Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Lippincott Pencil Company

Here’s another from Tanya Hile’s parade of pencils, marked "Lippincott’s Push Point":


There were two of these up for auction. The other one was an earlier example and only had the November 1, 1898 patent date – I wasn’t the high bidder on that one, but this one, with patent dates of November 1, 1898 and April 7,1907, was the one in which I was more interested:


The "Push Point" is operated by moving a small tab on the barrel along a slot in the barrel to advance or retract the lead.


It looks simple, but there’s more to this than meets the eye. If it’s that easy to push the lead forward, what’s to keep the lead from being pushed back into the barrel when you attempt to write? That was the subject of Fisher Hazard Lippincott’s original patent of November 1, 1898, number 613,452, for which he applied on October 15, 1897:


Lippincott actually received patents for two versions of this pencil on that date. The other one was applied for on March 26, 1898 and was granted as number 613,453:


Fisher’s improved patent proved a little trickier to find, since there’s a typo on the pencil. It’s no wonder he had a hard time keeping track of the dates, since he applied for patents for three different versions of an improved design, all filed on November 27, 1906. From the looks of this one, I think the date was supposed to be April 9, 1907, since the slider most closely resemblees the one in the drawings for patent number 849,799 issued on that date:


Lippincott’s patent number 851,893 was granted on April 30, 1907. Note that in this one, the design is a little different in that the slider for standard lead is made of looped wire:


And in this third patent, issued on May 7, 1907 as number 854,098, the little tab was replaced with a slider ring:


The science behind Fisher Lippincott’s Push Point was useful in other applications, too. The idea of a slider that is easy to move forwards and backwards, but which doesn’t permit the object it holds to move, was particularly well-suited to ice shaving machines, such as the one he patented in 1901 (number 685,517) and assigned to The American Soda Fountain Company.

Who was Fisher Lippincott? We know he was from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and that he had more patents relating to soda fountains to his credit than he did pencils (all of which were assigned to The American Soda Fountain Company).

Beyond that, there’s just what appear to be random clues. There is a Lippincott Residence Hall at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, the Wharton Business School’s library is the "Lippincott Library," and the Victorian mansion now known as Lippincott House Bed and Breakfast in Philly was constructed in 1897. One famous Penn alum, Donald Fithian Lippincott, was born into a "prominent Philadelphia family" in 1893. Donald became a track star at Penn, but his claim to fame was his participation in the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm - where he set a world record in a qualifying heat in the 100 meters and went on to win a bronze medal in the 100 meters and a silver medal in the 200 meters.

What I haven’t been able to confirm, but which seems so tantalizingly close, is that Donald’s father had a thing for soda fountains and pencils!

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