Sunday, December 21, 2014

Enough To Keep Me Up At Night

I’ve only got a handful of unidentified, unmarked pencils in my collection, and out of that handful, only one or two of them did I go out of my way to pick up. This is one of them:

I saw this thing in an online auction and had to bite, because I was convinced there must be a marking on it somewhere to identify it. Nose drive. One piece barrel. The black portion is ribbed:

As for that upper part, I only know what it was supposed to look like. Here it is, next to an Eversharp Pacemaker:

I’d say someone else was making something that was supposed to look like an Eversharp – I don’t think this was made byEversharp. The plastic is mighty close but just a little different, and the top doesn’t match anything else Eversharp made.

Eversharp buttons just pull out, and there’s an eraser on the other end. But this bit is screwed onto the end to cover the eraser. In fact . . .

It’s actually just a tube open on both ends. I suppose, with as long as the threading is, it was intended to support extra long erasers, so that you could screw the top in farther to expose more eraser as it wears away. Pretty cool take on the adjustable eraser idea - just shorten the barrel around it, like an Eagle Simplex works.

I’ve been over and over this thing, and there’s not a single mark to indicate who might have made this pencil. Until one surfaces with a manufacturer’s imprint or some paperwork or an advertisement turns up, I’m stuck.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Do-Over

Until about a year ago, I had been using an Olympus camera that belonged to my wife, Janet. It was a gift she had received from her employer on the anniversary of her hiring, and she was a very good sport about the fact that I had commandeered it for my pencil stuff. Only on a few special occasions did she pointedly ask "Can I use my camera?"

When I decided to invest in a new camera, it was partly so that I could return Janet’s camera to her – in great condition, excepting ordinary wear and tear from about four years service – and partly because as I got better taking pictures, I wasn’t happy with what I was getting and I wanted to do better. When I came home with a new camera, new lenses and some fancy new lighting, I could hardly wait to snap off a few shots, and this was the first pencil I reached for:

This, however, is not the picture I took that day. The first few pictures I took with my fancy new equipment were not nearly as good as what I had been shooting with Janet’s camera. In fact, they weren’t even as good as what I could get if I pulled out my cell phone, aimlessly pointed it in the general direction, closed my eyes and pushed the button. All I was getting was pictures that were too dark and too blurry.

It was terrible.

Maybe, I thought, I still don’t have all the right equipment. I’m adamantly opposed to using Photoshop on my pictures – yes, you can make terrible photographs look great with the program, but you can and many people do alter the subject matter and create pictures that show something that isn’t there. To me, using Photoshop a little is like using cocaine a little . . . you either use it or you don’t.

I don’t.

I returned to the helpful folks where I purchased the camera and, after going through the foregoing vehement objection to Photoshop manipulation with them, I decided to try a different program called "Lightroom," which is used to alter exposures and sharpen focus – not to alter content. I spent a couple hundred bucks on this new doohickey, and after I played around with it for a couple of days using my pictures of this pencil as a test subject, the results were . . . terrible pictures that were brighter and looked like they had been sharpened by drawing on them with a pencil. I was disgusted.

My scientific process for deciding what article I am going to write about next is as follows: all of the pictures I’ve taken are dumped into one file folder. I thumb through them. I see one that I want to write about. I write about it. There’s usually no more direction to my agenda than an iPod shuffle.

But every time I opened up that folder, the first thing I would see is these shots. Every time, I’d think to myself how much I’d like to write about that one, then I think about how terrible those pictures were, and I’d get a little disgusted all over again and move on.

The other day, as I was putting some pencils away, I decided to take it down from the shelf and try reshooting it again:

I took another stab at capturing the intricate basketweave pattern carved into the bone barrel:

and I took another stab at capturing John Holland’s mark on the rear extension:

No, my shots aren’t perfect, but they are certainly good enough to convey the beauty of this pencil – presented without any help of Photoshop or Lightroom. Photography is frustrating stuff: sometimes things come together perfectly, and you’ll wonder why you can’t do that all the time. Other times, you’ll wonder why you bothered to take the cap of the lens. But what I learned in the process of shooting this particular pencil, and what I’m hoping to convey to anyone out there who thinks they can’t shoot decent pictures, is that it turned out that what I needed wasn’t more and better equipment – all I needed was a years’ worth of practice.

