Last Friday at the Chicago Pen Show, things were really moving behind the tables along "pencil alley." Michael "Ferengi" Little came to socialize and to buy inventory for his ebay selling, and sitting next to him was Frank "The Pusher" Hoban, who came with boxes and boxes of pencils, mostly advertising items. It was the beginning of a beautiful relationship.
While Mike pawed through Frank's offerings like a lion feasting on a wildebeast, I thought it best to stay clear for fear of being skewered with a pencil -- but I did get to look through the tubs after Mike had taken what he was interested in.
Here's one of the leftovers:
Not much to like here, is there? This is a typical late 1930s, lower quality pencil, complete with a few teeth marks on the upper barrel. At the tip end is a "perpetual calendar"-- you can rotate the band so that the day of the week lines up with the current month. This one's pretty cheaply made; not only do the sharp edges stick out from the barrel, but the metal used looks like it might have been something that was picked up off the ground at a gas station.
But, on closer inspection this dumpy little pencil has a secret:
John Holland was a high quality manufacturer in Cincinnati, Ohio in the latter half of the 19th century. After his death, family members attempted to continue the business, but they knew very little about the pen business and in the span of a few short years the company's quality plummeted to some painful depths. I figure the company closed about five minutes after this pencil was made.
I was excited to show this little pencil to my friend Jack Leone, a soft-spoken man who is one of the principals in Bexley Pen Company. Jack knows just about everything there is to know about John Holland, and he is very generous with his knowledge on the subject. Aha, I thought! Here's my chance to show Jack something that he didn't know about, if only because this lowly piece is something an avid Holland collector might not think to look for.
I presented the piece to Jack and waited for his jaw to drop.
Not only was he aware of the pencil, he had seen Holland Company drawings of it. When he got home, Jack emailed me a copy of the drawing, which he had dug up in the John Holland Company archives, now housed at the Cincinnati Historical Society:
Says Jack: "This calendar pencil was one of dozens of pencil designs, including some comical ones (shaped like Ivory Soap, beer bottles, etc.). The perpetual calendar pencil is the only one that I've found from among these designs. I'd guess others exist, but are not marked John Holland, so I haven't found them. Note the date on the drawing, June 10, 1928."
There's just no surprising this guy. But I'm going to keep trying!