Tuesday, August 18, 2015

THAT Kind of Show

When Harry Shubin stopped by my table at the DC Show last weekend, he had already warned me in advance that he had a very unusual Parker Vacumatic that he needed some help with.  It was a demi-sized, stubby and chubby burgundy example with two bands - on the very early end of the Vacumatic spectrum, when the only thing that differentiated a Vac from a Duofold was the plastic.

The repair required one of the more sophisticated tools in a pencil repairman’s toolkit – the noble paperclip.  With that and the knowledge that giving a push here and a firm, insistent tug there wouldn’t break the thing, the tabs of the pushrod eased back where they were supposed to be and the problem was solved.

Harry’s pencil is special, and before he left he allowed me to photograph it next to a couple other special Vacumatic pencils that turned up at the show:


These other two, however, came home with me.  The first came from Pearce Jarvis, and I’ve been looking for one for years:


I’ve got a couple Vacumatic band pencils – a pair of prototypes I picked up a couple years ago that I suppose are more special than this (see “What Might Have Been” at http://leadheadpencils.blogspot.com/2014/09/what-might-have-been.html):


I’ll admit to pining for a “regular” production example, and this one is about as big and about as nice as one can hope for.


I enjoy getting a “wow” from people, and pencils like these don’t come along that often . . . so yeah, I probably showed this one to more people than cared to see it.  Even more fun than that was telling people, after they had seen this one, that this wasn’t the nicest Vacumatic pencil I found that weekend.

Yeah.  It was that kind of show. 

With that introduction, I would show off this third one:


In all fairness, I didn’t find this one at the show.  Pete Kirby had emailed me a picture of it months earlier, and it had an appointment to meet me at the show.  I couldn’t pay Pete what he asked quickly enough.

The topic of debate over this piece is whether it was made by Parker at the factory or was a jeweler’s piece.  I think the polls were leaning in favor of factory production by the end of the day, myself included in the number that believe that.  What I can tell you is that the date code indicates third quarter of 1935:


And all the trim is marked 14k – highly unusual for a Vacumatic:




There is a stone set in the arrow of the clip, which ordinarily might suggest a jeweler’s modification . . . although a couple of the folks I talked to had a faint recollection of Parker doing this as a special order item.  A very special order.


But what really stands out about this pencil, above all these other features, is that band.  If it was a jeweler’s work, it was one heluva lot of work.  A close examination reveals a 14k mark right where you’d expect to find it on a factory piece, as well as horizontal lines that indicate the band was either stamped or cast rather than being engraved.  Whoever made this had a pattern fitting this exact barrel circumference, since the pattern is uninterrupted all the way around.


Those horizontal lines almost look like they are intended to discourage counterfeiting to me.  I’m hoping some day to find documentation that this was an original Parker piece – and with it, documentation of the very special occasion for which it was made.

Friday, July 10, 2015

A Few More Flavors

Collecting Parker “depression” pencils is what I would call linear fun.   Structurally, there’s not much variation in the pencils themselves: no bewildering array of sizes, no odd variants of clips . . . at least, none that I’m aware of (consider that a challenge to those of you out there harboring such things, to send me pictures for sharing).  There’s three basic types: some early ones which appear to be made from leftover Duofold parts, with black buttons on top;  the Thrift Time models with the metal button on top; and the larger Premiere models with color matched tops.

No, about the only thing to do when you are hunting Parker depression pencils is to look for different colors.  But, oh, how much fun that one simple task is!  It’s been awhile since I’ve added any to this mini-collection, but at the Chicago Show three additional colors came my way, one from Jon Rosenbaum’s estate, and two from Pete Kirby:


Yes, that red one (the one from Jon) is really that red, calling to mind the “cherry red” Secretary pencils Sheaffer turned out.  And that lapis . . . a very traditional Parker color, so it took a few minutes (and a check of my own pictures library) to realize that you just don’t see that color on a Parker depression pencil.

But the third one takes the cake:


If ever a pencil cried out for a matching colored button on top, it was this one (note the cheap gold plating common to all Parker depression models – in my opinion, an example that doesn’t show this kind of plating wear isn’t original).


“Camouflage,” a couple of guys told me the color is called, although I’m not clear whether that’s a formal name or a collector’s nickname.  If it was an official name, it might not have been Parker’s, because I do have another pencil made from that identical plastic:


Charlie Harles sold me an unmarked pencil at the Ohio Show a few years back.  I don’t question, given the trim, clip and shape, that it is a Moore.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Keep a Close Eye on the Atlanta Contingent!

