Sunday, November 23, 2014

Ready Ritepoint? Or Riterpoint?

One of the more unusual pencils found in the salesman’s sample wallet of Vernon pencils I received from Michael Little is the one on the far left in this picture:


Here’s the top up close:




The Vernon sample advertising on the cap makes it unlikely that parts were switched out (getting press-fit top caps out of the top of one of these is generally more trouble than it’s worth). While it is of course possible that this pencil – or any of them for that matter – might have been added to this folder at some point over the last 70 years, I’m still prepared to accept that this was also made by Ritepoint. Here’s why:


All four of these pencils have Ritepoint stamps on the barrels:


Other than a different name on the clip and a stepped top button, the Readyrite is identical. I’ve had another Readyrite hanging around the museum for awhile, and when I put it next to this one, it was identical in every respect except one:


Sometimes the script runs in one direction, sometimes in the other. That difference had me scratching my head a little bit and eventually sent me headlong back into the "tub of doom." That tub is a sort of purgatory, where unwanted pencils that aren’t anything I’m interested in wind up. If I buy a lot of ten pencils online because there’s only one in the group that has me curious . . . this is where the other nine go. Sometimes it’s where all ten end up.

My wife is a very patient woman, and I have to say both of the dogs were too, as I spread out a couple years’ worth of castoffs on the living room floor to see what was in there. At the end of the day, the search was fruitful – here’s a group of Readyrites that were in there:


None of these are dated, but from the looks of things at some point they decided to flatten out the clips a bit:


I also found a couple examples with metal caps:


There’s just a bit of a difference between the clips on these:


And there’s one other wrinkle. There are Readyrites, and then there are Readyriters like these:



I asked Michael Little whether Ritepoint also made the Readyriter, and he said no – the Readyriter pencils were made by Lipic. Ritepoint sprang from Lipic, when one of Joseph Lipic’s sons set up the company while the other continued his father’s business. I don’t have any evidence that the relationship between the two was adversarial; even so, no matter how friendly the competition might be between two companies, the use of names as similar as "Readyrite" and "Readyriter" would doubtless trigger an unfair competition complaint with the Federal Trade Commission unless there was either cooperation, common ownership or a merger.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Beyond a Doubt, Indeed

You can’t please everyone. I still remember the irate email I received shortly after The Catalogue was first published, in which one of the buyers of the book complained bitterly that I didn’t include enough advertising pencils. The guy might not have been alone:  the most-read article here at Leadhead's since I started the blog is "Shaw Barton Gets Its Due."

So when I decided last week that I was going to start posting about advertising-specific pencil companies on weekends, it didn’t surprise me much that a few emails arrived to chime in about their favorite brands. One of them came from Harry Shubin, who sent me pictures of this "Vernon," which he described as "beyond a doubt Ritepoint."


Without any markings on the pencil other than Vernon, all Harry would have to go on in order to draw that conclusion is the clip, which is identical to what you’d find on a Ritepoint. Harry is, of course, dead on correct: Vernon pencils were made by Ritepoint. Thanks to something my friend Michael Little had listed online, I can add some punctuation to that conclusion:


Nothing like a salesman’s sample case to prove that point! Ritepoint supplied pencils to a variety of advertising specialty companies, which is why "The Vernon Co. / Newton, Iowa" is printed in what appears to be a cartouche inside which any company’s name might be embossed. Inside this case were fifteen different sample pencils, each of which are printed with Vernon sample advertising:





There aren’t any creative model names assigned to the different varieties; each bears merely a catalog number used for ordering and the different options available: color of trim, length and diameter of lead and so forth.


A few of these examples are really interesting. Two of them have a Ritepoint imprint near the bottom of the cap in addition to Vernon clips and imprints:


This example has an interesting clip that wraps over the top of the cap. I’ll circle back to that clip in future articles, because it ties in a couple other brands to Ritepoint:


Mike’s Vernon sample case had a good representative sampling of the brand. I had a couple other varieties on hand that weren't included to add to this article:


The cream colored example has a more elaborate logo printed on the barrel:


The cap on that one has a clip that matches the ones on the Shedd-Brown pencils; the ribbed cap is a nice touch. As for the other one, with the chrome cap . . . I’m not altogether sure that one was made by Ritepoint, but it does match caps found on a couple other brands we’ll get to.


Vernon is still in the corporate advertising business.  According to the company's website, it was founded in 1902.  The company's slogan is "Get your brand on."  

Friday, November 21, 2014

I Couldn't Have Picked a Better One

Note:  this is the fourth in a series of related articles this week.   If you're feeling like you're coming into the middle of the story, the first article is http://leadheadpencils.blogspot.com/2014/11/before-lone-horseman.html.

