Tuesday, May 22, 2012

If You're Going to Look at All, Look Reeel Close

On Sunday, a fellow named Gary Steinberg brought a pencil by my table to ask what I knew about it:


Now most people breeze right past these, because at first glance it looks like a typical Wahl Eversharp sterling pencil, with the "full jacket" engraving on it.  Although they are simply beautiful, Wahl made so many of them that they remain a relatively common sight -- although the price of silver certainly hasn't made them less appealing lately. 

I've learned never to judge a book by its cover when it comes to these, and in this case it paid off handsomely.  A close look at the imprint reveals something neat:


No "Wahl," and "Ever Sharp" is two words.  Collectors frequently refer to these as "pre-Wahl" Eversharps, but this one is definitely made by Wahl, even though it doesn't say so.  Gary's pencil fits neatly into a very narrow window of time in the history of these pencils -- mid to late 1916.

Charles Keeran invented his Ever Sharp pencil in 1913, and his patent was granted in 1915.   To my knowledge, all the truly "pre-Wahl" Ever Sharps were made by Heath and sport a unique clip which pierces the barrel and folds inside:


More on these guys later.  Sometime in 1915, Keeran approached The Wahl Adding Machine Company initially to inquire into purchasing some machinery so that he could increase his production.  For whatever reason, Keeran ended up hiring Wahl to produce his pencils.

There was just one problem:  the clip was a Heath design, for which Heath had applied for and ultimately received a patent, and apparently Keeran wasn't able to convince Heath to allow him to use their clip on pencils to be made by another company.   So Keeran invented a new clip, called the "trowel" or "spade" clip by collectors, which was soldered onto the barrel:


Yeah, I know the middle one is broken off, but they are so darned rare that finding one in any condition is a prize.  Why?  Because soldering clips onto barrels was too labor-intensive for mass production, so the design didn't last long.   To streamline production, John C. Wahl himself invented the clip that appears on Gary's pencil, which simply slips into a tombstone-shaped hole in the barrel and is secured by the inner barrel.

Wahl's new clip was adopted sometime in mid- to late 1916.  Before 1916 was over, Wahl persuaded Keeran to sell Wahl his Ever Sharp Pencil Company and become a salesman for Wahl.  From that point forward, beginning right around the start of 1917, Wahl was manufacturing the pencils on its own account, and the word "Wahl" was included on the barrel imprints.

So there's the rest of the story.  Gary's pencil was made by the Wahl Company for Charles Keeran's Ever Sharp Pencil Company, in those last few months before Keeran's company was absorbed.

This is the first time I've seen a sterling engraved pre-Wahl Ever Sharp, and one last detail surprised me.  On all of the Wahl engraved pencils, the floral pattern is the same (there are two variants; the fully engraved barrel and those with only a portion engraved).  However, on closer examination of this one:


Gary's pencil is the one at the top.  The pattern is completely different from those found on the later Wahls.

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