Saturday, October 22, 2016

The Rest of the Pencil

About a year ago, I posted an article concerning a large, sterling Mabie Todd pencil (, shown here alongside a green marbled Mabie Todd pencil as well as a couple “lesser Triads” to compare the clips:

The Mabie Todd has a slit on the side of the barrel which initially had me thinking it might be a variation on the Ross Memo, with a scroll of paper on board:

However, a couple of finds discussed in that article suggested that what my pencil was lacking was probably a spring-loaded calendar scroll, like the Cal-An-Ad pencil discussed in that article as well as an unmarked pencil David Nishimura posted:

My friend Joe Nemecek brought his example to the DC pen show, which removes the word “probably” from that last sentence:

Friday, October 21, 2016

More Interesting Edward Todds

At the DC Show this August, I had the opportunity to purchase a collection of Victorian pencils from Alan Hirsch.  Normally, when it comes to pen shows, I’m fond of saying that both my wife and I have more fun when she doesn’t accompany me, but this time I was glad she was on hand: the price tag was more than I would dare spend without participation from the finance committee, and a phone call describing what I was about to drop more than the cost of a cheap car on wasn’t nearly as effective as showing her a bifold of Victorian art in person.

“As long as we can pay the bills,” she said.  Late into the evening hours I was sorting through the collection on the spare hotel bed, figuring out what I’d like to keep and how much I’d have invested in the stuff I was going to sell.  Yep, I pronounced . . . we’ll be all right.  I decided that roughly a third of the things in that collection were must-have keepers, another third were things I really have no interest in, and that last third . . . well, we’ll see how much I recoup before we set anything in stone.

Here’s something from the “must keep” pile:

It looks like an ordinary magic pencil, albeit a very pretty one . . .

. . . until you pull on the knob to see what’s inside:

In the cartouche on one side of this telescoping pencil is a patent date: August 9, 1892:

I’ve written about these before (see “I Was Hoping” posted on December 23, 2014 at   The patent date is a reference to James B. Smith’s patent number 480,479, assigned to Edward Todd:

The example from that last article was missing the stirrup to which the ring was attached, but it had an Edward Todd hallmark on top of the pencil.  This on has the stirrup, but the Edward Todd hallmark is absent.  It does, however, have one other marking that is arguably even better:


Here’s another piece that nearly slipped into the “we’ll see” third of that Victorian collection, only because I don’t normally collect novelty figurals:

If you’re a member of the Pen Collectors of America and you’ve received your fall issue of the Pennant, you’ll recognize this one from the crossbar on the cover: a golf club seemed appropriate for a retiring editor’s last issue, even though I don’t play golf.   Inside, of course, is a slider pencil:

The club face even has a tiny ball attached to it:

But the reason I thought at first I could live without this one is that I wasn’t expecting any markings on it and, in fact, I missed it on my first pass through the collection.  While I was expecting a hallmark on today’s first pencil and didn’t get one, with the golf club figural I wasn’t expecting one and got a pleasant surprise:

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Lownds Redux

I’ve had a few Edward Todds photographed and ready to write about, and the only reason I haven’t done so was because they were fairly ordinary, and the occasion to write something about them had not presented itself:

Starting from the bottom, there’s a combo missing a nib, using what appears to be Mabie’s October 3, 1854 patent, but long after the patent expired.  It’s marked simply “Edward Todd & Co. NY” on the barrel:

The second up from the bottom is also fairly common fare, noteworthy only because it has Edward Todd’s hallmark at the end of the barrel:

The top one, however, is the one which ties into yesterday’s story about Jacob Lownds.  It sports a wonderful Edward Todd “A” nib, size 5:

On the barrel is stamped “Edward Todd & Co. / Pat’d. Dec. 19, 71.”

The reference is to patent number 122,047, granted to Joseph Monaghan and Thomas Flynn, of New York (with Flynn assigning his interest to Monaghan).

Edward Todd, the original Todd in Mabie Todd, left Mabie Todd & Co. in 1868 (Edward’s older brother Henry remained with the firm, which is why Mabie Todd was able to continue using the name).  Edward Todd purchased another New York firm in 1871, Kurtz & Monaghan, renaming it Edward Todd & Co.

By the way, the history in the preceding paragraph comes from David Moak’s book, Mabie in America.

I haven’t seen a December 19, 1871 patent marked with the Kurtz & Monaghan name, which makes sense – Edward Todd & Co. appears in the 1871 New York City Directory, so the purchase would have happened early in the year.  I haven’t seen this mechanism with a “Pat. Applied For” imprint either – although I’d like to.

