Friday, May 25, 2012

Nothing New Under the Sun

Today I'm taking a break from talking about the things I found in Chicago, because the neat story behind this one keeps nagging at me, saying "Ooooh!  Pick me! Write about me!" and I just need to get it over with!

This Eagle "Turquoise Twenty" arrived in my mailbox some time ago from ebay:


It came complete with lead and in the box:


On the side is a clue that allows us to date this one pretty specifically:


After a century of being the Eagle Pencil Company of New York, the firm moved to Danbury, Connecticut in 1959.  Less than ten years later, the name of the company was changed to Berol; I've heard this was in 1969, but in the All-Rite article I ran a a couple weeks ago I mentioned that Berol filed a trademark for the "All-Rite" name in 1965.

Today's pencil has that sleek George Jetson/Space Age look to it, consistent with something being made in the late fifties to early sixties.  The pencil uses a super-thin .5 mm lead, which makes it a bit ahead of its time, and the thinner lead presented a bit of a design challenge.  Before the days of polymerized lead, ordinary clay and graphite lead in this diameter was too fragile to try to feed through the tip, so the Turquoise Twenty has an ultra-modern mechanism that compensates for this.  To load the lead, you pull off the nose and drop the lead into the nose cone.  When the top is turned, a fixed rod moves up and down to advance the lead.  Spare leads are contained in a chamber in the barrel, under that black cap:


Pretty slick, huh?  It's such a simple, elegant solution that it makes you wonder why someone didn't think of that sooner, doesn't it?

Hmmm.  

Here's an Eagle Pointer, designed by Alfred Michael and patented on February 7, 1922 (Catalogue readers, see page 45):


In order to feed lead into the Pointer, sure you can feed it through the tip, since it uses a standard 1.1 mm (.046 inch) lead that doesn't break.  But what Eagle intended was for the user to remove the nose cone and drop a lead in from the back:


That cap on the back of the Pointer's nose cone unscrews to reveal a spare lead chamber.  The fixed rod in the barrel moves up and down when you turn the crown.


So there it is.  Eagle's "new" Turquoise Twenty was a dressed up Pointer that was nearly forty years old at the time!  But don't knock it -- this decades-old design turned out to be the perfect solution to the engineering challenge posed by new ultra-thin leads.

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