In totally unrelated news, which turned out to be related news, Jerry Adair approached me at the Ohio Show, while I was in the afterglow of photographing Carol Strain’s Webster set made by Rex, with a question. He had this set:


When he acquired the set, the pen was missing a clip. Jerry was wondering where he could find a ball clip as long as the one on the pencil; the best he had been able to find was a plain Z-clip that was a little bit stubbier.


Your search is over, I reassured him: you have found the correct clip. Jerry remained skeptical until I showed him this Laughlin set, which I had brought along with me at Mike Kirk’s request for a little show and tell:


At the same time, I was oooohing and aaahing a bit at Jerry’s set, because it tugged on my Ohio-born heartstrings:



Unfortunately, that great imprint appears only on the pen barrel. Pity, I thought, because I’d really like to find a Rex-patent Pick pencil . . . but regardless, I was sure that the pencil did in fact belong with the pen, since Jerry’s set was so nearly identical to my Laughlin set. Jerry ended up selling me the set, and as I was writing the last few articles here about the Rex Manufacturing Company, I got to looking at the pencil a little more closely:


The presence of only one of the "four horsemen" patents stamped on this one suggests the pencil was made in late 1925 or early 1926 – at the same time Rex was making sets for Sears under the Gold Medal brand name but before Rex picked up business supplying National Pen Products for Montgomery Ward. So Jerry’s Pick set confirms something I was suggesting in yesterday’s article: that Rex didn’t have an exclusive deal with Sears.

And, on closer examination, I found something else that made this proud Ohioan a very happy guy:


It is marked Pick after all!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Help with the Cheese

Note: this is the third article in a series, which began at http://leadheadpencils.blogspot.com/2014/11/before-lone-horseman.html.

Carol Strain only comes to two shows each year – Chicago and Ohio. Until a few years ago, most of us knew her as the purple lady, since she is ever dressed in her favorite color.   A couple years ago, that reputation was eclipsed by one of Carol’s other passions: she’s become for many of us "the cheese lady."

A few shows ago, Carol brought a couple chunks of quality cheese to one our late night scotch-and-cigar sociables.  I believe that first time she did so, the collective amount of liquid appetizers the group had consumed made us a voracious bunch, and we quickly gobbled down everything she brought.   Ever since, her contributions have steadily increased, and these days she comes fully prepared with cutting boards, knives, crackers and yes . . . lots of cheese.

This year, as a bunch of us hung around and talked at the hotel bar Saturday night at the Ohio Show, Carol’s presence in our midst made it inevitable that the conversation was destined to turn to . . . cheese.  At long last (none of us were trying to look to anxious about it), Carol announced it was time.   Given the rate at which Carol’s portable buffet has grown, I calculated that it would be physically impossible for Carol to bring everything down in one trip (unless she had added a wagon and a few mules to the production since last May).  So I offered to help her bring the cheese down from her room, an offer which she was glad to accept.

At her room, while Carol fished bag after bag of cheese from the refrigerator, I noticed a boxed pen set sitting on the desk, and I momentarily forgot the mission at hand.   Like a moth to the flame and with a "oooo, what’s that," I paused to open the box to see what was inside. I then had to see what was inside what was inside. And once I did, I had an answer I’ve been trying to find. For years.

I asked Carol if the set was hers, and she said she was thinking about buying it. I said (1) she had to and (2) she had to let me photograph it. She did both.

Here’s Carol’s set, on the right, shown next to the Blue Ribbon set I had found just a day earlier (see yesterday’s article):


Kind of spooky, isn’t it? They are very, VERY similar, but my set is a Blue Ribbon, and the pen set is stamped "made and guaranteed" by National Pen Products. Carol’s set is a Webster – both the pen and the pencil has the name on the clips.


Webster was a brand offered by Sears, Roebuck & Co. If I’m right in the theory I put out there yesterday, that National Pen Products was nothing more than a subsidiary of Montgomery Ward & Co., there wouldn’t be a National Pen Products stamp on Carol’s Webster pen. And there isn’t.

And if I’m correct that National Pen Products, notwithstanding the "made and guaranteed" claims on my Blue Ribbon set, didn’t really make anything but existed solely to control supply to Montgomery Ward, then the paperwork that accompanies Carol’s Webster set might indicate who supplied writing instruments for National Pen Products.

And it DOES.


The Rex Manufacturing Company. Cue climactic music: Da da daaaaaaaaaa.......

Were I asked to identify the top five things I’ve learned in the time I’ve been collecting mechanical pencils – this piece of paper is one of them. I’ve been trying for years to find evidence that Rex actually made writing instruments, rather than just having the rights and licensing out the "four horsemen" patents.