What is interesting about the Monaghan patent, though, it the way the pencil mechanism advances.   Just like a Lownds, you pull the extender outward, rotate it to engage the pin in a slot, then push it back in to advance the pencil into place.  Since the nib advances by a simple slider, well known in the trade by 1871, this “novel” pencil mechanism was the subject of Lownds’ patent 35 years earlier!

There’s one other interesting detail about the Monaghan patent:

George W. Mabee is clearly a typographical error: one of the witnesses to the patent was George W. Mabie, John Mabie’s son, who joined Mabie Todd & Co. as a clerk and took over for his father in 1873.  The timeline doesn’t quite make sense: if Edward Todd left Mabie, Todd & Co. in 1868, then purchased Kurtz & Monaghan in 1871, and George W. Mabie never left Mabie Todd, why would Mabie have witnessed Monaghan’s patent application?

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

About Time

It took two years waiting for this one on eBay:

The seller had it listed for $1,000.00 or best offer . . . over and over and over again.  I’d send him an offer for what I thought it was really worth every so often – drastically less than $1,000.00 – and was greeted with a brusque pshaw.  Still, it remained in my watch list and scrolled past time and time again, until finally, a couple months ago, I sent him the same offer accompanied by the message “are you tired of looking at this one yet?”

He was.

The reason I was reluctant to come anywhere near his asking price was because it was shown in the auction pictures in pieces, and I didn’t know if I could fix it.  What had me patiently waiting all that time was what was imprinted on the inner barrel, visible when the top is pulled:

“Lownds Patent Philada.”   I’ve been on a quest to find examples of the earliest American pencil manufacturers, and this is the earliest one I’ve found.  The imprint refers to patent number 32 – yes, that’s a two-digit patent number – issued to Jacob J. Lownds of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on September 22, 1836:

The Lownds patent predates Thomas Addison’s by nearly two years (see; John Hague’s second patent was issued three years later, and I featured Joe Nemecek’s example of the 1839 Hague patent at

By the way, when it came to the Hague, I wasn’t very happy with the photographs Joe and I got at the Philadelphia show, so I’ve since reshot them:

The Lownds patent mechanism operates by pulling the top back, rotating the barrel about a quarter turn, then pushing the top back down to advance the mechanism.  Fortunately, I was able to restore this example to working condition:

Although the Lownds patent was issued in 1836, the earliest references I have yet found for the pencil being manufactured and sold were in 1840.  Lownds placed and advertisement in the March, 1840 issue of the Journal of the Franklin Institute, listing his address at 20 Franklin Place:

Note that Lownds carries “Jackson’s Superior Black Lead Points.”  Could this Jackson have been William Jackson, who was issued a pencil patent on July 27, 1829 – the second pencil patent issued in America?  Philadelphia was a big town, and Jackson is a common name, but there weren’t many people in the pencil business at the time!

A.E. Wright’s Commercial Directory for 1840 contains a listing for Lownds – with a picture!  Note that this advertisement is just beneath one for Dobosq & Carrow, jewelers.  The jewelry firm was at the corner of Chestnut and Third, while Lownds operated at 20 Franklin, “running from Chestnut to Market, between Third and Fourth Streets”:

On August 16, 1841, the Philadelphia Public Ledger reported that Lownds & Dubosq, a partnership of Jacob J. Lownds and William A. Dubosq, was dissolved, with Dubosq being authorized to wind up the partnership at 5 Bank Alley:

Jacob Lownds apparently moved next door, to 7 Bank Alley, where he entered into a partnership with one J.H. Huguenele.   That partnership was terminated on January 7, 1843, and Jacob continued the business of making “Gold and Silver Ever-Pointed Pencils” at 7 Bank Alley:

On August 24, 1847, notice was published that Lownds & Osterloh, a partnership consisting of Jacob Lownds and A.F. Osterloh (the A was for Albert, we know from other times his name was mentioned) was also dissolved:

Lownds later relocated to New York City, where he was residing when he received two other patents.  On October 3, 1854 – the same day John Mabie received his patent for the ubiquitous “Mabie’s Patent” pen and pencil combo --, Jacob Lownds received patent number 11,752 for his own version of a combo, based on the action from his 1836 patent:

And, on December 8, 1863, Lownds received patent number 40,846, for a magic dip pen with a reversible pencil stuck in the top:

Lownds’ influence on the writing instrument industry, though, came from that first patent he received in 1836.  It turns up again – long after it expired – to become one of the most common Victorian mechanisms.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Wahl's Extracurricular Activities

Larry Liebman came to the DC show this August with a few pencils in tow for trading, and this one had me fascinated.