Now excuse me while I go delete those crappy pictures.

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Sneaky Immigrant

It takes a minute to notice what’s interesting about this Wahl Eversharp.

The trim isn’t all that unusual . . . the color likewise isn’t unheard of. It’s the combination of the two that isn’t what you’d expect to see – and when you see it, there’s no question what it is. Here’s a spread of other Wahl Eversharps in that same color:

The early ones, shown on the left, have a straight threaded hard rubber tube for the barrel; as the technology developed, Wahl was able to make the tapered hard rubber barrels, and then eventually thin model barrels with tapered ends and much smaller innards (since rubber barrels had to be thicker, the mechanisms had to be smaller). However, by the time the company developed the technology to make rubber barrels thin enough to use standard works inside and to set the clips in a hole in the side of the barrel (rather than in a metal top section), the crown-top era was over for Eversharp.

Over . . . over here, that is....

Eversharp’s English division continued to turn out crown style pencils much later than the American division. Go figure – the English like their crowns. This one was a little tougher to spot, since the color is so similar to pencils produced in the states; however, another clue that makes these easy to spot is that secondary ring just below the cap, which is always bare brass.

Most of the time, English Eversharps along these lines really stand out:

Nothing close to any of these other colors was produced by Eversharp here in the States, and that middle example in teal is one of my favorite Eversharps – United States division included. There’s also a green and brown marbled example that I’ve chased a couple times, but I wouldn’t say that completes the set . . . after all, I didn’t know the mottled hard rubber ones were out there until I found this one!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

EHCO (ehco. . . ehco . . . ehco . . . )

The Don Scott Antique Show is a monthly show at the Ohio State Fairgrounds, running from November through April. The November show, which begins on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, is really something to see and I always end up spending about twice what I plan to spend.

This year was no exception, and one of my best finds of the day was in the very back row of the larger building:

No, that’s not Echo – that’s EHCO, as in the Eggens Hambler Company. The set consists of an eyedropper pen with a gold-filled overlay and a rear drive pencil:

On page 52 of The Catalogue I’ve got an entry for Eggens-Hambler, which was a partnership formed by John Eggens and William Hambler, both of whom were former employees of the L.E. Waterman Company. Eggens started with Aikin Lambert, joining Waterman in 1910; Hambler joined the company that same year. Their resignations from Waterman, and the formation of Eggens-Hambler, was reported in the March 1, 1922 edition of The Bookseller and Stationer:

The Modern Stationer and Bookseller reported substantially the same information in its January 25, 1922 issue, adding that the company would also make stylographic pens. Several periodicals reported on the initial formation of the company, but there isn’t much to be found after that. Business must have been good initially, as both The Jewelers’ Circular and The American Stationer and Office Outfitter reported the company moved into larger offices at 180 Broadway late in 1922:

The company advertised in the December, 1922 issue of Office Appliances:

There is an indication that the company filed another trademark (serial number 197,999) published on February 3, 1925, although I haven’t been able to track that one down. The company apparently did not survive the Depression, failing in 1934, according to the Robert D. Fisher Manual of Valuable and Worthless Securities.

The letters "EHCO" in an oval are the company’s first registered trademark, in which the company claimed first use on February 1, 1922. In addition to being inside the box lid of my set, the mark also appears on both the pen and the pencil:

There’s one more thing about this EHCO set that’s really interesting. Here it is, shown next to one of my other purchases from the show:

The Eversharp ringtop set is in a rare pattern, the name of which continues to confound Eversharp collectors (the full-sized pencil was featured in an article here a while back). No, that’s no goliath ringtop, and yes, that shows the true scale of the two sets compared: the Eggens-Hambler pencil, measuring just 2 1/4 inches, is one of the smallest fully functioning mechanical pencils in my collection.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014


When I saw this pair of Wahl Eversharp pencils come up in an online auction, I found myself tilting my laptop screen around as I tried to figure out whether I was really seeing what I thought I was seeing:

