperating, and nothing I was doing was turning up the patent that I just knew was supposed to be there.  Not even George Kovalenko's book could help me, since the patent in my crosshairs was from around 1880 and George's book starts with patents issued in 1911.

I was frustrated, annoyed and sheepish all at once.  I decided that someone needed to write a book about patents issued before 1911 so that I wouldn't spend so much time rooting around for these things when I need them, once and for all.

And I decided it might as well be me.


A couple days before the end of September I forced myself to put Leadhead's out of my mind and focus exclusively on writing just such a book.  I wanted it to be both usable and readable, so I wrote articles on general American patent history, on how to research patents and on how the words our Victorian predecessors used have evolved into the terms we use for pens, pencils and pieces today.   I even included an article on how I decided what to include and not to include in the book (question:  is a machine used to stripe tennis courts a "writing instrument"?).

And then I pulled together a massive amount of information together.  I started by going through every patent issued from the patent office opened in 1790 through 1910 in Category 401, weeding out the things that weren't pens, pencils or some other writing instrument as I went.   Then I went back through the blog here and pulled out all the patents that weren't in category 401, such as patents for clips, coatings or other integral parts of writing instruments).  Then I followed up in those categories to pull out a lot of the really obscure stuff.

The hardest part, however, was figuring out how to present the data so that it would be more than just a list.  I decided to create a massive spreadsheet, then resort the list in different ways so that the database is searchable by different criteria.  Here's the back cover:


The thumb tabs will make zeroing in on the right patent faster than I believe has ever been possible before. However, even though this provides a massive amount of information, the 250-page list that was just about as much fun to read as a telephone book.

So, to add a few spoonfuls of sugar, I pulled out 85 of what I considered to be the most historically significant patents of the era (with the occasional irresistably goofy ones) and added full-page illustrations of the patent drawings from each, accompanied by a few short paragraphs to explain why they were as important.  Here's an example:


That's a 1907 patent for a pen that's a dead ringer for a Conklin Nozac.  Who knew?

The last step, however, was the most important -- trial by fire in the field.  The Ohio Pen Show was this last weekend, and I had a copy of what I hoped would be the final draft of the book printed off in a 3-ring binder.  Joe Nemecek spent some time at Leadhead's Spread before and after the show, and we went through some examples he had on hand to make sure all the patents he knew of were in there, and they were.  Then, off to the show for four days of looking at obscure patent dates imprinted on barrels in the wild. I'm pleased to report that without exception -- every patent date I found imprinted on a pen or barrel and looked up in the book was right where it was supposed to be.

So today, with my beta tests complete, the finished project has been emailed to my publisher.  I'm told that the book will be ready in December, so I'm planning a formal launch at the 2014 Philadelphia Pen Show (for anyone that can't wait for Philly or isn't planning to go, yes I will make advance copies available).  The cover price will be $39.99, but through the Philadelphia show I'll offer it for $35 (plus shipping, if needed).

And yes, in answer to the question I've been asked quite a bit lately -- I'll be back with new stories soon.  When?  Well, today I cleaned off the kitchen table, so for the first time in weeks it isn't covered with notes, bits of paper, reference books and my laptop:  that will make Janet a happy woman.  But she still has a long list of deferred projects awaiting me for the day I wasn't up until midnight every night working away on this project, so after I get through all that, I'll take a few deep breaths and maybe a nap . . .

then I'll be back.  I've already got the first few articles written in my head.

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 http://leadheadpencils.blogspot.com/2012/01/noits-not-file-transfer-protocol.html):


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.