I don’t write much about Scriptos here.   It’s not that I have something against the brand – I grew up using the translucent ones all the way through school.  I guess I’ve still got a lingering perception that they aren’t all that old, because I was using them . . . and I need to stop myself right there, because that was pushing forty years ago when I started using them.  Huh.

I do have a stash of them, and sometimes I’ll go out of my way to pick one up when it looks interesting.  Take this one, for example


I like the looks of them, with that clip with the early script (pun intended) logo, and that cool anodized aluminum cap:


I asked Mike Little what these were, and he identified them as the “Model M800”; the neat pencil probably could have done with a little flashierl name  (I always liked the “Wordmaster” line, for example).  This example, however, says of itself that it is a “No. MS-1":


I’ve got a few others of these . . . somewhere . . . and I’ll have to pull them out and start comparing imprints.  In the meantime, this one caught my eye in a recent online auction:


There were a whole bunch of reasons I had to chase this one.  First, it’s a boxed set of a pencil I already liked – how cool is that?  It just oozes with “A Christmas Story” holiday spirit with that  box.  But, closer to home, is what’s painted on the barrel:


I’ve been an Elk for about ten years now, and even though I don’t go down there much any more (it’s more of a gambling parlor than a social club these days), I have a lot of friends down there.  Besides, my father-in-law had been an Elk for some 55 years when he passed, so I suppose for the rest of my life, Janet and I will send in a check once a year so we can take family in there when they come to town for the holidays.  To top it off, I pass through Frederick, Maryland every year on my way to the DC show – a great road trip every year.

All of the above reasons were plenty enough for me to bite on this, but there’s one last detail here that makes this one special, regardless of whether you’re an Elk or know beans about Frederick:


This one isn’t marked Scripto.  “Rite Ezee” . . . now that’s a cool name!

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

My Autopoint Conundrum

On the way home from Chicago, I should have been basking in the afterglow of a great show, seeing great friends and buying great pencils.  Instead, my copilot John Hall was checking my online auction every few minutes for me to see if anyone else was figuring out what this one was:


Yes, it’s an Autopoint, missing its cap.  There were a whole bunch of reasons to go after this one.  First, it’s an early Autopoint in what I consider a pretty rare, flourescent pink color dating to about 1930.  Second, it appeared from the picture to be an oversized model, and I thought it would look great next to the standard sized one I picked up from my friend Michael McNeil a couple years back (I featured Michael’s pencil at http://leadheadpencils.blogspot.com/2012/07/a-couple-mcneil-autopoints.html):


Third, I really liked the imprint:


Harrington and Richardson is best known for their 22-caliber revolvers, which had cylinders accommodating eight rounds rather than six.  They also developed some significant calibers, such as the .32 H&R magnum, a not-your-father’s-wussy-.32 caliber that will knock significant holes through concrete, especially when fitted hollow-point bullets.  That’s what I have loaded in my personal home defense weapon.  Yep.  I like both the pencil and the company it advertises.

And fourth, for the real trick up my sleeve: the cap is the hardest part, and I had just recently picked up a duplicate oversized Autopoint online, currently en route to my house,  for not too much money.  I thought I could get this one for a song and swap the caps.

But when my duplicate arrived, I was simultaneously elated and disappointed.


It didn’t have the green gold filled trim, but instead had Autopoint’s nickel-trimmed “Silvonite” furniture.  According to the 1930 catalog, the oversized “Deluxe” models in this series all had the green gold-filled trim, so I’m not sure whether this was factory or was assembled from parts after the fact.  Regardless of how it came to be, this wasn’t going to satisfy my needs.  So, much as I hated to do it, I did have a duplicate in blue:


And one of them now shares cap custody with the pink one.


I’ve got several black oversized Autopoints, all of which have Silvonite trim.  If I can establish that Autopoint made Deluxe oversized pencils in both levels of trim, I may have to swap parts over . . . just to see how they look . . .

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

S&K and the Birth of Eclipse?

Ladies and gentlemen, I believe we have a winner.

An article I posted a week ago discussed the Rex Manufacturing Company and a lower-tier set marked only on the pencil with “S&K” (the direct link to the article was http://leadheadpencils.blogspot.com/2015/06/nailed-it-pretty-much.html).


