Friday, October 24, 2014

Testing for Idiots . . . And The Results Came Back Positive

I know the title of this article is a bit harsh, but I’m still mad about this one. The story began when this popped up in an online auction a few months ago:

"Pop" is a great word to use – the artistry that went into making this is simply breathtaking. This one is a combo, and that band around the middle is the slide that advances the nib. There wasn’t a nib in this one, but I’ll find one eventually.

The pencil part of this is interesting. To advance the pencil from the case, you pull back the extender, twist it to engage the pencil mechanism, and push it forward partway. You can’t have the extender all the way out while the pencil is engaged. The patent for this odd way of doing things is imprinted on the extender:

December 19, 1871 refers to patent number 122,047, issued to Thomas Flynn and Joseph Monaghan:

The Monaghan name is interesting. Edward Todd & Co. was formed in 1871, the very year this patent was issued, succeeding to the firm of Kurtz & Monaghan (according to David L. Moak’s book on Mabie Todd & Co., Mabie in America).   I believe Moak, since his research was based on contemporary business directories – Edward Todd’s obituary, however, placed the foundation of Edward Todd & Co. a year later, in 1872:

We’ll pause for a minute here. If you are content to have seen a neat pencil and learned a little about its history, you can skip the rest of this article. Here’s where we get to the idiot part.

A string of bad experiences has taught me to read online auction descriptions very carefully, particularly when statements are made concerning a pencil’s possible gold content. It’s easy to detect sellers who know a piece isn’t solid gold, yet who are being deliberately vague about the issue in the hopes that someone will assume there’s gold in them thar pencils. This particular seller was asking a price somewhere between what I’d expect to pay for a gold filled example and a solid gold one, and he or she was implying in the listing that it might be gold without coming out and saying it.

This led me to ask whether the pencil had been tested for gold, and it wasn’t because I cared what the content was – the historical significance of the artifact was enough to interest me. What I was worried about at this point in the conversation was how the pencil had been tested -- on the one hand, there's the responsible way, and on the other, there's the rape-and-pillage strip-mining method.

The responsible way to determine whether something is gold filled or solid gold is to examine it closely with a loupe, looking for any traces of wear on the high points that would reveal a base metal underneath. Nearly every time, if it’s gold filled you’ll find some place on the item where just a tiny bit of brass shows through. If you can’t find any evidence of brassing, it might be gold, and with experience, you’ll be able to tell when something is a little heavier than you expect.

What unfortunately happens with many of these Victorian pieces when they fall into the hands of an unscrupulous person is that they will "test" for gold by filing a groove to see if there’s base metal underneath – severely diminishing the value of the piece as a collectible item in the process. In polite circles, these file marks are called "assayer’s marks." I think "scars from a greedy bastard with no respect for historical artifacts" is closer to the truth.

I asked the seller whether the pencil had been actually tested for gold content, and he or she continued the dance, backpedalling to say he or she had only heard that it "might" have been tested. By this point, I was pretty sure I knew what was going on. If the seller had heard anything about whether it was tested and the results were positive, the seller would be shouting 14k from the rooftops; whatever testing occurred, whether by the seller or someone else, obviously showed that this piece is gold filled and not gold.

I directly asked if the pencil showed assayer’s marks. Again, he or she was evasive, so I sent an offer along with the comment that I was interested in the piece for its historical value, but I was being forced to assume by their answers that the worst had been done to it.

Without comment, the seller accepted the offer.

Now that the Edward Todd is in hand, I still have no regrets about acquiring and preserving such an interesting and important piece of history, but my worst fears have been confirmed:

There are two lessons here. First, to my fellow collectors, historians and enthusiasts, ask a lot of questions and read non-answers as bad answers.

Second, to those greedy gold diggers who would consider melting down a piece of history just to make a buck, and who try to pawn off damaged goods to someone by implying a gold-filled pencil might be solid gold . . .

I’m on to you. And now everyone who has read this article is, too.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

A Fine Pencil . . . In My Esti-Mation

This one is a little newer than the pencils I typically go for, but when I saw it in an online auction, I knew I just had to have it.