This is another of Wahl’s line of dollar pencils (the last article I wrote about these was at, but this example has a painted metal barrel.  At first glance it appears to have tiny little pock marks all over it, but when I examined this one closely, it looks like it was meant to be that way:

The painted lettering was applied after these little pock marks and gold spots.  But what really had my ears perked up was what that painted lettering said:

“Wahl Universal Heater.”

“Clean Heat and Plenty of It / Williamsport Auto Parts Co. / 245-251 West 3rd St. / Williamsport - PA.”

I didn’t know what to make of this at first, but I was confident there was no way the Wahl Company would stand for someone else using the name Wahl, in the same spiky Winchester-inspired lettering – and the likelihood that they would print the name on an Eversharp pencil for whoever was responsible for the infraction is less than zero.

The time period during this pencil was made – the end of the 1920s – was a fascinating time in Wahl’s history.  The company’s first decade as the Wahl Adding Machine Company were spent manufacturing typewriter attachments, a business Wahl abandoned after it went into the pencil business after acquiring Charles Keeran’s Eversharp Pencil Company (and then the pen business when it purchased the Boston Fountain Pen Company).

By 1928, Wahl’s pencils were becoming passe.  Although the company had gone to great lengths to update the outward appearance of its product offerings, inside the mechanism was still Keeran’s 15-year-old mechanism, tweaked a bit in 1924 to relocate the lead magazine.  Meanwhile, other companies were offering pencils that were simpler to operate and also had a propel-repel mechanism, as opposed to the Eversharp’s forward-only mechanism.  Wahl was soon going to have to make a decision to either revamp their aging product line or find something else to do.  The decision to revamp, with the Equipoised line and then the Doric, was not as clear cut as we may now believe: yes, the Wahl Company briefly dabbled in the production of car heaters, since “nowadays people use their cars all winter long.”

The only notices and advertisements I found for the Wahl Universal Heater were from the tail end of 1928, and all were in newspapers in Michigan and Pennsylvania, like this one from the Harrisburg Telegraph from November 3, 1928:

But the Wahl Universal Heater was neither the company’s only dalliance into auto parts manufacturing, nor was it the most successful:

The “Wahl Spring Brake,” a bolt-on, spring-action shock absorber that bolstered leaf springs on early automobiles was on the market for two years, from 1927 through 1929, and was more widely advertised, including this flashy piece, which appeared in Liberty magazine on October 23, 1927:

Monday, October 17, 2016

The Rest of the Story

The accepted bedtime story about the Wahl Adding Machine Company, which later became the Wahl Company, is that the company was incorporated in 1905 to make John Wahl’s nifty attachment for typewriters which turned any old typewriter into a steampunk mechanical calculator.  Ten years later, though, John Wahl met inventor Charles Keeran, who was interested in purchasing some machinery to make his new pencils (since his existing supplier, the George W. Heath Company, wasn’t making them fast enough to keep up with the demand).

Wahl started making Keeran’s pencils in October, 1915, quickly learned  how much money the company could make in the writing instruments business, bought Keeran’s company,bought the Boston Fountain Pen Company to add fountain pens to their line, shortened the name to Wahl Company, dropped adding machines like a hot rock and lived happily ever after.

Well, sort of happily.  Until that whole ballpoint thing brought the company to its knees and forced the sale of its writing instruments division to Parker in 1957.

The story leaves out one important detail: John Wahl didn’t invent the adding machine that started it all.  Who did?  Well, as Paul Harvey used to say, I’m now going to tell you the rest of the story.

When I first sat down to write this article, my research led me straight to a fellow blogger’s work over at oz Typewriter, where Robert Messenger posted a terrific article in 2014   (, and he attributes John C. Wahl’s rise to fame as an inventor to his patent for a calculating machine, applied for on October 28, 1904 and issued on July 21, 1908 as number 893,717:

A second application, filed by Wahl on April 17, 1905 was also issued on July 21, 1908 as number 893,718.  Both applications, read closely, are for “improvements to” calculating machines, both were assigned to the Wahl Adding Machine Company and in both, Wahl indicates, “I have shown my device attached to a well known Remington typewriting machine.”   In his second patent application, however, he adds at the end of that statement, “although it may be attached with equal facility to other machines.”  Remington apparently made sure that never happened, formally “adopting” the adding attachment in 1908 with a lease of the patent rights for seventeen years, to end in 1925.

There’s a loose end here:  if John Wahl’s first patent was for an “improvement” to calculating machines, what was he improving?