And did you notice the more than casual similarity of Carol’s Webster paperwork to what accompanied my Blue Ribbon set?


Carol’s Webster set is the last piece of the puzzle, which appears to confirm that Rex was supplying pen and pencils sets to National Pen Products and that National wasn’t really "making" anything – barrel stamps on Blue Ribbon pens notwithstanding. Once you string all the clues together, I think in addition to putting some real meat (or cheese) on the Rex Manufacturing Company story, this explains why it’s been so difficult to track down information on both Rex and National.

Remember the Gold Medal article from two days ago (http://leadheadpencils.blogspot.com/2014/11/before-lone-horseman.html)?


Gold Medal was a Sears brand, like Webster. I marveled in that earlier article about finding a "Rex patent" pencil that had "Pat. Pen." rather than the "four horsemen" patent dates stamped on it. Here’s the kicker: while some Gold Medals don’t have the "four horsemen" patents stamped on the caps (and therefore predate 1926), all of my Gold Bond and Blue Ribbon (Montgomery Ward) pencils have the "four horsemen" dates (and could not have been made before 1926). While new things come out of the woodwork every day, and there may be something just around the corner that indicates otherwise, the physical clues point to this scenario:

1. The Rex Manufacturing Company is incorporated in 1911.

2. National Pen Products is incorporated in 1922 by a senior Montgomery Ward executive.

3. Prior to 1926, Rex begins manufacturing Gold Medal brand pencils, and probably also standard lever-fill pens, for Sears.

4. After 1926, Rex continues to make pencils, and probably also pens, for Sears brands, such as Webster and Gold Medal.

5. After 1926, Rex also begins supplying National Pen Products with pencils (and maybe also matching pens) which are identical to what Rex is already supplying to Sears.

6. There are too many brands made under the Rex patents for Rex to have had an exclusive deal with Sears; however, Sears might have had a contractual provision prohibiting Rex from supplying its mail-order business competitor Montgomery Ward. Even if there was no legal prohibition, Sears must have been Rex’s largest customer before National came along, one which Rex would be foolish to alienate.

Such a touchy situation might explain why my Blue Ribbon pen is so conspicuously marked "Made and guaranteed by National Pen Products." This might be true as to the pen, although notice that other than the clip, the Webster and Gold Bond pens are nearly identical, just like the pencils. But it seems more likely that Rex was supplying complete matching sets to National, with pens stamped to indicate that National was the actual manufacturer (either by Rex or by National) in order to give plausible deniability to any accusation by Sears that Rex was aiding the enemy.

Did Sears object? I think that might be possible, and it might explain why in the early 1930s, Wahl Eversharp began supplying Montgomery Ward with "Gold Bond" pens and pencils.

I’m still working to confirm the details of this story. Does anyone else need help with their cheese?

Note:  the story continues at http://leadheadpencils.blogspot.com/2014/11/i-couldnt-have-picked-better-one.html.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Out of the Shadows

Note:  this is the second part in a series of articles which began with http://leadheadpencils.blogspot.com/2014/11/before-lone-horseman.html.

Thursday trading at the Ohio Pen Show this year was insane. There was a lot going on in that room, so much so that I don’t remember who sold me this great set:


This is a "Blue Ribbon" set, with the clip on the pencil so marked, but the pen has a floral design on the clip:


I’ve had a Blue Ribbon pencil for years - I think it was probably the first one of the "Rex Patent" pencils I added to my collection, and yet by the time I wrote The Catalogue, the Rex patents were still all I knew about it. On the cap of this one are the "four horsemen" patents I was talking about yesterday (the rundown of which can be found at http://leadheadpencils.blogspot.com/2013/03/prequel-lets-make-that-birth-death-and.html):


In this case I had to buy the set because it’s the pen that established a connection for me – a connection that you pen collectors already knew, but we pencil people wouldn’t have any reason to know. While the only markings on the pencil are the patent dates and the words Blue Ribbon on the clip, the pen has a different story:


"The Blue Ribbon / Fountain Pen / Made and Guaranteed by / National Pen Products Co. / Chicago, Ill."

And you might have noticed that paperwork tucked inside the box lid, which tells the same story:


Now at this point in the story, I’ll give all you fountain pen guys a few moments to roll your eyes, because I haven’t told you anything you didn’t already know: the Blue Ribbon brand was made by National Pen Products.

Go ahead . . . I’ll wait . . .

There. Now, I’m going to tell you the part you didn’t know – a little detail that unravels something much bigger.