The pencil is unmarked with the exception of the embossing on the barrel end:

Yeah, that huge counter parked on the back end of that one is just ugly as all get out, and the plastic is a later and cheaper swirled composition, kind of like a low-grade Stratford or something. But the cool factor is undeniable, and the auction even included the original paperwork:

The Esti-Mate (or Penco-Mate, according to the paperwork) was designed for counting pencil dots for contractor’s estimating purposes. Make a dot on the paper, and the pencil counts it. I suppose it would also count words – if you press hard, use cursive writing and don’t dot any i’s or cross any t’s. Here’s the back side of the instructions:

The phone number no longer works – yeah, it was a longshot, but it was only a few moments of my life I’ll never get back, right? The street address of 2115 South Ninth Street, Philadelphia is also a dead end – the location is a small two-story building, located at the corner of Cantrell Street, and these days it’s used as a church:

According to the Pennsylvania Secretary of State, Esti-mate, Inc. was incorporated using the Ninth Street address in Pennsylvania on May 22, 1970 (entity number 113,576). Today, there is an "Esti-Mate, Inc." in North Carolina which currently sells computer software to contractors for estimating purposes – a close match. But according to the company’s website, the company was founded in 1977, and our Pennsylvania Esti-Mate has never changed its address from the Ninth Street location.

I haven’t gotten my Esti-mate working reliably, and maybe that has something to do with why the company appears to have vanished. Either that, or maybe they didn’t accurately estimate the size of the shirt pocket you’d need to carry this nifty thing around!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

So Right

In the late 1920s, Eversharp introduced pencils in "bumblebee" plastics (that’s a collector’s nickname, not official Eversharpese, from what I understand). Here’s the teal "bumblebee" I posted here a couple years ago (

Since then, I have found an example in yellow, the color from which the nickname more properly originates. In fact, I found a pen and pencil set:

And this is how bumblebee sets are typically found, with a flattop pens paired with a crown top pencils. That’s how Wahl marketed sets until the introduction of what I’ve referred to as "Tempoint pencils" around 1927 or 1928, as seen on page 61 of The Catalogue:

I’ve grudgingly come to refer to these as "Tempoint-styled" pencils in deference to Wahl pen enthusiasts who objected to my use of the moniker (Wah

l’s actual "Tempoint" line was made in hard rubber and had been discontinued by the time the company introduced the new plastic line). These pencils just look so much better when paired with one of the pens, and I’ve always wondered why the company made pencils in that striking bumblebee plastic that looked more like . . . well, like this:

I nearly breezed right by this one at the Chicago show in May. It looks so natural – so right – that unless you stop and consciously think about the top being different and the girth being bigger, you wouldn’t be inclined to think this one is anything all that extraordinary. I’m glad I did stop and did consciously think about it, because this is the only one like it I’ve seen.

Now to find the full-size model with the roller clip . . . and maybe one with a deco band . . .

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Middle Part is the Best

While I was at the Philadelphia Show last January, this one was cooking in an online auction:

It doesn’t look like much, although the looks of it are pretty cool and I love those colored bands. Even so, this one would have slipped right under my radar and probably under everyone else’s too had the seller not correctly read and included the imprint:

Craig was a Sheaffer subbrand, named for Craig Sheaffer. The pencils, although of lesser quality than the usual Sheaffer fare, are so much more difficult to find (and so sought after by Sheaffer fanatics) that when they turn up, they command a premium over and above all but the finest Sheaffer pencils. This one, doubly so!

This is the first and only example of a double-ended Craig that I’ve ever seen, but here’s why I wasn’t too shocked:

Mike Kirk showed this to me at the Ohio Show back in 2012. This one has roughly the same lines, but instead of a round center, this one has facets, and instead of a Craig imprint:

This one is a Sheaffer.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Son of Bug

A little more than a year ago, I posted an article here called "The Bug" ( ) about a variant of Brown and Bigelow’s metal Redipoint pencils sporting the most unusual way to store lead that I’d ever seen:

Ever since I wrote that article, whenever I encounter one of these metal Redipoint pencils, I can’t help myself. I’ve got to unscrew the top and pull out the mechanism to see if it has the bug’s antennae inside. A few months ago, as I was going through a drawer full of pencils I forgot I had, I found a couple more of them, and so of course I was compelled to see if they were "buggy." That’s when I started poking and prodding at this one:

The reflex to check for bugs has by now become so instinctive that when I started pulling this one apart I didn’t really notice that the top was just a little different:

But I definitely noticed as I was unscrewing when the top simply fell off!

When I drew out what was inside, as Gomer Pyle might say, "surprise, surprise, surprise . . ."

