Sunday, February 1, 2015

Only Eleven?

An online discussion recently turned to the Eversharp’s line of "purse pencils," which were listed in the company’s 1932 catalog.  One author commented that he had once photographed all eleven colors.

Here’s ten of them . . . . maybe:

Notice that there’s two sizes and two band styles, which is partly explained by the 1932 catalog. Here’s the page featuring these, from the PCA’s online library.  Note that just to the left of the single-band ladies' models are the "Clasp Models" which according to the catalog were a little bit bigger and came in the more manly colors of Jet Black, Black and Pearl, Jade Green, Flamingo and Kashmir Pearl. 

The flamingo example shown here was the inspiration to reshoot this group. It came from David Nishimura:

Killer, yes. A little bit bigger, like the catalog shows? Yes. But with a price tag?

Yeah, baby. Absofrickinlutely. But I’m getting off track.

One question that the 1932 catalog doesn’t satisfactorily answer is whether there were two sizes of "Clasp Model" pencils, or whether the smaller ones were "Ladies' Purse Models" and the manlier colors had the same double band as their larger cousins.  Since the catalog doesn't illustrate any Ladies Purse Pencils in the manlier colors, all I can say is that all of the manly-colored examples I've seen, whether larger or small, have double bands.

But the more pressing question to me is nailing down exactly how many colors were made and what they were called. Take a close look at the catalog listings, and you will see that in fact there are eleven colors listed, because for whatever reason, "Borneo Pearl" is listed twice (the second time, the pencil is listed at $3.50, but it has the same catalog number):

Out of the eleven catalogued colors, the first five are self explanatory:

1. Jet black

2. Black and pearl

3. Jade green

4. Flamingo

5. Kashmir pearl (that’s the same name used on the Doric line).

The next one is a familiar one as well:

6.  Brazilian green, or "green and bronze" as some collectors call it.  Note that it shows up only in the Ladies’ Purse line up and not in the Clasp Model lineup, and my example is in the smaller size. Doesn’t that prove that all the ones in these colors had double bands, whether they were part of the larger Clasp Model line or the small Ladies' Purse Model Line? Maybe. It’s marked Made in USA, but I bought it from a seller from Argentina online. It might have been made for export – so it might not fit the American catalog.

That leaves five other colors described in the 1932 catalog. The full color copy of that catalog isn't very convincing that the colors were true to what was actually produced

However, the catalog does help to narrow things down a bit, because four of the five remaining colors were illustrated:

7. Borneo pearl: in the catalog, this one is greenish.

8. Canton pearl: this one is blue. I don’t have one of those.

9. Ceylon pearl: this one is pinkish in the picture.

10: India pearl: this one appears to be a more vibrant pink.

Then there’s the eleventh and final cataloged color, which isn’t illustrated anywhere:

11. Persia pearl.

So how many were really out there?  Starting with what I have and putting the catalog names on the colors, here’s what I know:

That's eight definite labels, maybe nine -- the fourth from the left might be "Persia Pearl" -- note how similar it is to Waterman's "Persian" celluloid.

Then there's the one on the left, which doesn't match anything listed in the catalog.  That makes ten.

Not shown are: 

Canton Pearl (like Borneo and India, but in blue), which makes eleven.

Ceylon Pearl (if the colors are anywhere near right in the catalog), which makes twelve.

I don't think that one on the left is Ceylon.  A few years ago I bought an Eversharp which appeared to be a close match for the picture: it was definitely pink and grey.  Here's the best picture of it I could take at the time:

I'd take a better picture of it, but it was badly chrystalized when I bought it -- and that tip has since turned to dust.  Given my experience, it's entirely possible that all of the Ceylon Pearl examples no longer exist.

There’s another color that I understand might have appeared in Stylus Magazine some time ago that if anything, might be Ceylon Pearl. Unfortunately, the person who created the image states that the image was created by "Photoshopping pens using images from other pens in proper color."  I don't know what that means:  did that color really exist or was it created on a computer?  If it was a real color, that makes thirteen.

I can tell you that what you are seeing in the images here are true and accurate reflections of the ten different colors in my collection, and there’s at least two others – Canton and Ceylon – out there somewhere -- and maybe one more, if that picture in Stylus proves to be real.

No matter what, this means, catalog be damned, there had to be more than eleven.

Which leaves me wondering whether my recollection is correct . . . do I remember seeing a Clasp Model pencil in coral a few years ago?  

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.