Friday, October 19, 2012

B Who?

The road from my home to the Michigan Pen Show ran right past the Heart of Ohio Antique Mall in Findlay, Ohio, right on Route 75, and since I’d taken the day off Friday to make the trip up I decided to stop in. This was the same mall I’d found the Eisenstadt pencil in over the holidays last year ("The Blind Squirrel Finds a Second Nut," January 3), so I figured it was worth checking back in to see if the pencil selection had been replenished.

Nope. All that was there was the same items I’d passed on last time I was there. I didn’t have time to go through the whole mall – it’s pretty big and would have taken a few hours – but feeling a little skunked, I thought I’d check where I found the Nardi pencil before ("Long Lived, the Nardi," January 4).

That’s where I found this for the bargain basement price of $25:


This is a magic pencil, shown extended. When the end is pushed in, the nozzle retracts. At the top, this one’s marked "Bates & B":


That and a $2 Eversharp Square 4 pencil were the only things I found in Findlay, but I knew that all I had to do is get back on the road and in a couple hours I’d see all the pencils I wanted to, so I wasn’t too disheartened. That afternoon, once I’d settled in at the Michigan Pen Show, I found this from an old friend:


The friend was Alan Kaufman, who I’ve known as long as I’ve been collecting. Now Alan’s real forte is Sheaffer – three times he showed me a Sheaffer Snorkel he’d found with a fine right oblique nib, he was so excited about it – but he also has a good eye for the weird and the interesting. This one is obviously no Sheaffer:


It also says "Bates & B." How about that – two examples from a maker I’d never heard of, from two sources! But when I looked in the end of Alan’s pencil more closely, something didn’t seem right. I pulled out on the top, but no mechanism extended through the hole in the end.


So I pulled a little bit more, and surprise, surprise:


This one isn’t a magic pencil at all, but a leadholder nested inside a fancy case. That sent me scrounging through all of the lead I’d brought with me, looking for something that would fit, but nothing I had on hand worked – the Listo leads I had were waaaay to big, and all of the Faber drafting leads I had were waaaay to small. I thought I’d have to wait until I got home, but Ralph Stilwell, who was set up beside me, came up with a few containers of lead, and one fit perfectly:


So why the hole? It’s a convertible. You can pull the leadholder out of the case and use it, or you can extend the lead a bit more and put it back into the case, so you’ve got a pencil that can hang on a chain:


"Bates & B" is short for Bates and Bacon, a jewelry maker in Attleboro, Massachusetts. Joseph M. Bates first went into the jewelry business in 1857 with a firm by the name of Skinner, Viall & Co. The following year, Bates left and started a new firm, Bates, Capron & Williams. After a couple years Bates became restless and left again, doing business by himself for a few years until 1867 or 1868, when he went into business with George M. Bacon to form Bates & Bacon.

In 1882, Bates and Bacon was the first of the Attleboro jewelers to begin making watchcases, a move which quickly catapulted the firm into being the largest in Attleboro. I couldn’t find any information about when the company diversified into the pencil business, but from the looks of the two I’ve found, the 1870s or 1880s would appear to be about right. There are also a few small ringtop pencils closely resembling Mabie Magazine pencils, which are marked Bates & B and Patent Pending, but they too appear to have been made before the turn of the century.

Bates & Bacon is not only remembered for its quality jewelry and metalwork, but also for an unfortunate event that changed the history of the jewelry industry in the United States. By 1898, Attleboro had become the center of jewelry manufacturing in the United States, with buildings housing dozens of quality manufacturers all crowded together in a relatively small area of the city. One evening in May, 1898, a fire ignited by laquer in the Bates & Bacon building destroyed the Attelboro jewelry district, Bates & Bacon itself being burned completely to the ground:


Bates quickly rebuilt, but for many Attleboro firms, 1898 marked the end of an era. Even though Bates survived, the cost of rebuilding may have irreparably crippled the firm, which according to one source was bought by the Philadelphia Watch Case Co. in 1901. Philadelphia did continue to use the Bates & Bacon name on watch cases, even after Philadelphia itself was absorbed by the Keystone Watch Case Co. The Bates name survived into the 1930s.

4 comments:

David Nishimura said...

Might want to correct the spelling of "Attleboro".
It's right up the road from Providence, incidentally.

Jon Veley said...

Done - thanks. Don't know how I did that with the clipping right there.

Anonymous said...

I have the exact same telescoping pencil as the first one you found!! Believe it or not, my father purchased a coffee can full of miscellaneous things in it at a yard sale. The "magic" pencil and another older pencil were in the bottom of the can!! There was also a pretty cool "Balloon Tire Gauge" in the can as well. My dad gave me the pencils a few years before he passed, then after that, my mother gave me a box full of some of his stuff and that's how I inherited the tire gauge! Just thought I'd share this with you, after reading your story!

Jon Veley said...

Nice story!

Jon