I wasn’t happy with either of the possible answers - “Settles and Kritikson” didn’t seem to fit, since all evidence indicates the latter took over for the former, and the two were never in partnership.  Daniel Kirchheimer offered up Skinner and Kennedy, a St. Louis stationer, but neither of us could turn up anything to prove they offered a house brand of writing instruments and, for an early 1920s obscure manufacturer like Rex just getting started, St. Louis seemed pretty far afield.

Michael Little posted a comment at the blog last night, suggesting another possibility for a company located in New York, which even had a connection – albeit an ignominious one – to Eclipse.  In my opinion, his suggestion is the right answer.

Shatkum & Kahn was a partnership formed in 1896 by Benjamin Shatkun and one David Kahn – that’s right, that’s the same David Kahn who later established David Kahn, Inc. and started manufacturing pens and pencils marked Wearever.  Here’s some early letterhead showing the date the partnership was established:


And here’s a 1937 advertisement for Wearever’s which appeared in Life Magazine.  Note the “Est. 1896" reference at the bottom:


I’m not finding any instances where the firm marketed pens or pencils under the trade name “S&K,” but I am finding reasons why, around 1924, the company wasn’t using their full names.  In November, 1921, Office Appliances reported that the newly established Federal Trade Commission had filed charges against the partnership.


The company was imprinting boxes with a $3.00 price tag, never intending that their pens would sell for that much (between 16 and 35 cents was the actual price they were selling for).  The FTC reasoned that the company was attempting to mislead consumers into the belief that they were getting a real deal on pens.

When I researched the reports of the Federal Trade Commission, I found that there were actually two complaints filed.  The first, number 604, alleged that the company was deliberately fitting pens with nibs reading “14k / Gold / Plate” in such a way that the word “Plate” was concealed by the feed, misleading consumers to believe its nibs were actually gold:


Note that the FTC spelled Shatkun’s name wrong, making this reference a little tougher to find (I found it through a 2007 thread on Fountain Pen Network).   On this earlier charge, Shatkun and Kahn were eventually cleared in 1922:


Note that the FTC got Shatkun’s name right in the exoneration, but misspelled Kahn as “Kalin.”

The other complaint against the firm, number 664, is even more interesting.  Three cases were filed simultaneously:


The first was against Marx Finstone (note: with no company association), the second was against Benjamin Shatkun and David Kahn, trading as Shatkun & Kahn, and the third was against Abraham Shatkun, of the United States Novelty Company.  All three cases resulted in identical injunctions against them, as reported in Volume 4 of the Federal Trade Commission’s decisions, beginning on page 163:


The language is harsh: words such as “fictitious, exaggerated or misleading prices” must have been devastating to whatever reputation these firms enjoyed.  By the time my S&K set (imprinted with a 1924 patent date), Shatkun and Kahn would have had every reason to keep their full names off of their products.  By 1928, the firm is replaced by David Kahn, Inc., who registers the trademark "Wearever."

As for Marx Finstone, note that his name is not associated with any firm in the FTC complaint or decision.   The company he founded, Eclipse, was established in 1903, according to conventional wisdom.  However, I find no reference that he marketed products under the Eclipse name prior to the Federal Trade Commission’s injunction against him personally.  Instead, I find that right around the time Finstone’s name was discredited:


A question appeared in The American Stationer’s Q&A pages:


And no one knew the answer, suggesting that Finstone adopted the name “Eclipse” in the aftermath of the decision.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Waaaaaay More Perfecter

There is a place, somewhere in the Universe, where all the bits and pieces of things come together and live in harmony . . . the ying of the barrel finds the yang of its long-lost cap; box and instructions finally return to the pencil you couldn’t figure out how to use.   Rarely do we mere mortals see this place of Nirvana, as we paw endlessly through cigar boxes of junk at pen shows hoping to find the clip, the tip, the barrel for which we’ve been tirelessly and endlessly searching.  Our tortured souls constantly yearn for the peace to be found in a place where all is made right.

It’s not all that bad, really . . . in fact, for most of us it’s the thrill of junk box archaeology that keeps our minds engaged in this stuff.  If it was too easy, I know I’d be bored with it.  This time, however, as the Universe pulled back the curtains and gave me just a glimpse into pencil Nirvana, all I could do was sigh contentedly and marvel at how nicely and perfectly this one came together.  