The gold filled example is a typical ringtop, of which literally millions were made. But that sterling example is a little different. Eversharp referred to it as "The popular midget size Colonial design pencil" in the 1922 catalog, assigning it model number 45MW. Here it is, shown on page 13:

Well, mostly shown. While the midget size pencils are a bit more unusual, they aren’t all that hard to find. It was the cap on this one that had me really excited:

With the fuzzy pictures online and the way the pencils were positioned, it was difficult to be sure whether the cap was actually as long as it looks. It is, and I’ve never seen another one like it. There’s no evidence that someone stretched a normal Eversharp cap, and the detailing around the crown matches a normal Eversharp top (examine other metal pencils with similar crown caps, and you’ll find that everyone had their own unique designs they used around this band). There’s one other interesting thing about that cap: an extra ridge around the top:

I went through all the available catalogs in the PCA’s library, and there’s nothing listed for an accessory super-long cap. The midgets don’t appear in the 1919 catalog, and the PCA doesn’t have the company’s 1920 or 1921 catalogs – if anyone out there does, I would love to see them! In the 1922, 1923 and 1924 catalogs, the only caps in the spare parts section are the ringtop, the military clip and the plain cap for a full-sized model. The last time the midgets appear in the company’s catalogs was in 1924:

Interestingly, note that all these still have the shorter tips. For 1924, Wahl redesigned its metal pencil line with improved innards and a longer tip, but the company didn’t overhaul the midget-sized line. It may have been that the barrels were too short to accommodate a version of the improved design, or that Wahl just didn’t want to fool with it. For whatever reason, the line disappears from the 1925 catalog. The company continued to offer spare parts for metal pencils throughout the 1920s, but I couldn’t find any indication that more than one size cap was ever offered.

The 1924 catalog makes a point to indicate that the size of each of these pencils is 3 1/16". You’d think that if the company were offering these with a longer cap, there would be something at the end of the page that says "and if you feel the need to overcompensate for that . . . "

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

A Sheaffer . . . If Only On The Outside

I looked at this one just one too many times at The Ohio Show. Something just didn’t look quite right, and I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was:

After I’d carried it around for a couple hours it dawned on me what was different . . . there’s no center band. While the lack of any band was a common configuration on pre-war Sheaffer pencils, post war examples had at least something in the middle, even if it was a simple bead band used on the "Sovereign," "Admiral" and "Craftsman" examples. Here’s the new addition flanked by a bead band example and a "Statesman" trimmed example.

Once I got these three together, I noticed something else: this new example has a ring of little dimples around the nose cone that isn’t present on any other Sheaffer in my collection, and it’s a little wider where the cone meets the lower barrel:

Occam would be proud of me: my first thought was that parts had been swapped. Since the bead band pencils had no trim on the cap, and the Statesmans didn’t have any trim on the lower barrel, I thought maybe someone had put the cap from one onto the barrel of the other:

But when I pulled the cap from my new example to test fit it on the other examples, it did something odd:

The steel drive tube has cracked, causing it to pull off the mechanism. Sheaffer pencils just never do this — they are too well made to come apart in normal use. There is, however, another brand which is plagued with this problem:

That’s a Parker Vacumatic. Now don’t get excited about the possibility of a partnership between Parker and Sheaffer to make pencils, because I don’t think that’s what happened. Why? Because Parker didn’t make the mechanism inside later Vacs like this one – as well as the 51s, and many of the other Parker models that came after that. It’s not widely known, but it is well documented that Parker was supplied with these pencil mechanisms by A.T. Cross pursuant to a licensing agreement; Cross sold the rights to its patent for the mechanism, number 1,754,002 issued in 1930, in exchange for a contract to supply Parker with them.

Could it be that Cross also supplied just a few mechanisms to Sheaffer? Maybe. Here’s the Sheaffer and the Vacumatic completely stripped down for comparison:

They are similar, but on close examination, there are a couple intriguing differences between these two mechanisms:

The mechanism that came out of the Sheaffer, at top, has a translucent plastic bushing and a diamond-patterned area where the drive tube is press fit into place. Out of all the Parker mechanisms I’ve got in my parts bins (a couple hundred), not a single one has these characteristics: all of them, look like the one shown below. Sure, it’s possible that at some point over the last seventy years, someone could have modified a Sheaffer mechanism to accept a Cross/Parker mechanism . . . except that this is no ordinary Cross/Parker mechanism.