Well I’ll be . . . the knurled top on this one was just the retainer for a repeater mechanism! Each push of the button scoots forward a Dr. Seuss-like lead retainer:

The imprint on this one wasn’t as helpful as I had hoped:

"Redipoint / Pat. Pdg. B&B St. Paul."

I had heard there’s a pretty good book out there on the subject of patents . . . no, let me start that sentence over because I’d slap me if I heard me talk that way.

I was researching American Writing Instrument Patents Volume 2: 1911-1945 at the time, so this seemed like a good opportunity to check patents assigned to Brown and Bigelow to see whether any from the 1920s were for repeating pencils. There’s this one, applied for by Andrew Kvorning and Frank J. Vierling on April 25, 1918 and issued March 29, 1921 as number 1,373,278:

Remember Vierling? He was the scorned husband from "Real Housewives of Minneapolis" ( ).

And then there’s this one, applied for on September 17, 1918 by the brains behind most of Brown and Bigelow’s pencil designs, Frank J. Kristofek and Howard L. Fischer, who received patent number 1,375,579 on April 19, 1921:

We're getting warmer: this has a cartridge-style mechanism rather than the integrated one found on the Kvorning/Vierling patent. However, that goofy protrusion mounted on the end of the cartridge isn’t present on my pencil.

Since none of the patents assigned to Brown and Bigelow were satisfying, I decided to check the names of the guys who made a habit of assigning patents to the company.  I found patent number 1,381,981, applied for by Howard L. Fischer on December 17, 1918 and issued on June 21, 1921:

This one is much closer – there’s our repeating mechanism cartridge held in the pencil by that same knurled screw-on retaining ring – the only difference is the cone-shaped end of the cartridge.

And then I found one other patent, which Fischer applied for on the same day, for another variation on this design:

THAT’S it. Fischer’s patent number 1,389,426 issued on August 30, 1921 was the "Pat. Pdg." referred to on my pencil.

The flurry of repeater-pencil patents applied for by Brown and Bigelow’s R&D people is fascinating, since until I noticed this one I’d never seen so much as one of these before. My example is working, although the action is feeble at best – perhaps an indication that Brown and Bigelow really wanted to put a repeater on the market but could never quite get a design together that worked as well as they hoped.

In the end, it looks like the company gave up on the idea altogether in favor of their more robust and trouble-free screw drive pencils. . . and leaving enthusiasts like me nearly a century later tearing apart everything bearing the company’s name to see what on earth might be inside!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Cherry In More Ways Than One

My friend Joe Nemecek picked this one up at the Philadelphia Show last January:

The plain clip can make these tough to place, but those who know what these are know that there’s a subtle "Chilton" imprint right near the middle joint.

However, these inlaid patterns are distinctive and definitely shout out to those who are interested in the brand:

This is one of Chilton’s "Wingflow" pencils. What makes it special are the condition, which in this case is fantastic, but more importantly the color, which collectors refer to as "cherry red" (as opposed to the more common and much more subdued maroon).

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Somewhere Along the Road to Oblivion

I don’t remember how this one came my way, and I’ve had the picture laying around long enough that I think it’s best I just say what I know and see if someone can help me fill in the blanks:

By the time Eversharp turned this one out, the wheels were really coming off. The company had only barely survived the ballpoint pen fiasco which began in 1946, during which Eversharp’s investment of millions into the "new" pen were lost though a combination of competition from upstart Reynolds, the invalidation of Eversharp’s patent and the aggressive price wars that followed.

Eversharp beat a hasty retreat from newfangled product development in 1948 with the introduction of the Symphony, a very conventional and old-fashioned pen accompanied by the same repeating pencil the company had been producing since 1936 – dressed up a bit to look all fancy and such. The new old Eversharps failed to capture the public’s attention, and the company went into a painful tailspin that culminated in the sale of the writing instruments division to Parker in 1957.

From what I can tell, these appear to have been made around 1949 or 1950. It appears to be loosely styled after Symphony:

Also, the pencil does have the same repeating mechanism found on the Symphony and earlier models. With the introduction of the Ventura line in 1953, the company switched to a cap-actuated mechanism for its flagship line and painfully cheap nose-drive pencils for everything else. That fluted cap button may not be original – they were interchangeable with the Skylines, Symphonies, and even the Dorics.

I haven’t seen examples of these cataloged by the company, and there’s no reference to them in the 1953 repair catalog. I’ve also found a few other examples along these lines, and the styling appears pretty random:

Especially that one on the bottom.