Several months before John Wahl applied for his first patent, Hyman Eli Goldberg filed an application for his patent for an improvement in calculating machines, on March 7, 1904, but unlike Wahl’s, Goldberg’s patent was issued fairly quickly, on Valentine’s Day, 1905 as number 782,554.  Goldberg’s first patent was not assigned to anyone, but later patents he filed were assigned to the Goldberg Calculating Machine Company, which was established in 1902, three years before the Wahl Adding Machine Company:

Wahl and Goldberg each patented dozens of improvements on a calculating attachment for typewriters; Wahl assigned his to the Wahl Adding Machine Company, while Goldberg’s were assigned to the Goldberg Calculating Machine Company.  The two did collaborate in the filing of an application to patent this improvement on March 16, 1908, which was issued on August 25, 1908 as number 896,871 – and assigned half to the Wahl Adding Machine Company and half to the Goldberg Calculating Machine Company:

The Wahl/Goldberg patent became wildly successful through the next decade, and at the Panama-Pacific Exposition in San Francisco (the 1915 World’s Fair), history records that John C. Wahl won a medal for the Wahl Adding Machine.  History has it wrong: it was actually the co-inventors of the Wahl Adding Machine, John C. Wahl and Hyman Eli Goldberg, who received the honors, as reported in the September, 1915 issue of Typewriter Topics.

Note:  The Panama-Pacific Exposition is where Charles Keeran first went national with his new Ever Sharp pencil.  Did John Wahl and Hyman Goldberg meet Keeran at the Exposition?  History does not record such a meeting, and it was an enormous event – but surely their common experience there gave them something to talk about when the two met, and Keeran hired the Wahl Adding Machine Company to manufacture pencils for him, beginning in October, 1915. 

One question which has always bothered me is why the Wahl Adding Machine Company had any interest in making pencils for Charles Keeran.  The company had been around for ten years, dedicated solely to the refinement of a wildly successful invention, sold in partnership with one of the largest typewriter manufacturers in America.  Did John Wahl’s agreement to make pencils for a small-time inventor such as Keeran suggest that there were tensions brewing between Wahl and Remington?  I believe that it does, and the company was looking to diversify its manufacturing base at around that time.

The best evidence of a pending storm between the Wahl Adding Machine Company and the Remington Typewriter Company comes from what happened after the company acquired a controlling interest in Keeran’s Eversharp Pencil Company, after the company purchased the Boston Fountain Pen Company and after the company name was shortened to simply “Wahl Company.”

The Remington Typewriter Company got wind that the Wahl Company’s shareholders were planning to sell the assets and business to the Goldberg Calculating Machine Company, and filed for a restraining order to block the sale on July 16, 1919; note that this news report states that Remington had a 25 year lease, rather than a lease until 1925 (I’m not sure which is correct).  The parties litigated over the rights to Wahl’s adding machine business for a year: on July 14, 1920, news accounts reported that Wahl had sold all the rights to its adding machine business to Remington for $1,700,000.00.

Included in the sale were all of John C. Wahl’s adding machine patent rights – and also all of Hyman Eli Goldberg’s.

Remington’s acquisition of the Goldberg adding machine patents, something as a pencil history researcher I never would have thought to examine, is what leads me to the rest of the story.

After the sale, the Remington Typewriter Company set about the task of refiling all of the adding machine patents it had acquired, to reflect their assignment to Remington, and there is a curious notation on each of them:

Each of the Goldberg patents is reported as being issued to “Hyman E. Goldberg (now by judicial change of name Hyman Golber).”

Wow. Hyman Goldberg I’d never heard of before, but Hyman Golber – well, you know who he is.  Just a year after the Remington Typewriter Company purchase went through in July, 1920, Hyman Golber applied for a patent for a mechanical pencil on September 15, 1921:

And then, he set up a company to manufacture his new pencil, filing a trademark on the name:

That’s right, folks: John C. Wahl’s coinventor of the Wahl Adding Machine changed his name to Hyman Golber, invented a pencil, began doing business as H.E. Golber & Co. and founded Rite-Rite.

Rite-Rite became successful in its own . . . rite . . . with Golber at the helm until the company was acquired by the Joseph Dixon Crucible Company to become Dixon Rite-Rite in the 1940s, after the tragic end to the Golber story:

At the age of 70, on November 11, 1942, Hyman Golber became despondent that he was losing his eyesight, without which, as a lifelong tinkerer and inventor, he believed he would no longer be able to pursue his life’s passion.  Hyman went to a Chicago restaurant and, in a second floor bathroom, he ingested poison and took his own life.