In my mind, I think there’s two possibilities. The first is that Cross made a play to supply Sheaffer with pencil mechanisms, modifying the test run to distinguish them from what Cross was selling to Parker, after the patent expired in 1944.

The alternative is an even more interesting possibility: that Sheaffer itself reverse-engineered the Cross mechanism for a few tests after the patent expired.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Layer Upon Layer of Wicked Cool

This one had me all stirred up the moment I saw it, for several reasons:

For starters, just look at this thing. The barrel is enameled metal and looks more like a cartridge from a machine gun than it does a pencil. Starting at the nose, the cone screws off to reveal something pretty close to an Autopoint or Dur-O-Lite:

Except with this example, the only way to advance the lead is by removing the nose and manually screwing that rod a little farther into the nose . . . there’s nothing inside the barrel to engage the end of that threaded pushrod.

Working up the barrel, there’s a paper label or decal that tells a bit more of the story:

"Adding Pencil Co. / St. Louis, Mo. U.S.A. / Patent Applied For." And the name is repeated on that clip. That clip! Holy cow, what a clip!

Now let’s get to the next level of cool -- this pencil came complete in the box with instructions:

Granted, a disturbing proportion of these instructions explain how using this device is easier than just adding numbers in your head . . . or on a piece of paper with a pencil that doesn’t have all this baggage attached. Sure, there’s quite a bit of Rube Goldberg wrapped up in this one, but after I read the directions I did figure out how it’s supposed to work.

Say you want to add seven to the total. Holding the pencil’s nose with your left hand, see what letter lines up with the number 7, then turn the barrel until that letter lines up with zero – at the top, the number 7 will appear in the window:

After that, you can then continue to add number after number the same way, and ratchets inside the pencil will carry the one for you each time the zero passes by. The disks on this pencil will count up to 209 – but it only adds numbers less than 10. Useless? Maybe a little bit, but it does work like a charm. And cool? You bet – and on the next level of cool, even a little more cool than its relatives:

That’s the "Houk Adding Pencil" from page 90 of The Catalogue and featured here about three years ago ( and an unmarked adding pencil with many of the same characteristics that I believe was made by the same folks as made the Houk (

That decal on the barrel of the Houk Adding Pencil Co. is just like the one on the Adding Pencil Company, and since they both originate from St. Louis, there’s just too many similarities not to conclude that there was some relationship between the two.

Which brings me to the next level of what’s cool here. About all I know about the Houk is that it was probably made in the 1920s or so – I’ve never been able to find out anything about a "Houk Adding Pencil Co.." But when I searched for just an "Adding Pencil Company" in St. Louis, I found it. And it was much, much earlier than I expected:

This article, from the August 5, 1876 issue of Scientific American, profiles the latest new thing: a "recently patented adding pencil, the device of Messrs. Smith & Potts, of Verdi, Nevada." "For further information," the article concludes, "address the Adding Pencil Company, St. Louis, Mo."

I also found an advertisement for the new pencil, which appeared in an 1878 issue of Scribner’s Monthly (it’s hard to tell which one, because in the process of scanning the periodical some of the pages, including this one, got a little scrambled).

Since the Scientific American article mentions a patent date of April 4, 1876, it didn’t take long to find patent number 175,775, issued to Marshall M. Smith and Frederick W. Potts:

And the best and coolest part of all is that you won’t find this patent in my book. Why is that a good thing? Because it brings home again the point that patent research isn’t anywhere near finished. Sure, the patents indexed under the writing instruments classification have been done before, and there’s not likely to be any surprises in that well-trodden territory.

But not this one. Patent number 175,775 isn’t indexed under classification 401, but in class 235, subclass 64; that’s the classification for "Registers: adding pencils." While there is some cross-pollenation in this category, with several of the patents indexed there also being found in classification 401, as for this one and many of the others in this category, no amount of searching in all the right places would turn this one up. In the coming weeks, I’m looking forward to sifting through these to see what else might be lurking in an obscure little corner of the patent office in which I would never have thought to look!