The National Pen Products Company is a little bit like the boogieman. Whenever something looks Chicago-ish -- particularly large, colorful and squared-off writing instruments of the mid- to late-1920s -- the temptation is always to assume (unless you can think of something better) that it was made by National Pen Products. For those who have seen The Usual Suspects, National Pen Products is like the Keyser Soze of the pen world.

That’s because not very much is known about the company. One would assume that if a manufacturer had the tremendous influence that’s been attributed to National Pen Products, you wouldn’t be able to swing a dead cat on the Internet without hitting a complete history of such a prominent company.

Maybe it was because I was feeling a bit sheepish not having the firm connection of Blue Ribbon to National, but I felt a need to redeem myself and give you more to this story. I started swinging dead cats around to see what I could figure out – don’t worry, Truman the Cat is fine, and in fact no cats were injured in the writing of this article (if "swing a dead cat" is just an Ohio saying, I’m sure I’ll get an earful about using it). But I did hit one seemingly minor detail:


The National Pen Products Company, according to the December, 1922 issue of Office Appliances, was incorporated in late 1922 by E.P. Marum, Ralph M. Prouty and Bernice C. O’Neill. When I followed up on these three names, the first of these three was the one that got my attention. Here’s the first reference I found to E. P. Marum:


Marum was the manager of "Division N" at Montgomery, Ward & Co. in 1908, according to the company’s in-house newsletter, "Among Ourselves." Marum remained with the company for years, attaining a level of prominence so high that he represented Montgomery Ward during congressional hearings on postal rates and procedures in 1915 and 1917:


As for the other two incorporators who formed National Pen Products, they were not significant players. Ralph M. Prouty was a 1917 graduate of Northwestern University, promptly deployed in World War I, who was by 1922 would only have been 23 years old. I found almost nothing concerning Bernice C. O’Neill. Which of these things is not like the other, to quote an old Sesame Street game? Could it be that National Pen Products was actually a Montgomery Ward subsidiary?

Maybe, although I’d feel a lot more certain about that if I could find some evidence that Marum was still in senior management at Montgomery Ward after 1922. However, I did find another piece of evidence that suggests that this is the case. Ever heard of the "Eagle Paper Company?"


In 1920, Montgomery Ward set up a company-controlled subsidiary to make or supply "wall paper and hanging stock." Our man E.P. Marum was on the board of directors in 1922, the same year National Pen Products was incorporated.

Montgomery Ward was setting up company-controlled subsidiaries in order to supply it with products in 1922.

If National Pen Products was one of these subsidiaries, that doesn’t square at all with what we think we know about the company. Why, for example, would Sears, Roebuck & Co. ask a Montgomery Ward subsidiary to supply it with Gold Medal pens and pencils? Why would other independent companies, such as Eisenstadt and a host of others, be ordering their pencils from a subsidiary of a mail order company?

It just doesn’t make sense. National simply could not be responsible for all these different brands:


I’ve always had a theory about who might have been, but I’ve never had the evidence to prove it. However, in another one of those wildly improbably coincidences that seems to trail me around as write these articles, that evidence surfaced – just one day after I found my Blue Ribbon set. That evidence came to me, as you’ll see tomorrow, when I asked one simple question:

"Do you need help with the cheese?"

Note:  the story continues at http://leadheadpencils.blogspot.com/2014/11/help-with-cheese.html 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Before the Lone Horseman

What on earth, you might legitimately inquire, would interest me in this tired looking Gold Medal pencil?




Gold Medal was a store brand for Sears, Roebuck & Company, and this pencil is one of what I refer to as the "Rex family" of pencils, after the four patents issued and assigned to the Rex Manufacturing Company of Providence, Rhode Island, which are normally found imprinted on the caps. I’ll admit, before we go any farther, that my interest in this weather-beaten pencil was simply that it has a black barrel, and normally you don’t find Rex patent pencils in black for whatever reason. I knew it would look nice next to a couple other Gold Medals in my collection:


But when the pencil arrived and I looked at it more closely, I found something that really got me excited.  Starting with that great lapis blue example, here's what you would normally expect to find one of these stamped on the cap:


These four patent dates appear hand-in-hand so often that I’ve come to nickname them the "Four Horsemen" Rex patents. There’s a rundown on all of them at http://leadheadpencils.blogspot.com/2013/03/prequel-lets-make-that-birth-death-and.html. But then there’s examples like that red hard rubber one, which has a different imprint:


I had theorized in that previous article that the February 19, 1924 patent date might have been included on some of these while the "four horsemen" patents were pending, as a deterrent to copycats if nothing else.

So what manner of imprint is on my new black hard rubber example, you might ask?


Simply "Pat. Pen."

Note:  this story continues at http://leadheadpencils.blogspot.com/2014/11/out-of-shadows.html.