All mysticism aside, this is pretty damned cool.  A year or so ago I ran across an item in an online auction that I had to have:


Dur-O-Lite is kind of like the little brother of Autopoint.  Acutally, it’s exactly like the little brother of Autopoint: the company was formed in 1926 by former Autopoint executives who left Autopoint after the Bakelite Corporation acquired a controlling interest in the pencil company in 1925.   Like Autopoint, Dur-O-Lite made removable-nose pencils which were only slightly different (the fact that there was mild disagreements, but no apparent legal scuffles over the invention illustrates how collaborative the design must have been); like Autopoint, Dur-O-Lite marketed their products primarily as advertising giveaways.

However, I think that everyone with a sense of humor must have left Autopoint for Dur-O-Lite.  Autopoint, much as I like the company, remained stoic and serious . . . “The Better Pencil” was the company’s slogan, best said with one’s head tilted backwards in Thurston Howell fashion, with one’s teeth gritted in a patrician and condescending sneer.

Over at Dur-O-Lite, however, they didn’t take themselves so seriously.  If you get a chance, check out the trading cards Dur-O-Lite produced showing off its employees back in 1934, posted over at Bob Bolin’s site (http://unllib.unl.edu/Bolin_resources/pencil_page/postals/Index.html).  These guys had fun.  Some days -- ok most days -- I wish I worked there.

So you can imagine that when Dur-O-Lite reached its Thirtieth Annivesary in 1956, the company went all out to commemorate the event.  The catalog is a hoot, and I promise one of these days I’ll scan and upload it to the PCA’s library.  I would have been thrilled just to add the 1956 catalog to my collection, but this one came with even more: a personalized letter from the company:


and even the box in which it was mailed to the customer:


With a postmark of November 12, 1955:


At this point you might sigh contentedly.  How perfect, you might think, that all these pieces stayed together after sixty years.  You must be thinking this was the moment when I felt peace wash over me and I started chanting . . . oommmmmmmm. . ..

It was not.  In fact, as happy as I was to find the catalog, box and letter together (by the way, there’s even a return envelope to Dur-O-Lite in the box), I couldn’t bear to write about this just yet.  There was something missing from this, and the knowledge of exactly what wasn’t there was driving me frickin’ crazy.


“Accept enclosed Anniversary imprinted Companion Set with our compliments,” the letter begins.


“Your gift set is illustrated and described on Page 14 of catalog,” the letter continues.   And sure enough, on page 14 . . .


Oh, how cool would that be!!!  A boxed set with a pencil and lighter, imprinted with Dur-O-Lite’s Thirtieth Anniversary?

I like to think that there might be at least someone out there who empathize with the sweet but persistent agony this piece has caused me over the course of a year.  All this wonderful information at my fingertips, tinged with the knowledge that things would have been even more . . .  waaaaaay more perfecter if only the rest of it was there.

And just a couple weeks ago, as I trolled around through random online auctions just a couple weeks ago, it happened.


For what I considered a measly thirty bucks.  Buy it now . . . I didn’t even have to bid.


Someone out there has no idea how happy they made me.



All is now right in my little corner of the Universe.   Ommmmmmm....


Except for one thing . . . .


I wonder if that pencil was supposed to have a different cap?

Sunday, July 5, 2015

This Might Have Made Things Easier

I’m often in my own world at pen shows these days, with my portable photography setup in a quiet corner, snapping away shots of things people bring to show me, either for here at the blog or for the Pennant (in case you didn’t know, I’m editing the Pen Collectors of America’s magazine these days).
Such was the case at the Chicago Show a couple of months ago.  I was hunched over my lightbox, eyes pressed against the viewfinder as I tried to get in close with a 90mm macro lens to capture a very tiny detail on . . . whatever it was I was shooting at the moment, when suddenly my entire field of vision went blue.

Imperial blue, in fact:


For dramatic effect, my friend Jerry Adair had approached quietly while I concentrated, inserting the Guild between my lens and the object at hand.  Jerry had read my articles about the history of the Guild Products Corporation (http://leadheadpencils.blogspot.com/2013/08/back-to-drawing-board.html) and had seen the conclusive proof that pencils such as these were manufactured by Conklin (http://leadheadpencils.blogspot.com/2014/09/the-last-two-nails.html).  Jerry knew I would have to have this one.

First, it’s a ringtop; I haven’t seen one of those.  But more importantly, it is made from what is in my opinion one of Conklin’s most distinctive plastics, one which the company called “imperial blue.”  It’s quite a trick capturing the depths of the blueness, which looks black under nearly all light conditions.

I wonder if there are any Guilds out there in Conklin’s “halloween” plastic?